Monday. Had a great weekend doing the MS bike tour. I rode a lot, learned a lot and had a great time with my current friends and made new friends too. On top of that it was the most perfect weather imaginable. It was like riding through a children’s pop-up story book. The colors were so bright almost surreal. The setting almost too perfect as if God was saying – “see, here, this is what I meant Earth to look like… and look what a mess you made out of the rest of it.” We rode by fields of rows of corn, farm houses, and cows lolling in their fields — some just feet from our pedals. Above us was the bluest of blue sky with just enough scattered white clouds to make the picture complete. The temperature was absolutely perfect – warm enough to wear our short-sleeved Jerseys but a constant gentle breeze (that turned into an occasional headwind) to cool us off. I almost wish we were running instead of biking because it was so perfect I felt I was rushing by it– but there was much to see over my 105 miles on Saturday.
My goal was to do 105 on Saturday and try for that again on Sunday if I felt up to it. I completed the 105 on Saturday but due to time restraints I could only do 47 miles on Sunday – but combined, I made my 150 mile goal for the weekend in order to raise money for MS (not too late to contribute by clicking the link on the right hand side of this blog). The MS Society puts on a wonderful event. About 250 riders and almost the same number of volunteers who mark the roads, set up food stops for us every 10 miles, cruise the courses offering assistance from fixing bikes to mending bruises. Amazing group of people who come out and actually thank US for riding!! Every time I said to someone “thank you so much for volunteering” they would be emphatic about saying “NO thank YOU for riding – my uncle/sister/brother/daughter has MS and thank you for riding for us.” That blew my mind. 1 in every 750 people in the state of Vermont has MS, isn’t that amazing? Scary? Sad?
I was riding with my friends Michelle, Tiff and Claire as part of the Clifford Chance team. Claire had introduced us to Clifford Chance last year and Michelle and I had such a good time last year (despite torrential downpours and broken spokes) that we came back to do it again. Last year I did the 45 and barely made it through that because of a broken spoke (remember my story about the mad dash Colleen made chasing down the SAG wagon for me? The story is in last year’s blog entry.) Considering all the mechanical troubles I have had with my bikes over the last year I figured I would be lucky if I made it to 45 again without something breaking, popping, wobbling or warping.
I was having difficulty deciding which bike to take – Sylvia (last year’s bike which popped a spoke and caused my warp). Sylvia has the triple chain wheel which would be an assist when trying to climb the higher hills but she is a little heavier bike and older, a little creaky from some minor rust that settled in from sitting in the barn in Connecticut. Or, Tina the Terrible who comes up with something new every time I take her out. But Tina is my race bike and I should be getting ready to race with her in September. She is lighter and has the aero bars which are nice for those long stretches of straight away. I asked my coach Lisa to decide and she picked Sylvia which turned out to be the right choice!!
Sylvia rocked Vermont. This was the first long bike ride I have had in two years where nothing went wrong with my bike during the entire ride. Before the ride I had meant to spend some time brushing her off and tuning her up (she has been sitting in the barn for most of the spring and summer – only coming out once for a short ride in Rhode Island). A little rust had settled in and I didn’t have time to clean it out so I just brought her as is. The bike mechanic looked at her for a minute before we took off and said the brake cables were rusted which is why the back brake wasn’t working. Oh boy, here we go. But he showed me how to drip oil down the cable (even MORE to learn about bike maintenance) and by the first couple of miles the brakes were working great.
Everything about Sylvia was working great. (I had managed to run a brush over the chain and throw some lube on it.) I was sailing down the hills, she was shifting smoothly (last year the chain fell off about 25 times, this year only once). For all intents and purposes it was a PB (personal best) for Sylvia. Much like how she rocked the course in St. Anthony’s two years ago.
I will go as far to say that Saturday was my best bike ride ever. I had long periods of time when I could just stretch my legs out and spin without stopping for anything. That is a great feeling. At one point I was really cranking and felt someone right behind my back wheel. Geesh that person is close. Thinking it was Michelle, I turned around to find four strangers, right on my back wheel. What!??!? I was kind of annoyed. What were they doing? Drafting? How illegal! I just kept pumping away. I glanced at my speedometer and saw I was holding a steady 19 mph for quite awhile. Then all of a sudden all four of them passed me. It took me a minute once they passed me to realize – you idiot!! There goes a train!!! Jump on their wheels. This is no triathlon, draft off of them!!
