Unlike Friday, Saturday we were starting both early and driving to a different location to start. There was rain in the forecast for the afternoon, so we opted to get an early start in attempt to get the ride in before the rain. It was about a 40 minute drive to the state park where we were starting, and at 9am the 37 degree temps were cold, but like yesterday, it wasn’t that big a deal, at least not for me.
Pete promised some pretty serious climbing. To get to the park, we had driven down one of the roads we would be riding down, and it was one that made you gulp for sure. We did a nice gentle 20 minute warm-up where one of the guys who had been to the camp before pointed out a wall on the top of the mountain and informed all of us newbies that the wall was our first destination.
As we started climbing, that wall always seemed to be pretty far to my right and way way higher than me. I had heard people say just to get in a rhythm for this 3 mile (really 4 mile) climb. When we started, everyone was completely overdressed for the weather, but then to be climbing for the next 30 minutes, people were really overdressed. I went from pretty chilled to dripping with sweat in about 15 minutes, and I was probably wearing less than most. The guy ahead of me was wearing a full head Balaklava and was nearly suffocating as he tried to take it off without taking off his helmet….he eventually stopped to take it off. But, this climb called Hyner View just seemed to get harder and harder. As I got about half way up, I “was not a hero” again and dropped it into granny. It didn’t seem that hard, so I started freaking out that if I felt this bad on the first climb of the day, that it was going to be a REALLY LONG or a REALLY SHORT day on the bike. When I got to the top of this hill, I had 50 minutes in the saddle and was only 8 miles into the ride. At the top, we took some photos, and I heard some kid say, “man, I can’t believe those people rode their bikes up here.” I couldn’t help myself so I responded, “Me neither!”
I feel like there is a general divide between people who love descents and people who are scared to death of them. I am quite the latter. Riding down this hill had the supreme advantage of letting me know that the climb really was that steep, that I wasn’t that pathetic, but I was clutching my brake levers as though they were my only chance of survival. I fought off the hand cramps that came with clutching the brakes for 4 miles to make it down safely. There was one moment when I saw my life flash before my eyes, when a truck rounded a hairpin turn and had I been two feet to my left, it would have been lights out Marie! I did hear that the one guy who was pedaling?!?! the downhill did slide out, but he is good enough to right the ship.
Once at the bottom, we were going to do the significantly longer more difficult Hyner Mountain. Pete was quickly outvoted as we made our way to a route Pete hadn’t taken people on before. It was a quick 5 or 6 miles down the road and then to a 4 mile false flat and then to a 30 mile loop to close out the day with that Hyner Mountain (which was later nixed by all but 1 person). It was about here that I started getting schooled in my strengths and my weaknesses as a cyclist.
As we made our way to the false flat, I got dropped from the group. I mean, I was suffering for maybe 2 miles, but I just couldn’t hang so I dropped off. But, as usual, I quickly regrouped and once we started to approach the false flat, I caught back with the rest of the group that had had gotten dropped by the main group. While most of the others in my group turned around, I decided to finish up the false flat climb and make my way down. On the descent, I worked on trying to catch people’s wheels as they flew by, but it’s obviously a weakness I have – suffering. I just don’t do it well.
Once we got down to the bottom, we found that van with our supplies of food. I ate a PB&J sandwich, bought a Diet Pepsi and a twix at the local store, and hung out with the group as some of the people made their way up an optional 20% grade 2 mile climb. Now, there was a bit of a miscommunication as Pete’s girlfriend was nowhere to be found. Pete went from annoyed to starting to panic when word returned that she had parked and opted to hike up the 2 mile climb.
For the first time, I Johnny Clayed it. People were still hanging, and I just knew that the 30 mile loop was going to be long, with a headwind, and a struggle. Pete gave me the directions for the loop so I put them in my phone and took off. That took off should sound more like a car puttering down a dirt road, but there I was, going down the road. I made my way to the loop we were about to do and realized that I would be climbing for a long time. Since Pete had promised there would be no climbs as long as the 10 miler, I just got in a rhythm and just road. About 8 minutes into the climb, the strong group caught me. I said hi and let them go without a thought. I knew there were others behind me so I kind of had them as motivation to keep me moving up the hill. Then it kind of happened, I felt this sensation at being at one with this climb and my bike. It was this wonderful moment of kind of saying goodbye to a good friend like a college roommate. Truth be told, I have a new road bike, and this camp would be the last kind of ride my old Specialized and I are likely to do together. It was a great moment, even if it was with my inanimate bike. After this 8 mile climb, I got to the top and cruised down. People were waiting at the bottom, and I found myself having just profoundly having enjoyed the last hour on the bike.
The group pushed off for the last 25 miles together, and I was prohibited from Johnny Claying it. Pete said he would ride with me, but I was doing a fairly good job of staying with the group. Then, it was like I magically hit this 4 mile mark and fall of the line. It’s not even like I am getting dropped so much as I am falling off the line. But, per usual, I regrouped and started riding stronger than I had been riding all day. After about 20 minutes, Pete came back for me to make sure I was okay only to be shocked by how strong I was riding, pushing along going 20-22 mph on my own. The other woman in the group had fallen off the group, but when I passed her, she was still suffering from the line and couldn’t catch my wheel. As I kept riding, I felt strong and stronger. When we made the final turn for the last 10 miles, we had an awesome tailwind, and I pulled Pete, the other woman and her husband for 5 miles straight, often riding 25-26 mph. Pete pulled up to me and just said, “Wow!” He told me he was going to go back and pick up the other two who I had dropped but that I obviously didn’t need him to pull me as I was plenty strong to finish the ride.
Pete basically pulled them up so that when we made the turn back into the state park, we were all together, but I had a sense of accomplishment and a sense of understanding that I hadn’t realized before. If I want to be a roadie, I need to learn how to suffer. If I want to stay with ultracycling, I need to keep doing what I am doing: go off before you blow off, regroup, and ride strong.