On Saturday night, I didn't want to do this tour. On Sunday morning at 4:15am, I wanted to do it even less. It was a cold morning. I was tired. I was unprepared. I haven't spent significant time on the bike, and my last and longest ride was the previous Sunday when I went 30 miles.
This tour was 62 miles.
My poor poor buttisimo.
As I was eating breakfast, I was actually thinking about how I could get out of it. I could lay down on the couch and pretend like I fell back to sleep. I could "accidentally" forget my helmet or my shoes.
Instead, I left. At the last minute, I grabbed my heavier cycling jacket. What a good move.
When I got to the tour, the temperature was 42 degrees. We all know that I'm not a cold weather rider. 42 standing still is ok. 42 on a bike....not.so.good.
My start time was 6:00am. I still didn't want to go as I sit in the car.
Eventually, I got out of the car,put my wheel on, and head to the start. I looked around at everyone. The sky was starting to get lighter, but we wouldn't feel it for quite awhile with the hills.
Then we started. Sometimes there are races that I don't want to do, but once I start, I'm ok.
This was NOT that kind of race.
The first 34 miles are uphill....roughly....there are some minor downhills. There were some areas that felt pretty flat, but it's mostly a 34 mile climb.
Until the first rest stop, I kept trying to figure out how to get out of this thing. Where's the sag wagon? If I turn around here could I figure out how to get back.
The only thing keeping me on task was knowing that I'd have to pass all those cyclists behind me....the true walk...or ride of shame.
That, as unhonourable as it was, was the only reason that I kept plugging on.
After awhile, I thought "Just get to the first aid station. Have a snack and see how you feel."
Keep in mind, my legs felt fine, I was holding a good pace, and everything was physically ok with me.
I just didn't want to be there.
At the first aid station, I hopped off. My toes were numb from the cold. I looked around at everyone. The other cyclists were having a good time. I started thinking that maybe I should just do what I can. I knew that I was undertrained, but just maybe I could go out and have fun. I didn't really know how far I could make it, but just try it.
When I got back on the bike, I felt really good. Unlike last year, where teams kept passing me and I often found myself alone except for one or two people ahead or behind me a few miles, this year I was always in the middle of a pack of quite a few cyclists. At any time, there were hundreds of people ahead of me, and hundreds behind me. I always had people around me.
I can't tell you what a huge difference that makes when you are doing a tough climb.
The next aid station was at the highest point. And, there are very tough, short, steep climbs. I really prefer the slow climbs to those steep ones.
But, I had people around me. We were all panting, sweating, talking (when possible), joking about how long this tour is going to take us.
During the first 20 miles, I kept cursing myself. The 2nd 20 miles, I realized how much stronger I've gotten over a year's time. Even being underprepared, I didn't stop until I hit an aid station. (Last year, I stopped several times). My nutrition was perfect this year. (Last year, not so much). This year, I managed to pass people on climbs: not alot, and I was still passed myself, but somehow, I managed to get better over the year.
When I started, I was mad because I kept thinking "When is this tour going to be easy for me?"
That's when I realized that it will never be easy. As we all get in better shape, as we all learn to climb hills better, it will never get easier. The only difference is that I will be faster, year to year. I don't do this tour because some day it will be a piece of cake. I do this tour because each year I see how much progress I've made over the previous year. It's not much year to year, but it adds up to alot over the course of years.
As I continued up the hill, I started really focusing on the other cyclists. I saw a pack of 20 Iraq Veterans. Half of them were missing one leg. 4 more were missing both legs. One amazing man was missing almost both complete legs. I looked at his artificial legs, trying to figure out how they worked. How did he do it? How with not more than a couple of inches, HOW does he do this?
There were a number of people who caught my attention from amazing cyclists to triathletes, to transplant recipients to the 13 year old (who once again kicked my butt--probably the same kid from last year). Of course, there were a couple of jerks, but they were few and far between. You'll find those people at every sport, regardless of your sport.
What I think about now, is that we were all out there, difference sizes, shapes, gender, abilities, and we all had our own stories about why we were there. For one day, we were all in it together. Encouraging each other, making each other laugh.
As I approached the last aid station, at 45 miles, I was starting to feel my lack of training. My butt was starting to hurt. It was manageable though. My inner thighs were really starting to burn. I took a little longer rest. I knew that I had 6-7 miles of serious climbing. As it stood, I wasn't quite sure that I was going to be able to do it. This was being realistic, not negative.
Still, I opted to press on. With fewer than 20 miles left, I decided that I would have to have significant problems for me to NOT finish. I stood there thinking for a minute, when the guy with the yellow cycling outfit (Who I don't recall seeing prior to this) yelled at me, "Are you coming? We're leaving".
I had to shake my head, when he turned and the back of his jersey read in big black letters: "Pitts". (Few people will understand this reference).
no.way. That's just not possible. I could only laugh at the coincidence.
The next 6-7 miles were hard, but not as hard as I remember them. In fact, they were easier than the map even showed.
I remember this section from last year. I remember getting to the top and my legs were just dead. I had nothing left.
This year, I climbed, and when I got to the top....I thought "Hey, that wasn't too bad. I wouldn't want to do it again, but that wasn't too bad."
I looked around. I realized that I was still with about 20 people that I started with. I thought for sure, they would have dropped me, but they didn't and we stayed together.
I think I have finally become an "average" cyclist.
At the top of the hill, I stopped for just a moment to look down the hill that I just climbed. I saw hundreds ofpeople making their way to the top, snaking their way through the hills.
I don't think I've ever felt so good about being average....a C student if you will.
At the finish, there were hundreds of people lining the mile heading into the finishing shoot. If I didn't know better, I would have thought I won the race the way they were cheering.
I might not have "won", but it certainly was a win for me.