Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sprint zones - the experiment continues

So last sunday, I went out and marked up some sprint zones on the 29 mile Donaldson Country Route. Tonight, I volunteered to lead the CIIa country ride (18-19mph average speed). It would be the first opportunity to test out the sprint zones.

The most difficult part of leading these rides is communicating with the other riders. Tonight we only had about 30 riders or so in our group. This may have been a consequence of the weather (turned out great after all) or maybe because Lori split the group into the group I lead (CIIa: 18-19mph) and another group (CIIb) advertised at 17-18mph average speed.

As we started the ride down Perimeter road, I drifted back through the group doing my best to communicate to them some basic information about the sprint zones (and to remind them to be safe). This was difficult as the group wasn't super tight and even if it was, only about a half dozen people who were closest to me could hear me. I tried by making three or four announcements - holding pace with a section of the group as I called out at the top of my lungs, then dropping back a few riders and doing it all over again. I don't know if that helped or not. All I can do is try. If you rode with us tonight, post up your feedback. If you have an idea to make the communications easier, I'm open to suggestions.

As we came off of Perimeter road, I noticed that our average pace was already very close to 18mph. While this is certainly in our target zone, it was about 0.6 mph faster on average than the last two rides. Not a major issue, but I was concerned that today's pace was going to get pushed a little.

The weather was holding for us, and as we rounded the curve on Griffen road, the hammers started coming to the front. I appreciate the group effort in maintaining the pace - despite several different people pushing off the front, the main group held the pace and would keep the hammers from creating havoc (and resulting in a fractured group - again, what's the point of a group ride if there is no group?).

For some reason, there weren't as many people ready to pull the group as our last couple of rides. No problem really, but quite different from my previous experience. We rolled through the beautiful countryside with speeds up to about 27mph on the downhills, but dropping to 13-15mph on some of the hills. Our average pace slowly climbed towards 19 mph.

I messed up when we turned on to Garrison Road. I got briefly confused and started notifying folks that the first sprint zone was coming up. As we made the left fork at Richey Road, I realized my mistake and made my apologies. The first sprint zone was still 4 miles away! As we rolled along Woodville road and made that little climb, people started to stretch their legs a little. The pace continued to climb (slowly, but it was climbing).

As we made the right turn onto Reedy Fork Road, I called out the notice that our first sprint zone was coming up. I asked for a soft pedal after the right turn onto Old hundred road and let them know I would signal the sprint zone with my whistle. I reminded them to think about strategy for a mile long sprint zone.

We soft pedaled for a quarter mile or so, and I gave the signal just before the 1 mile mark. As expected, there was a couple who broke right away. I was surprised to see the main peleton with only a slightly increased speed - people were thinking about it. The pace gradually increased through the half mile mark, but people started to reach their limits as we came to the 500 meter mark. There was some strong efforts up front, but a friend of mine, Pip, broke out of the pack at about 300 meters or so and motored ahead to take the sprint. We re-grouped at the stop sign. I think people were having a good time.

We crossed Hwy 418 for the first time and the average pace began to break into the 19+ mph zone. As we rolled along Hopkins road, I urged the leaders to hold back the pace just a little. As we crossed Reedy Fork / Mckittrick road, a group of three came flying past us. They announced "The group behind you has caught you". My response - "you're going too fast then!" - but, that's a subject for another blog.

As we approached the turn for Holly road, once again, I announced the approach of another sprint zone. I also cautioned those around me to be careful on the narrow, curvy road. We made the turn and kept a soft pedal for a short distance before I gave the signal with about 1.1 miles to go. Lots of people laid the power on and the group was flying down the road. I really love this section of the ride, but it truly can be a dangerous spot. I need to find a better method to communicate the potential dangers on this section of the ride. We made it through cleanly but I didn't see who got the finish first. I did see Pip among the first riders to stop at the stop sign. The most interesting part of this little section - we re-acquired the small group who had blown past us (literally - through a stop sign).

We paused briefly at Reedy Fork Road to let everyone catch up (the group really didn't get spread out very much) before making the turn to head back. Our now slightly bigger group started powering along Reedy fork maintaining the average pace right at 19mph. I was surprised when I pulled up to Dan and he indicated that his computer was showing us to be about 0.4mph off our last ride average pace. My computer was definately showing us at a slightly higher average pace (19 as compared to 18.8 from last week).

As we came to the stop sign at the corner of Michelin Road and Antioch Church Road, I announced the last sprint zone would be coming up after the turn onto Perimeter road. As we made the right turn (before the left that would put us on Perimeter road), we caught sight of the Police escort for the A group. Of course, shortly after that, we saw the A group. I think this lit a fire under everyone (at least those in the front). I was calling for a bit of a soft pedal, but those up front wouldn't hear of it. They set off in chase of the A group.

Despite my efforts, there was no soft pedal at all. The 1.5 mile mark is right at the Michelin plant parking lot. I saw clearly that we were already sprinting, so I gave the signal for the sprint zone. A few people later commented to me they thought we were already sprinting. Another friend of mine came hammering past me. He was moving and managed to get out in front of our group. He held on for about 3/4 of a mile before he started dropping back. I feel a little bad about it now, but as I rode past him, I said "Kip, you blew it". Really I meant his strategy was not sound, He was strong as far as it lasted though.

I don't know if anyone up front saw the finish line for the sprint or not - they just kept the pace hammering until they got in front of the fire station. I was far enough back I couldn't see who was up front.

So, with this little experiment, I have learned how difficult it really is to communicate to the riders in the group. What will make it more difficult is a relatively constant influx of 'new' riders joining the group every week. I'll keep trying, but feedback or advice is always welcome.

The other difficulty I saw this week is in controlling the pace. Although we came in right at 19mph (a success in my book), there were times that people wanted to push the pace. I am thankful for my fellow riders who listened when I commented that our pace was running on the high side and dropped the pace slightly. I could probably write an entire blog about the importance of maintaining the 'advertised' pace.

What is my conclusion after tonight's little experiment? I think it was fun, I think people enjoyed it. I had some positive comments from my fellow riders. Mostly, I need to figure out a way to better communicate while on the road. In the meantime, I'll do my best to communicate through my little blog.

Happy riding!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sprint zones on Donaldson Country Route

Not long ago, I asked the question how long should a sprint zone be? Today, I went out and marked three separate sprint zones as described in my blog about being a ride leader. This blog is to show the markings and describe the start and end points of the sprint zones.

First, the zones.
Zone I is along Old hundred road. This zone (intersection to intersection) is not quite 1.5 miles long, so the sprint zone will end up being something just over 1 mile. After the right turn at the little store, a short distance of soft pedaling will bring us to the 1.0 mile mark. The start will be somewhere slightly before the 1 mile mark. The end is at the intersection of a short dead-end road just before the stop sign. Re-group at the stop sign.

