Monday, July 1, 2013

Nobody blogs anymore... From the hills of Almanzo to the pelting torrents of the Dirty Benjy

88% of one's physical suffering is 95% mental.

Between the particularly long winter and an early March gravity falls event (separated shoulder & lingering contusion on left hip), not much riding occurred this spring. Thus, I haven't been riding much; my endurance and speed and 'legs' aren't likely to be ready to power over long, hilly distances. My mental condition is weak, as I haven't spent enough time riding to get used to long hours riding.

I've been talking with Flann about goal setting in sports, particularly when one has no base reference. We can say, 'Gee, I'd sure like to ride/run X% faster next time,' but w/o opportunity to train, recover, practice, develop, etc, it's about the same as wanting to fly or hit the Lotto.

With the variable weather we've had mid-May, it was hard to mentally prepare for what I hadn't physically prepared (well) for. I sweat profusely, regardless the weather. In the cold, I get myself hyperthermic fairly fast. In the heat/humidity, I drain myself, no matter how much fluid I take on. This year, too, with the record number of people due, I worried it would be a mob scene. Long way to go to get nudged into a ditch at mile seven...

But it was for naught: great weather, awesome crowd, great event. Chris is making goodness for all of us as he makes sense of his purpose on this earth. I'm grateful and impressed by him & his example.

I made progress in terms of my actual time and when the mental block/bonk hit me.
First time: eight hours and twenty some minutes. It was my first century and first gravel ride. I bonked hard around mile forty, but once I remembered to eat, the body continued.

Second time, with foreknowledge of what was to come, far more mental bailouts, despite having great company in Martin Rudnick and C. Strate: twenty minutes slower, caused by my mental/physical walls.

Third time: the grand hypothermia-fest, bailed at Preston when I could no longer feel my hands.

Fourth time, last May, in the heat, I did great and only got drained in the later miles, pedaling along hating cycling, vanity, the utter stupidity of riding great distances, humoring myself like the rummy at the bar that, Of course, any reasonable fellow would quit and/or NEVER do something this stupid again. I made necessary extra stops and came in just over eight hours on the 99.xx mile course. As I approached the end, spying the water tower approaching, all the squashed emotion of a long medical/psych challenge with my daughter came ripping up through me. I was gasping for breath but releasing horrible croaks of anguish. I turned the final corner toward the (well attended) finish area, and collapsed into Chris. I know he's a hand-shaker more than a hugger, but I could do nothing else.

Fifth time, this year, despite the crowds and my lack of preparation, I squeaked in under the goal of eight hours on the 101 mile version. Riding alone, with packs for spare miles, chasing another lone straggler...the time goes and goes. I forgot/neglected to eat when we hit the deep gravel, and consequently burned whatever was in the reserve tank. The final twenty miles were ugly as can be. This was when my mind pulled the plug: Fuck this, dumb event, moronic imbeciles wasting time and money, I'm too old, too weak, bleah blah bunk. I didn't take care of my machine and there I went, downward spiraling. I knew I needed to eat but mentally couldn't make myself reach into my back pocket or the lovely little bento just in front of me. Nothing seemed appealing--my mouth was a corpse.  I could pedal three or four strokes at a time, then had to coast or drift or teeter in those final miles. I watched the clock fight the miles, motivated only by some arbitrary challenge of arriving under eight total hours. I was passed by several dozen people in those torturous last miles.

Missed spooning sweatily with Chris' long midsection this year, but was thrilled and humbled to shake hands with his wife, with the rest of the admirable volunteer staff running the finish smooth as can be. I was road-addled like everyone else. It was a great day. Sure, as always, the fast people were long done; the slow people were still struggling; others were having days just like mine, with minor or major variations. I enjoy the hardship, even if it's (almost entirely) self-created, and purely voluntary. I could be far faster; I could actually ride enough miles that it isn't a stretch EVERY time I depart from Spring Valley, but, it's also plenty good enough. Mid-race, I entertained delusions of 'just' adding the Royal next year--sure, what's another sixty miles? Until reality crushed me. Much respect to the Royal and Alexander monsters. I love the Almanzo in its entirety. The people are great almost to a person, the scenery is tops for the midwest, the event's sparkling rep is well-earned.

I did a bit better the week prior to the Dirty Benjamin, but nothing substantial. Perhaps 130 miles combined, which is better than some got, but not enough I could post a report about 'I knew I wanted to really attack & drop them around mile 77...'

I had someone work for me the Friday before Westside, because, given the odds and whims of the Emergency Gods, one gets pummeled nights before needing to be well rested. Great, except I took advantage of my night off to hit the Astronautilus and Sims show at First Ave. Discretion is better form of valor or what-have-you, except, whatever, I'm choosing to drive to Chaska and ride my fucking bike. It's not as if I'm performing open-heart surgery or anything. And, it figured to be a really cool event. So, I tried to prep my stuff, pare down my normal five-times-excessive amount of road provisions, get everything set before I hit the show.