They were just a smidge ahead of me now and I had to really pump to catch up to them. I was working really hard, pump, pump, pump. I was getting closer but I wasn’t right on them. I was at 20 mph. Wow that’s good for me! But, I needed to get to 21 to catch them. I knew once I caught them the draft would make it easier so I clicked into one harder gear and really worked it. I concentrated on every inch of the rotation on my pedal. I tried to make sure I hit every hour on the “clock” (that’s from a clock drill a coach gave me once – concentrate on a different hour for three rotations – one o’clock, one o’clock, one o’clock, two o’clock, two o’clock, two o’clock, etc. until you have gone around the entire clock on both legs – a very good drill.)
Finally I caught them. And, as I expected it became much easier once I was in their draft. They were riding a steady 20 mph. But it felt easier on my legs. I was so proud of myself. I did it! I drafted off of someone. I was doing it!! For about 1 minute and then BRAKE!!! We rode right into a rest stop!!! NOOOOO, all that work to catch up to them and we had to stop for a rest stop!!! Unfair.
But we got off the bike and all four of them came up to me and we were all smiles “thanks for the pull – good pace, yadda, yadda, yadda…” I told them I was so mad because I just caught them and we had to stop. We all had a good laugh. They invited me to ride with them after the break. I thought it would be fun to give it a try. I had never ridden like that before – deliberately drafting. In triathlons it is illegal – you have to keep several bike lengths away from the person in front. But I guess in the rest of the biking world it is de rigueur.
We started out after the break with my new found friends from Vermont. We took off with them and I kept up for about 1 mile. Then we hit a small hill – nothing big, I wouldn’t call it much but they all stood up and climbed. Standing up for that little hill?!?! No way, too much effort. I’ll just pedal harder and keep up. Nope, I lost them on the first little hill. By the time I got over the little hill they were too far ahead and I just didn’t want to have to get to 21 mph to catch them again. But in my mind I made a special note of this is an area where I can practice and improve.
So it was me, Michelle, Tiff. We were about to turn to go on the out and back loop for the 105 route when we saw another gal from the Clifford Chance group right behind us. We pointed toward the turn for the 105 route. Whoops. I forgot to ask her if she was even planning on doing the 105. Oh well.
Yes the course was hilly (it was Vermont and the Green Mountains after all). But as someone noted “what goes up must come down.” There was one downhill in particular that was kind of scary. We had checked the map at the last rest stop and we knew our next section was an out and back – the map made it look like the road we took out was the same road we were to take back. We were riding down the side of a mountain ala Lake Placid (miles of straight downhill) and I actually stopped Tiffany (Michelle had already sailed down to the bottom) I told her that I was afraid we were going to have to climb back up and I was pretty sure there was no way I could climb back up this mountain – it was almost straight down – a very severe pitch. Tiffany agreed. We looked up and realized we probably couldn’t get back up from where we were anyway. Michelle was so far ahead of us that I wasn’t even sure we were going the right way. Did we miss a turn? This couldn’t be right. Tiff was equally unsure. Finally I said, well I have $40 in my bag, if it is wrong, we’ll call a cab!! And we took off down the mountain hanging on for dear life. At the bottom of the mountain we saw Michelle waiting for us as well as a beautiful orange arrow telling us the course continues along the flat route of the river!! Who Hoo! The map was obviously not to scale and there was a different way to get to the next rest stop. We all breathed a sigh of relief and kept going.
The big monster hill was still waiting for us. I was really nervous about it because I had heard from everyone last year how hard it was. Our team is called the Flatlanders. One of the guys said “after Rupert Hill, you are no longer a Flatlander you are a Flat liner.” A lot of people have to walk up it. It is an 85 degree incline which in itself it not that terrible (we do harder than that in Nyack) but it goes for two and half miles!!! Two and a half miles of just climbing uphill. Then right at the end is a little spike that definitely is worse than 85 degrees and that is where people just burn out. Your legs are tired, you have been grinding forever and then you have to make that last spike. You can hear the bikes groaning under the strain. One gal who we picked up at the last rest stop was doing a serpentine to get up the hill – snaking back and forth. I thought it was an interesting technique but I was not about to try it. I just hunkered down and concentrated on pulling my heels up to my butt. (I remember Harlan the TNT bike coach on a ride to Nyack saying to me, the key to getting up the hill is not pushing it is pulling up. Kick your butt. Every time I find myself mashing the pedals and remember to start kicking butt I find I go a little faster and easier.)
