Friday, April 3, 2009

It's been a while

Somehow I visualized more free time to do some blogging, but it sure hasn't turned out that way. I'll recap a few of the highlights since my last post.

The racing has started back up again, and even though it's mostly just training races right now, the bottom line is that here in New England you can now race your bike every weekend, as well as lots of weeknights in the summer, from now until mid December. Training races are perfect. We need to re familiarize with riding fast and also doing so in a big bunch. It's always great to see some of the guys (and girls) that you haven't seen since the end of the season.......and not so great to see some others!

The first race at Charge Pond was the first day of my week long vacation. We (Corner Cycle) had a strong group. Sam Morse, Kevin Hines, John Mosher, Jamie Tosca and myself. The pace was hot early with lots of failed break away attempts, but it felt like one was gonna stick sooner or later. Eventually Tobi Marzot, got up the road with Toby Schultze and one other. When they dangled off the front for a couple laps there didn't seem to be much urgency to go across, so I decided to stay put. Just as I was thinking we should put someone up there "just in case", Sammy jumped out of the bunch with a nice burst of power. He got there quickly and took a seat at the back of the break to recover. It was an impressive bridge and I had a good view of it since I was sitting about 4th or 5th wheel ready to follow and foil anyone else that tried to go across. The bunch seemed content for a while as the break slowly pulled out of sight on most of the course. A few attempts were made to bridge and I shut down a few, by following, but not working, Jamie did the same and the laps were winding down. It looked good for the break and we were very happy to have Sammy in there after he had an especially hard week of life. I suspected Marky Mac might try to go across near the end of the race, so I was keeping a close eye on him, and told Jamie to watch Frankie. Mark did try to go a couple of times and they were big efforts, but both times he shut it down fairly quickly. However we could all of a sudden see the break right in front of us by about 10 seconds with 3 laps to go. Luckily they didn't get discouraged and kept working hard and the bunch seemed to anticipate a catch, but eased off a bit. That was it, the gap went back up to 20 seconds or so and they made it. On the last lap Tobi M. attacked and Sammy was waiting for it, he followed and they gapped the other 2. Sammy took a good line through the final corner, jumped ahead of Tobi and headed for the line, but the young legs under Tobi brought out the needed snap and he took a good win, with Sammy 2nd and the other 2 also surviving. The bunch was ripping the last lap and I was too far back I thought, but I decided to practice moving through where I could and found myself about 6th or 7th wheel with a couple twists of the road and the final sharp left hander to go. I knew I had to get into the corner 1st for any chance, so I gunned it into the descent and got around the last (first) guy. Problem is, that guy was Frankie Mac. I went pretty good through the corner, didn't fag out too bad and started sprinting out of it. It's a long uphill grind to the finish maybe 175-200 meters. I had a good gap on all but Frankie and he EASILY went around me for 5th and I sorta quit on the sprint near the line and one other guy got me on the line. Good early season lesson for me.....sprint or fight all the way through the line.

The next day I spent in RI eating good food and riding with the main squeeze, Nancy. She's getting stronger and can stay on the wheel on the flats and even a few of the shorter hills, soon she'll be able to hang everywhere and I'll have to attack to get some "me time". We had our favorite dinner (Sushi) and I was off to NC for a week of training in Winston-Salem and then in the mountains in Asheville. I had Kev's bike with me, and he'd fly in on Wednesday for 3 days of hilly stuff. I drove for about 6 hours well into PA and stayed at the Super8.

Monday I finished the drive to Winston Salem. I got out for a gorgeous 55 miler on farm roads with little or no traffic and good pavement. They get cold down there at times in the winter, but my logic figured that it's not as extensive as our winters and so there's less frost, less snow plowing, and less salting, all resulting in better roads, or at least longer pavement life. Do you ever think of this stupid crap when you're riding? I didn't want to "ipod" my 1st ride there, because it's nice to experience all the sensations of a new place. Plus it was drizzling when I started, so I figured 1 less thing to deal with if the rain got worse. Worse it got! I got fully soaked, but I was committed to a loop I got from "Map My Ride" and it was warm enough (55 degrees) so I soldiered on. I got wetter and wetter, until I was soaked to the bone, but I was smiling ear to ear. I got a nice salad and lasagna to go, from a little Italian joint and headed for the Days Inn. (Xanadu).

