Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Climb, descend, repeat - all for a cause

You know I like climbing. I happen to do it fairly well for a guy who could stand to lose a few pounds. I actively seek out fun climbing routes and constantly measure myself against the mountains (and yes, having a serious competitive streak, against the other riders).

Saturday the 10th was an incredible opportunity for me to participate in an event that combined my love of climbing with the cause for which I raised money last fall - and
rode to Austin with my Polka Dot team-mates. Of course, the cause I'm talking about is raising money for the Palmetto Peleton Project.

A few weeks ago, our Ride Captain Ron forwarded a message to the P3 crew regarding the '2nd annual Climb to Conquer Cancer'. The ride was organized by one of the most productive fund-raisers for P3. John Cash was active in the inception of the Challenge to Conquer Cancer ride to Austin and has been an active fundraiser for P3 for several years. The 'Climb to Conquer Cancer' consisted of repeated ascents of the Saluda Grade from Tryon to Saluda.

In John's brochure, he states "I am going to attempt 10 trips up and down the Saluda Grade...". I didn't know John well when I read that statement, but I knew of his riding skill. I also know myself, and this sounded like a great challenge.

I only knew of one person who was planning on participating - my friend Bo had mentioned it the week prior while we were enjoying Easter Dinner at Robin and Scott's. I was looking forward to the ride, and Bo and I helped each other find the starting place - The Tryon Youth Center.

John said a few words before we started out, and about 30(ish) folks lined up in the road to begin the challenge. I stationed myself near the front and I took some opportunity to chat with John as we headed out. Shortly after we started, I saw a number of other folks I know come down the hill to turn around and join our peleton.

The first two miles of the climb are up a relatively easy grade. John controlled the pace for this portion of the ride. It was cool to have the peleton riding together for this section.

As we approached the Pearsons Falls road intersection (where the grade increases significantly), John asked the folks up front if we were ready to kick up the pace a little. It was a nice warm-up, but now the work was about to begin in earnest!

We climbed together for a while before one of the ladies pulled out from the peleton and started building a gap. John mentioned she was only out for one repeat, and I told him "as far as I'm concerned John, you're the king of the mountain and all I have to do is hold your wheel!". She continued to pull away slowly but surely.

It wasn't long before my friend Will broke from the peleton. I was really tempted to give chase, but held back for a while. John and I continued to chat as the road twisted up the mountain. Perhaps 3/4 mile from the crest, the grade steepens a little more. I decided to catch up to Will and ask him about his collarbone which had recently been broken in a mt biking accident. He said he was feeling pretty well and that he had been back on the bike several times before coming out for this ride.

As we twisted through the curves, I began to really get my legs under me, and I started to find my groove. My pace was a little stronger than those around me, and I found myself reeling in the woman who made the early break. I caught her just before the crest, and began my descent.

The descent of the grade has to be as much fun as the ascent! The curves are mostly constant radius with slight banking in most of them. You can really fly down the hill if you put your mind to it. The competitive part of me sent me down the hill pushing my biggest gears. I was trying to pull a larger gap on the field.

I have to admit though, it wasn't just my competitive streak that was pushing me down that hill, I was well hydrated and needed to visit the little boys room at the youth center! I exited the building just as the pack was coming in to the parking lot to turn around.

I joined them for the second lap, and again found myself cresting the top with a small gap. I was determined to push my pace as long as I could. In all honesty, part of it was my competitive streak, but the other part was because I was using this as a training ride for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell. I hope to trim a bunch of time from my last year's result, so I need to work on climbing strong and fast.

I continued my pace down, then up again and again. Each time I passed other riders, I yelled out encouragement - especially when I saw John and his slowly diminishing peleton. He called out right back to me each time.

As I made ascent number 6, I came up behind two riders who when I first saw them I thought I recognized. Sure enough, as I got closer, I recognized April and Jessica! When I was close enough for them to clearly hear me, I sang out "Peanut Butta Jelly....". Jess was funny - she called out "The love of my life" - of course it was really about making her smile at that particular moment - we were well into the steep part of the climb, AND, she had gone down on the descent of Mine Mountain road. She was hurting a little, and as it had with another good friend, my rendition of the Peanut Butter Jelly Time Song brought that smile to her face. Even if it was just for a few moments.

As I rode with them for a few minutes, my friend Kip was making his descent from Saluda. He turned around to join me for the climb and we continued up. We passed two other friends - Kari and Alicia who were riding with April and Jess. Kip and I chatted on the way up - I was definitely feeling the effects of my efforts. My pace had slowed down significantly.

We made # 6 descent and Kip paced me for #7 ascent. I was feeling pretty good, but my pace had slowed. I was confident I could do the 10 repeats - however, I had to do them one at a time. Thankfully, I had found my zone and was living in it.

