"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer
But all that happened in between the start and the finish? The actual racing part? What a difference a year has made.
The morning of Hillsboro-Roubaix, the intermittant sunshine didn't do much to warm the cold morning or calm the unexpectly quick winds whipping out of the east. I procrastinated a bit too long inside the registration area of the church before finally getting on the trainer an hour before go time. I got in a solid, if abbreviated, warm-up with a couple of superthreshold efforts in about 25 minutes, before heading out onto the course. I rode out about a mile past the feedhill to get a feel for the headwinds and the gearing I'd need for the big, decisive hill before divebombing onto the race's namesake jolting, jarring brick streets on the way to the finish line.
The night before I'd scouted the course in the car with Tamara and Katy so I knew what we were in for. Even then we'd known there would be some kind of wind out of the east, so being able to see that much of the cross-wind section would be though technical, narrow, rough, and winding roads helped much with the mental preperation.
There was a centerline rule in effect for all but 300 yards of this race, not-with-standing the fact that there was no yellowline at all, and much of the back part of the course was only one lane to begin with.
I knew staying at the front would be key during the entire race.
Everything timed out well, and I found myself at the front, awaiting the 4/5 field's start, without too much time to get cold, but I still stood there shivering next to my xXx teammates: Jeff, Newt, Sheriptis, Bob, Loukis, Leonard, and Jim. I'd be lying if I said the shivering wasn't mostly due to the nervous antipation of my first time attempting this very famous regional road race. But thankfully, the neutral start was soon rolling.
Spin easy, big boy. Right turn. Down hill through the feed zone. End of the cones in sight. Just as Newt said to me, "Yo! It's a race!" at least 8 were immediately attacking. But the uphill right after reeled all but two in. The Ghisella and Killjoy riders were soon only on the periphery of our attention. Immediately xXx set the pace for the main field, and we were well into our first lap.
Newt, Chris, and Jeff did wonderful job keeping all the subsequent attacks in check, and the pack stayed together in the tailwinds heading west on the long stretch of Interurban road. A very good thing, too. Any gap would have been much harder to bridge once we turned south and took on the 15-20 mile an hour crosswinds.
It was here that two decisive crashes happened, right after another. One, right behind me, seemed to stretch on forever, "crack! bang! snap! crack!" and riders yelling the obvious. I heard later those split the field and left a lead group with about 40 riders. It then hit me that last year, in Spring Prairie or Proving Grounds, two much easier races, technically speaking, I would've been behind that crash.
Yet even then, as Newt churned a furious pace at the front, I found myself, along with Jeff, one too many wheels back. The echelon was out of room, and it was either hang myself in the wind or ride in the shoulder. I asked Jeff to move up so we could start a second echelon, but nobody behind us was paying attention or had already found another group, and it was immediately intuitive that with just two us, a gap would form pretty quick.
I don't know how, but someway it was easier to dig down and try and grab a pinch of draft here and there until we reached the straight headwinds on Walshville and headed back east. It was still not without supreme effort, and through a 10 minute stretch was at near-max fighting only to hang on to my place in the pack and not give up an inch even then.
I was able to recover in the straight draft, with Newt still at the front. A couple of attacks flew off in the headwind, but nothing got far at all and were overtaken on pack dynamics alone. He took us up the big hill at increasing speed and down over the bricks and onto our second and final lap. That last effort split the field again I heard, now down to under 30 riders. Again, last year I would've known for sure, as I would surely have watched that lead group growing smaller while I counted every rider.
Back onto Farm Trail and Interurban, the pack was much calmer and more thoughtful. The breakaway was still about 45 seconds ahead, and we could see them, tantalizingly close. Upon reaching the headwinds of Walshville, one more crash behind me sent a few more riders packing, and the front group got down to a bit of business.
The chatter started as two lines naturally formed, and when the right leader pulled through, I yelled "your clear!" and to the wheel in front, "it's you, man!" A nascent rotation began to form.
But all we had left in the main group were myself, Jeff, Newt, and Bob. Bob was conserving himself for his strong pack finish, and Newt was in desperate need of recovery after cracking the whip for nearly the entire first lap. It was up to Jeff and I to keep things moving. But we had enough Killjoy and Ghisella riders to disrupt things, and other teams were either too tired or unknowledgable to get in the flow. The work to fill the resulting gaps was too much in that wind that close to the finish.
Soon the fields ahead were going past on their 3rd lap on the out and back stretch, and it was obvious the break woudl stay away. And the end game was on.
The pace immediately slowed to a near crawl in the wind, no body making a move at all. It quickened a bit up the feedhill, but mostly to get around dropped 3/4 riders without gapping. I moved up to second wheel and rolled down the hill on a Vision Quest wheel, again with no one making any moves. Except for the lead wheel I was on half-heartedly trying to move off. I stuck on like glue and waited.