When we finally got to the top of Rupert Hill everyone took a little rest. (They should have a rest stop there because EVERYONE stopped for a few minutes and stretched). Whatever was bothering you before was screaming now. Interesting, I had nothing bothering me yet. Remembering the cramps I had with Missy the previous week, I felt very blessed that not only did Sylvia not give out – neither did my legs, back or butt!
Everyone had different distance goals for the day — some were doing 45, some 75 and some the 105. Casha, Cassie (our two new friends) Tiff and I went on for the 105. At this point we were not waiting for each other because now we were fighting the clock. It was us against the SAG wagon. They wanted everyone off the course by 4:30. It was 3:15 and we had 25 miles to go. I know the best time I have ever done 25 miles in was 1:25 so I knew I wouldn’t make the cutoff but I would be so close they probably would let me finish. So we took off, Cassie, Me, Casha and Tiff. Pretty quickly we all separated. I was trying to hang with Cassie as long as I could but I was finding it difficult to hang on.
The last 25 miles were really hard. I was feeling mentally tired. It seemed like I was climbing, climbing, climbing and it felt like we had not had a downhill for a long time. I lost Cassie. She was determined to make her first 100 miler and not be pulled off the course. I was not that determined. I was starting to think that 80 miles was plenty and the SAG wagon was looking like a pretty good idea. Then I thought of something Coach Earl had said to us in Florida. When you start thinking about quitting that is a sign that you are out of nutrition and you need to eat. I had eaten everything I had with me but I had one Enervitene in my back pocket. I took it out and drank it. I would still take the SAG wagon when it came by but for now at least take the Enervitene in.
I was still climbing. I felt done, enough. Who cares? Climbing. I reached down and took another sip from my water bottle – the last sip. Great!!! No more water – I had filled up not even ten miles ago and now I was out. I was ready to pack it in. Still climbing. This was going on forever. It wasn’t that steep — just up and up and up. Never down. I was just counting the minutes ‘til the SAG wagon came along. No way am I even going to make 5 p.m. at this rate. Nobody on the course with me. Just a couple of cows here and there. I kept thinking about the wine tent. I really would like to put my feet up and have a glass of wine. How long have I been climbing?
Then all of a sudden there was a guy riding next to me. Super skinny, super fit – looked like a professional rider. He was wearing a white cycling jersey with big red dots. “How’s it going?” He says. I believe I just grunted in reply. I wasn’t smiling, I wasn’t being nice. I was out of water and I was climbing, climbing, climbing for what seemed forever (I’m sure it wasn’t that bad but it sure felt like it.) “You have about twenty more minutes of climbing and then you have miles of downhill. Then the last six mile are rolling hills and you are done.” “Is there another water stop? I am out of water?” “At the bottom of the hill is a church and there is a water stop there.” I no longer cared about finishing the course; I just wanted to make it to that water stop before they closed. It was 4:15 and I figured they would close up shop shortly. Then the guy said very slowly “You will do well.” And took off – flying up the mountain like it was nothing. I decided that without a doubt he was an Angel sent to encourage me. (Later Cassie said she had a long talk with God on that climb and she also had met the same guy….) I don’t know why those words sunk in but my OCD took over and I just kept repeating “you will do well, you will do well.” Twenty minutes – I can do anything for twenty minutes.
It wasn’t twenty minutes – it was about eight and I was at the top of the hill. But guess what? It wasn’t a hill, I had climbed to the top of a freakin’ mountain and now I was going down, down, down. An incredible release (word from a fellow rider who commiserated the next day on the same climb). I became aware of how much climbing I had actually done. Everything that goes up must come down and boy was I going down!!! My whole body relaxed and I was so relieved. Thank you God, thank you. I just couldn’t have climbed for one more minute. Rolling down, rolling down, rolling down. Whew!!! And then I saw the steeple. A church!! The church!! That must be the church.
As I rounded the corner there was a family at the water stop cheering and yelling for me. I almost started to cry (I am starting to cry right now). They are there, they are open and they are yelling for me and the SAG wagon has not caught me yet. I can’t describe the feeling. I pull up and say “I need water, do you have water?” The guy (who I have declared my second Angel) said “I have cold water, do you want a glass?” I sputtered the word “bottle, I need bottle.” The guy reached down onto my bike and pulled off both of my water bottles, filled them with water. As he was handing them to me he said, “They are open and ready for you to drink…” Okay, how nice is that? I don’t think I will ever forget that as long as I live. He opened the tops so I wouldn’t have to do that? “You have twelve more miles, one more small hill, a little downhill then rolling hills for the last six.”