Zone II is along Holly road. I have marked 1.3 miles shortly after making the turn, but the start won't be until closer to the 1.0 mile mark. The end is at a tree on the right hand side of the road. This tree is maybe 100 meters from the stop sign. Re-group at the stop sign for Reedy Fork Road.

Zone III is along Perimeter road. I have marked all the way up to 1.5 miles, which is still about 0.25 miles (or so) beyond the RR tracks as you are heading back to the parking area. Start will probably be right near the 1.5 mile mark. This is the longest sprint zone. The end is at the fire hydrant on the right hand side of the road across from a large sign that says 2275 Perimeter Road. Since the ride will just about be finished, hopefully, this finish area will give us a little opportunity to say our thanks and c-ya next week.

The Markings:
I have marked all three zones in orange paint with the following minimum markings.
At 1 mile from the finish:

At one half mile from the finish:

At 500 meters from the finish: (all 'dots' are about 4-6" in diameter)

At four hundred meters from the finish:

At three hundred meters from the finish:

At two hundred meters from the finish:

At one hundred meters from the finish:

At the finish:

R's Excellent Adventure - Days 2, 3 and 4: Facing the monster

Day 2, 3 and 4: Mountain biking and Whitewater Kayaking.
Skipping days because it is more important to me to get the big stuff down than the small stuff. Day 2 was about mountain biking. We went up to Dupont State forest to play around on the skills course for a little while before doing a little ride through the forest. R was pretty comfortable starting and stopping on the bike by now, so it was time to work on his balance.

We spent maybe an hour at the skills course. Riding mostly over the small boardwalk that is in the same area as the teeter totter and the other log rides. There is also a plank ride only inches off the ground, so he rode that as well. Never got up to the teeter totter, but he was doing well. He didn't want to try some of the more difficult obstacles as I think he was afraid of crashing.

He watched me fall twice while demonstrating the larger boardwalk area. Pretty funny really. I got up, brushed myself off and got back on the bike. I tried to set a good example - even in how to crash! He did crash once, not terribly hard, but it knocked his shoe off! Pretty funny!

That afternoon, we took a little ride around some of the trails in the vicinity of Guion Farms before heading out west to Camp at Turkey Creek Campground (not far from Tsali). We were able to get our campsite set up and get some dinner before dark. Even had some time to enjoy a little fire before bedtime.

Wednesday (day 3) was a river day (Nantahala river) so we knew we'd be wet. That's good because we awoke to plenty of rain. The temperature was a little cool, but I thought it would be manageable. After breakfast, we loaded into the car for the short drive up to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). We would rent an inflatable kayak for R, and I would paddle my own whitewater boat.

When renting a kayak from the NOC, the renter is required to watch a safety video. I've seen this video before, but I've also spent the last 23 years or so involved in some sort of extreme activity. It didn't strike me how terrifying this video is for the uninitiated.

My nephew has not had a lot of exposure to extreme sports of any type - unless you count video games or what you might see on television. In fact, his life has been very typical of a boy growing up in a small southwestern town - basketball, soccer, video games and school. Nothing wrong with any of that, in fact one could say it gives a certain amount of stability to a young boy.

Here's where I come in - the (not so!) crazy uncle who enjoys activities that border on or cross over into the extreme. A couple of years ago (2007), I let him (then 11 years old) drive my $25,000 Jeep. While that might not be a big deal to a lot of people, it was a big deal for him. Driving the Jeep was outside his comfort zone, so I had to push him a little to get him to drive it. He did it around the parking lot at first, then later in the week on a county road (dirt road). He was obviously nervous, but managed to get past it and seemingly enjoyed the drive on the county road.

Last year (2008), I let him drive a (rented) $25,000+ Jeep, but this time over some reasonably difficult obstacles. It was all I could do to hold him back. What a difference a year made. He asked me almost as soon as we picked up the Jeep if he could drive it. The only concern he really gave me was in his ability to ignore my commands of 'BRAKE!' 'BRAKE!' 'BRAKE!' 'BRAKE!' 'BRAKE!' We made it through that experience without a scratch though, so all was well.

This year (2009), my goal was to help him explore further where his comfort zone really is. I feel it is pretty important for a young man to understand that there is a point where he won't feel comfortable in any given situation. What is most important is how he responds to that situation - That's the true measure of his character.

The tools I would employ (much like the U.S. Army's Ranger School employs combat patrols as a leadership training tool) were the activities we had lined up - mountain biking, climbing and whitewater kayaking. Despite my years of participation in these activities, each time I don the requisite equipment for the day's activity, I feel the adrenalin begin to flow. Nothing like walking to the edge of your personal comfort zone and looking into the void!

Extreme activities are not the only way to get this feeling. I sometimes get this feeling before engaging a beautiful woman in conversation. I always get this feeling when in a situation where emotions are high or conflict is imminent. An anthropologist might say it is the 'fight or flight' syndrome. Whatever you call it, if you recognize it for what it is, you can better understand it. Once you begin to understand it, you can begin to control your reaction to it.

So today's activity really took R on a roller coaster ride to the edge and beyond his comfort zone. I let him watch the safety video by himself and it scared the heck out of him. He asked a few questions on the drive up to the put-in, but I didn't recognize the difficulties he was having with what he had seen on the video. The video really stresses the proper 'swim' position if you come out of your boat, and it talks about the dangers of foot entrapment (and the subsequent drowning that occurs). Before he was even near the water, his comfort zone was so far out of site, I should have recognized it immediately.

When we unloaded the boats at the put-in, I asked him how he was feeling. He said he had butterflies. I asked if he was scared and he agreed that he was. I asked him to think about how his body was reacting at that point. Personally, when I'm afraid, I get a bit of a metallic taste in my mouth. He didn't - but everyone reacts differently to these situations.

We talked about fear. I said it was like a huge monster that bears down on you, breathing it's fetid breath in your face, fangs dripping with the blood of a thousand innocents. It fills the space in which you exist, crowding you so you feel the only escape is to curl up into a little ball and cry, or turn tail and run as fast as you can away from it's stench. The monster feeds on these feelings, absorbing them like bounty absorbs spilled milk. The monster has ultimate confidence that you will fail, so it waits patiently for the first sign of your weakness. I still had not come to the full realization that R's weakness is feeling as if he has no control over a situation.

I tried to give him some advice about paddling the boat. As we drifted into the current, he seemed like he was starting to get a hang for it, but the water had yet to get choppy. I continued to tell him he would be fine. I don't think he believed me. I asked him to trust in himself and his abilities to learn a task quickly.