Tuesday, was a better day on the weather forecast, but it was gonna take a while for the fog to burn off, so I took a casual approach to getting started. I had a big breakfast and then went on line to map out my loop for today. I decided on a big loop out of town that took me to (and up) Pilot Mountain. It wasn't overly warm and so I put on an extra layer and my wind vest, which was perfect because the fog was in no hurry to go. As I rode through Tobaccoville.....yes that's the name of the town, all I could smell was the disgusting weed. I sort of have an attitude about smoking, and cigarettes and people who smoke and ESPECIALLY people that throw their butts out their windows, still lit no less, onto the earth. Don't get me started! But it was still cool to experience this strong aroma, clearly signaling my senses that I was far from home. Eventually I found my course to Pilot and just as I got into the state park the sun was burning through. It felt so good to be warmed from the sun while on a bike. It's been a while since I felt that. Flash forward 2 minutes. "I wish this sun would go away so I could climb this little beast of a hill without sweating to death"! It's not a big mountain, but it's a lot steeper than anything I've seen since App. Gap (Green Mountain Stage Race)in September. It takes about 15 minutes, and I lose the vest and unzip the jersey, but I'm in a full sweat and close to the top when a fawn (baby deer) is suddenly standing right in front of me in the middle of the road. I stop to appreciate this and am a little surprised to see it so fearless of people. I suspect the deer up on this auto road are used to people and not used to being hunted, so they probably end up being fed, much like the deer in Yosemite. The top of this bizarre mountain has a huge rock formation with lots of climbing routes and huge buzzards surfing the thermals. The ride back is enjoyable with the sun out, but I start to feel a little twinge in my belly, something very out of the ordinary for me. I finished up and got a nice lunch, and then drove 2 hours west to Asheville, to the luxurious and beautiful Red Roof Inn. My stomach was still a little funny so I decided to go ahead and eat a bunch of raw fish anyway. I found a great sushi place and the beer was nice and cold too.

Wednesday Kevin's flight was AOK until he tried to leave Charlotte in the fog......he was delayed. But no worries, with daylight savings and being so far south and west the sun doesn't set til about 8 oclock. We got on the bikes around 3 or 4 oclock I guess and went right onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. What a road!!! If you're a cyclist or an outdoors man you need to experience this road in this lifetime. It's over 400 miles long so pick a section and be fit enough to climb a lot. The grades aren't too steep, but it's either up or down and you hit some pretty decent elevation. Kev's not one to mess around if he feels good, and he went about an honest pace on the road. I was feeling the 4 straight long hard days in the saddle as well as 900 miles of driving thrown in there, and the stomach was a little funny all morning too, but I seemed OK for the moment on the bike. Of course like any bike racer I was scared I'd get sick. After a long gradual climb (about 30-40 minutes) I started feeling noticeably worse. We crested the hill and went down the other side a ways until we came to a turnoff that went back to Asheville. We ran into the Dartmouth Cycling Team right there and rode briefly with them until we turned off onto Beaver Dam Rd. which was right out of the Giro with lots of switchbacks and very wooded. I was glad to be descending, although even that worried me as I knew I didn't have my full abilities with the stomach virus now causing me to feel flush and at times dizzy and nauseous. Not what you want on this road! I made it back to the hotel....BARELY and felt like I was gonna die. I showered, and got in bed. Kev couldn't believe I didn't want to eat dinner (I'm sort of a world class eater), but he went ahead and got some Sushi without me. But before he went to the restaurant, he bought me some Mylanta and Tylenol. What a good friend!!! I slept and slept but was constantly awake and aware of the stomach pain.