Waited until my impatience to make a decisive move got the better of me.
I jumped and attacked at the base of the hill. It felt wonderful. I spun and danced and fast and big as I could and imagined the separation growing behind me. I really thought I could make it. In the depths of my oxygen-deprived brain, I really thought I could.
The line of demarcation from ecstatic endorphin rush to the painful crash of cracking is one of brutal contrast.
It happened so fast.
I sat down about 2/3rds from the top and tried to grind out that last little crest as they caught me. I clung onto the back as I hit 40 going onto the bricks. And was dropped sharply out the back on the second to last turn before the finish.
I watched them float away. I kept my pace up as fast as possible to fend off the rider behind me maybe 75 yards away. But I wasn't going to catch anyone else. Jeff was maybe 30 yards ahead, and Newt at the back of the pack maybe 25 in front of him.
While not entirely down on myself, I flashed a huge smile through my anger as Katy took a picture as I crossed the line while Tracy held the huge red sign Katy had made on the sly before the weekend. I knew I was dating a former cheerleader, but damn.
It was a thoughtless, ill-timed move that wasted all the gains I'd made thoughout the day, not to mention the efforts of my other teammates for a stronger overall finish. But then I realized, of course, that I had still made those gains.
Last year, I waited and had to react. Today, I'd been making the decisions and moves that made others react. I'd heard so much and so often that the race is at the front. Today, I lived it. I'd avoided the crashes, barked the orders in the chase group, and made the first move.
Eggs, omelet, blah-blah-blah...big lesson learned.
What a difference the year has made.
I ate it animal style on the way back to town: a Culver's Double with bacon and cheese, not to mention half a bag of orange slices and candy corn from the gas station before.
We saw the Sears Tower go dark as we arrived in Chicago, for Earth Hour.
I even had a gig that night believe it or not. A benefit show on the far northwest side, it was luckily a show/play/split show on account of provided equipment and understanding bandmates.
We found that Hatchi's Kitchen in Logan Square was still serving. I ate about a 5 pounds of sushi, before heading to bed and almost immediate sleep.
That's the music that's gonna be in my head in Hillsboro on Saturday.
To all of you racing with me:
Do it for fun.
Do it for love.
Do it 'cause you must.
Do it for yourself.
But whatever the case, make it real, and don't leave with anything except satisfaction and crossing the line.
It's a long season, and kicking it off with anything less would be a shame.
For it's what is good in life (thanks for the reminder Newtron):
Oh! And 200th post! (And fuck Bob Huggins.)
The scene was a random, vague looking office party, and I was with some teammates and friends are there. I am told Floyd Landis is in the building and that he’s looking for me. He’s mad and blaming me for some reason about his positive test and ban from cycling. Note: the suspension of disbelief is total here. Of course I know Floyd Landis.
I’m moving from room to room to avoid him, thinking at worst he’s gonna pick a fight with me or slap me around some...as I walk through a foyer, Landis comes out of a stairwell or elevator or something, and looks pretty dirty, unshaven. Like things have been pretty rough. All he says is, “Yo Morrissey,” and pulls out a gun and shoots me dead.
This was obviously a Hillsboro dream. I am racing in Hillsboro, IL this weekend, in probably one of the biggest spring races in the Midwest, the Hillsboro Roubaix. It's in honor of the European one-day spring classic, ala Paris-Roubaix. There's even a section of brick for a few blocks before the finishing straight. My first race of the season. I had a great camp, but I'm still pretty nervous. I really want to have a good finish and help the team success as much as possible.
Oh...sorry, the dream. It's all pretty normal, except for the following:
- at the start, everything was on FIRE,
- I abandoned the race when I got to the half-pipe,
- but I got to the finish in time to see Ed and Luke sprinting for 1st, but it was down the front hallway at my Jr. High School in Anchorage, AK…
Also, next weekend, at the Note in Wicker Park, will be my last performance ever with these great guys. If you haven't had a chance to see me play, this is it, your last one. Please come out...I love playing for my friends just about as much as I do riding with them. I know a lot of us are racing in Beloit that weekend, and I got you covered. We're on at 10:30. So you will be in bed no later than midnight. And besides, the sleep you need for this race will come on Friday night. So get your ass to the Note next Saturday and send me out in style.