I told him to follow me and he seemed to be doing OK as the water began to get faster. We passed through a small shoals between the commercial put-in and the private put-in. When I turned around to see how he was doing, I saw that he wasn't quite in as good shape as I had thought. I helped him get to river left and we grabbed onto a small tree to hold ourselves in position.

We talked for a while as we held on. Although I couldn't see his face (we both faced upstream), I could tell he was not just on the edge of his comfort zone, he was hovering in the blackness of the void on the other side of it. The monster was crouched and ready to pounce.

I asked him about his feelings. He said he was afraid. I asked him 'What are you afraid of'. He said "falling". After further questioning, I realized this meant he was afraid of coming out of the boat. I know he can swim, although he's not a trained swimmer. I talked to him about the safety of the equipment he was wearing, stressing that he had multiple 'layers' of buoyancy devices (his PFD and his wetsuit).

During all of this, I took the opportunity to ask him again to understand what his body was telling him. His body was probably overdosing on adrenalin right about then, but it is still a new sensation for him - he wasn't recognizing it. Finally, he agreed to try for the private put in just downstream from where we had stopped. I told him he would need to be aggressive in making the boat do what he wanted if he wanted to be able to stop.

Unfortunately, his lack of experience and my failure to provide him an opportunity to learn before throwing him into the fray, resulted in him missing the eddy that would have allowed us to take out before the rapid. I peeled out of the eddy after watching rather helplessly as he careened downstream.

I quickly caught up to him and tried to get him back over to river left. I thought we might still have an opportunity to get the boat stopped before the rapid. No such luck. He careened and bounced off the left bank of the river as I tried to coach him from a few feet away. "Be aggressive!", "Paddle hard!" I called to him. I don't even know if he heard me at all during this time.

If you know the Nantahala river, you know the line for Patton's run (the rapid we were quickly approaching) is to river right. It became quite apparent that we were not going to make it over to river right. That is probably for the best, as the area on river left above the rapid is a huge pool created by several very large rocks. R found himself headed straight into this huge eddy, and I followed.

He breached the boat across the opening between two of the large rocks. Thankfully, one of them was actually on the bank of the river and the rocks were flat enough that the water was rushing smoothly under his boat. I quickly got out of my boat and grabbed the front of his boat to keep him from being pushed over the drop (the drop is about 2 feet). I told him to hold on, and I started pulling the boat up on to the rock. As the stern of the boat disengaged from the second rock, it started to twist. The look on R's face was pure terror. I reached down and gave him a hand to climb out of the boat.

Now we were safely on dry ground. He was shaking a bit and I could see the emotion in his face. He's a strong kid. He handled himself quite well. As we sat there talking about what was happening, we decided to have a little snack.

As we chewed our PB&J sandwiches, I admitted to him my failure. Usually, when a person has not met the monster that is fear, it is best to provide a slow introduction. I told him I should have done a better job of making this introduction. This experience for him was as if I had taken him to a cage match with the monster, threw him in the cage and locked the gate. I told him that sometimes it's necessary to look the monster in the eye and scream F*** YOU!!!!.

But now what? I knew he was flush with adrenalin, and I was in a position that could push him over the edge. On one hand, I could hear every Ranger Instructor I ever had screaming at me "Suck it up Ranger!!", "Drive On you little P****!", "What are you afraid of you little S*******?". It would have been really easy to go down that path - I also heard my own father in there as well.

On the other hand, I recognized the possible consequences from this type of reaction. As a Ranger, it didn't phase me. It struck me one day while in the Ranger Indoctrination Program - All the yelling and insults are just a tool to get me angry enough to get past the fear (or exhaustion or whatever). But as a young man, hearing the frustration and anger in my father's voice probably did more to keep me away from some activities than it did to reinforce my own belief that I could indeed perform in those activities. I needed to take care that I didn't allow R to suffer a (further?) loss of confidence.

So I had my own decision to make. Treat young R like I treated so many newbies to the Ranger Battalion and my father treated me, or empower him to make his own decision? As we finished up our lunches, I struggled to decide on the best way to handle the situation. In the end, I simply told R that He had a decision to make. I started by making it known that there were two possible choices in the current scenario and I didn't care which choice he made.

Door number 1 puts us back in the boats while door number two takes us up to the parking lot above us (the road parallels the river, and there happens to be a parking area directly above Patton's Run). I outlined in as much detail as I could what would happen for each choice. I repeatedly stressed to him that the decision was his to make. I would fully respect and support whatever he decided. I asked only that in addition to what he would face immediately after his decision, he consider how he will feel about the decision in a few days.

Regardless of the decision, we had to move the boats a little further down the river, so I left him with his ruminations while I ferried the boats to a public river access spot just down from the rapid. He walked along river left.

Several times I went to him and talked him through the consequences of whatever decision he would make:
Down river: at least 3 hours, if you're cold now, you'll be colder later. Several other rapids, not as big...blah blah blah
Hitchhike: He'd have to stay with the boats while I caught a ride the 8 miles downriver where my car was parked. I'd pick up the car and head back to pick him and the boats up. It would take potentially up to 1 hour...blah blah blah.

Eventually, I told him it was time to make the decision. He asked a couple of questions, made a couple of statements and decided to pull off the river. Immediately, I told him "Let's go". We set about carrying the boats to the parking area above. Once there, we looked back at the river and saw a 2 person raft navigating the rapid....I told him that's what we should have rented.

We got really lucky as a woman with a pick-up truck stopped and we loaded both boats, all our gear and us into the back (within 10 minutes of me sticking my thumb out). She dropped us at the NOC and we turned in his gear. We walked upstream to watch some boats navigate Nantahala falls (the largest rapid on that section of the river). Afterwards, we had a nice dinner at the River's End Restaurant. He was in good spirits.

I didn't make him relive the decision making process, although I did ask him to keep in mind the feelings he had as he went down that section of the river. We talked a little more about fear, but I tried to keep it a little lighter while we ate dinner.

Day 4: The following day dawned with plenty of rain and similarly cool temperatures. We opted for a day in Gatlinburg to stay dry (original plan called for Mt biking in Tsali). After a foggy, but scenic drive through the Smoky Mountains, we returned to our campsite. It wasn't raining too much so he asked about riding the bike around camp. No problem, what kind of trouble could he get himself into?

As I was preparing dinner I occasionally glanced around to see to where he might be. I usually didn't see him. Finally, I turned around when I heard "Uncle John?". "What did you do" was all I could say as I saw the blood running from his nose! His hoody, his shorts and his hands were covered in mud as was the bike. The pride in his face really told the tale though.

