2019 Garrett County Gran Fondo – Ride Report (Part 2).

For part one of this report, check here.

While discussing the route and looming suffering, Rick informs me of some zigzagging of the final third of the course intended to make up the final mileage and elevation. Knowing Rick and his obsession with navigation, topography, et al, I decide to let the man go so I can suffer in my ignorance, the less I know, the better for me. It was therefore a delight when he hooked up with a duo of fellow vetrans who were discussing prop shafts, topedo diving depths or some such things that attracted him like a moth to a flame. I casually scooted along and that was the last time I saw him the entire day.

 Pigs Ear & Devils Half Acre

I met up and took off with my good friend and gracious host the night before Dave Descutner. We set out together from the first rest stop settling into a splinter group that kept leap frogging one another. No one seemed to want to commit to a particular effort, so for a big guy like me, I would stay in the pack, but once there was a little rise and I had to push out a little more power, I would let off and whomever wants to stay on the leading wheel would have to close up. The same applied for the flats and downhill, the group would be on my wheel until it flattens out or goes downhill. Downhills were a lost cause because few people are able to stay on my wheel going downhill (I say this as a matter of fact, not being boastful at all, big guy and all).

Four miles from Pigs ear & devils half acre climb, you can see the ribbon of blacktop climb up to the hoizon. I could see the red tail lights bespeckle the road as riders claw their way up to the second rest stop. The exposure was apparent with little tree cover and what seemed like a head wind. In the past, this was the point where I acknowledged the first signs of cramps and the suffering in my immediate future. Today, there were no cramps, just a small ache in my right knee and poor shifting of my bike – I think I can, I think I can.

I got on the climb alongside “florescent green” guy. He was riding a florescent green Lemond bike, with the same colored kit and socks. For some untold reason, I could not stand the guy, we had been leap-frogging one another the entire time since the first rest stop. I would either pass or drop him on the descents, and he would catch up to me on the climbs, everything in me just wanted to put in the effort and distance him once and for all, but I again showed incredible restraint and braved the potential of a seizure from his vibrant green countenance, it had begun, my mind was beginning to suffer. 

We climbed steadily all the way to the rest stop. Here you started to see the kinks in people’s armors. Choruses of excuses, justifications and plans to capitulatewe will see when I get to mile 60, I might just go for the 100, my lower back is having spasms etc. At this stop they had a prayer booth which I seriously considered visiting to get some extra supplication for God’s assistance. I decided to go with 4 shots of pickle juice instead – now that tastes nasty! I was willing to do whatever it takes to stave off cramps, so for good measure I did one more, and then one more – I was desperate… I got my bike and took off for the next climb.

 

Bowman Hill & Killer Miller

On the run up to Bowman, I got passed by a little guy in a Nigeria flag color green kit with Leadville embossed on it, seconds later, an identically built guy, in the same kit is sitting on my wheel. At the top I see they are riding together and working great, I look back and see Mr. Florescent green, I’m like screw this, I’m working with these guys to get away from him once and for all. I get in the drops, get sucked into their draft and glide right on past. I expect to see the group slowly fade away but 400 yards down, they are still right there, looking nice and neat, now that’s what I’m talking about, best of all we had finally gotten rid of florescent green. When it flattened out I chatted with the group – they are from the Shenandoah valley region and invited me to do the Alpine loop someday. As expected on this ride nothing good lasts long. Once on Bownan Hill, they gingerly float up the climb, opening the gap to me with every pedal stroke. My legs get heavier, the steep pitches inciting pain down my shoulder and spine as I yank on the handlebars for leverage. I crawled from shade to shade, irrespective of what side of the road it was on.m, every second out of the sun counts. At this point I convince myself that anyone who passes me is either doing a shorter ride than the double or most likely not pacing properly and would certainly blow up before the finish. 

