It's been quite some time since I've pinned a number on a jersey. It felt the same as in the past. The looming event created nervous energy which in turn made me stab myself with the safety pins. Even though I knew the event was not a race, I still wanted to post a decent time.
I signed up for the Moab Gran Fondo way back in the winter, but made my decision to ride in the eleventh hour. Literally - I was changing tires on my cross bike at 11:30 pm the night before the ride. All the while muttering to myself the question of why I would pay to do the Loop road when it is basically in my backyard and accessible to me whenever the time allows. Logic would dictate that any time I wanted to go out and punish myself for several hours on end I could hop on the road bike and roll straight into the pain cave.
But alas the money had been spent and I would be a giant chortle-head for not participating. So the morning of the event I got up early and did some stretching. I pounded some coffee and water and managed to get down a couple of bananas. I knew I needed to eat more, but rarely can I get up and just start downing food. My stomach needs awhile to "wake up". So I stuffed my pockets with a bunch of energy goops, pills and potions and bolted out of the door.
I arrived a few minutes early and found myself a rock to sit on and check out the crowd. There was enough carbon fiber around to build a stealth fighter jet. The writhing crowd of lycra almost sent me into dizzy spells before the gun went off. Why am I here I asked, as I clipped in and dodged flailing freds desperate to get into their pedals.
I've spent a bunch of time on riding in crowds of people and it almost always makes me nervous. Comfort is usually found at the front of one of these rides because that is where the experienced riders usually are. As we made our turn onto the river road it began to be apparent how far away those experienced riders were. By the time we hit the first roller climb of the day the long train began to fracture and form groups. I found myself in a decent sized group about a half mile gap behind the next group who trailed the lead thoroughbreds. I took a quick sweep of the talent as we rolled along. I felt comfortable with about half and not real sure about the rest. The pace was up and down and all around. Braking in a group is very uncool and there was quite a bit of that going on, so I worked my way to the outside thinking it would be safer. The pace continued to be erratic and my uneasiness was compounding. I began doing calculations in my head as to whether I could bridge the next group.
Before I knew what I was doing I had began moving to the front. Then I was at the front. And then off the front. I buried my head and occasionally glanced up. I could see another rider out in no-mans-land and I quickly made contact. "I'm not gonna be much help, I'm afraid," the gal said as I pulled up beside her. I sat on her wheel for a few minutes and got my heart rate back down. I pulled back around and told her to hold on and made another surge. The fact that I could see the next group ahead did not help matters, because the gap was not really changing. Once again I started doing calculations in my head again and realized how close we were getting to Castle Valley and the first of a long stretch of climbing.
I throttled back to a good spin and was soon joined by two others who couldn't deal with the squirrelly group I had left. They both commented on my tank of a bike and how I managed to move it forward pretty well. We rode together for a while, picking off debris from the now exploded group as we headed into our first climb. I felt good cresting the first hill, but knew food had to be consumed stat and I really had to find a place to pee.
I was a great relief to see the first water stop at the base of the real climbing. Both of my bottles were empty and I was beginning to feel a twinge in my legs. I topped off both bottles, sucked down some food and was off the to ascent. I knew what lay ahead so I planned my power accordingly. Only problem was, my legs had a different idea. As soon as I stood up my legs gave a warning shot that systems were not functioning properly. I sat back down. My quads and hamstrings were alternating constrictions with every pedal stroke. Cramps. No, please no. Not the cramps.
Halfway into my ride and I was cramping. Son of a biscuit-eater. I was pissed. Not enough fuel and going too hard out of the gate. Now I had to go into damage control mode. I turned on my zombie powers and got in my easiest gear. I limped up the climby sections and stretched on every teeny downgrade. I ate most of the food I had with me and pounded more water. The miles were going by, but at a much slower rate than planned.
I finally made it to the Kokopelli overlook and knew I was close to being done. A bunch of downhill followed by the last big climb and some more ripping downhill. I pulled out of the aid station only to be blasted by a soul-crushing headwind. I switched into my big ring and extended my middle finger up into the wind. By now my legs were finally coming back around. After pedaling through cramps for 1.5 to 2 hours, I felt I could finally put a little power down. I caught and passed some folks on the downhill. Looming in the distance was the last of the upward pitches in the road. I managed to stay on the gas and as I was passing a bunch of shelled carcasses on the climb, my girl passed me going the other direction and I blew her a kiss. Suddenly I was invigorated.
I now knew the finish wasn't far and bombed the huge downhill like a peregrine falcon. I managed to pick off a few more stragglers before hooking onto a big dudes wheel and riding his draft across the line.
I was fully toasted and knew I had destroyed my legs. The painful reminder of the ride loomed in my legs for the next two days. And yes I did finish the ride. But as my friend Heather D says, "you gotta be stoopid to be tough."