But in the meantime, a look behind the scenes:
Setting the drums (this takes forever, BTW. But it's arguably the most important facet of the entire recording. Even with the three hours of due diligence, you will still be asking, for days after, whether the snare sounds right):
There are lots and lots of mics involved in setting up the drums, at least 8:
The Main Recording Room:
Laying down the basics first (Getting the drums right is followed closely in importance by re-tuning the bass guitar between every...single...take. If your pitch shifts even a few cents here and there, pretty soon you are going to be off. And then when the bass rig is broken down and it's time to lay guitars on top of an out-of-tune rhythm section? You have no idea how pissed everyone is going be at you):
The Evil Supercomputer of Effects:
Vic Damone? Fuck yeah it's Vic Damone! Ooh, baby.
The cut on my left index finger from the crash in California a weekend ago still hadn't healed all the way (I bleed for my art, what else can I say?):
The guitar trax are going down!
If you've ever spent more than a few hours in a studio of any kind, you know this cookbook very well...hint, its "recipes" are primarily burritos and Kung Pao Chicken.
The Chairman of the Board:
Be sure and take notes:
30 hours out of a possible 72 available on Easter weekend spent recording? What could possibly get me through it?!?
This helped too (and contributed significantly to the fact that the above is possibly the worst picture ever taken of me):
That smooth voice laying down the soul of the weekend:
We are having problems with the 2inch tape machine right now, so I am passing the time here...this is potentially a weekend killer, and as this is my last weekend...it could be a disastrously anti-climactic ending to my time in The Midnight Shows...
Sorry for the stream-of-conscious babbling...thanks for playing Scrabulous with me while I sit around awaiting my fate...hold tight and keep your fingers crossed...
Walls are being built. Turrets sculpted. An impassable moat.
All night long, the waves just barely reach and touch the edges, driving the workers on, a vision of fear and power fuels their creativity, and their will is to be my strength.
A fluid muscularity that never sets or hardens immobile. A fortress to be built again and again.
When day breaks, the builders have gone. I only see the fruits of their labors. Impeccable work has been done, overnight, and the Castle stands, reflecting the sunrise into a billion rays off of a billion tiny grains of glass.
The walls are stoic and expressionless. Like the face of a well-trained soldier. And will give no comfort to my enemies.
But they won't always hold. All for my good. I want failure. For the men will build those broken walls stronger, and clear my ravaged castle clean the next night.
And the next, when they come with the waves and the sunset and the drone and the heaviness sends me to sleep.
"So...don't be afraid if you're lost to stick your thumb out and least ask. One year, I was driving at 6:30 in the morning, and came across a drunk lady...I ended up taking her all the way home..."
"...and one thing led to another..."
"These eggs are too fresh!"
"Troy? You got a minute?"
"Yeah, but you're still only going at Light Speed."
"Internal massage therapist? CanI see your certification?"
"I think I'm going to stop talking now."
"I think the road just said 'fuck you' back!"
(Raspy, movie trailer voice): "In a world where you must eat two breakfasts just to survive..."
"When it gets nasty, get down to biznezz!"
(And here's a few priceless ones from Jeff - there's more in the comments section)
"We've had like 30 dropped chains already..."
"Is that you Morrissey? Get your fat ass up here!"
"You were my second choice for most likely to have snorted a line of coke off a hooker's ass"
"You want to compare the number of women slept with??? Are you serious? Dude, I will carpet bomb you!"
Always, always, always wear the base layer. This is what's left of my vest, my outer layer on Friday's crash ride:
Although I was also wearing a jersey inside that, underneath was this tight, slick baselayer:
Note the small brown smudge. That's it. That prevented my skin from catching and ripping, saving me the broken collarbone. Wear the baselayer always.
Camp is hard...
And thanks for the memories...
Squeaking, choking clouds of rust from ravenous ice
And out we spilled into bright sunshine and dewy grass
Leaving comfort and ease, boredom and apathy
Every animal finds itself when finally set loose
We raced to the moutaintops, if only for the view
And to tumble back down, all the way to the bottom
We laughed like children, cried with pain
Extended comfort and wisdom
We ate with the intent of condemned men
Except we were the ones who'd never die
For that great and fiery wind which ripped through the valley
Laid bare our hearts, alighting them with love and power
And out spilled our blood down into the dirt
A planted seed to fuel the desire to never stop
And the great green fields of poppies and horses
Will have that piece of us always, fovever.
Photo by Erik Didriksen:
There was nothing new learned. Technically speaking. That it until we were almost home. But more on that later. Today we put all we'd learned over the course of the week into practice.
The day seemed jinxed from the start.
We rode out on 101 as we had on Monday and on Thursday, going through the Cal Poly campus. We stopped for my flat tire on the way to the beach and the ride was almost over before it began. A teammate off the back came by as I was flipping my bike over, and head turned and mere feet from the rest of the pack standing on the shoulder, said, moving at full speed, "need anything?" She then ran full speed into our coach, Randy Warren.