Killer Miller was less daunting than I expected. The guy I caught up with at the base literally climbed 90% of the hill while standing. Looking at his cluster, his easiest gear was so little, I would guess he had a 26 as his largest gear, I don’t think it was possible for him to sit and spin even if he wanted to. He vacillated between standing and mashing for 30 seconds, then sitting for 5 seconds only to rediscover that he had not magically found an extra gear and had to stand back up to maintain momentum. Misery loves company, I was in loving it.

 

The Gremlins were beginning to creep in, I was increasingly being tempted to scroll over on my bike computer and look at how far I had done, how much suffering was left. The roads had became a little familiar, I had reconned this section with the wonderful Ellie Hamilton and friends a few weeks ago. Blue lick was next – graveled road, a nice downhill into a steep climb where traction was a premium. The last time I rode this road, I was unable to maintain traction at the top and fell over. With the way my legs were feeling, the chance of a repeat was very high. Amazingly, some one from the event must have filled out all the potholes and maybe even regraded the road. There was ample traction and I was able to stand and stretch my poor aching back. 

My mind always goes first before my body follows, it starts with anger, anger at the organizers for putting on such an unsafe event, how is it safe to make a course with this much climbing? why in the world would anyone want to climb this much? Anger at myself for paying money to do this – what am I trying to prove? At 228lbs, I’m never going to be a great climber, all this to end up 400th on a strava segment. I could hear my breathing and mind begin to drive me crazy, then I heard it the cowbells..

Jamie my wife had tracked me down and was at the side of the road with my kids cheering me on. It was great to get kisses and give sweaty hugs as they looked at daddy trying to decipher how he was feeling. My older daughter Adaeze was exceptionally loving after experiencing me get dropped at the last criterium I did. She said, “Daddy get on your bike, ride, ride, ride”, before I obliged her, I knew what I needed. Most of you readers will not like this, and I am sure to get some scolding from this, I might even be redisqualified for this (apparently I was disqualified), but I needed my mind to shut up, so I burrowed Jamie’s headphones and headed out for the final, brutal, painful, inhumane part of the ride.

 

Come back again, final part.

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2019 Garrett County gran fondo – Ride Report (Part 1)

As most people in my state of life, we are navigating finding purpose, setting good examples for our kids and finding fulfillment. The struggle between being passionate, following your heart, and the stereotypical millennial or being practical and endorsing logical thinking is real. Luckily, the bike has been an astute vehicle for navigating this dichotomy, one I am lucky to have found.

In the past few years, my time in the saddle has greatly decreased, my ride time reduced to solo bouts of aimless punting, and extended periods of inactivity, this coupled with swim practice, soccer coaching and assigned nights to give the kids showers and tuck them in, activities epic and club rides have been saved for middle age. In the middle of all this, one thing has always still haunted me, one goal still evaded me, the primal desire of every red-blooded, spandex-clad, cyclist on the east coast – complete the Garret County gran fondo – the diabolical doubtless.

With 125miles and about 15,000 feet of climbing, this is a bucket list ride for me. Unlike popular rides in Europe like the maraton etape, with huge coles and extended winding descents, the gcgf offers jagged winches of climbs, screening descents which are over much too quick and in the grand sceme, forgettable. You spent the entire ride feeling the only time you weren’t climbing was while at the rest stop or walking up a climb. Having completed the “grande” option, 100miles, 12,000 feet of climbing, I am familiar with in folklore and experience of the gcgf. I have also failed to complete the double multiple times, always capitulating to the pain and suffering, the first time due to my nemesis – cramps and the second time, a welcomed mechanical.

Last Saturday, I accomplished this goal, inducted into the hall of finishers, this is my account of it (what’d you mean all that was the intro? – heck yeah, a long ride deserves a long intro):

As usual, I’m always intrigued by the visuals at the start of an event. I always use this to gushed how big of a mistake I am making, how out of my depths am I attempting this? What struck me was the general absence of baby-smooth legs, deep wheels and kits so tight , you get hypoxic just looking at it. Save for the occasional triathlete (you can usually tell them by their poor choice in socks or lack of one), the field was filled with mountain men, box rimmed wheels, and hairy legs. There where many middle aged individuals, with visible bellies (nothing wrong with that) and a presence that conveyed a person as comfortable on their bikes as they are handling a riffle.