Thursday, I still felt horrible and I knew I had to get food in my system. I went to Waffle House with Kev and had half of what I ordered and hoped I wouldn't see it again. There was no way I was gonna be able to ride. Bummer, but worse things could have happened. Kev went off and did a mountainous 5 hour ride solo. I felt bad for not being his ride mate. I felt jealous for not experiencing the ride, and I felt sick and still had lots of stomach pain. I couldn't see how I'd be able to ride again on the trip. We went off to the Sushi bar and I just got a huge bowl of Mi so soup with chicken while Kev had the usual yummy sushi. I went to bed hoping for a miracle.

Friday. I knew it the minute I opened my eyes. My appetite was back. I smiled and said "let's eat". The stomach was still a little funny, but the pain was gone and the hunger was there. My legs felt lifeless the day before, and now felt fine. I destroyed my breakfast and was very excited to be looking at our projected ride route for the day. We set out on the BRP again but this time we went South instead of North and we did the most beautiful ride you can imagine, we went through countless tunnels and every square inch is a breathtaking view. Stopping for picture taking was kinda gay and it also kills the rhythm of the ride so I attempted a few "in the saddle shots" and we did stop a couple times, but it really was messing up the ride , so we chilled on that. Besides the pictures really don't do it justice. All along the parkway road, rhododendrons grow naturally, and I can only imagine how insanely beautiful the parkway is when there in full bloom, which is probably right about now or in the next couple of weeks. They were already mowing the grass down there, so they're quite a bit ahead of us in the Spring season. The day was sunny and a bit cool, but it was still morning so we figured it'd warm up, but we threw the thin vests on anyway. The first 30 minutes of the ride was all uphill, we went easy since we knew it was a long day we had planned and I was still worried about my less than 100% stomach. It got consistently colder as we climbed and by the time we reached what seemed like the top, we were pretty cold. There's a big resort at the top that was just getting the place opened up and aired out for the upcoming season. We found a very helpful guy that hooked us up with some cardboard sheets for putting under our jerseys for the descent and also a better map than what we had been using up til now. We plunged off the top and exited the Parkway onto a very hairy, gravelly descent. The roads going up to the parkway are nasty! They are mountain passes with lots of switchbacks and marginal pavement sometimes. Whereas the parkway is really a ridge running affair (hence the name) with more gradual grades. You can let loose almost everywhere on the parkway without fear of going off the road, but the access roads are the extreme opposite. We went very tentatively down this road and all I could do was laugh and smile when Kevin yelled up to me that "his hands were friggen frozen". Mine were too and the cold tears were running out of the corners of my eyes. It was serious shit and we had a job on our hands to get down this thing safely and get to warmer altitudes where we could get warmed up. We got it done and were rolling across the valley floor and decided to take advantage of a rare country store since we figured we wouldn't see another all day. The usual snickers from a few good ole boys about guys in lycra and we were back up and running. We warmed up nicely after I pushed the pace for just that reason. I was so happy to not be laying in bed again and I was starting to feel sure that I wouldn't have any ride ending stomach issues, and I had good legs too. Yeeha! We did a valley loop and slowly started our climb up a different access road back to the parkway, and it was a tailor made pass for me. The grades were steep, but not super steep, we big ringed it for at least 25 minutes and then it got a little steeper and we finally dropped into the little ring. I felt great, and poor Kevin (who usually kills me on the climbs) was feeling the 5 hour ride from the day before, that I slept through. It went and went and finally we got back to the parkway with a long way to go back. We ended up keeping that cardboard with us all the way. It was over 5 hours and tons of climbing. One of the best days of my life on a bike! We showered up and I dropped Kev at the airport for his flight home. My original plan was to leave Asheville that night and forfeit the last night's room fee and take a big chunk out of the drive to get half way home. That way I could unwind for a day (Sunday) before going back to work. I like that at the end of a vacation, because it's tough to travel far and unpack and get ready physically and mentally to go back to work the very next day. But I decided that I wasn't gonna have a chance any time soon to ride such a beautiful road again, so I changed my plan. I had a huge burger and salad and cold beer at a great local brew pub and settled down for the night.