Somewhere on the steep part of the grade, Patrick, who I met recently on the tuesday at SCTAC (formerly Donaldson) rides passed us. He rode with us for a while and I told him what I was up to. He helped pace me to the top before he and Kip continued on to Saluda. I turned around to go back for another.

On the way down, I again saw John on his way up. This time was different from the previous - he was now alone. In fact, he and I were the only ones heading back for lap number 8. We had lapped a number of riders who were still out there challenging themselves. I continued to offer encouragement as I passed them on my descent.

I made the decision that I would rather ride with John for the last 3 laps than by myself. At the bottom, I removed a layer, filled my bottles and grabbed more gel packs. About the time I pulled up to the road, John was in sight and ready to turn around for number 8. He briefly stopped to grab a fresh bottle and off we went.

Number 8 was hard, but part of that was because my left inner thigh started to cramp a little on the easier (read faster) grade near the bottom. I was able to work it out, but it slowed me down for a short time. We held pace together all the way to the top. John and I chatting about various subjects.

When I turned around at the bottom, John came riding up with another rider - Dave. Dave had come out to join John for the last two laps. For number 9, he was pretty fresh and strong despite the fact he hadn't been riding lately. He had to slow up for us several times as we fought the mental demons trying to take root in our psyche.

On the descent, I slowed my pace and we rode in together before starting number 10. John was quite funny saying 'We can smell the barn now". We were both a little psyched up as there was no longer any doubt whether we would make the 10th ascent and as a bonus, we were going to beat the 6 hour ride time goal that John had set for himself.

Once again, on the flatter and faster section down low my left inner thigh began cramping. This time was worse than previous times, and John had to ask Dave to slow up a little. I was doing my best to control the cramps by resurrecting my little dance from last year's Assault. It wasn't long before I was back on John's wheel and Dave was pulling us along.

As we approached Pearsons Falls Road intersection, both John and I had found a new groove and our pace had picked up. Somewhere along the way, Dave dropped back a little while John and I drove towards the summit that one last time. John had said at the bottom that the last one was for his son Justin who had passed recently. I could see the determination in John as we came to a steeper section about 3/4 mile from the top. He was setting the pace, and I was letting him. It wasn't about me at that point. He was riding with his son, or his son was riding with him - whichever way it was, John was motivated.

We came around the Atkins apple stand and our enthusiasm grew. As we came through the final left hand curve, and the crest came into view, I held out my hand and said "Good Job John". He took my hand for a shake, and I felt a strong sense of brotherhood at that moment. I said "All the way to the top". We rode that way, side by side to the crest. At the top, we raised our hands in victory.

It was an incredible feeling. Last year he had done the 10 repeats. For the first annual, he was the only one to complete all 10. This year, while there was a number of folks who did 5, 6, maybe even 7 or 8, he and I were the only ones to do all 10. I'm glad I was able to share that with him.

We rode in to the youth center side by side by side. Me, John and Dave riding in to a small welcoming committee consisting of John's friends and family. As has happened to me so many times in the last 10 months (or so) since I met these incredible people associated with the Palmetto Peleton Project, there were many hugs to be shared. John and I, along with several of the other riders posed for photos before enjoying some fresh home-made pizza.

Like the ride to Austin, this small celebration gave me a great sense of peace and happiness. With all the bad things that happen in life, all it takes is a small group of people with a purpose to really make a difference. John later posted that he raised $5000 that day. I'm proud to be a small part of that effort.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Great riding in the upstate.

Wow, a lot has happened since my last post. It's been difficult for all of us to accept that Perry is gone, but we all remember him in our own ways. My personal method of remembering him is to emulate him whenever possible. I call this emulation a "Perry". I've mentioned it before, but I'll describe it again (of course Perry isn't the originator of this move, but he showed it to me, so he gets the credit).

So, what is a 'Perry'? Perry was really good at being patient. He had the ability to restrain his natural tendency to hammer by letting someone else do the work. Specifically on hills. Perry would find a spot on the wheel of the leader or the lead pack for the majority of the climb, then, at the last second, when that leader was whipped from pulling up the hill, Perry would come around with a killer sprint to arrive first at the top of the hill (or the stop sign or whatever). It was pretty much guaranteed to work, and he was really good at implementing it.

So, how have I remembered Perry in the past couple of weeks? It starts with two awesome rides with the Myers Center guys from furman up and over Caesar's head towards Rosman, then back by Hwy 178 and Hwy 288. This is pretty much a hammer ride. These guys give no quarter and you better bring your A game.

Perry was also an accomplished climber. In both of the rides I did with these Myers guys, I set, then matched a new personal best up the Caesars Head climb. My measurement is from the intersection of Hwy 8 and Table Rock Road up to the big sign at the State Park. The first week I rode with them was the day after Perry's funeral. I think he was riding with me as I set a fast pace from the beginning of the ride and kept it (and both Kadien and Big Mike at bay) for the entire climb. I crossed into the park with a time of 39:20. My previous personal best was in the 43 minute range. I was really stoked. I think Perry was riding with me that day.

