|The Cysco; comfortably fast, not numb.|
This is the third year I have participated and each year it gets more difficult. At least the weather was cooperative. After fretting all week and packing cold and wet weather gear, those items ended up staying stashed in the bottom of my race bag. Warm, cloudy skies greeted the 200+ of us that showed up to suffer. As long as I finished in less than 5 hours, the weatherman guaranteed me that I would not get wet. The route was CCW, the direction I and my Cysco Cycles gravel grinder preferred.
Brenda, Kaysee, and I were close in the Queen of Pisgah competition, so my plan was to attack off the start, try to get a gap, and then sustain. Everything started off like I had planned. I was up front, with guys who I could pace off of going up FS477. The legs were sparkly and I made quick work of the 6 mile climb. Once on top, I settled into my happy zone, and quickly motored down to Hwy 276. I cannot say enough about how titanium absorbs the stutter bumps, but I was able to stay in the mix with several mountain bikes on the descent.
Up 276 and then onto FS1206, the next big chunk of gravel. I love this road as it goes by fast and flows well, as long as you stay on top of your gear. I was initially with a small group but realized they were going just one tick faster than I was comfortable with, so I dropped off their pace.
At about mile 14, I felt something I abhorred! My rear tire was losing air. My feeling of happiness dissolved immediately into frustration. But for once, I did not panic and let rip a storm of expletives. I calmly stopped and assessed the situation. Where was the leak? I could hear it but not see it. You see (no pun intended), I have been losing the battle against presbyopia. My near vision is so bad now that I wear reading glassed to read, do surgery, take stitches out, etc. And now I realized one more thing I cannot do. Find a dad-gum leak! Out with the CO2, I finally was able to feel it. A sidewall puncture!?! How the heck does that happen?!? I tried one feeble attempt to plug it.
As I was attempting this almost impossible fix with eyes that don't work in situations less than 2 feet away from me, someone stopped and asked if I needed help. Sure, but I did not want to screw up their race. "No worries," he said. "I am still recovering from last week's effort, so just riding today." As he finished his sentence, I finally realized that it was Kip, my Double Dare partner, and now my gravel angel! He held my bike steady and prepped my tube while I did the rest. The total stop time was 8 minutes, but it would have been alot longer without him.
I hopped back on and my first thought was "endeavor to persevere." This became my mantra for the remainder of the race. I had no idea how many women passed me, but I was not about to go down without a fight. David passed me, then slowed down, and gave words of encouragement. Others as well. Within 5 minutes, I came upon the Simrils. As I motored past, they asked what happened. Without going into much detail, as my HR was soaring, I told them, and then hammered it up the climb to Yellow Gap.
I was cautious on the descent down to North Mills River, not wanting a repeat experience of the last 20 minutes. Kip caught back up to me and then passed me. As I approached the left hander onto FS 5000, Kip had stopped to help a cyclist that had gone down hard on the wet pavement. Another act of selflessness by the amazing Mr. Clyburn, who had just recently completed the Vapor Trail 125 in an outstanding showing by one who lives so close to sea level.
I arrived at the first aid station and swapped bottles. I was hoping this would be a NASCAR fast stop, but for some reason the drop bags were behind the aid station tent. It seemed like a football field length's away. I quickly dismounted, worked my way through racers and volunteers, grabbed my bag, got my bottle, worked my way back through the hordes of people, and finally back to my bike. Precious seconds gone! As I remounted, my legs barked a little, I said "Shut Up!" and got back up to my happy heart rate zone. I caught up with Brian, we talked a bit, and then I worked my way up to Stephen. He gave me good news when he said Meghan was just up ahead and that she was in the lead. I was happy about not being far behind, but concerned about where Kaysee was. Stephen did not know about her. I knew that she had to have passed me when I was fixing my flat.
The 5 mile climb up to the Parkway went by quickly. I caught up to Meghan, exchanged pleasantries, and then opened it up a bit so she would not catch my wheel. Soon came the left-hander onto the Parkway. Even with all the beauty that this stretch exudes, this is the place where I always seem to suffer. The never ending climb up to the second aid station was relentless. I was alone for most of the way on this stretch of butter smooth pavement. Thank God for the blinkies!! We are required to run lights both front and rear while on the Parkway. Up in the foggy distance, I could make out racers only by their flashing rear red lights. This gave me the motiviation to drag myself up to them, wanting desperately for my first visual of them to be the yellow/green kit of TVB racer Kaysee.