Of course I was concerned - what would my sister think if I sent him back with a concussion (he wasn't wearing a helmet), or a broken bone or?? After doing the concerned uncle thing - "What's hurt?", "where did you hit?", "how did it happen?" etc., I looked again at his face. He was smiling! In a simple bicycle crash I think he learned more about himself than a year's worth of schooling could possibly teach him.

Its funny how anticipation of an event is sometimes far worse than the actual event. During the climbing trip, he was afraid of falling, during the biking at Dupont he was afraid of falling off the bike, during the paddling he was afraid of swimming (he called it 'falling'). Really, he was simply afraid of being hurt. This little bicycle accident might have shown him that yeah, it can hurt a little, but the rush you get (unfortunately it is sometimes right before the crash!!) is awesome!

What do I think really happened to cause this rush of pride after the crash? I think he caught a glimpse into the eyes of the monster. Though he may not yet understand it, I know what has happened. Two things. He has tasted the blood of the monster - pure adrenalin. The other part? That's the key in this stage of his development. He has seen that the monster is equally afraid of him.

Monday, March 23, 2009

R's Excellent Adventure - Day 1: Overcoming Challenges

Day 1: Rock Climbing
Prior to R's arrival, I had made arrangements with Joe from Pura Vida Adventures to take us out for the 'Southeastern Mountaineering' trip. This would be a full day of rock climbing, scrambling, fixed rope climbing and rappelling. We met Joe at his shop, loaded into his van and headed up to Cedar Rock.

After a short hike up the approach trail, Joe quickly established a top rope on a moderate face climb (rated ~5.7). R elected to go first. Joe and I gave him some instruction on knot tying and basic climbing commands. The command is 'On Belay?', but R never quite got the pronunciation right. At times it sounded like almost anything else but what it was supposed to be. Even he got a kick out of it.

He did pretty well on the sloping lower face of the climb. It took him a little while to begin to feel some confidence in the friction available from the climbing shoes. Admittedly, the shoes he borrowed from Joe were selected more for their fit than for the condition they were in. They needed to be re-soled. Nonetheless, Joe and I gave him some coaching as he made his way slowly to the ledge about half way up. Despite the protection offered by the rope and his climbing harness, he was still very afraid of falling.

He made the ledge and Joe (Joe is handling all of the belay tasks) let him take a break. The next section of the climb was much steeper, but had larger holds. If he was already outside his comfort zone, where was this section going to take him? Here's some of those difficulties coming to the surface.

Like a lot of kids, his mom (my sister) is very protective of him. As I understand it, his father is also extremely protective of him. This happened to me as a child, and I'm sure it happens to MANY kids. I won't claim to understand this, as I am not a woman and will never experience carrying a child in my womb, and I am not a parent so I don't understand the associated stresses. However, during the last three years (and even on earlier visits) I have spent doing these little vacations with R, I have seen the consequences of this protectiveness (and recall similar from my own childhood).

Long before our first trip to Easter Jeep Safari (2007), he had come to visit me at my home in Utah (he was still young - 5 or 6 years old). We took a little drive along the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway. This byway follows a very beautiful little river past Provo falls to some very scenic overlooks. We stopped to look at the falls and there is a lot of opportunity to climb on some easy rocks in that area (and not at the falls). I could tell he wanted to climb, but he was afraid to ask. As he looked at me, then glanced at the rocks I told him "go ahead and climb - just don't get hurt". He did some easy climbing that day (nothing more than about his head in height). I did begin to understand how a parent can become over-protective though.

Back on the flanks of Cedar Rock, here in the Pisgah National Forest he continued his climb. As a climber it is very important to have confidence in the protective systems you have established. One of the safest is the top-rope. For me to climb on a top rope is about equivalent to walking down the street - I consider it to be very safe. However, for the uninitiated it is still a very daunting task. R is among them.

As the climb became more difficult, he continued to have difficulty trusting his foot and hand placements. Joe and I continued to offer encouragement and coaching. We did our best trying to point out possible holds. At one point, R was stuck on a move so Joe used his jumar (being used as the belay device) and climbed up to the ledge just below R. From here, Joe could give some very accurate hand and foot placement advice. He could also provide an additional layer of psychological assistance - merely with his proximity.

Poor R. He tried very hard, but just couldn't make the move. Joe was pretty much holding him up through the belay, but he still did not trust the rope to keep him from falling. He was still in good spirits though as he made a few wisecracks. It was obvious he was feeling the effects of fatigue, so we decided to bring him down for a rest while I had a go. Here we ran into further difficulties.

As stated, R was having difficulties trusting the equipment while he was climbing, now it became critical to trust the equipment - he had to be lowered back to the ground. Despite having had him practice the proper lowering technique - body in a good 'L' shape, he was really having difficulty letting himself lean back into the harness. It was good that Joe was right up there with him. Joe was able to work things through with him and finally get him back to the ground.

After I had a go at the route, we had a quick bite to eat while Joe moved the rope to the next route. I took the first opportunity on this climb - also rated about 5.7. While I was climbing, I tried to point out some holds and some techniques. After I descended, R took a shot. He was a bit hesitant, but we managed to talk him up a little bit. He seemed to be gaining some confidence. We found differently when it was again time for him to be lowered.

This time, Joe was not right below him. We had to provide guidance from our location at the base of the climb. He was still very afraid of falling when he leaned back into the harness. After a number of near misses (as in he almost had the perfect 'L' position, but straightened out of it), he finally relaxed enough to find the position. We got him lowered to the ground and started packing up our gear.

Our next task was to ascend to the top of Cedar Rock by trail and by fixed rope. Joe led the way and would set the rope. He would re-join us at the bottom of the fixed rope, and I would ascend. We would bring R up second with Joe acting as spotter below and me providing guidance above. He seemed to have no issues with this method of climbing. Certainly the areas we climbed using fixed ropes were rated at 5.1 or 5.2, far less than the earlier 5.7s, but a fall is a fall.

We made the summit, and Joe snapped a couple of photos of us at the top. It was here again I gained further understanding of how a parent might feel. Many times, I wanted to react to where he was positioning himself at the summit. The rocks we were moving across were wet and there was a cliff! However, I limited myself to a statement or two about watching his footing or 'watch yourself'. It would have been very easy to make statements like 'Be Careful' or 'Don't go there'. I have some trouble with these kind of statements.

My opinion of course - 'Be careful' and / or 'Don't go there' implies that he is not already careful or not aware of his situation. It gives him no opportunity to gain confidence in taking care of himself. Although it is usually said with all the concern and care of one being for another, I feel it is an attempt by the person making the statement to have some control over a situation in which they don't (have any control). I also believe it takes away from the confidence of the individual to whom it is being expressed by taking away his control.

