Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cohutta 100: The Sufferfest

If there's one positive to sleeping in a nasty hotel room it is this:

Waking up at 5:30am is a piece of cake.

The alarm went off and I had my belongings in the car in minutes, wanting nothing more than to escape without any contagious diseases.

Since it was still pouring rain, I hung out in my car until right before the start, leaving just enough time to throw on my pack and helmet and extract Chili from her comfy spot in the back of the car.  After running into a guy at packet pickup who was riding with an easier gear than I'd chosen, I'd been worrying all night about my gear choice, but the first uphill eased my nerves and I settled into my pace.

It seemed like we literally flew through the first 14 miles of the race. Before I knew it, I was riding on a trail along the river back near the start. Had I really thought about it, I would've realized I was feeling so great because I'd just ridden downhill for 10 miles, but that didn't cross my mind until a mile or so later when I found myself struggling to make it up a hill. For the next 6 miles or so I'd ride until I couldn't push the pedals anymore, then hop off and push.  When the trail finally seemed to flatten a bit around mile 20, I was happy to finally stay on my bike for more than 1/8 of a mile. Of course, in my overzealousness to make the most of this, I hit a wet root at the wrong angle and before I knew it I'd fallen off the trail with Chili still hooked to one foot. We both began sliding back down the mountain I'd just busted my ass to ride up until I shook myself loose, threw the bike up towards the trail and clawed my way back.

This was not really how I'd envisioned this going when I was dreaming about riding with Rossi.

When I finally made it through the singletrack and onto the fireroad, I was a bit relieved. I figured it could only get easier now.

My relief lasted about 3 seconds until I realized the uphill was not over. I was 22 miles in, my legs were already shot, I'd definitely made a horrible gear choice and the uphill was not over. I won't lie- at that moment I wanted to quit. Thankfully, instead of giving into the urge I asked myself a few questions:

Am I going to die?No.

 Is everyone else going to have to wait for hours for me to finish? Not unless everyone behind me quits.

If I were to call Big E right now would he feel sorry for me? No- he would tell me I chose to be here and to get my butt moving!

So- since my answers were all essentially no, I pretty much slumped over my bike and suffered along. At this point I could've used some encouraging words. When a guy pedaled up next to me, I was hoping he had some. Instead, he asked if I'd done this race before. When I said no, he explained that he was wondering how the rest of the hills were going to be. He was riding a demo bike and he wasn't happy with the gear ratio and he wanted to know if the hills were all this steep.....

I'm not sure if I gave him a death look or he just happened to look at my rear wheel, but before I could even answer he said, "Wow, you have no sympathy for me right now since you only have one gear, do you?"

All I could do was laugh and say, "Yes, and it's definitely not the right gear."

At this point I'd like to say we rounded the next corner and headed downhill and the whole day got better, but I'd be lying. What really happened was this- we rounded the corner and headed downhill and I quickly discovered I had some serious brake chatter. After completely losing my brakes the last time I rode in the mud, this did not boost my confidence. Somehow I convinced myself I really wasn't going to die and kept going, but really I spent the next 70 miles alternating between riding uphill until I was so dizzy I had to walk and riding downhill in terror. I told Big E later I'd never ridden that far wanting to quit and not actually quit.

When I finally got to the last aid station, another girl flew in behind me and I realized that I wouldn't even get to take it easy for the last 8 miles of mostly downhill. For anyone who thinks that only the people up near the front of a race are actually racing, I can attest to the fact that this is not true. At least for me it is not true. Ever. I can be dead-dog tired, barely clinging to my handlebars like I was in this case, but if I think I might get caught and lose a place (or catch someone for that matter), I will dig some sort of demon out of the dredges of my soul that will make me ride faster.

Truth be told, perhaps that little demon is why I keep doing this stuff. I hear a lot of people say they run or ride to escape their demons, but I do it to find mine, to make sure I haven't lost her or him or whatever it is that lives deep inside me that seems only to escape when I think I can't take anymore.

So, the little demon and I sprinted to the finish line, probably close to the back of the pack, but who cares? There was a mug and lemonade....
To be continued....

Monday, April 27, 2015

Cohutta 100: The Prologue

A bike race that includes over 2,000 miles of round-trip travel is more than just a bike race. Therefore, it requires more than one blog post. After all, getting there and home is half of the adventure and without the stories of the travel there would really just be a kinda boring blog post about a bike race.

At 7am Thursday, I piled Chili the Singlespeed into the Subaru and headed southeast. We hit Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky before calling it quits in Tennessee somewhere between Nashville and Chattanooga. When a semi in front of me drove off the road and swerved back on at 70 mph I decided to quit while I was alive. We checked into our room, I showered and fueled up and it was bedtime.