I missed the start, thanks to my inherent proclivity to African time and saw the group heading out as I was heading to the start line. I was glad to hear salutations from my coach Kevin Ellsworth, former local strongman, Tony Yurko, and the rangy unmistakable figure of Rick Bartlette comfortably sitting on a wheel like the best of them. I swung around and joined the peloton inadvertently missing the activation of my timing chip – not to worry, I was going for finisher not winner, besides where it really counts is strava. My strategy for this ride was simple, keep the power really low and constant, 270W or lower, don’t get out of the saddle unless you absolutely have to, stay hydrated, really rest at the rest stops, do whatever it takes to not get cramps.

CLIMB 1

The first climb comes about 2 miles into the ride – ASCI, this climb, this formally was the climb to the finish of the event, at 0.6 miles long, and an average grade of 10%, it is no way to start a ride. I still get unfortunate flashbacks of the out-of-body experience I had at the finish of the 2014 gran fondo, where both quads seized up, and a whole scene was made, save for calling the fire dept, a lot of $ was spent on therapy to be able to talk about it today without breaking into cold sweats. I tried to get into a rhythm, muscles stunned by the abrupt demand for more power, I noticed Rick who I had been riding with drop back a bit, Causing me to wonder if I was already going out too hard, but my heart rate was not terribly high and I felt I could give a lot more if I wanted to. I was passing all kinds of people, some with triple chain swing setup, cassettes as big as dinner plates, and those who apparently did not read the details of the event and showed up with what looked to me like 11-26 gearing. Believe it or not, one guy went by me on a single speed bike with flat pedals! I honestly chucked it up to a publicity stunt, I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind really looking to complete the ride on that setup. The resulting physical, not to mention emotional damage would be too great. We made it to the top uneventfully and started on the descent – to the next climb. This too was uneventful, save for the flying lady from Ohio, who was really leaning it over, picking some great lines and visibly having fun. Like the silent assasin that he is, Rick appears from no where on my wheel, subliminally willing me to pedal a bit harder.

CLIMB 2

White Rock

We hit white rock, the next significant climb, another grueling slug! All warmed up by now, I was able to get in my trusty 30-32 and attempt to spin. With legs the size of baby whales, it takes a lot of effort to maintain a cadence of anything above 77rpm. Switching to shorter 172.5mm cranks has helped, but when the going gets going, I resort to my trusted approach of Jeremy Clakson’s POWER and pay the price later. I was able to pass a few people on this one and showed a lot of restraint not to push and pass more, it was obvious though that everyone was still quite fresh. On this climb I noticed a few “brothers” too. The past few years I have done this, I have not been seen a lot of minority riders (of which there are many) partake in this suffering, so I made a mental not to chat with him when gravity was of a friendlier disposition. For the entire ride, my bike computer was set to display, Power, Cadence, Heart rate and Normalized Power. I had no interest in knowing how far I had gone, what grade I was currently on, how much time I had ridden or how much I had left. I only wanted to keep pedaling and for Mary sake avoid cramps! On the decent the ghost Rick assumed the familiar position on my wheel, and during a lull in the action told me something that changed my ride and possibly helped me finish.

Stay tuned.

Daring

I remember how I got into biking; I was astonished by the weight (pun intended) of the number staring back at me when I stepped on the scaled, in pom’s nomenclature I weighed more than about 10 stone. I reluctantly forked out $400 for my new bike, astonished that the bike guy was not overly impressed with my extravagance, I was half expecting the machine to levitate since I paid so much for it. Reality set in when I went to the back of the shop and saw bikes with multi thousand dollar sticker prices, I remember blacking out for a couple seconds. Thinking back to that time, I was completely open to learning something new, a champion of change, desire was strong and motivation virile, food tasted better and I took my tea spicy. For someone who had never been on anything more complicated that a vintage racing bike I stole from a friend in college, my 21 speed looked to me like a fighter jet.

