Monday, July 19, 2010

2010 Horribly Hilly Hundreds: Stage 5

I have been on the bike for damn near 8 hours. I've been on the course for damn near 10 hours. I've climbed a shade over 9,000 feet. I've lived on GU, water, bananas, HEED, and PB&J sandwiches for all that time. I'm tired, caked in sweat and road grime, and if I move my legs in any wrong position they cramp up tighter than a perfectly executed Boy Scout knot. I am not happy on my bike anymore, and I don't want to go another 20'some miles. But like I said in the last post, at this point I knew I had this ride in the bank, it was just a matter of getting to the finish.

And so I climbed back on the bike and rode away from the safety of the last rest stop. Not more than a mile or so into it, I am assaulted by Pinnacle Road.

And cleaned it fabulously. Seriously, I passed everyone on that hill. And that boosted the morale to uncharted territory. I locked into the big ring and churned away on the rare flats, got into the climbing gears for the hills, and put my head down and went. The stage takes about 2 hours to finish, 1.5 if your superhuman like my friend Ian. But I didn't notice the time. I was riding possessed, and the country rolled by. Unlike before, I wasn't worried about not finishing, I wasn't dreading the fact that I was gonna quit. I kicked the pedals over and over and rode my way towards Mounds Park Road part deaux. At the last water stop before that horrendous ride, I filled up on the bottles and then gazed melodramatically across the scenic countryside. For the first time in my 4 attempts, I appreciated the view. I was having fun on this ride the whole time. It was hard, it was a sufferfest the whole time, and I wished many many times that I was not on my bike but drinking a beer in the shade somewhere else. However this year I raced my race. I did my pace, and I was smart, and I was now sitting here with about 10 miles to go and starting to realize what I was about to accomplish. I was about to have ridden 123 miles in one day, climbed a mountains worth, and finish a ride that in year's past had a field finish rate of something around 1/3 for the long course. I had to smile a little bit before I put the bottles in the cages and went on my way.

But I still needed to climb Mounds Park Rd., and the last 10 miles or so you can see it looming as you snake your way towards it. The sun was setting so I knew the climb was gonna be in the shade, but that was a mute point. By that point my legs will have the most they ever had in them in one day at 120 miles. This climb, whether or not I was feeling good and having an awesome day, was gonna hurt. And it didn't disappoint in that regard.

I turned onto the road and saw the street sign printed with the infamous name, and I give it the finger. I then churn away. There is only one person ahead of me at this point, and I make a point that I'm gonna catch and beat him to the top. One because he's on a hybrid style bike, and two he's doing the candy ass approach of paperboying the climb. So I go. The legs cramp and I ignore them. Even though it's shaded, the core temp is skyrocketing from the fact that I'm going up again. Mercifully, about 1/4 of the way up you come to a picnic table that has a hose sitting on it with a spray valve. These people do this every year and if I ever saw them in person I would hug them. I proceed to hose my head down and top off one of the bottles so that I can spray my head down throughout the rest of the climb. I clip back in and away I go.

You climb. And climb. And climb some more. Mounds Park Road is relentless with an average gradient of 11% or so. I'm out of the saddle, I'm back in it, I'm up again. I'm doing everything I can to keep the legs working. Then mercifully it levels out and then you are coasting down. The downhill doesn't last long, but it is rejuvenating. This year they were doing road construction at about half way up the last small section of this climb, so I make the right turn, climb a few feet to the ticket booth, and have to clip out. I'm too tired to try and navigate my bike through gravel, and I don't want to risk a mechanical or something else at this point. So I walk my bike through it. Once back on solid ground, I take just a few breathes, a sip of water, and throw my leg back over the bike. Cars are coming down now and people are honking and shouting "You're almost there! Keep going!!". I smile back and give a salute and think to myself "I know." Only 300 feet or so separate me from one of my huge goals and I set off. And wouldn't you know who I see paperboying around? My carrot, that guy on the hybrid. And I churn away with a little more purpose, and then I see a volunteer telling me that it's just around the corner. But even more motivation is I hear Elli scream at me. I can tell by her voice that she is crying. This is a huge victory for me and something that has taken me 4 years to achieve, and she has been through it as well. For past 3 years she has suffered each failure with me. She even confided in me this year on the drive back to the hotel that if I didn't finish this year she may not have been able to go through a 5th time. Truth be told, I'm not sure I would've been able to either. But back to this ride, with her, Jen, and Ian shouting encouragement, I somehow summon some deep energy reserve and jump out of the saddle and sprint to the line. Officially, my on bike time was 9 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds. I made my goal of 10 hours of saddle time by one second. I find a tree, let the bike fall, and fall to the ground and use the tree as a back rest. I've finally finished the most torturous ride I've ever done. And I'm laughing. Elli is crying with joy. And Daven gives me a high five. It doesn't get much better.

So what now? People have asked if I'm going back since I've now finished it. And I answer with an enthusiastic yes. I'm looking forward to it even more now. And it has done wonders for my cycling now. I'm a little more confident in my abilities, and possibly a little more arrogant when it comes to hills. But it's nice to have finally conquered that ride and join a rather elite group of people who can say the same.

Bring on 2011!

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