Monday, August 31, 2009

Early morning music on Altamont Road

As you know, I've signed up to do the Challenge to Conquer cancer relay from Greenville to Austin in October. Part of preparing for that ride is the fundraising. The other part of course is the training rides. There actually is a specific training plan in place for the P3C3 team. It is pretty demanding - we are up to a point where we are to be riding 5 hours on Saturday and 5 hours on Sunday with two 2 hour rides during the week. I'm pretty consistent on the 2 hour rides on the weekdays, but I have gotten a (relatively) long ride on only one of the two weekend days these last few weeks.

A little over a week ago, I met Ron, Jeni, Perry and Ed for some repeats of Paris Mountain. If you don't know what Paris Mountain is, it's a great little mountain only a few miles from downtown Greenville. We rode to Paris Mountain on the same roads that the USA Cycling Professional Championships use (which just occurred this past weekend). Because of already scheduled activities for some of our group, we met at Ron's house for a 515am departure (on a sunday morning!!).

Leaving this early is actually a good thing because we need to get some night training rides in anyway. We all have lights and we put them to good use. As we rode through the north end of downtown Greenville, we saw very little traffic. It was still dark as we turned on to Old Buncombe road. We worked the paceline along this road until we arrived at the base of Altamont Road.

Since it was still dark, I could not see to check my start time, so I just started up the hill. Perry and Ed set a pretty good pace up the hill, and quickly left Jeni, Ron and I behind. I didn't think I was really feeling it, so I stayed back with Jeni and Ron as I watched those guys pull away. They were quickly opening a sizable gap.

I paced with Jeni and Ron up the first part of the climb. As we made the first hard left turn (still not far from the bottom), I began to get my legs under me. I came around Jeni and Ron and continued my pace. I still wasn't thinking I even had a chance at catching Perry and Ed.

Part of my difficulty in the early part of that climb - I was still tired from the events of the previous evening. My friend Kirsten had a 'Cuban' party at her house the previous night. It was a great time, and I actually left before the real party began (Salsa dancing on the back deck). Before I left though, I had done my share of carb loading - the liquid kind....Worst, when I got home about 1015, I didn't go straight to bed, I got on the internet and messed around for an hour or so. I think I finally climbed into bed about 1145 - for a 430am wakeup call!!

As I climbed that straight-away from the first left hand curve to the next right-hander (which leads to a steep section next to the water tower), I began to feel better. Maybe my body was finally warming up - I find it takes me longer and longer to warm up as I get older. I'm not sure exactly, but as I came around that right-hander, I could see Perry and Ed almost past the water tower. I do know one thing - as the road steepened through that section, my mindset shifted into pursuit mode. I was finding my rhythm and was quickly starting to feel better. Funny how a little friendly competition will do that to you.

After the water tower there is a short section in which I can shift up a gear or two. I knew if I wanted to catch those guys, I was going to have to take advantage of every opportunity of this type. I tried to hold the higher gear for as long as possible before shifting back down. Although it was dark, I could track them from their tail-lights and headlights. I felt like I was slowly gaining ground.

I kept pushing as we ascended the next switchback then came out to the area with the great view off to the left (where it looks like they are building another housing development). I now knew I was gaining ground. Here again, I can shift a couple of gears and add more speed. They were taking advantage of this as well, but all I could do was keep pushing my own pace - I couldn't worry about them except to keep them in sight and reel them in.

Not far beyond this view area is a tight right hand turn. After that the road is relatively straight with a few kinks in it. It was here that I finally caught the two of them. As I passed first Perry, then Ed, I thought both of them would jump on my wheel. I saw Ed had grabbed on, but I couldn't see what Perry had done. I kept pushing - Ed is a very strong rider. As we approached the sharp right hand turn before the wall, I was asking him how well he knew the road.

He had only ridden the road once before (last year's Stars and Stripes Challenge). I was starting to feel the effects of my effort and he had come up beside me. As we made that turn marked '15mph', I told him about the wall and where the summit was. We held pace together at the bottom of the wall, but he gained a bike length in the middle of it. I took advantage of my knowledge of the climb and went all out to pull past him to the summit. When I looked back, I realized that Perry was riding his pace - which happened to be a little slower than what Ed and I did.

He wasn't far behind though - soon he came around the turn and to the summit. The sun was barely starting to make a brighter line on the horizon. Shortly, Jeni and Ron achieved the summit and we had a brief moment of victory and congratulations. Ron wasn't going to let himself cool down too much, so he set off down in the same direction we had just climbed.

It was expected - our plan was to do 4 repeats of the Furman side of Paris Mountain that morning. Ron and I arrived at the base of the climb together and immediately set off again for the top. Jeni, Perry and Ed were a little behind us and I was glad. Although I pushed myself pretty hard up the climb the second and third times - I'm afraid I would have blown up if I had anyone pushing me. Perry and Ed really made me work for that first climb. I rode solo for the following three ascents. On the fourth and final ascent, I really backed off the pace to just enjoy the ride.

Of the four ascents we did that morning, the second ascent was the most incredible. There's something to be said about pushing your physical limits on a quiet and still morning as the sun rises around you. The song of the chain through the gears, in time with the rhythm of your cadence. The drumming of your heart accompanied by the chorus of the awakening morning - it's a beautiful thing.

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