In my travel-weary state I pretty much passed out until 3am. Why 3am you ask? Well, at 3am, I was ripped from sleep by two sounds. One was some sort of loud alarm-like noise. The other was, in fact, my own blood curdling screams, which were somehow ripped out of my body in my sleep when the alarm sounded. When I finally woke up, I had no idea what was going on so I proceeded to try to make the loud noise stop by pulling out every electrical plug in the room. At some point during this panic, I realized the sound wasn't coming from my room and sprinted into the hallway in my pjs.

In the hallway, I encountered a group of people, included an adorable Southern boy fully decked out in his country uniform including a ball cap and belt buckle. While I was standing there trying to figure out when he had time to get dressed (which was probably while I screamed and pulled out all the electrical cords), he called the front desk and was informed that we weren't going to die in a fire. Apparently this was just a minor (but very noisy) electrical system malfunction.

Well at least now I know that in the case of a hotel fire I will act like a complete idiot. 

When my heartrate finally returned to normal an hour later, I fell back in to my deep sleep and dreamt I was riding bikes with Valentino Rossi. I impressed him with my hill-climbing skills right before I woke up.

Perhaps this was a sign of how much I was going to dominate the uphills in my race!

After such a great dream, I thought maybe I'd dreamt the whole fire alarm thing. Then I headed downstairs with Chili in the elevator and nearly took out Hot Southern Boy as I exited bike first. After he smirked and the woman from across the hall laughed and waved, I was a little worried that perhaps I actually wasn't even wearing pjs when I ran into the hallway. I certainly hope I was because if not, they were all subjected to the world's tiniest boobies (aka Nipples and Ribs).

Before anyone else from the hallway incident could smirk, I tossed Chili back into her place in the back of the Subaru and headed to Racoon Mountain. If I was going to drive this far, I was determined to ride at least one trail other than the ones on the race course. Of course it never dawned on me that this might be more of a workout than I'd planned for the day before my race. Really, I was just concerned with trying to reenact my Rossi dream. Of course, the opposite came true when I quickly discovered that the trails down south are just a little rockier than I'm used to.
Although I didn't prove my climbing prowess to myself, I did enjoy some spectacular views so despite some rattled nerves and sore quads, the ride was a success.
After my ride, it was back into the car for a final hour of driving to pick up my race number.  After a quick "it's up to each of you to decide to race in spite of the horrible weather forecast" lecture, which included the mention of jumping in the ditch if necessary in case of a tornado, I headed to one of the two hotels in the nearest small town.

Here is where I'm probably going to start sounding like a primadonna so I'll try to keep it brief. The room smelled like mold. I decided to deal with it and walked to the grocery store for air freshener. I cleaned the dirty sink and tub with dish soap so I could take a much needed shower after riding near poison ivy all afternoon. I stripped down, turned on the tub water and lifted up on the shower lever. Nothing. I (very) briefly considered a bath in the dirty tub. Then I pretty much lost my shit.

It didn't get any better when the hotel owner tried to explain away the issue by saying that room had had a water main break over the winter.

Well that explains the smell.

In the end, we comprised. I agreed to pay for that night if they would refund my money for the following night.  The maintenance man came to the room and scraped a pound of crud out of the shower head so I could take a shower. Somehow I managed not to think too much about how many diseases I was going to get from cleaning myself with water that had run through that crud. I fell asleep to the sound of pouring rain, wondering if perhaps poison ivy would've been a better bet than the shower germs plague and hoping I'd dream of racing bikes with Rossi before the alarm went off at 5:30.

To be continued...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Gray Hairs and Bike Therapy

Clearly my quest to post more often is not going well. I have no excuse, since I've written about 10 blog posts in my head in the last few weeks. I just seem to have trouble getting them out of my head and onto the computer. Of course, it doesn't help that Big E loves to distract me with his antics whenever I seem busy.
To be honest, the last eight weeks have felt like a year. If I had actually written down everything I've felt in those weeks, I would probably sound completely insane. Even as I experienced it, I wasn't sure if it was possible to feel such a wide range of emotions in such a short time but in the end, I came out with only a few new gray hairs.

In the end, I also came out with my own office, complete with both a personal training studio and a massage room. There were some stressful moments with what I first named "The Phantom Treadmill" and later renamed "The Treadmill from Hell",  but six weeks later I'm starting to finally believe I might actually pull this whole thing off. Of course, I currently have a bag full of parts I need to replace on the massage table, but such is life... It's worth it to know I get to play by my own rules and follow my own heart.

Thankfully, the PIC doesn't seem to be holding a grudge about the whole winter race adventure so I've had some good company on my rides. Bike therapy is always good for the soul. How can a person stay stressed about the rest of life when she's trying to muster up the courage for skinny riding?
Hopefully the training I squeezed in during our fluctuations between winter and spring were enough to get me through the first race of the season this weekend. It's Tennessee or bust for 100 miles of riding on Saturday. 100 percent chance of thunderstorms doesn't scare me! (Ok maybe it does a little...)