Tuesday, October 11, 2011

This is for the cyclist in me.

So, today was an amazing day riding with the Polka Dot team on the Challenge to Conquer Cancer ride to Austin. Lots of thoughts of the loved ones affected or taken by cancer. I wrote about that in my previous post, but this one is purely for me and the cyclist within.

Today's route was on the Natchez Trace. This is a pretty flat road and the road surface is quite smooth. With this kind of terrain, it is not uncommon for teams to cover a full century during their six hour shift.

Because the C3 team is ahead of schedule, the Dots decided to go back to the future for this ride. We started about 35 miles from our scheduled transition point, and had we ridden in the direction we are headed, we would have probably taken the team from 1/2 shift ahead to one full shift ahead.

So, we decided to get creative. We wanted to ride, but at the same time, we didn't want to really take the team any more ahead of schedule. So, we decided to backtrack for about 25 miles. Well, we didn't really take into account the headwind we were riding into! After some delays, we finally got started about 1/2 hour into our shift. We covered about 17 miles before we decided to stop and take a short break.

We had left the bus at the place from where we started and headed back towards it. When we arrived back at the bus, we were two hours and 45 minutes into our shift and had covered just over 36 miles. Not a really strong pace, but we didn't really care. We were having fun and were working on helping the C3 team stay on track.

During that break, we found out that Toni really wanted to knock out a century. 3 hours and 10 minutes to travel 64 miles, well, it was really 3 hours and 5 minutes by the time we made the decision and started rolling again.

The team started out rocking a great paceline with everyone making short pulls (~2-3min each). We were flying along at a great pace but things were looking like it was going to come down to the wire for actually hitting the century mark within our six hour shift. We took a short break with about 1.5 hours to go, and we still had to knock out just over 30 miles. It was definitely going to come down to the wire.

As we rolled along, we all found the pain cave. Everyone reacts differently when they enter the pain cave, but I was really proud of my friends on this ride. Although at times they were suffering the way a cyclist does when the combined effects of the distance and speed come to bear, every one of them pushed themselves with their eyes on the cycling goal we had set.

I know that part of what pulled them through was thoughts of their loved ones, but it is a testament to their intestinal fortitude that they pushed themselves to the limit.

As we all began to tire, Brandon told us about his experience with the Leadville mountain bike race. An old guy stood up to address the competitors before the race began and he said something along the lines of "You're stronger than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can". Really true if you think about it. Your body and your conditioning can only take you so far. When you find yourself in your personal pain cave, it is only your mind that can carry you through.

With about a half hour to go, it become clear that to maintain the best pace, Brandon and I were going to have to share the work on the front of the peloton. At this point, we had something like 11.5 miles to go and lots of shallow rollers.

These shallow rollers are actually nothing to sneeze at. They are sustained 2ish percent grade for hundreds of yards. Sometimes, perhaps as much as 3/4 to one full mile of just gradual grade. Yes, we get the advantage of going down the other side, and we take full advantage of that. At one point, I looked down and saw that we were only going 10 mph up one of these grades. Not the pace necessary to knock out 11.5 miles in 30 minutes.

With my new Garmin 500 (purchased just for this trip, and about 1 week before departure), I can now see my heart rate. You have to recognize that in all of the physical activities I have done in my life, this is the first time EVER that I have been able to know how my heart is doing. All I can say is 'THIS IS REALLY COOL!!!!".

I found that if I keep my heart rate between 140 and 145, everyone was right on my wheel. If I allowed my heart rate to climb much higher, I would start to pull away. Very neat to be able to see that. In the past, I relied on my instincts and my perceived effort. Now I can put a number to it.

Another cool thing about the Garmin: It is pre-programmed to give your lap time for a 5 mile distance. Although we had one 5 mile time over 16 minutes, most of them were sub 15, and several were sub 14. I think the best 5 mile time was 13:10 - that's rocking a pretty good average pace!

At about that half hour remaining mark, Brandon and I began to exchange 5ish minute pulls. This was about the right interval, and I think we both realized this. When we swapped leads, it worked like this: If Brandon was riding in the pack, he would come to the front and let me know he was there. I would accelerate slightly to open a small gap, and he would pull in to take the lead. Then it was my turn to drift back and take position near the back of the peloton.

This was an amazing ride today. As a cyclist, especially a cyclist that really loves the team aspect of riding, it purely rocked. When everyone was strong, we all did our share of the work to meet the goal of hitting the century for the 6 hour shift. As riders began to tire, we communicated well and others stepped in to carry the load.

