"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


March 12th: Black Mountain

(Writer's note: this entry is long and a bit self-serving. I realize that. But so much self-discovery occurred on this 89-mile I need to document it all. So if you think I'm long-winded, you're certainly entitled to your opinion.)


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:
Rebecca and Randy

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?
Black Mountain Awaits

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."

Jeff Holland:
Jeff Holland

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:
Luke Black Mountain

What utter badasses (Kirby, Newt, Mark):
Faith + 1

George Langford, so fresh, fresh, freshly squeezed:
George Rolls In Black Mountain

Persistent Peter Prevails:
Peter Rolls In Black Mountain

Kings of the Mountain:
The Group Black 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.

Shrimp 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.

1 comment:

Erik said...

I'm still so pissed that Peggy and I made that wrong turn...