Each one I passed was a small victory, as this hopefully put racers (and series points) between Brenda and me. I did not stop at the second aid station, but welcomed the descent that followed. I was at the point now on the parkway where although the climbing was still tough, at least there were some descents to recover on. Fortunately I was able to hook up with a couple racers. I rode their wheel hard, gaining precious seconds that I would not have been able to alone. I helped when I could, which was pacing them up the climbs.
Towards the beginning of the final 4 mile climb up to Hwy 215, I caught sight of the Mark Drogalis. His Toasted Head Racing kit is by far one of the coolest I have ever seen. He was a sight for sore eyes. Just seeing him motivated me to push it one notch harder. As I began to catch him, I saw just ahead of him what I had been chasing for 30+ miles. Kaysee Armstrong! Instantly my RPE (rate of perceived exertion) went from 9 to 4!
Now all I had to do was catch her, try to put as much distance on her in this last bit of climbing, and then stay smooth and steady on the 10 mile descent down 215. I was gonna have to dig deep! As I caught up to her, I could tell by her body language that she was suffering 10% more than I on this final Parkway climb. This gave me hope. As I passed by her, we talked a bit, she caught my wheel, but after a couple minutes popped off.
I never looked back. I pedaled hard, but staying just under "cramping pace." Once on 215, I did not have to pedal much. This road is super steep and is all about staying off the brakes and blazing through the corners. Some corners were still wet and it was here that I probably was overly cautious. As the pavement began to level out, Brian caught up to me. This was a godsend, as I was able to draft off him the final mile or so to the last aid station. I was out of water and had planned on grabbing my drop bag.
As I was slowing up to make the turn, I heard the roar of many tires behind me. I glanced back and saw Kaysee! Yep! I about crapped my pants. Her face was full of fury and determination.
|Sorry to have missed this exuberant crew.|
As I turned onto Indian Creek Road, she kicked it into high gear and sped past me. For 5 seconds, I threw a pity party. Then I got mad! I slammed my chain down a couple cogs, forgot about not having water for the last 12 miles, and caught back on her wheel. The road leveled out and I stuck with her, allowing my heart rate to creep back down to sub hummingbird speed.
Knowing that we both needed places between us and Brenda, I pulled alongside her. I asked if she wanted to work together, and then let our race play out at the end. She agreed.
Later, when I told Zeke about this tactic, his first comment, was that he thought Kaysee or any other racer would take that as asking to be used and abused, and then dropped at an opportune moment. I want to make it clear that I am NOT a cutthroat racer. That is and never will be my intention. I knew that Kaysee is a powerhouse on the flats and descents and that if we did work together until the near end, I would most likely lose the battle. And that was o.k. with me. My victory would be hopefully helping her to dig deep and go beyond what she would think she was capable of. We women need more youth in this sport. Kaysee is that youth. She has come up the ranks quickly and has gained so much fitness, strength, and speed in the last 2 years that she will be a force to be reckoned with. Heck, she already is!
But if it were a dude, I would stick on him like pine tar, suck his life force out, and leave his wilted corpse in the middle of the road!
Off my soapbox, and back onto the race.
So I took the lead and pulled up the climb. Kaysee stayed strong, but I could tell she was hurting. I yelled out words of encouragement, but she popped off my wheel. After about 5 minutes, I knew her legs were leading a mutiny on the climbs. I was going slower than I was comfortable with. I knew that Brenda was somewhere lurking behind and could be gaining. Not wanting to take any more chances, I knew that I had to go.
I had 10 miles left. I treated it like a 20 minute power test. I put my head down and focused on pedal stroke. My legs were burning, my eyeballs were popping, and sweat was dripping off my nose. I entered the pain cave voluntarily, knowing that a chance of victory was my reward. I descended off Gloucester like a scalded dog. I began to take chances again. A couple of times I hit my rim on the deep ruts in the road. But my I-9's and tires held firm.
The last 5 miles seemed painfully slow. Part of me just wanted to pull over and lie down. Then a light rain started, It seemed like each drop that hit me quickly sizzled and evaporated. But it was just cooling enough to allow me to refocus on the finish and not the pain of turning the cranks over.
Flashing blue lights ahead. Normally my instinct is to slow down when I see the police, but this was a welcome sight as the finish was near. I finally looked over my shoulder. No one in sight! I pulled into the finish, hopped over the barriers, finishing with a time of 4:48:29. The hardest ... one ... yet.
Funny, but Eric's events always push me to my limits. Whether it be from adverse weather, to the level of competition, to mechanicals, I am forced to test everything about my being. I am happy that each and every time (except for P36), I have been able to extend those limits. This is living!
|Signifies "The Most Difficult"|