It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

I have a long drive home from work so I was delighted when I received a cell phone call from my wife saying that she would be out for an hour with my youngest daughter and that I could “go for a ride” if I wanted to.  When I heard those words, I immediately became alert after being lulled into a semi-comatose state from being in the car for over an hour.  It was about 6:30pm and there were big storms in the west, but far enough away as to not cloud my determination.   Once home, I let the dog out, hoping that the self-installed invisible-type fence would hold so that the neighbor’s chickens would be safe.  I hurried to the basement level garage where cyclists are generally banished in all households to inventory my cycling needs.  I unzipped my cycling bag sitting on the dresser in the garage and got dressed in my kit.  My bike was ready and waiting in its rack, cleaned, oiled and adjusted.  I gassed up the tires slipped it into the small chainring, took her out of the dark cave and headed out into the humid summer air, leaving dog and house and harbor behind. 

I knew the course that I would take.  The plan was to do the Morgan Monroe State Forest route in preparation for the upcoming event on the 27th.  I live near the top of the southern access of firehouse hill, so within the first 2 miles I was hurtling down through the shadows at 40+ mph like a time-trialist starting on a ramp.  I was motivated to get home in an hour for the 23 hilly miles to meet my family before dinner and to not shorten the leash needlessly. I was digging pretty hard in a bigger gear than I should be on the approach to the course.  It’s about 4 miles to the corner of Anderson and Old SR 37 where I would start my clock.   I know the course well and this test began with the easy rollers on Anderson.  The wind was negligible and my shadow was stretching long in front of me.  Out of habit, I glanced at the gathering weather in the west, across the expanse of open farmlands and budding fields as I turned east and south.  I normally ‘need’ about 10 miles to get loose for an event, but the hot summer night and the focus on performance on this upcoming race course allowed an early settling into my rhythm.  I let the memories of earlier rides on this road drift in and out of my consciousness while keeping a good tempo in a big gear; the night time training with lights, winter rides, family rides with the kids and my wife, the countless training rides, coming and going using this main connecting road out of town.    I navigated through the relatively flat 4 miles to the base of Bean Blossom at near race pace.  I don’t have a wattage meter or heart rate monitor, and it was difficult to read my computer through the sweat and vibration from the deteriorating road surface. But I can tell you that my approach to the climb was harder than I was comfortable with and I was in some difficulty at the base of the climb.

Those of you who know this climb also know that it doesn’t start straight away.  The whole of Bean Blossom is just under 2 miles long and it has 4 distinct steps and a few intermediary ones.  I used to manage climbs much better when I was younger and lighter, but these memories are biased by time and space.  Pain is pain and for me at least, it’s about how much I want to tolerate and what matters.  I approached it hot and fast in the big chain ring, then using all of my gears, took each step hard but not frantic and then settled into a big gear over the top of each rise.  I hit the top still averaging over 20mph since the start of Anderson as I turned on the forest road. I knew that I had about 3 miles until I hit the orchard climb.  I managed a nice tempo up the climb and crossed the Hindustan line at about 27 mph.  The sun had fallen behind darkening clouds and I could feel the electricity in the air. There was a car behind me, entering near Farr road and my speed was high enough to keep it at bay for the next few miles.  The impending storm was still off in the distance but we were both gathering momentum.  I was flying now across the mostly descending, broken-up road back toward Anderson.  I was in my biggest gear, losing some form, rocking side to side as I crossed the line at Anderson.  14 miles in 39 minutes, or a little better than 21 mph. Now, If I can just do this 2 more times in the race! 

I arrived at home just as the storm was about to hit.    I was alone still and I poured a long glass of ice water. I went up onto our west-facing deck and watched the storm clouds gather power as the sirens wailed.  I thought about my two teenage daughters, far from home, riding in their first (of many) 100 mile days somewhere south of Seattle, Washington with deCycles, hoping they were feeling the same exhilaration as I was.