Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Six Gap 2009

As an annual tradition, when I don't have a broken bone of some sort, I took on the challenge of Six Gap again this year, and the ride started off like it has for the past 4 years in a row. In a rush... I swear, I tell myself, somewhat belatedly, that I will never get there at the last minute again every year, and every year I have a repeat performance of just barely making it for the start.

There must have been a record group of riders this year because the parking lot was closed out about 45 minutes before the start. I then had to drive around in the dark, find a place to park my car without it sliding into a ditch, get all my junk out of the car, and then ride off to the start line, ride back to get my helmet, ride off to the start line, ride back to get my gloves, etc...

With the amazing number of riders I decided to just cut in line and start with the first 100 or so riders. The fast riders. The riders that would proceed to hammer for the next 5+ hours and finish the ride with smiles and energy left in the tank. I knew that I wouldn't hang with them, but with the crashes of this year, it was safer to ride at their back in order to avoid the 2,000 other people that I would end up passing during the first miles and the climb up Neels Gap.

Riding with the real "horses" of the group was pretty fun, and we covered the first 20 miles in under an hour. It's a pace that I never dreamed possible on the Six Gap ride. Climbing the first hill was as fun as it was getting there. I was feeling pretty good, and I was happy since I have had such minimal and interrupted training this year. I basically trained for the ride with 9 weeks of watching Heros in my basement for 6 hours a week and then riding 75 miles on Saturday mornings.

Then, as in every year, the ride did something strange. Sometimes it's rain, sometimes it's cold and windy, sometimes, you have really really annoying mechanical issues. I would have traded for the rain. Honestly... One part of my bike that I apparently hadn't tested or even noticed over the past few thousand miles I had spent riding decided that it was time I noticed. As of mile 25 of 104 miles, my left pedal bearings began to fail. At first it was just a little squeak...cute really...like having a sweet little bird nearby... I knew, when this foolish "glass is half full" thought went through my head that the chirp wasn't going to be cute after listening to it for 5 more hours.

It only took about 20 minutes before the chirp became a more pronounced, and angrier sounding, Squeeerrrrk every time I turned over the cranks... I stopped at the first aid station and desperately searched for someone with some grease to spray into the pedal. It didn't work. In fact, it may have made the disgruntled bearings...uh...disgruntleder? After listening to the sound for about an hour, I had to turn up my iPod and try to drown it out. As the miles and hours went on, I felt good, but my pedal didn't. It was finding a way to resonate through the carbon frame of the bike and amplify itself. I swear I could feel it in my hands with each turn of the pedal. People I passed would ask, "Is that you?" I felt like replying, "My bionic knees need oil. Otherwise I would be passing you." Well, I felt like saying all sorts of stuff, but nothing funny came to mind until well after the moment had passed, so I just squeek-squawked on...

The foggy morning gave break to a beautiful day, which was great considering how the evening had gone. Here is a shot of the storms that were rolling through from evening to the early hours of the morning.

And a shot of the following morning from the top of Hogpen Gap.

Thank goodness, I didn't have torrential downpours coupled with the wounded moose that had taken up residence in my pedal. Ah, see my negative view of things does have a shiny moment every so often...

The hogpen climb, where I discovered last year that "not training" is not the same as "tapering" prior to a endurance event, went by and I felt pretty strong. I know I was moving more slowly up the climb than I have in years past, but it wasn't bad. I stopped for some cookies at the top and bombed down the descent at over 50 miles an hour. Descending is so much fun on a road bike. You can travel faster through the turns and switchbacks than most any other vehicle on the planet, and I didn't get hung up behind a single car so I could really let it go and enjoy the ride.

I was feeling good and then I saw the devil...and she is way more attractive than the Sasquatch I saw last year. Now that I look at the picture, it is apparent that the devil doesn't need to touch the ground when heckling riders. Unfortunately, the sighting was a harbinger of the miles to come.

After a while I did wear out, and that coupled with the pedal that now had decided to make it's presence apparent to everyone in a 50 mile radius made for a very difficult, and decidedly un-fun finish to the ride. The pedal had changed from squeek, to Squaaaarrrrk, to SQUUUUAAAAAAAARRRRRK!!, to a YYYYEEEEAAAAAWWWWWRRRRK! that echoed off the mountain sides and couldn't possibly be drowned out by my iPod without serious hearing damage. Other riders would just shake their heads at my caterwauling equipment and ride on by or make a point of going much slower in order to get away from me. I just kept my head down and pedaled my demoralized body ever closer to the finish line. There was a song on my iPod at one point by Modest Mouse. "The Good Times are Killing Me." Yeah, that is as apropos a tune as I could come up with at that moment.

The final miles of the ride are a hideous collection of rolling hills that brought me, as they had last year, to a pace that would rival most snails for speed just to top them. Over and over I climbed as fast as my legs could go, which was slower with each successive hill but finally I found the finish. I had decided at one point that I was having no fun. I had not really had fun for over 2 hours and I was telling myself that this was my last Six Gap ride and I just needed to finish. I was so disgusted with the broken pedal and my overtaxed and under trained legs that I left the bike in a disassembled pile in the back of my truck for a week, but during the course of that week something happened.

I forgot something. I forgot how much of a painful experience it had been. I forgot that I didn't have fun, and I found something too. I found a magic number. 3. That was the number of days it took for me to decide to do it again next year, and I am already thinking, "I'm sure I'll be faster..."

I know now how women decide to have a second child. Time has a great way of washing away the awful bits of some experiences and leaving only the good.

But, I'll be darned sure to replace my pedals before I go again

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