Statements like 'Be aware of your footing' or 'watch yourself', could also be interpreted this way, but in this particular case, it sounds a little less like Mom, and a little more like "I know you are aware of this situation we are in, but as an equal (climbing partner) I want to warn you that the rocks are slippery". Does it make any difference to a 13 year old what the actual words are? Maybe not, but I feel it is important to let a kid feel like he has control over the choices he makes. This is how he will begin to feel real confidence and how he will be able to apply that confidence in overcoming those challenges he is certain to face as he grows to an adult.

As we made our descent, again using the fixed ropes, we finally arrived at a decision point. We could continue our descent on foot, or we could rappel down the face we had just been climbing. Knowing the difficulties R had when being lowered, we had questions about how he would feel on a rappel. Joe was very good at explaining what a rappel was, and I think the key word was 'control'.

The method Joe would use with R was to allow him to conduct the rappel just as any normal rappel, but Joe would have R on belay to 'catch' him in case of any trouble. There was also a secondary backup with the prussik safety device on the brake side of the rope. The tertiary backup system would be me at the base of the climb. In case of difficulty, I could apply tension to the rappel rope effecting a brake and stopping his descent. I think because R would be controlling his own descent, it gave him some confidence in making the attempt.

Joe got the ropes set, and I made my descent. Joe then coached R in getting set up for the rappel, and achieving the correct body position. He began his descent on a sloped section of rock. As he came into my view, he entered the steepest part of the descent. I called out some tips to him, and told him of the change in pitch. He handled it well and had no real difficulty getting past the steepest part.

Just below that steepest part is the ledge mentioned earlier. I had him back to the edge of that ledge and lean his butt out over the empty space below him. This while keeping his feet at the very edge. Once he had a slightly exaggerated L position, I had him hop off the edge and land on the face below it. He did it like an old pro. As I watched from the base of the rock, I wondered if this was the same kid who had so much trouble being lowered off this same rock just a short time before.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

R's Excellent Adventure - Day 0: Arrival

This is the first in a series of blogs I will write. The subject of these blogs will be my nephew's excellent adventure in the Carolinas.

My nephew is the son of my older sister. I will call him 'R' for the purpose of this public blog. As seems too common nowadays, my sister and my nephew's dad ended up divorced when he was quite young. Thus, he has mostly grown up with his mom (my sister) and his grandmother (my mother) as his primary influences. While his dad has some presence, I can't really know how much. I have always lived a dozen hours drive from my sister (or more), so its not like I get a lot of chance to see him.

Two years ago (after my own divorce), I decided to tow my 1997 Wrangler out to Utah for Easter Jeep Safari (EJS) in Moab. During my planning, I thought it might be cool if R could join me. My sister said yes and she made arrangements with his teachers so he could do the school work he would miss during his spring break. Because of course as luck would have it, his spring break did not correspond to EJS week.

This blog is not about that trip, perhaps one day I will write about it. The point is I drove out to EJS picking him up along the way. We spent five days in Moab. Three days riding trails in the jeep, two days with various other activities (including visiting Arches National Park). We had a great time that first year. I started to teach him how to drive (he was 11).

The next year (2008), I did pretty much the same thing, except I didn't tow my own Jeep out there, I drove my new Honda Fit and rented a Jeep. Both trips were awesome, and last year as we were driving out of Moab, he looked a little down. I asked him what was going on and he said "I don't want to leave". This is not a reflection of his home life, but rather a reflection of the great time we had. In many ways, I felt exactly the same way.

Fast forward to today. As I planned my spring vacation for this year, I decided to forgo EJS (2nd time in 9 years). In considering other activities, I thought a week of adventure would be fun. I mean, I taught him how to drive my jeep when he was 11, he should be able to handle some cool adventure fun!

I called my sister to see how she would feel about him traveling as an unaccompanied minor through Atlanta and on to Greenville/Spartanburg. I told her my ideas, and she, he and I talked (and emailed) about it until we were clear on the plan. This year, it would be during his normal spring break, so he flew into Greenville on Sunday, March 22.

The plan was to make this week into R's Excellent Adventure. Rock climbing, mountain biking and whitewater kayaking are the highlights of this excellent adventure. Included in this package was 4 nights of camping in western North Carolina.

Prior to his arrival, I had spent the previous week in intensive preparations. Making lists, buying supplies trying to get organized so it would be relatively painless for us to load up the car and go. As much as possible, I had bags and boxes packed with all of the necessary adventure equipment.

After a delayed flight out of Atlanta, he finally arrived around 5pm. Wow! Had he grown from last year. Interestingly enough, his voice had also changed. We jumped in the car and headed for my house for dinner and mountain biking 101.

I threw my home-made macaroni and cheese in the oven and we went down to get him fitted on the bike. The bike is my 1991 (vintage!) Nishiki Alien. It is in really good shape despite it's age (and mileage). I had made some modifications recently to make it fit him better. A quick adjustment of the seat and we were ready.

The first thing I had to do was teach him to start and stop when you can't sit on the seat and touch the ground. For those that ride, you'll understand this - I was putting the seat in the correct position relative to the crank. He was not used to this so we had to work out the starting and stopping. He picked it up pretty quickly and was soon riding around the yard with no difficulties. His difficulties would arise during the following days.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How long should a sprint zone be?

Since Dan and I threw in three sprint zones during last tuesday's Country II Ride (see tuesday night's blog), I've been thinking about how long a sprint zone should be. Of course, I think this depends on the category of the riders in the group and the total length of the ride, but I'll be specific and say that my comments are targeted at a group of riders that travel in the 18-19mph average range for a ride distance of about 29 miles (sound familiar???;).

With this relatively short ride, I don't think there is room for a sprint zone of any real distance. Also, since the group ride is intended to help people become accustomed to pace lines, riding close and understanding the draft, it is important to maintain the group cohesiveness. Again, this pushes the decision of sprint distance to something less.

Maintaining the cohesiveness of the group should be a primary goal for any ride leader. To do this, there should be a logical re-grouping point after any sprint zone (and it should be communicated as clearly as possible). The group will definitely get spread out. Some folks are simply faster than others, but there could be people who just are not interested in the sprint and who simply maintain the target pace. Of course, a stop sign / intersection is a very logical re-grouping place.

Another constraint in a ride of this type is the route. The Donaldson country rides traverse numerous country roads of varying lengths (between intersections). Another factor in southern Greenville county is the traffic patterns. I believe it is better to maintain a solid group formation on the busier roads. This allows better opportunity for vehicles to pass as a close knit group is a smaller entity compared to a group that has been spread out.