Saturday, while the boys back home were warming up for Charge Pond #2 (Jamie got 2nd.....2 weeks in a row we got 2nd) I was driving to a more Northern section of the Parkway. I had seen the Linn Cove Viaduct in lots of pictures and it was more or less on my way out of town. So I drove to one of the thousands of big pull off parking lots that have scenic overlooks and parked. Once again the pictures do it no justice. I was pretty smoked from the week of increased training and decided this would be an easy day and I'd try to take more pics. It was cold though only 35 degrees and it didn't warm up much, but there was a strong late March sun beating down on me which felt good, and soon the vest was coming off. I did a little more than 2 hours and really enjoyed the experience. I was very happy with my decision to take in another day of this gorgeous place.

The rest of the day and a good part of the night was spent in the car driving, and texting Nancy (bad boy, texting and driving). I pressed on til about 10 o'clock and made it back to the same hotel I stayed in on the way down in PA. I figured since I knew it was a good clean place, so why not go there again.

Sunday, I did the job I didn't want to do and drove another 7 hours home. I stopped in Providence and had a nice early dinner with Nancy which consisted of a big rack of ribs and of course a cold beer. I think my choice was a Blue Moon. I finally made it back home around 6 or 6:30. I was tired, but it was well worth it. Next time I fly, I got the road trip out of my system. The big advantage was that neither Kevin or I had to fly with our bikes, I had my own car the whole time, not some piece of crap rent-a-car, and I had the comforts of my own vehicle which always becomes a little bike racing home field advantage. The drawback was 26-28 hours of driving. Thanks to Jamie's radar detector the trip was without a single speeding ticket! Bonus!