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I doubt anyone has ever crashed as many times as I did on my first mountain bike ride. In my anticipations, I looked up mountain biking videos on YouTube and as you would expect I binged on hours on downhill mountain biking, planning to reenact these moves at my local trail on my $400 100mm travel pogo stick – I cannot be faulted for not trying, as you would expect, the results however was nothing like the videos. Ignorance about riding styles, equipment and abilities, was less than blissful let’s just say. I remember plummeting down gullies, and grabbing hand full of the front brake only to go over the bars, giving trees hugs, changing tubes, I remember how incomprehensible changing gears were and how unforgiving little humps were to submit. I can’t remember doing anything that hard before, even for someone who swims like a stone, this was immeasurable harder than my 10 week training block for a triathlon. Despite the toil, I still dreamt about being on that $400 bike every day, I still saw myself as Hans Ray. At this point in my life, I embraced change, I was not scared by something new, I did not care about success or failure, I just wanted to do something and Hot dog , I went out an did it.

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Black Eyed Susans (Maryland State flower)

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Attempt at a landscape shot… Not doing much for me

I just picked up a much smaller machine recently, this hast highlights have changed over the past few years. I picked up a nifty Olympus Pen E17 mirrorless DSLR camera, great entry level mirrorless camera. Photography has always moved me, in my heart, right next to the chamber which only great music occupies, is a space for awe inspiring images, just below the gourmet tacos chamber. I have however noticed a strange trepidation when it comes to fully immersing myself into this new experience. As a millennial accustoms to ever changing screens and buttons, I am completely overwhelmed by this device. Some much to learn; ISO, shutter speed, aperture, light displacement, image composition, hundreds of hours to be invested to even be mediocre at it. I constantly see myself wanting to just give up and go to the status quo of taking overly processed images on my iPhone using Instagram filters. I believe the greatest strength of a leader is anticipating and accepting change, its uncomfortable, it’s difficult and it can be avoided for only so long.

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My best shot so far… I think the model makes it, not the shooter

 

Through this, I have learnt to extend grace to the hidebound, to appreciate that every person experienced a time when they were vibrant and open, receptive and zealous, but slowly life and its minions make security the priority and society demonizes risk. I plan on mastering this photography thing, I plan on being good at it, I plan on having It add color, texture and context to my ballet of and in life and then I plan on moving on to sometime new before I settle into my immovable way of eating shrimp with old bay or none at all.

I leave you with this quote by Theodore Roosevelt

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight what knows neither victory nor defeat.

Thanks for stopping by.

To Pacify..

Here is how I feel today

In our microwave society, a pacifier is the ultimate symbol of our desired state of ideals. The burst of contentment it provides to a wailing child is abrupt and absolute, it captures and distracts, albeit it temporarily. It takes away the object of a child’s desire, that thing that prompted the crying in the first place. We constantly live life actively or passively pacifying, this is evident in the numerous addictions we all carry, some big, others small, no one is free, everyone has something calling their name, something they are running from, and in many ways running back to. We distracts, comforts, quiets the things that trouble us… We pacify our needs.

Unfortunately, distractions are just that – distractions, merely transient captors of desire, respite from yearnings that cannot quenched. What it gives never quite goes deep enough, it only caresses when a good scratching is needed. The one resistor to this pacification is the voice of the Heart, logic and rational win over the brain and the mind but the heart sits in silent rebellion, waiting, like Samson in the chains of the philistines, it bids its time, waiting for the opportunity to push down the pillars and return you to reality.