He lay there, groaning for several minutes. I thought we were headed home as the fire truck rolled up, but by then he was standing. He walked over and thanked them, and then asked me, as two other teammates had, if I was done truing my wheel. Ha ha. I was taking my time, a bit in shock at having seen the whole incident.
We were rolling again.
At the beach in sunshine before the pain, chaos:
We pulled up to a beautiful stretch of beach and got ready for The Wall. We divided into 4 groups based on fitness, ability, or experience, depending on how you looked at it. The idea was for the slowest riders to go first and the fastest to go last, so the wait for the regroup at the top of The Wall would be minimal. Randy volunteered himself in the first group, as just an hour earlier his whole right side had been numb from the tagging he'd received on the highway.
The second group had many xXx veterans in it. I was with the third. With George, Peter, Newt, Stocky, Carter, and Francois. We were about 20 miles from the climb of my life. 13 back on Highway 101, and 7 from the exit to the top of The Wall.
We instantly fell into a rotating paceline, which we worked for several miles. But the headwind kicked up and the rollers increased, so we began a single line with short pulls. I never really got a chance to take very many, as the stronger riders really took charge. Twice while waiting for Peter's speed to drop and his elbow to flick, George would storm up to take the lead. And right before our exit from the highway, Carter took a pull for what seemed like an hour at 23mph into the wind, never flagging once.
Off the highway, we hit rough chip n' seal pavement and began encountering riders from the 1st group. Bob was already on the side of the highway. He'd had to abandon his Black Mountain climb due to his Achilles tendon on Wednesday, so The Wall was out of the question. George kept Stocky in check: "Don't chase, don't chase. Steady. Stay steady."
The pace was fast but manageable in the draft behind Stocky, and suddenly it was my turn up front. Just then, group two came into view. Right then, the order came to chase. Peter immediately pulled to the fore with the other group to our right and the first steep incline hit us. And hit me.
I hit the incline at full speed overgeared, tried like to hell to keep on Peter's wheel, and promptly went supernova. Everyone in both groups flew past me on the right as I tried to get myself under control. It was embarrassing. I hadn't even taken my share of the pulls and I was the first one off the back. Randy came by just as I was opening a gel that squirted all over my hands and bars. My only option was to was settle in, recover, and try to catch everyone on the climb.
I did just that. For some reason, I can't really hammer out on the flats. I blow up easily. I guess I just haven't put in the interval work yet. But, while not exactly a picnic, I can climb a bit faster than most my size and still stay at threshold. Mentally the climb was as tough as Black Mountain. Physically I came a bit closer to losing control as there were more marks ahead pushing me harder. About a half-mile from the top, Jeff Holland heard my breathing, turned and yelled back, "Is that you Morrissey?! Get your fat ass up here!" Had the climb been just 150 yards more, I would've caught Stocky and been third to the top.
It was a cold and windy place to be, standing and sweaty. It was warm and inviting to sit in the sun out of the breeze and that's where we stayed, while the group came up, one by one.
Mark, Me, Jacques, Kirby:
Luke was top of his game all week:
Coming down was fun as hell. I was off the back, first after a cautious descent on the initial tricky descent, then after getting gapped when the leaders jumped on the last roller before another long downhill to the regroup at the highway. Again, it was Randy, George, Kirby and I, with Francois as well.
Luke had a camera mounted on his handlebars...here's how to stay at the front:
We headed back to town, one extra loop somewhere in there, and then we were back on Los Osos - the scene of yesterday's hammerfest. Some where planning on heading out for an additional 15 to get the century. I was feeling the hotspots in my feet again that I did on Monday, so 85 was going to be it for me. The group came together, and the speed had increased in the strong tailwind when it happened as quickly as I'll describe it.
Stocky, in front of me in the inside line, hit a groove on the shoulder in some patchwork, along with a couple wide potholes. He tried pull his wheel out but his bike was bouncing quite a bit, and at 30+, very unstable. His wheel came down sideways, and simultaneously, he was thrown out into the roadway and his bike was kicked back inside, right in front of me.
Almost at the same time, my shoulder hit the ground and my head cracked the pavement as I rolled onto my back, but strangely, I had time to realize my shoulder was OK, and my head was clear enough to realize a millisecond later it got hit again by someone's wheel.
I put my hands on my face, as I sat up to make sure I hadn't split the scar on my lip open and check for blood. Nothing. But then I heard the moans in the road. Brian was badly hurt. A crowd of riders was soon around him, and I decided right there to give them room and count my blessings.