They asked if I wanted to eat anything. I said no… Then they said “Watermelon? We have watermelon.” And the wife pointed to the plate full of watermelon. Yes, yes, I’ll have a piece of watermelon I nodded and said “you are Angels, all of you, Angels.” Then he said “no, you are, thank you for what you are doing.” That put me back in the right headset – this wasn’t for me – this is for everyone with MS, what had I been thinking that I would quit? Never!!! I thought of the MS shirt that said “this is why we ride.”
“Is the SAG wagon behind me?” I was anxious. “We’ll fend them off for you” the guy laughed. The little boy was staring at me like I was an alien. “What’s a SAG wagon? He asked?” The father told him the cars with the yellow signs; they want to pull her off the course. “Shhhh,” I whispered to the little boy, “don’t tell them you saw me.” He nodded in conspiracy. Then I took off for the end.
I guess the enervitene kicked in. The water kicked in, the big hills were over. I had been visited by Angels. My legs were fine, my back was fine. Nothing hurt. As I was pulling out I saw Cashi pulling into the water stop. “Go Cashi!!” I yelled, “twelve miles – we got this!!” I took off and I pedaled as fast as I could knowing the SAG wagon had to be on my butt. It was almost 4:30; I had twelve miles to go. Let’s see I do six miles in 21 minutes in Central Park so that means I had at least 40 minutes to go and it was already 4:30. Why did I waste so much time earlier in the day? If I hadn’t stopped for so long at rest stops I probably would have made the cutoff of 4:30 but now I was in a race – in the morning I was just being leisurely. But now I wanted to finish this 105 without getting picked up.
I pedaled my heart out. Finally I saw a sign that said 6.6 miles to go!! I was so pumped. I had this. No SAG wagon yet. Even if they caught me, I would tell them no way. Then I saw a rider lying on the grass with his bike. He waved to me to say he was okay. He was done and was waiting for the SAG wagon to carry him home. I kept pedaling, pedaling. I hit the 100 mile mark and I thought of Cassie ahead. She had been so intent on hitting her first 100 miler and I was happy for her. She did it!!
Then the first SAG wagon came by with the guy that I had just seen resting in the grass. “Want a ride?” I was pedaling so hard I just looked at them and said “I just did 100 miles; you think I’m going to quit now and not do the last 5?” They laughed and kept going.
Then the second SAG wagon came by. The woman was sooo nice – I am calling her my third Angel. The first thing out of her mouth was “Don’t worry we are not pulling you over, we just wanted to congratulate you on finishing your century.” I smiled and said “thank you!” The last five miles I felt like they were my first five. I was pumped. I didn’t get picked up by the SAG wagon. Now the miles were going quickly. Then I saw the finish line. I rolled in and everyone was there and cheered for me. I was so happy that I finished. I was so happy that SAG wagon didn’t make me get off. It was 5:15 – long after cut off but I finished on my two wheels. Sylvia was proud too. I could tell she was so happy to have been out on that ride in our own little race against time. (I could tell she was happy to show up my other bike Tina too!)
That night at dinner, we were all congratulating each other our day’s work. Claire asked, “was this your first century?” I said “oh no, not at all. Don’t you remember we did the Montauk century together?” She said “we only did 66 that time.” I had to think about it. “I’m sure I’ve done a century before. I ride all the time. I must have done a century.” Michelle said, “I don’t think so, I think Rockland was your longest so far.” I couldn’t believe that. Really? I’ve never ridden a hundred miles before? I just couldn’t believe that. How could that be? I’ve ridden 60 and 70 a zillion times but I’ve never done 100? How could I not know that? I had been so happy for Cassie making her first 100 it never occurred to me that this would be my first century as well. Quite silly if you think about it. Kind of like doing a marathon and saying “really? I’ve never run a marathon before?” LOL, oh well, better late than never!!!
On Sunday Michelle and I did an easy 47 miles. I tried to pedal fast for the last 6.6 miles so I could so I could rest assured that I had given it all I had. That brought the total for the weekend to 152 miles of biking. Half Ironman 56 miles in September? Bring it on baby, bring it on!!! (Half marathon afterwards, errr, other story…)
If you are interested in finding out more about MS visit the following site:
This is why we ride