The following week, my friend John from Atlanta rode along with us. I know he is also an accomplished climber, so it didn't surprise me when he took an early lead up the climb. Kadien and I chased him with some excellent teamwork. It really helped me keep a strong pace to have Kadien riding along with me.

As I was leading the climb, I would begin to tire a little. Brian would come around me and would put in an awesome pull. I would maintain my motivation by telling myself I only have to hold onto his wheel. Then, as it usually happens, he would begin to tire and I would pull in front of him. He would grab my wheel, and the cycle would continue. It didn't hurt to have John up in front of us as the rabbit. We worked our asses off trying to catch him.

A short while before we got to the false flat, we actually caught him. I was pretty surprised by this, but there was no time to question what was happening. The game was on, and Brian and I were working well together. We continued switching off all the way to the top. We actually acknowledged it after we got a little past the false flat. We came across the line at the same time as the previous week (plus or minus a second or two). It was a great ride.

This past week, I finally had a chance to participate in the organized rides at SCTAC (formerly Donaldson). The first week we did the Missing Man Peloton and the second week, we did the Perry Peloton. Both of these were a great tribute to our friend.

This week, I opted to lead the fastest of the country groups. It was here that I implemented my Perry attacks several times. The group was strong, no doubt about that. However, though we started with 20+ riders, we ended up as only a pair.

Up until Holly road, the group was mostly intact. We had some fun on the hills of Richey Road and woodville road. In both of these roads Perry was riding with me. I didn't pull his classic move, but I managed to be at the front for Richey road, and managed to reel in the guy who was at the front on woodville road.

When we got to Holly road, the same guy who was out front on Woodville road passed me as we came out of the little valley. I did my best to reel him in, but though I caught him, I won't count it as a victory because he let off well before the stop sign. He had an awesome attack, so he deserves it.

When we turned on to Reedy Fork for the long pull, it came down to about 7 of us from the original 20 or so. It was really fun. We took turns pulling and I had an opportunity to pull a Perry as we approached Garrison Road.

We kept the pace high, and the further along Reedy Fork we got, the smaller our group became. By the time we crossed Blakely we were down to three.

The three of us took it easy for a short time, then we continued our strong pace. We lost number 3 at the top of the golf course hill on Perimeter road. I pulled a Perry on Erin somewhere along the back side. It was a blast.

Thursday was the first time I rode from Oakview for the year. It was a little bittersweet because Perry had introduced me to that ride. There were sections that were true hammerfests. I implemented Perry's wherever possible. In the end, I felt really good about the ride. Perhaps best of all, my friend Courtney was swinging some big hammers as well. She was really pleased with her ride as well.

Today a big group met up at Furman to ride to the Bakery. A big part of this group were from the P3C3 team. Perry would have loved this ride. Perhaps today I managed to pull the best Perry of all. Four of us - Nathan, Bo, Courtney and I were making the final climb before the descent into Saluda. Just before the crest, I hammered it to get out in front of the group.

I wasn't surprised to see that the three of them were right on my wheel. I expected that - all three of them are very accomplished riders. As I began to tire, Nathan came around me. I expected Bo to be right with him. I planned on grabbing Bo's wheel as he went by. I knew that Courtney would be a little behind us - she is at a significant disadvantage on the descents. Each of us weigh 40-60 lbs more than she does (HUGE advantage), plus, we were all swinging our biggest hammers on this descent.

After 2-3 bike lengths, Bo came around me. I grabbed his wheel and he pulled us up to Nathan's wheel. We still had a distance to go, so I just sat in. Finally, as Nathan began to tire, Bo went around him. I stayed on Bo's wheel just waiting for my time to strike.

Bo played it really smart. I began to come around him as we got closer to the final steep descent to the railroad tracks. I don't recall if I was side by side with him or just at the point where I was showing him my front wheel. At this point, Bo pulled up. A very smart move because sprinting down that last steep section to the railroad tracks can be quite dangerous. He admitted to me that I had him. It was truly a classic Perry move. I think Perry would have been proud of me for that one.

It was truly a great day of riding. The weather was just about right for all the climbing Courtney and I and our new friend Tom did. After a break at the Bakery, the three of us continued on to climb Green River cove Road and Mine Mountain before heading back towards Tigerville.

Courtney did an extra lap of Callahan Mountain before pulling out at Tigerville Elementary (where she started) while Tom and I continued back to Furman. I was definitely tired when we got back to the cars. We managed 82 miles on the day.

All in all, it has been a great couple of weeks of riding in the upstate. Still missing my friend Perry, but doing my best to remember him in my own way. Thanks for the ride Perry (and Courtney and Tom and Bo and Ron and Tedd and Beth and Amy and Missy and April and Jess and Rob and Nikki and Nathan and Parker and Toby and I hope I didn't miss anyone!! ;)