Recently, I have been in a deep state of pacification, chained to a cubicle, a three walled cell which is bigger than my previous cell. I continue to journey up the ladder of cooperate ladder but down this narrow dark hallway like a cow led to the slaughter room. My heart calls, begging me to snap out of it, but now I am good at ignoring it, besides my brain yells much louder. I have put my heart in a dark room and not gone back for some time, and for some time it has let me be but the ambush has been sprung – like waves of old Negro spiritual floating over a southern night, it calls for liberty, it cry’s for freedom, it cry’s for adventure.

Unlike many people, I know what I want to do, where I want to be, and what is stopping me (my good old friend fear.) The bottom line is my heart is about to make a break for it, it will either be let out of the jail or it will be broken trying to do so.

 

God loves cyclocross 

Every couple months I get to talk to my good friend AD, we go way back to a rainy day on a basketball court, sometimes I make the call and other times he does, the instigator never really has any bearings on the tone, level or strength of our connection. We are brother be it at home or abroad, we pick up right where we left up the last time we spoke. I dare say that is the sign of good friendship one formed through years bonding and numerous days lounging in campus dormitories gnawing on 2 day old pizza. I have had other friends, more sophisticated, more ambitious, ones who make me feel like if I keeping nurturing the relationship I will be on the front page of the NY Times before I know it. The latter group however is short on long-suffering (pun intended), a couple weeks of being incommunicado and you are dropped from the speed dial setting. 

  
What does this all have to do with cyclocross or God you say? Well hear, hear: The trustee cyclocross bike is in my opinion the most loyal of the never ending genres under which bikes are classified these days, they go as fast as your legs will propel them, keep up with any roadbike, all the while looking as good as the parts you hang on them.  Cross bikes are willing to be the winter bike and venture into any terrain your heart desires. The cyclocross mirrors how we feel inside; the dirtbag who would rather have panniers, fat tires, a flask and a destination with no plans on how to get there or the wannabe racer with 60mm deep wheels, you can dress a cross bike to be the embodiment of your current or desired mental state. 

  
 I just reactivated my Giant TCX. I put on some 28cc tires, new bottle cages and bar tape. The first ride was akin to a conversation with your high school sweetheart at the class reunion, awkward and forced, trying to find a conversational angle that skirts the elephant in the room. The sensation of speed was subpar, I searched for that feeling of riding a wild horse, the lurking aggression apparent in a race bike, the twitchiness of a steep head angle apt to respond to input from your pinky. I put in more effort try to coax that same feeling out of the aluminum frame to no avail, stood up and mashed the pedal, hoping to rouse the slumbering Cheeta within… No dice. Then something happened… I gave up. 

   

  
 I relaxed into a slow cadence, sat up and looked around, I soaked in every bump usually absorbed by the compliance of carbon strands, felt the tingling in my hands from my fingers up to my neck, the 28cc tires took the edge off but the frame stayed live.  On the decents, the relaxed geometry seemed to curve around the contours of the road and I thought … Hey this reminds me of God! We constantly chase speed, upgrading to the latest and greatest all the while relegating our first love to hang in the basement, with only the occasional call up when the fast bike is in the shop or the weather is bad. The cross bike never complains, always reliable, always willing. Romans 8:35 says what shall separate us from the love of God, not trouble or hardship or persecution or famine… 

As always it is hard for me to juxtapose the premise of a need for speed and one to look up and smell the roses on the bike just as in life. God can help me see through the fog and one of the ways he does it is through a 5 year old aluminum  cyclocross bike. 

Thanks for stopping by…

Into the Fog…

The Velo virus is a progressive neurological disorder common among avid recreational cyclist. Those infected are in a perpetual state of bike-jonsing, biking seems to be all they think about: riding, buying, and living voraciously through bike videos and blogs. The velo virus brings with it the secondary infection “upgraditis” causing involuntary trolling of online bike retail websites, Craigslist, and physical bike shops, in search of the next shiny part to make you bike lighter, blingier, faster… Some or all of the above. You live by the N+1 rule (where N is the number of bikes you currently have): N+1 is the acceptable number of bikes an infected person should have. 