Charge Pond #3, I was tired Saturday morning (March 28th) as the week after vacation was hard to get my rhythm back on timing. But I got to sleep a little extra Saturday morning and that helped. The plan was to ride to the race, race, ride home. I met Jamie up the road and we were off. About 34 miles for a warm up and we got there early so we ended up spinning around some more before the A race started. The race was fast from the gun and I felt reasonably good and decided it would be a good day to dig very deep regardless of the result. Ted King and his brother Robbie had showed up as well as Team Fuji led by a just back from FL and very fit Frankie Mac. A few laps into it I threw down a hard attack and there was an immediate response by several guys. We were slightly away with Ted, Robbie, Frank, David Potter and maybe a couple others. We drilled it for a lap and a half or so, but it was too early and lots of guys still had fresh legs and they nailed us back, but the sharp end of the race was very active for a few more laps and I followed a couple hard surges. Just after a hard effort Ted drilled it and Frank was right on him looking easy. I knew this was it because it was primed perfectly, I knew it would hurt to try and follow and my reaction was hesitant so I instantly decided I'd follow the first guy to chase, this all happened in 3 seconds. David Potter went hard and dug deep and I was right on him, he stayed the same distance for a while and my plan was to wait for him to fade and then jump across, if he made it with me great, if not......also great. I was hurting on his wheel, and knew the moment of truth was about to come, but I wasn't ready to go yet. Just then Robbie came out of nowhere (David and I had a good gap on the field) and he blew right by us and was clearly gonna get there. That seemed to deflate David and he faded and I knew it was now or never. I went as hard as I could and watched Robbie finish his impressive bridge. My hope was that he'd need to recover and that would mess up the flow of the three of them for just long enough for me to get there. Half a lap went by and David and the field were out of sight behind me. Robbie only skipped 1 turn and then went right to work, I felt like I was gonna get on, I was only about 30 meters from them if that, and then big Frank hit the front. He was turning that big gear over like nothing at all and I was hitting the wall.....that was it.....curtains. I sat up and took my helmet off so I could remove my headband that I foolishly left on for the race, and then put my helmet and shades back on and tucked the headband away. The bunch came along and I went right to the back for at least 8 laps to recover. It was kinda losy racing after that. Guys were trying to get away, and other guys were chasing everything down that they could. They couldn't chase down the front 3 earlier and they weren't going to now either. Those guys were the class of the field and they were GONE! Late in the race I was near the front and figured everyone was probably feeling pretty bad, so I took a flyer, Paul Richard (ccb) got my wheel and then he took the front and we had a small gap. I looked back to see how we were doing and my legs were not so great at the time either. I saw Marky Mac on the front chasing us down and he was pretty much right on us with the field right on his wheel. I shut down the attack and looked over at Mark as he rode up and he said "Big Crash". I thought "Oh No, where are my boys"? None of my teamates were there, but there were a few more guys coming across that must have got slowed down, but didn't crash. One of them was Sammy and the only other guys we had that day were Jamie and Gray. I asked him where they were and he said he thinks Jamie was in it. Yikes. We get around the course and the officials are yelling to us to "move to the right, riders down". The first guy I see is Jamie walking with his bike on his shoulder and his eye ripped open in the eyebrow, forehead area with blood running down his face, and no shades to be seen. Swelling is already visible. Sammy and I say "Oh no are you alright?" He says "ya" and I tell Sammy I'm going back. He says no don't go backwards on the course just go around. Next we see about 20 guys standing off both sides of the road with broken bikes and some, but not a lot of road rash. Half the field was wiped out if not more. We get around again and Jamie rides by on his bike just before we get to the last corner, he seems OK and theres 1 lap left. We all more or less stopped racing and just rode it out, at least thats what I did. It was a bummer. Thats usually a safe race, but thats bike racing. Jamie was more or less fine, he thought, but took a lift home from good friend Jeff Craddock (ccb). I decided to stick with my plan to ride home, and Gray was also riding to Falmouth with another guy.... Mike. As we roll out Frankie is also rolling out and it turns out he left his car at Kev's place in Wareham. So we rode with him that way. I still felt reasonably good and I had some food after the race and had a little more with me as well as money. Frank and I rode the front all the way to Kev's and we were going pretty fast. I had about 70 miles when we left and we more or less pushed it pretty hard, all the way to Wareham. I was starting to crack when Frank turned for Kev's place and we still had a long way to go to the Bourne bridge. We got to the bridge doing a nice rotation and then the bridge killed me. It's stressfull! The sidewalk that you have to ride on is about 18"-20" higher than the road and the cars are flying by at 60 mph or so. The wind is always galing, trying to blow you into traffic or the suicide rail on the other side and the damn thing is a stout little climb too. Usually some bonehead has thrown a bottle into the suicide rail and smashed glass and sand aren't an uncommon sight either.....lovely. We got through it fine and stopped at a store just onto the Cape. I more or less guilted the other 2 into riding along the canal with me over to Sandwich so they could help me home and still get in some respectable miles themselves. (They drove to the race with a third party). They did and I was so relieved.....until I absolutely ripped a brand new Michelin Race Clincher to shreds on a clamshell the seagulls left on the bike path for us. I replaced the tube and then used my race # as an emergency tire liner to get home. That worked really well. I might even keep a folded up number in my saddle bag from now on for just that reason. They're made of tough synthetic paper, perfect for that sort of repair. We were back up and running in no time and the other 2 split off and left me to the last 5 or 6 miles on my own. Man was I cracked! It was well over a 100 mile day with a race in the middle of it filled with big, big efforts and a few crashes too.

Tomorrow is the last Charge Pond race and I'll go depending on the weather. I'm just not in love with the race enough to want to do it in the rain. Besides, Sunday is the first Mountain Bike Race of the year.....I can't wait to actualluy race in this....

Whew, thats all for now, JB


JMH said...

Great post. Never been to NC, but the riding sure looks sweet. Did you do any mountain biking? I hear there is some great singletrack around Asheville.

Jonny Bold said...

No mountain biking on this trip, but this is DEFINITELY a place to hang out in and spend some time. It's like New England with much shorter winters......and an accent!