So, did we hit the century? I figure it only really counts if we do it in the 6 hours we have allotted for our shift. We covered 36ish miles in 2:45ish, and took a 10ish minute break. With 3:05 to go, we had to cover 64 miles. We took one short break and got quickly back on the road. We passed our target mile marker (incidentally, it was Natchez Trace mile marker 200) at 5:59:30. We covered our target distance with 30 seconds to spare.

That's coming down to the wire!

The dots go back to the future!

What’s that re ally mean? well, it goes back to how far ahead of our planned schedule that the C3 team has become. With so many strong cyclists in the group, we tend to ride more miles than expected. As we were sitting at IHOP this morning, and Flat stanley was about to knock down a stuffed french toast breakfast, we were talking about how we should deal with this situation. Between bites of cream-filled, strawberry and whipped cream topped french toast, Stanley whispered to me “Go back to the future”.

Of course, what this meant, was that if the Dots just rode the distance that we are capable of riding, we would go from a half shift ahead, to a full shift ahead. So, it was decided (with buy-in from Team Boss Ron) that the Dots would help slow down the overall forward progress of the C3 team with an unconventional ride along the Natchez trace.

So, What is the Natchez Trace. Lots of historical stuff surrounds this road, and we get so busy on this ride in our travels that we sometimes don’t take enough time to appreciate the significance of the countryside through which we ride. Part of this history is about keeping the Nation together in the early days. It was a pony express route that connected the towns together and kept that sense of togetherness that people feel when they are part of a nation.

Today, the Natchez trace is a National scenic road that is frequently travelled by folks who are on vacation and by many bicyclists. It really is a beautiful road and we always enjoy riding along this road. The C3 team rides for over 400 miles along this road, and each team will get at least one shift on this road. Some teams – Purple Power I think, will get two shifts on this road.

As we rode today, Lisa, Kelly and Taylor caught up with us. Lisa took many photos as we rode along in our little formation. Then, Taylor slowed down the van (I happened to be on the front of our peloton) and she told me that she wanted to do a short interview with each rider. The question she wanted answered was “Why are you doing the ride?”

One by one, we each pulled up next to the van and Lisa was hanging out the window with her video camera. I was not able to hear what my team-mates said, but my response to that question was along these lines:
I am riding for my many friends, family and loved ones who have suffered from the effects of cancer and for those who have lost the battle with cancer. And, because I can.

This occurred many miles into today’s shift. By this time, we were feeling the effects of our efforts. This means our legs were feeling a bit sore, and mentally we had to work hard to maintain our efforts. To help the team stay motivated, Brandon told a motivational story, then a little later, I had one of my own. These stories were based on our own personal experiences and certainly could help with motivation, however, a little while later, Ed gave us the best motivation – “This hurts a lot less than Chemo”.
As a cyclist, there are a lot of really cool aspects to this ride that I could write about, but that would be missing the point of our mission out here on the road. One very cool aspect that translates to both the cyclist in me, and the guy who is working to help find a cure for cancer was the teamwork.

The Dots really came together today, even more than we did yesterday. Everyone did their share of the work for today’s ride, just the same as we all worked hard to raise money to fight this disease. With teamwork like this, I am sure we can make a big difference.

A beautiful ride through the hills of Tennessee

A quick note, this was written on Monday 10 October, but I did not get a chance to post it, so take that into account when you read it.

After last night’s dinner at one of the last restaurants on Hwy 76 in SC, the Dots decided to travel to Cleveland Tn for some rest. We arrived at the Jameson Inn where the night Manager Jackie took really good care of us. As with many people we meet, she has also been affected by cancer. She has lost several of her close family members and her sister had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. We had her create several magnets that we have now added to the van.

We finally climbed in bed around 1230 with alarms set for 4am. Wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t sleep. Too many thoughts of all the people for whom we ride. I think I finally dozed off around 2am. The phone woke me at 345am – it was team Momma Jen – The Dream Team was already outside the hotel!

It turns out that Team Purple Power really rocked their shift and put us ahead of schedule by quite a few miles. Doing some quick calculations, Team Livelong would be doing the first of the big climbs that in the past two years have been the exclusive domain of the Polka Dots.

Thanks again to Jackie, she opened up the breakfast service and we had breakfast around 430 after turning the rooms over to the dream team. We rolled out and headed for Dayton, Tn, where we had heard Team Livelong was headed for after crossing the Tennessee River around 430am.