My helmet was cracked in four places, the coating scraped and crimped, and my brand-new black vest shredded on my left shoulder. My knee warmers were ruined with blood seeping through, and even my shoe covers were trashed. George and JT at first were convinced my collar bone was broken, but I told them I had almost no pain, and when we got the vest off, it was obvious why. The base layer I was wearing, the one Erik talked me into buying the night before, saved me. The vest caught my jersey, ripped, the jersey ripped and slipped on the tight, slick underlayer, and didn't catch my skin.
Lesson learned. Always always always wear the base layer.
The toll from the crash? 6 riders down. One in the hospital with a broken scapula. One frame, one kit and two wheels ruined. Flying over the handlebars at 32mph and riding away? Are you kidding me? Priceless. I wish I could say the same for Stocky.
Strangely, it may seem, the crash will not slow me down. Seeing everything in slow motion like that for the first time - I can see every moment of it even now: the bike kicking back into my line, the conscious thought to roll over on my back even before I hit it - is a lesson...keep thinking where you want to go, not where you don't. With this experience, maybe I'll make it around next time. But at least I know again that crashing isn't the end of the world.
The team dinner was subdued and mellow. Most of us had at least one drink. Me several. Cross-discipline, as well. Won't look forward to sleeping on the hide-a-bed tonight. My left side is bruised and rashed from knee to shoulder. And I won't be riding tomorrow. Will probably be moving so slow I will only have to time to pack, anyways.
We leave on the bus at noon.
It was a gorgeous ride today. Humid and overcast in the morning, through some fun, forested rollers through the park...and then a complete vomit-in-my-mouth, hammerfest back to Pismo Beach, and finally home.
I was tired. Dead tired, after yesterday's soul mission on the switchbacks of Black Mountain. It seemed I could barely get my heart rate up, yet I was breathing and huffing as though I were at the end of a sprint. My body was telling me to lay off, but my brain was saying don't waste the opportunity.
The opportunity came by at about 30 in the form of Bob Willems. I grabbed his wheel as he told me there was a sprint point point coming up and we desperately tried to bridge the gap that had already formed. But by then there were already guys coming off the back. I was in no man's land for a while after Bob fell off. But then Mark Watkins came by and I was able to grab his wheel.
We worked well together, reaching speeds of 40mph (we were coming down a false flat with a tail wind) and once we finally hit the back of the lead group, I tried catch my breath and recover just a bit. But they were still moving at at least 35, and it wasn't possible with my fatigue and fitness-level. Oh well, at least I got Mark up there. He noted how fast it was when I saw him again coming into Pismo with a wry smile on his face.
I headed straight back with a large part of the group, and even skipped my last opportunity at the sprint. I was doing enough work this week, and even overextending myself that day, so I was content to roll the west of the way and be entertained by the last minute leadout to the mailbox.
I couldn't wait to get down to the Farmer's Market and relax, take in the town, and then get some sleep. Dinner was lamb shank, perhaps the most tender I've ever had, at Big Sky Cafe.
Newt's got a thing for Mascots:
$1 Stella with order of Frites:
Black Mountain Day.
Time To See What Kind of Man You Really Are Day.
Sitting at breakfast this morning, many riders were talking about what little sleep they'd gotten last night. I was well rested. The difference was, they were expecting to ride with the lead group, and wanted to finish. They'd experienced the climb before, and knew what to expect.
They knew what they were in for.
Me? I wasn't even sure if I'd finish. 2 years ago. Even Cat 3s turned around. Last year? Only 6 made it to the top and JT wasn't even allowed to do it. So my expectations were low going in. I was looking forward to it, sure. I'd found some climbing legs Monday and I realized what the rhythm, the zone, felt like. The question was, would the intensity allow it again?
The day also featured my initiation to The Grade. The Grade is simply a 3 mile long section of Highway 101 with an 8% grade. We'd go up in the morning. Down in the afternoon. Erik had been telling me about it for a month, at least. How passing a semi limited by law to 35mph might be possible. And, to say the least, I was a bit nervous. About the descent to be sure. Speeds of 60mph plus were not unheard of.
I bought my bike on Craigslist. It hasn't let me down yet, but still...
After 4 packets of oatmeal, two bananas, and two pieces of toast, not to mention the two hard boileds and the bowl full of fruit, we briefed and were on our way.
It felt surreal to be on my bike again. The day had a bit of ominous feel to it. Somewhat foreboding. Overcast skies and a stiff breeze ruled, and my heart beat with a bit of anticipation that increased my sensation of all of it. I was well rested from yesterday's time off, but 100 miles was a new milestone for me on Monday. Almost immediately we were headed uphill and I waited to see how my body would respond. My heart rate creeped steadily upwards but leveled off at 80% as the climb continued. Almost simultaneously, Mark and JT came by and passed on a little feedback: keep the shoulders down and the back flat, "crackers under the hands" - keep your grip easy. Fortunately, I was already there, belly breathing and grateful for the reenforcement of my nascent climbing technique. No gaps opened up, at least from my vantage point. It was smooth going.