And what a show it was, one of those events that stick with you for years, that make seeing music worthwhile. Mixed Blood Majority were tight--and a great pleasure to see them work it in front of a decent crowd, unlike Soundset, where scheduling snafus had them playing opposite Atmosphere (Slug should have shown love & ordered the back-most five hundred fans to march to the smaller tent where Joe, Alexi, and Beak were working their asses off for forty of us). Sims and Andy with a backing band and Lazerbeak and spare drummers: W-O-W, fucking WOW. It was an inspired evening. I was highly gratified I made it. Got home late, ears and mind still ringing. Fell in bed near two-something, just in time for that 0600 alarm.

My warm up for the 107 miles was riding my bike post-haste from parking lot to the start line (37 yards) as Martin was finishing his instructions. I was too close to the front as he said go, and I found myself at the front tenth of the group. Where I stayed, tucked in behind the main leaders all day, until a well-timed attack along Hwy 10 proved decisive and...sorry, what was I saying? Oh, I was too close to the front and in the first fifteen minutes, I was both riding too hard AND getting passed violently by hoards and hoards of aggressive 'contenders'--the real racers had started at front and disappeared before the second turn.

It's interesting to ride the psychological waves of starting further up than one should: rather than watching everyone's back from the outset, and then picking one's way forward, to start ahead and lose ground steadily. Does this help one's time or does the mental damage of everyone whizzing past undermine whatever slight lead one's claimed? I don't know.

What I do know is that I was tired for lack of sleep, unwarmed-up, antsy, and wearing my camelback for only the second time, which began giving my back fits shortly after we hit the gravel. I went out way too fast, and I started a race/ride with little in reserve. By mile 18 I hit a wall. This wasn't a marathon. It was eerie to feel flattened within an hour, but there I was. I struggled lamely for twenty miles. I truly was ready to pack it in. It was an out-of-body experience: knowing, telling myself, that I'd only just started--that it was almost impossible to be so physically drained so early in the morning. Yet that's where I was, which meant the prospect of another eighty miles of the same was beyond daunting. I tried to hold a wheel here or there, but with my single speed, it was hard to match cadences or sustain anything. Plus, you know, I was a ghost.

Here is the lesson I tell myself to remember EVERY time: no matter how far back I think I've slipped/fallen, there's always someone still coming (unless, actually, I am DFL). I was feeling very sorry for myself, rolling ineptly with other dudes who'd burned everything too fast, and much as it seemed very likely that every single other rider had disappeared into the unrelenting horizon, there were people unviewable behind me yet. We came across the Spirit of Almanzo himself at the turn at mile 37, and I glugged half a coke and gnawed a beef stick, pissed, cleared my mind, and Boom... Off to the races! Not quite, but I recovered and felt normal again.

I found a pace that worked and moved through the day. I spent fifteen miles with a rotating crew, two guys who'd yo-yo ahead or backwards in surges, and another single speeder. It was nice to chat or not-chat while riding alongside another. At some point, though, he cracked, as did the yo-yo'ers, and I found myself alone, no one in sight either direction, for almost twenty miles. That was pretty impressive, totally alone on the road for over an hour WHILE riding with 250 others.

I really pity those poor fast cats who finished in five-plus or six-and-change hours. They were changed and chilling at the base when the storm came through. Their BBQ sandwiches might have sustained water damage. I was nowhere near anything when the changing skies broke apart and we were pelted, bombarded, pasted, drenched, you-name-it with hard rain and high winds. The people I was riding with quickly fell behind, disappeared in the horizontal attack. The wind was more absurd than the rain, except when they were in cahoots. I was laughing madly throughout it. Where I'd been ready to drop out in the first hour, I was now having a childish ecstasy at having fun & playing in ridiculous conditions (lightning was, fortunately, far off).

I gripped the bars, lowered my head, and pedaled as best I could. What was in my mind? The image of Duclos-Lasalle powering through the muck in Roubaix when he couldn't defend it the final time. His hair is miles better than mine, not to mention the difference in our riding abilities, of course, but he was my spirit animal through the storm, which isn't a bad thing.

The rain ended, my legs were beat, the numbness of the final fifteen miles was a challenge, but I kept on keeping on, and soon enough (except not before groaning up the final two fucking gravel hills) I took that glorious right onto Hwy 10 and pointed my nose for home. Again, it had been over an hour since I'd seen anyone. I quit looking over my shoulder, realizing no one was close. I kept hoping to spy someone ahead to chase down (try to) but I was alone. My goal of sub-seven proved out of reach again this year. Last time, I bonked after botching the rest stop. This time, my struggles early proved costly, as well as being tired. I can't tell if there was any notable difference in my gearing. Last year was 42/16 (or maybe 17) and this year was 46/17. My legs, lungs, and mind were more of an issue than the gearing.

Crossed the line and felt like I'd arrived (very) late to an office party: everyone had eaten their cake, loosened their ties, and was chatting in small groups before slipping off to home. I felt slow. Really, so fucking what? I finished 88th out of 170, 7:19 total time.

There's always next year... As Randy said, 'We're not getting paid for this.' Nope. It's a choice. A privilege to be able to spend a day pushing ourselves in whatever way we do. Good people put lots of time, effort, money, and sweat into making these things happen. We get to perform our own little/big adventures, majority of which are in our minds, against these backdrops. Hell, does it beat golf.