Another question that comes up for this discussion relates to how specific should the start and stop points be? I think the stop point needs to be clearly defined, so really that just leaves the question of the starting point.

Unfortunately, where the starting point should be is directly related to the length of the sprint zone. In the three locations Dan and I identified for last week's ride, the roads are about 1.5 miles long from intersection to intersection. I think the start point can be somewhat vague, but there should be a signal 'releasing' the riders from the group formation (aka 'start' point).

Since the three locations are situated between intersections, I think it is important to allow a rolling re-group (soft pedal) after the initial intersection. I think we can eat a 1/8 to 1/4 mile with this soft pedal. After this soft pedal zone the ride leader should signal the 'entrance' into the sprint zone. A whistle is a logical choice of signaling device.

Assuming the intersection to intersection distance of 1.5 miles, and we just ate 0.25 miles (give or take) in a soft pedal, we're left with about 1.25 miles. The sprint finish line should be clearly marked with enough distance before the re-group point so the riders don't have to jam their brakes to stop (say 1/8 to 1/4 mile from re-group). So we're talking about a total sprint distance in the range of 1-1.25 mile.

I think this is a good sprint distance for riders at this category and for this ride distance. It is too long for an all out sprint (unless you're sandbagging in this group ;), but short enough that the group won't really get too spread out.

Last tuesday our final sprint zone 'started' at the railroad track crossing of Perimeter road. The 'end' point was pretty much the parking area (very vague - it's a work in progress but the distance was about 1.25 miles). Because of a two rider break-away, I laid the power on early. Although I was with other riders as we gave chase, we were really pushing the pace. As riders reached their limits, I was able to stay on the wheel of the guy who ended up in front as we descended the hill at the end of the runway.

Of course, as we bottomed out and started to climb, I just didn't have anything left. Everyone (really, everyone) passed me going up the hill. This is what made me start thinking about sprint strategy and sprint distances.

These tuesday evening rides are training rides and I think there are a lot of people in this category that are in the 'right' speed range (meaning they might be able to carry a higher average speed, but it would be for a shorter distance). Setting up sprint zones gives an opportunity for riders to stretch their legs a little and have some friendly competition. Perhaps more interestingly, it also gives them an additional training opportunity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What's it mean to be a ride leader - part 2

Why part 2? Well, because last night I wrote part 1. Therefore, tonight it is part 2. What's so special about tonight? Obviously you didn't read last night's blog ;). Tonight was my first opportunity to lead a large road ride. Last week, I had such a great time (and wrote about my experience) that I was asked to come back this week as a leader for the Country II (18-19 mph average pace) ride organized by the Greenville Spinners from the Donaldson Industrial Center. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect as ride leader, so tonight was definitely a big learning experience.

As Lori called the Country II group to the front, I actually became a little intimidated with the number of people lining up. As we rode out of the parking lot and made that right turn onto Perimeter road, I took a look back to see the size of our group. We started with a HUGE group!

As the group started down Perimeter road, I was working side by side with Jackie - a recent transplant to the Upstate with her new husband (Congrats!). She's a racer, and her husband works for Hincapie sports. We did our best to match the early pace that Dan set for us last week. Big thanks to her for pulling along with me. Taking it a little easy on the early part of the ride really helps establish the group dynamic and I think we end up with a much stronger overall group. This lesson I learned from last week's ride.

What other lessons were out there for me to learn. One of them is, as group leader, people really showed a high level of respect. So much in fact, that for a short time, I was afraid that I would be out in the wind the whole ride. I really think this is an honest expression of respect from the other riders allowing the ride leader to set the pace. Pretty humbling. Here I was (and who am I? I'm just a regular guy), leading this huge pack of riders - I didn't count, but I think we started with upwards of 60 riders. Many of them could probably step out there and blow me away (many of them did!), but they gave me a little gift tonight, and it is well appreciated.

However, the gift that meant more to me at that time was when Richard pulled up to the front and gave me a break on the pull. THANK YOU! We had started into a head wind, and my legs were feeling it already - we were only 5-6 miles into the ride at this point! The last thing I wanted to happen was to get dropped from 'my own' ride!! We started into some rotations with different folks taking their turn at the front of our twin pace lines.

I stayed near the front, and again, another gift from my fellow riders. A few times, I felt the pace was picking up a little too much, so I simply asked the leader(s) for a little break on the pace. There was no question at all, just a subtle adjustment of cadence resulting in a slight relaxation of the pace. Very cool.

Dan and I had exchanged a couple of emails regarding sprint zones. Early in the ride, we chatted about where and when, we tried to communicate to the group that we would do this - I hope folks got the message. It is a work in progress, so bear with us.

Our first sprint zone (Dan's suggestion) started after we turned on to Old Hundred road. The exact start and end points are not clear at all - I have to admit, we were pretty much winging it. Everyone was a good sport about it and I think we all had a great time pushing the pace for that (approx) 1.5 miles. I didn't get the name of the number 1 sprint winner, but he had a big smile on his face anyway. Lesson learned (thanks to Jackie for the tip) - I will take my handy paint can out and mark a start and end point for future rides. Also, I'll purchase a whistle (or something suitably loud) to signal the start of the sprint zone.

Thanks again to the group - everyone was really great about staying together. I mean, what's the point of a group ride if the group gets so spread out? Tonight, our large group stayed large for the entire ride. We soft pedaled after big intersections to give the group a chance, and we stopped at the end of each sprint zone for the re-group.

The next sprint zone was my suggestion. After crossing Reedy Fork Road and a short ride on McKelvey you make a left turn onto Holly Drive. Holly Drive is about 1.5 miles from the left turn through the twisty, rolling section and back up to Reedy Fork Road - This is my favorite part of the ride. Learning as we go, I tried to pick a definite start point but the end point was still vague (the stop sign). I held back a little to communicate to the riders further back in the peleton what was going on. I didn't see how the sprint ended up, but the folks up front were flying!

We re-grouped at the stop sign and continued our ride. At this point, my computer was showing an average pace varying between 18.7 and 18.8 mph. We had some really strong riders out there tonight, and some of them had done some big pulls. Some of those same people were still out front pulling. It was great to see others getting up front for the pull. Even though you can't really see the group behind, being out front is an incredible experience.

As we crossed Garrison and W. Georgia roads, Jeff (the lab rat), an adventure racing friend of mine really wanted to push the pace. He gave us a great pull leading us through that great farm land between W. Georgia and Blakely Ave. We turned on to Michelin Road still pulling the pace in the 18.8mph range. As we stopped to make the left onto Antioch Church Road, I turned around to see our group. I was awed to see our group was still very large - again, no counting, but we were definitely 40+ (?50?) strong.