I stayed at upper level endurance the whole way up, never letting go of my wheel and hopefully giving my rider behind a steady pace as well, and was rewarded with a fun 2 mile descent down to our exit at Santa Margartia that was to take us on our next leg to Black Mountain. We stopped at the turnout, regrouped, and fueled up a bit.
Randy and ex-xXx-er and current Webcor pro, Rebecca Munch:
There were a series of awesome rollers next after another brief climb. The group pretty much stayed together...at least there were no gaps in front of me. The pace got very quick after coming down. I felt my descending had obviously improved quite a bit, but then again there weren't any extremely sharp turns. Finally there was a long straight away and a fat tailwind and we arrived at a road house bar that Randy had mentioned earlier.
Can you hear the Enrico Marconi soundtrack in the background?
We all got a good sniff of barbecued ribs to whet our sense of pride and deprivation, and off we went. Sort of. An aborted hammerfest ensued, as the elites wanted to "stretch" their legs, but Jeremy smacked a pothole and flatted, deflating the effort, so to speak. We waited and joked for a bit, accusing everyone else of instigating the fight. We were rolling again. Just a bit slower.
But not slow enough. The rollers began again and soon I was gapped - Jeff was with me for a bit, but we separated, still never that far apart.. With no idea of where the real climb began, I settled into solo-mode, and got used to the scenery. Lots of green rolled by: pasture, evergreens, and some more distant mountain sides. Every-once-in-a-while, a black or white jersey up ahead would tease me a bit, but for the next 30 minutes or so, I was alone.
I finally recognized the two marks in front of me as Newt and Peter. We briefly worked together into the headwind, but the continuing rollers foiled our efforts, and our strength ebbed and flowed at unmeshed times. Finally there was the last turn, the van, and all the strong boys off the front came into view.
A chance to stop, refuel, and finally recognize what was in store. Luke said this was it. The sign just said "FAA Radar Station - 7 miles."
The lead group left soon after we arrived. Meanwhile, a few others rolled in. We pissed, ate, posed for a couple pics and then got down to business.
Peter, Jeff, and I rolled about around a minute after Newt did, and he was soon out of sight. None of us knew what to expect besides what we'd heard from the vets, and we tread forward with a lot of trepidation. What happened next was a big step for me, as I am rarely one to step out of line, or forward first, but I felt I could definitely push harder, so I sped away. Not sure if they would follow, I didn't look back. Initially.
The road was definitely a mess, an access-only type of road, a four-wheel-drive required type of road. I felt like a mountain goat as I slowly worked up the switchbacks, carefully keeping even torque and spin over the all the gravel and scree. Soon I felt confident to ratchet up the effort a bit, knowing that blowing up wasn't imminent. There was constant pain, but it was working pain, and staying at threshold was well within my control.
The road up, by Rick Widen:
Seeing that I was going to catch Newt made all of it more tolerable, and my output increased. All the way up, I was later surprised to realize, my normally elusive focus was zeroed in. There was no day dreaming, no lapsing to catch a view, no hitting a rock, and certainly no touching down. My brain was a laser. There were moments of doubt, of course. Such as when the grade pitched up to a ridiculous degree, or looked back to see Newt gaining at one point as I picked my way down a particularly sketchy descent on the way to an even sketchier 20% grade pitching back up.
But within seconds of catching Kirby, I looked back and saw no one else, yet the thought of getting caught when I wasn't looking hit me, and that was the fuel I needed to get my to the top. I am not competitive at all by nature, as I've stated many times in this space. But I look up to Kirby, Newt, Peter, and Jeff as smart, tough, and strong riders. Superlative riders. Guys on the podium. The satisfaction was not in catching them. It was seeing the measure of how far I'd come in my first year of competitive cycling.
The last switchback stretched around to reveal the silhouette of a rider looking down upon me in front of the massive weather radar dome on the ridge above, and I hit the gas and flew up to the flat and my waiting teammates.
I was greeted with a hero's welcome. A great huzzah! arose and high-fives and fists were extended all around. As I hacked phlegm and shivered as the wind sucked away my sweat, a wave of dizziness hit and I never felt higher.
Soon along came Newt and Kirby, and then George rolled in, followed soon by Peter, and then Jeff. The cheers rose each time in honor of the accomplishment, and of course, in the end, order did not matter. It was an individual achievement, but given to us all by a combined effort, and celebrated as one, as well.