At 510am, we got the word that they were in Dayton, and we knew for sure they would be doing the first climb. We passed them around 540am and they had rocked the climb! We pulled a short distance ahead of them, and pulled over to get ready for our first 6 hour shift.

Compared to the past two years, The C3 team was about 15-20 miles ahead of the planned schedule. Knowing this, the Dots decided to enjoy a great ride through this VERY beautiful country. Of course, picking up the baton from Team Livelong, we still had plenty of climbing to do, they had done the first 3ish miles of climbing. The rest was up to us.

The route is gorgeous. Rolling terrain that I have been referring to as the Tennessee Walking Horse country. I say this only because of the massive open fields where I imagine beautiful horses frolicking. Actually, we saw only a few horses and lots of cows.

In fact, we travelled the ‘Trail of Tears’. I know very little of the actual story behind this, but this was the route travelled by the Native Americans as they were displaced from North Carolina.

Our climbing route took us up two excellent climbs, and three descents (Team Livelong stole the first climb, but we got the reward of the descent). After that last descent, the route remained rolling. Being so far ahead of the planned route, we took our time, relaxing with a number of quite long breaks.

We stopped at a small motorcycle repair shop to allow traffic to pass, and ended up with another extended stop. At this point, we were about 5 hours into the shift and had covered about 62 miles. The Lemon Bonkers were rolling up behind us, and met us there for a few minutes. We asked them to go about 15 miles up the road and we’d transition with them there.

Again, the roads we travelled were just awesome. More rolling hills through farmland. Many very cool barns and silos and really just outstanding beauty. We arrived at the transition at exactly noon – The lemon bonkers were ready to roll, and we cheered them on after some quick hugs.

And what about Flat Stanley? Stanley was a big help today. He helped us with Transition by helping Cara do a little driving. After the ride, he met with the Dream Team for a quick introduction before we all headed to lunch.

After lunch, Stanley helped Siddens navigate, he even climbed up on a cotton stalk when we stopped for a break. I believe he’s enjoying his little adventure out here on the road. Most importantly, I think he is beginning to appreciate what the efforts of this little band of cyclists and team managers are trying to accomplish. We’re trying to make a difference in a horrible disease by helping as many people as possible.

Team polka dot picks up a stow-away

We’re off! Today the Challenge to Conquer Cancer team assembled to make our departure from the Cancer Center at Greenville Hospital system’s Memorial Campus.

The departure is always a very emotional time. Many friends and family stopped by to see us off. There were so many cameras! People were snapping photos left and right. Of course, the polka dot team was fully outfitted in our dots. We made quite the spectacle!

I met one of the people for whom I ride today. Marty’s friend Mike is currently undergoing treatment, and I ride for him. It was great to see him out chatting with the riders and taking in the scene. Great meeting him. Nice to put a face with the name on the magnet.

As we rode out from the Cancer Center, the emotions are always running really high. There are so many people who are suffering or have suffered with this disease. Meeting their friends and family and seeing their appreciation for what the C3 team is doing is really amazing.

So, what about this stow-away? Well, a cousin of mine’s daughter Skye, is participating in the Flat Stanley project. Skye prepared a Flat Stanley and put him on a plane to come out with us, but I thought he never really arrived.

To my surprise, He did! There he was as we were doing the final preparations with the van! He even helped mount the rack on the roof! When I asked him what delayed, he stated he heard he was going on a bike ride, and had to stop for a change of clothes.

So, he jumped on the van with Jen and Cara and rode along. Here we are at dinner after the first shift!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

3 days and counting

We’re down to 3 days before our departure. It’s an incredible feeling to be so close to such a grand adventure. Bonding with the people associated with this Challenge to Conquer Cancer has been a big highlight of the last several years.

It is amazing to meet such a group of selfless individuals. Many of the people associated with the Challenge to Conquer Cancer spend A LOT of hours preparing for fundraising events. Of course these folks have families, jobs and other activities they are involved with. It just happens that fighting cancer is something they have a passion for, and they are tireless in their efforts.
Tonight we gathered at the Brown Street Club for the Jazz Jam to Conquer Cancer. Of course it was an excellent time, and Montana Skies rocked the house. It was really great to see everyone. We are so ready to make this journey.

I hope everyone follows along with these blogs. And please, make comments on the blogs – it really means a lot to us when we hear from you.

Next post will be from the road. See you there!