I announced that we would have one last sprint - this one from the railroad tracks (on perimeter road) to the parking area. I asked for a soft pedal up to the railroad tracks before we set off. Before we even crossed the railroad tracks, I could see Jackie setting up for the sprint.

Crossing the tracks, it was like she had a rocket attached to her back! One guy stayed on her wheel, while I and a number of others worked to reel them in. As we passed the BBQ place, she and he dropped the pace a little. This gave an opportunity for some others to pull the group. I was with the leader (his name I do not know) as we bottomed out at the end of the airstrip. It was about here that the group came barreling down on us. I dropped completely off the pace as I watched the rest of the group pull for a strong finish.

The question remains; what does it really mean to be a ride leader? I don't have all the answers for sure, but I can tell you this: While we were stopped at the intersection of Michelin and Antioch Church Road, I thanked everyone for a great ride. I got MANY thanks from my fellow riders and even some applause! What a really great feeling!

And what is that feeling? That warmth of a blush coming to my face, the slight feeling of light-headedness as I looked across those 50ish faces shining with sweat. I can only determine it to be a true emotional bond with my fellow riders - most of whom I don't even know. We had spent the last hour and a half working together for a common goal - to arrive back at Donaldson Center intact. That feeling is the glory of our accomplishment. Well done Country II riders!

Monday, March 16, 2009

What's it mean to be a ride leader?

I'll give you more thoughts on this tomorrow. Why tomorrow you ask? Because tomorrow evening I'll be leading a Greenville Spinners group ride out of Donaldson Industrial park. I'll be riding out front for the beginning of the Country II ride (18-19mph avg speed). I say 'for the beginning' because it takes teamwork to maintain that kind of pace on a road bike.

It looks like last week's little write-up got me noticed - but hey, who am I fooling, why else would I write something like that and post it on the Greenville Spinners - Yahoo Group ? Actually, it's not about getting noticed so much as simply wanting to communicate to {whoever will listen / read} the great time I had. Maybe it will motivate someone else to join in the ride, maybe it will help someone else decide to volunteer as a ride leader. Besides, it really is fun to write out my experiences. It helps when I am inspired - as I was that night.

A couple of weekends ago, I joined the crowd from Upstate SORBA for a trail ride followed by a trail work day. We met up at the main parking area for the Issaqueena trail system near Clemson. We had about 10 riders join us. SORBA super volunteer BRADO1 'volunteered' me to lead the ride. It's actually a pretty cool feeling to be asked. A bit of an honor in fact. I was a bit nervous, as I had never 'officially' led a group ride with people I didn't really know. Most of my riding has been with friends - I mean who's really leading when the whole group knows the trails, knows everyone else's abilities, etc? Or, I've been just another rider on a group road ride.

So, that day at Issaqueena was my first real opportunity to lead a ride. We had a dad and his 8 year old son along with us, so I was a little nervous about losing them. We headed down the Dam Road Trail and wouldn't you know it, we got to a major intersection and waited.....and waited.....and waited. We lost the dad and his son. Feeling bad about it, I asked the group if they minded if I rode back to check on them. Thanks to one of the group (I forget his name!) who led me back up the dam road trail (on a single speed no less) to look for them. We didn't find them, but what could we do, the trails are relatively difficult to get lost, and I knew the guy had a map.

So we took off and headed down the pine tree trail, hooked into rocky extension and then down over to five forks. This is a fun and fast section where at last year's Clemson Challenge I managed to pass a number of other competitors. A really cool fast section leads you into two twisty sets of hairpins before dropping you into the five forks area. From there it was across the Lawrence trail, up the indian springs connector to the Indian springs logging road. We stopped to clear some blowdown before the final climb to rocket down the Hardwood forest trail.

The Hardwood forest trail takes you down this wicked fun section only to dump you at the base of arguably the toughest climb in Issaqueena - it takes it out of you. To make it worse, there was a little mud on the trail. Thanks to my brand new Michelin tires (I know, shameless plug!), I had plenty of traction and made the climb sucessfully. We had to wait a little at the top for everyone to catch up.

A little traverse across a connector trail and then rocketing down Collarbone. Fun and fast, this trail could definitely put some hurting on you if you took a spill. A brief stop at the intersection of Lawrence trail showed we had lost another of our group. Derrick from Clemson Cyclery volunteered to cruise back up the hill to find our lost sheep. Alas, Derrick returned alone. Another one gone. Our last intersection was at very close to the parking lot, so the assumption was he headed that way (confirmed later when we caught back up with him).

We continued down Collarbone and connected to Rocky Logging road back to Five Forks. Jumping over to the fire road, we made our way to Vomit. No, we didn't do a group vomit, the trail name is vomit. Normally, I ride up the fire road and down this little trail. We decided to ride up to to connect with Dalton Road. It's a fun little techy climb with really only one spot to give some trouble - a steep and sharp switchback. It pays to be in the right gear - or at least quick with the gears.

Continuing up Dalton Road, we took a right towards the top of Wildcat technical. At the top, there is an unnamed trail that splits between Wildcat technical and Chainbreaker. This is a fun little trail with a nice flow. Our group flew down this trail to the base of wildcat technical. Again we stopped once to clear some blowdown from the trail. Now our little group was staying intact - a little spread out in the more technical areas, but quickly re-grouping at the intersections.

From here, we decided to head over to the downhill area. This is a wicked cool place built by the Clemson Freeride club (normally found at www.clemsonfreeride.com but I can't seem to connect to the site as I write this). These guys are some really hard workers and have built some really cool stuff. Of course, I am not a freeride guy, but I enjoy seeing what they have done, and several from the group had not seen it either. There is a really fun downhill course that does not include super hardcore jumps. Derrick showed us the way down this route. It was a great time. We did a brief stop at the parking lot and who comes riding up? Yep, Dad and his son.

They had jumped off the Dam road trail somewhere and onto the road. Although they missed riding with us, it sounds like they had a good time going down to the lake, across the lake trail and linking together some others to find us at the bottom of the downhill course. It was all uphill for them to get to the top of the DH course, so they decided to follow us out.

We headed out by the roads and our group started to spread out. Feeling bad for losing Shaun and his son earlier in the day, I stayed back with them to enjoy the ride. We linked back into five forks and onto the Lawrence trail. I came to a stop at an intersection after putting down a little hammer on a climb and waited for them. When Daniel came riding up to me and his dad, he looked at me and said "Wow, you're fast". Although I didn't say it, I thought 'Wow, you're only 8!'. In a few years, that kid is going to be far faster than I have ever been.