What's more satisfying than accomplishment:
What utter badasses (Kirby, Newt, Mark):
George Langford, so fresh, fresh, freshly squeezed:
Persistent Peter Prevails:
Kings of the Mountain:
The descent was scary, slow, grinding work. I was practically throwing my bike the whole way down, until the grade and turns evened out to a tolerable level for my experience. The van was still waiting for us back at the turn off, and we got more water, and milled about as more and more riders rejoined the group.
And there was a lot more hammering to be done. After waiting for a mechanical to be dealt with the pace was immediately back to warp speed after Peter, Newt and I poked the bear.
Poked the bear.
Poked the bear. RUN.
Ed, JT and crew were stringing it out like a ball of yarn bouncing down the staircase. And soon there were a lot of good, yet tired riders completely shelled off the back for a couple miles at least. Including Randy, George, Peter, Kirby and myself.
Like separate drops of water steadily brought together by surface tension, the five of us were soon trying to work together, at first unsteady as we still thought only of recovery. The catalyst was primed, waiting to be lit, all that was needed was a spark to set the fire.
It came as George hit some scree on the shoulder, lost his line, and nearly endoed onto the steep, dusty shoulder. I looked back long enough to see him recover while Randy, Kirby and I hesitated just for a moment, slowing our pace, when George stroked past and the paceline was on.
Good for us. Bad for Peter. He'd hesitated too much when George faltered, expecting him to go down, and as soon as George righted the ship, he was hammering to catch us, and Peter was fatally gapped. Right before his eyes, he told me later, the remaining four of us slipped into the rotating paceline and begin to move away. He wrenched valiantly and violently, but when we picked up Newt and Jacques, we then had six, and the train was out of the station without him.
The line moved on, picking up everything in it's path. Next, Borg-like, we assimilated Luke, Jeremy, Carter, and Francois, and maybe more. By then the focus was back to its laser-like quality and the rest was blur, nothing conscious beyond being a bearing within well-greased groove. Every time we picked somebody new up, the rhythm would break, but wordlessly it would fall back into the natural motion, until the last roller, when George took one last wrenching pull, and then we speeding downhill, to an intersection where I could see the highway in the distance.
I fell back, grabbed a much needed drink and a gel and came in off the back.
We lay in the crystalline sunshine and soft grass and recounted the past hour.
The Grade proved to be an ecstatically fun and rousing end to the day. The climb up the backside for maybe a mile was definitely pulled back and it even then it split into 3 groups. Click-clack-click-clack up we went, hovered for a minute in equilibrium and then over we fell. The headwind kept me below 45mph - but that was also my caution - being thrown to the wind? George came screaming by, sitting on the top tube with a giant grin on his face, on his way back to the front of the group as usual.
The grade died out, we were relegated back to the shoulder, and the heady roar in my ears diminished with my heart rate and soon I was sitting on the back porch of the hotel common area, eating a sandwich in about two bites and again recounting the day's exploits with my teammates.
It was our first evening for dinner on our own. The mood was congratulatory, lauding, whimsical, even. We split up, rounded up, grouped up...and headed into town in search of sustenance and revitalization. I allowed myself a glass of wine or two and dived headfirst into a bowl full of Mexican prawns and saffron risotto.
I was so excited about the day's ride (and maybe the espresso bar next door to the restaurant gave me regular instead of decaf) but it took me hours to get to sleep that night.
I dreamed of wind rushing past my ears.
At Randy's friend's wine shop:
Dinner was meatball sandwiches just down the street from where the Tour of California SLO stage finished last month. I ate so many I couldn't breathe on my way home.
We started with the beginning of a regular camp and all-around popular area ride, the "Atascadero 50". We had a relatively easy climb for about 5 or 6 miles and the group stayed together for the most part through the beginning of it. The paceline was a bit lurchy, but soon we crested and had a few nice rollers, keeping a good speed up. Then there was a turn, and we hit another "stinger." I stayed with Randy and a few of other 3's and 4's, but below one switchback we watched some expected quick climbers and some surprising efforts. Jacques was right on Ed's wheel heading up towards the top of the day's first big climb. We crested soon after and those guys were waiting for us, but were gone in a flash down the first truly technical descent of camp.
I tried to keep the speed up, but I am still trying to visualize my lines better, and I rode the brakes far too much. Before camp, we talked about braking hard but less, so you don't heat up your rims too much, just enough to slow your speed down to take the turn at a safe bank, but swinging through freely and using gravity and the camber to get you through. I lost several places but I am here to learn, not win. Getting down safe is the prime objective here.
We reached a gas station and had to stock up on extra food and water as the sag wagon was still waiting on a slower rider to come down from that last climb and wasn't there for us. It was on to Peachy Canyon.