 The great part of any group ride or organized ride is the bike lust you indulge at the starting point… Is that the new Pinerello, how do you like those disc brakes, can I pick it up and see how light it is. Machines you have only drooled over in glossy magazine pages and high res online images are there in the flesh to gawk at, touch and if you’re nice, the owner might let you throw a leg over. 

  

source: spokespparel.com

   
Velo disease is the product of life and society, a state of mind where what we have is never enough, the grass is always greener, all that glitters has to be gold… Doesn’t it? Very few are truly free of this pressure, most (like myself) preach of a longing for simpler times, when we were not all paper-chasing and trying to keep up with the jones while at the same time trying to creating room in our credit card for that new wheelset that just came up on Pricepoint. I know I have a severe case of VD, I have actually permitted myself to lust for what I can not afford not just in bikes but at work, with family, with relationships…

 The endless pit of N+1 is insatiable, but we do not seek to quench the thirst of this beast, we just want to scratch the itch. As a kid, I actually liked getting little abrasions those I knew would scab over… picking the scab gave the perfect amount of pain and pleasure. 

  
 

 Satisfaction is akin to riding into the fog, you can see only a few feet ahead, but you are content with that.  You are within yourself, you know your limits and you know when time for change arrives you will be able to see and know it. In my case, VD epitomizes my helplessness : the things I want to do, I do not and the things I do not want to do, that’s what I do… 

So, I strive to go back to simpler times, to focus on the spirit behind endeavors and not just the colors and packages come in. I resolve to be content with the journey and not the destination. 

The Intangible. 

Slow days at work put me In a state of malaise and deep introspection, I sit feeling un/underutilized like a luxury sports girl used only to run errands…wasting. I wrestle between desiring full utilization and living a bohemian nonconformist life style, do I press to be a CEO and control the destiny of others or sell all I have buy a VW Westiva and drive cross country biking and skiing whatever my pleasure. Both options contain room for doubt and discontent. Deliverance at such times come in a slow long ride (SLR). I punched out early, bundles up and rolled out for a lumpy, windy, slow spring ride on an overcast 45degree day. 

  

Irons mountain remains my second favorite place in the world, the beauty of that place hunts and hugs me simultaneously. It is an ode to the solitude usually required for such beauty and the urban infrastructural cost (lack of). I love to drive up that mountain on my lunch break and watch the turkey vultures soar, jib and juke with the thermals as the rise out of the adjoining valley. The ride to the top was tasking to put it lightly, my legs were flat and instead of ruminating on my thoughts and figuring out the world’s problems, I was wrestling the mountain gradient, mentally struggling not to abort, point my front wheel downhill and do what ever thinking I had hoped for in front of a TV set. I suppose there are some climbs great for getting in a zone, where the body goes into autopilot, churns out the miles liberating the mind to think and there are others where all faculties (physical and mental) are summoned to maintain forward momentum. 

   

 

Lately I have been working on relocating to Nigeria, there is so much to look forward to, and so much to miss in that one decision. Endless sunny days to ride, a slower pace of life and community alien to western living where you actually know your neighbor beyond the once in month hello exchanged as you walk out to get the Sunday paper.  There is however the price paid in the forfeit of some level of comfort: Mosquitos with teeth, insecurity, lack of snow and winter sports, state parks, the vibrant Appalachian mountains in the Fall. This was what I was chewing over on this ambitious ride for someone with Spring leggs I have taken many a long rides intent on sifting through the fog, to convincingly articulate to myself the reason I am really trying to move there, many times I end with more questions than answers. 

  

Grinding up Warrior mountain, on the section with a steady 7% grade, it becomes clear, the answer is “the intangible” that which can not be quantified, can’t be articulated, qualities like providence, destiny, serendipity. The intangible if the anchor that keeps one commited to a resolve when all fails. The enigma however is that we seek to unravel the intangible, to clearly articulate and bring to the light the ethos of our motivation, but we fail every time. I guess we have to keep going on those Slow Long Rides.