A brief consultation of the map and we decided to take it straight up Collarbone for a direct shot up to the cars. You can imagine if this is such a fun and fast trail going down, it has a good grade when going up. As I rode up to the top of the trail, I had a few chances to talk to Shaun as we waited for Daniel to make his way up the hill. Shaun told me they had clocked about 15 miles on the day - that is he and Daniel had clocked 15 miles. It was the longest day for the young rider and Shaun was wicked proud how he handled it.

As I drove away from the trailhead, I realized that sometimes you don't have to be out in front of the group to be a leader, sometimes the leaders can be found in the back of the pack.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

If it's going to rain, then let it rain!

So it's thinking about raining today. OK, in fact, it did rain earlier today but it was kind of a wimpy rain that accomplished only to make everything wet. Which of course in our current state of drought is a really good thing, but COME ON! If I'm not going to get out on my bike because it is wet, I'd rather see one of those good old fashioned Sou'easters!

Hell, the peeps in the north get to have their Nor'easters, why can't I call it a Sou'easter? I mean what's so great about the NE that they can have their own name for a storm? Ok, what's so great about the NE is I'm from there, but really, what else?

I mean while we're down here basking in a relatively balmy winter, they're socked in by snow, ice, wind and overall just RAW weather!

I don't have to put my bicycles or my kayaks in dry storage from late fall until late spring. I can get out relatively frequently on the mountain bike or the road bike and only have to deal with temperatures slightly below the freezing mark (at it's worst).

Yeah sure, there are days like today when the sky stays dark and clouds threaten, but we only get a little psst of rain....At least if we had one of those good old Sou'easters, I'd have a real excuse for not getting out on my bike. I mean, a little wet on the road isn't going to kill me, I 'won't melt' as mom used to say.

It's not like I don't have the gear necessary for a ride in inclimate weather, in fact, I just bought a nice cold weather riding jacket last week. Ironically, I bought it on a day where the temperature climbed into or very near the '80s! It was on sale after all...

So do you know what I'm talking about - these good old fashioned Sou'easters? These are the storms where the interstate traffic slows to about 10mph because you just can't see more than a dozen feet in front of you - even with the wipers on full blast. Huge puddles of water gather on the sides of the road, sheets of flowing water cause hydroplaning hazards at every turn (or straight for that matter). At home, your windows are rattling because of the force of the wind hurling the quarter sized raindrops at them. If you still have power, you have to crank the TV or radio just to hear it over the sound of the rain on the roof. I mean a REAL rainstorm - thunder boomers cracking overhead scaring the wits out of human and animal alike, lightening flashing like the greatest of fireworks. A sense of power so great you're actually quite content to open up the curtains, grab a seat in your favorite chair and just enjoy the show. Much better than any TV program.

But, today's not that kind of day, it's not even raining right now. I hear the weatherman is still calling for more rain - maybe if I get out for a little trail run one of those Sou'easters might just spring up on me!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tuesdays At Donaldson - when it's done right, it's really really really fun!

Can it be done wrong, these Tuesdays at Donaldson? Well, First, you should know what Tuesdays at Donaldson are all about. They're about a lot of sweat, some groaning, a lot of grunting. It's rippling muscles with the sheen of sweat glistening in the setting sun, bodies working in unison extracting pleasure along with some pain. It's intimacy and closeness. All of this in the beautiful setting of the Piedmont. Tonight was an excellent example of how a group of 'strangers' can extract every ounce of pleasure from 29 miles of rolling country roads.

What? What did you think I was talking about? Get your mind out of the gutter! Of course I'm talking about group bicycle rides leaving from Southern Greenville County's Donaldson Industrial Park. Tonight (3/10/09) was the first ride of the year. Many thanks to the Greenville Spinners for putting together such a great event (and it's free too!!). Extra special thanks to Dan McNamara who led the country II ride (18-19mph pace) for the 29 mile loop. For Dan's benefit, I'm the guy in the Michelin jersey who gave you a break from the pull for that section leading up to W. Georgia Road early in the ride.

Dan started us out at a great warm-up pace. I had us clocked at an average of 17.3mph for about the first four miles or so (just about the time I gave Dan a break on the pull). I won't claim to be the guy who picked up the pace, as we were in two lines and the guy next to me was wearing a Lance Armstrong look-alike helmet....but, nonetheless, from early in the ride, the average pace gradually crept up.

As we rolled through the perfect evening and beautiful countryside, spirits were very high. I felt the group was very interested in staying together. We watched out for each other, slowing and stopping where appropriate. This really helped keep that spirit.

One of the best parts of a group ride is, yes, the group. When you get a bunch of people riding at the same speed, in twin pace lines, it is really awesome. Many different people pulled our group tonight. There was a few standouts who seemed to want to pull a little more than others. There was Ron in his bright orange jersey pulling like a madman for big sections. There was John (Lance A helmet) who seemed to have a reputation early on as a hammer (he was kind to us however), and there was Bryant who sprinted out in front of us on the flats and / or downhills as we approached the hills. If you don't know him, he's easy to recognize - he kept pace with our group pedaling with only one leg. Incredibly strong individual.

As we crossed 418 for the first time, our average pace had climbed into the advertised zone (now over 18mph). The group was sticking together and working together. After that first crossing of 418, we enter the best section of the ride (my opinion) - a rolling, twisting fast section with a short but steep climb as we re-approach Reedy Fork Road. I always have a blast in this section and there is usually a small breakaway. Tonight there was something that may have started as a small breakaway, but we never really broke away - the group was right on our heels throughout. This is what makes group riding fun - moving fast, riding close, pumping hard - the adrenaline was really flowing!

As we re-entered Reedy fork road for the long stretch back towards Donaldson, new riders came to the front to pull the group. We maintained a strong pace and our average continued to climb towards 19mph. It's a great feeling to sit back in the second or third position and just watch the riders in front as I maintain my position in the pace line. The beauty of the pace line is absolutely not appreciated by someone who does not ride a road bike - those nascar guys talk about the draft, but I'll never drive a race car at 200mph, so I'll settle for finding that pocket behind the rider in front of me.

As we pulled back on to perimeter road, you could feel the excitement building for the final sprint to the finish. We had several guys pulling for us, but on that last hill, knowing I don't really have a sprint, I decided to give a little grunt to get up the hill. That put me out front mid-way up the hill and that seemed to push others over the edge. As we approached the top, the sprint was on. I laughed (at myself) as most of the group motored past me for a strong finish. Thanks to everyone who helped pull me through the ride tonight, I think it ranks as my most enjoyable ride at Donaldson. I clocked the ride with an average pace of 18.9mph - perfect (if you ask me anyway).

So, I never answered the question about how you can do Tuesdays at Donaldson wrong did I? Well, if you haven't joined the Greenville Spinners on Tuesday nights at Donaldson, you're doing it wrong.