I sorta wish I'd could've gone a more recreation ride through the Canyon. Peachy Canyon's Winery was one of our best sellers at Sam's when I worked there, and was one of my favorites as well. I had no idea what to expect with this climb, although I did know we were doing over 7,000 feet that day. But as I've never really done any paced climbing before this trip, how could I really gauge that in the first place?
Climbing is a funny thing. The pack is riding along, the hammerfest is usually done by that point, and the experienced guys are saving themselves, guys like me are just watching and learning. The chatter is going, the spin is fast, and there's an easy, steady hum of the drive trains working over cogs. Then, very subtly, the grade increases in the distance, then reaches the pack, and gradually, everyone shuts up, the chatter replaced by the clicking of dérailleurs.
Gaps open up as weaker riders in the middle of the pack fall off. If you're behind one of them, you have to make a decision fast, before the gap gets too wide to bridge. And in a climb where the lead pack has the billy goats of any experienced cycling team, even a gap of twenty yards can be too much. And if you crash at the beginning of the climb?
I was trying to find my rhythm. Looking at my computer, and having just bridged a gap. I'd found another wheel to pace on with the group. I wanted to stay on as long as possible, but I knew with the first real attack I'd be dropped hard. But I brushed the wheel in front of me. Too bad we still had a day until the skills clinic.
Instead of keeping my weight to the side I touched, I instinctively went opposite and down I went. Several riders came by, but no one stopped. I probably wouldn't have either. My computer broke out of its mount bracket and several items fell from my pockets. I was still a bit in shock after the jolt from rhythm to reality, and I was grateful to find Peter at my side, handing my a Clif bar and my baggy with ID and cash in it.
"Alright, Morrissey. Let's go."
And together we climbed. We picked up Bob soon after, and the three of us paced each time the other two slowed. I am not a goat by any stretch. And probably never will be. I'm just big. But I found a rhythm and we caught every single rider who passed me when I crashed and then some. With my computer in pocket I worked on RPE alone, and probably to my benefit. Without that feedback, I was much more in tune with my body while going through such uncharted territory. I drove the pace for much of the climb and hitting the top, I felt drained, but surprised at myself.
Too bad they they all got me on the descent.
The 3rd group, as it turned out, was waiting for us at cross roads midway down the descent from the Canyon. They left when we arrived, and I stayed back knowing there were several other teammates behind. Bob showed up soon after, and he chased, and when Heidi and Rick arrived, they agreed to take the relay and I began the chase after the group.
It was mostly a fast descent with several fun rollers that I was able to take in the drops without changing gears. You'd keep your momentum going, mashing big round pedal strokes, reaching the top before your cadence got too low, and then building up steam for speed down the next descent...2 inches down, 1 inch up, 2 inches down...
I finally sighted Bob just as he was turning right back on the highway 46 and the back half of the "Atascadero 50" and the group was maybe 50 yards up from him. I had to bust it bit but was soon on to the back of the group in time for pretty big rollers. We were pretty tired and at first the tempo was fairly easy, but it began to pick up quite bit.
Soon there were a few off the back and I was fighting to stay in the somewhat lurching unorganized climbs and gapping descents. Suddenly I heard Jeff and Kirby yelling from behind.
I thought I'd missed the turn, but when Jeff reached me, I'd heard my worst fear.
I remember there being a large rock in the shoulder. You must hold your line and think in positive terms. Thinking "don't hit rock" is still thinking about the rock and not your line (around the rock). The brain just works in absolutes and only hears "rock". But you also must rely on your wheel to point out those hazards. Whatever the case, it appeared Leonard hit the rock and launched out into the highway.
It could've been bad. Like Beth bad. Jeff said later he was over the yellow line. Lying there. Had a car or truck been there?
I don't want to think about it.
Once the van came and Leonard was picked up, it was downhill and downwind all the way home. The view from the top of the last roller before the long descent into Cambria was almost heart wrenching. The tops of the lower hills stretched to the coast like a soft, cloth green napkin, touched with mist. I wish I could've grabbed a shot but by that time the roller coaster was already rolling and I was passing 30mph.
We hit the bottom and still had thirty to go. I will close with this. My feet hurt. Like they were on fire. A hot spot like stepping on coals every time I stopped pedaling...so being in the draft was strangely painful. The coast was beautiful, but I just wanted to get home. The Pepsi in the van was inviting, but the shade and relief inside were even more so. But, with Kirby and Tamera suffering as they, for me to give up then would've been a flat out insult.
The ride ended with me back in the room, fighting a bit of nausea, making a recovery drink and eating a builder bar in nearly one bite, my body screaming for protein. 15 minutes later I felt human again.
Pizza for dinner. Sleep came hard and fast.
The ride out:
Coming into Moro Bay, Chris MacFarland:
29 miles to go:
One last grab-n-go from the van: