Friday, August 28, 2009
LiveSTRONG 09: Pleased to Meet You, Hope You Guess My Name
I know my course. The spirit that I have seen
May be a devil; and the devil hath power
T' assume a pleasing shape...
We exited the rest stop and started up the first climb. It's a funny little spot, because you round a corner right before you reach the climb, so if you don't know what's coming up, you can be totally ambushed by just how quick the climb is upon and how steep it is. And then there's this: We climbed about halfway up, and there he stood! Fans of Le Tour de France will recognize him as the the Master of Pain who waits in the toughest spots, urging the riders on by threatening to claim them and drag them back to his lair. I refer, of course, to Satan.
As we were huffing and puffing up the hill, this guy appeared, dressed all in red with a giant gold pitchfork on his chest, shouting at the riders. He was clearly channeling both the Devil of the Tour and the Master of Lies himself...
"You think this is tough? Wait until you get to the HILLS!"
"I've got more hills like this, but they're big ones!"
"You're almost there....just a little farther."
"You can get off your bike and walk anytime you want...or you can just quit now."
I rode up to him and high-fived him.
"I've got something special for you," he spat.
"I'll see you at the Landis Store Hill," I said knowingly.
He just laughed, then continued haranguing the other riders.
There was a lot of climbing after that and Mark and Kurt rode out ahead while Pat and I pedalled ahead at our own pace. Pat's a big guy, not built for the climbing, but he just gritted his teeth and bore down on it. At one point, we got separated, so I waited for him on the side of the road. I thought I saw a familiar face and hopped on my bike to catch the guy. Sure enough, it was Bob, a guy I have ridden with on local club rides out of Mechanicsburg, PA. He and his team from Central PA all share a cancer connection and they ride in honor of their friends and family every year. Interestingly, he is also an accomplished triathlete, so we talked about that as well. I then waited for Pat to catch up, which he soon did. We rode some more together and got separated again, so I just decided to ride ahead at an easy pace and find someone to encourage.
This is the point in the Challenge where riders begin making decisions about going the 100-mile route or the 70-mile route. It's also where those who were going to ride 45-miles, and decided to go for 70, start feeling pain and wondering if they made the right decision. There is a long climb to the 70-mile turn-off, and I came upon David, a rider who was in that latter category of riders. He was clearly hurting and struggling on the hill; there was the beginning of a wobbling weave as he attempted to keep his bike on-line, his head was down as he sought frantically for more oxygen, and his pedal stokes were "square" and uneven.
I spun up next to him. "You're not quitting here are you," I asked.
"I was...going to...until you....asked that." He was having trouble cycling and talking, but he clearly still had something left inside.
"I'll tell you what. How about if we take this one on together?"
"Thanks," was all he could muster.
So I settled in beside him and just encouraged him up the hill, one grinding pedal stroke at a time. "You can do this." "Come on." "Nice and easy." "Keep going." "You got no quit in you." And then, he was at the top, and his whole face lit up. He had done it! I tossed him a BUTNZ and told him he had earned it. Off he went to finish the 70-miler. I waited for my brother as long as I could, then pedalled on ahead to the rest area, where I found Kurt waiting for me. Mark was afraid of cramping up and getting stiff, so he had ridden on ahead, and I was sure we would not see him for the rest of the Challenge, given his prowess on the bike.
So Pat was behind me, riding the 70-miler and Mark was ahead of me setting his own blistering pace. Kurt was beside me and we faced the place where the true Challenge begins: the Big Hills. I wished Mark and Pat Godspeed with a prayer and Kurt and I set off.