I have a little problem. I make New Year’s resolutions on January 1, but then break most of them on my birthday, two days later. This year was no exception. Like most cyclists, I have a Shackletonesque side. I like to think that I am capable of epic adventures. I am still somehow drawn to them-often poorly prepared and overconfident. So, on January 3rd, my 49th birthday I was invited to ride 49 miles with a small but hearty group. Normally, that’s not a distance that a cyclist of our caliber would find extraordinary, except for the fact that the new year was still very new and the sun had not yet been out this year. Nonetheless, I met a group of 9 at South West Way park just, well, south west of Indianapolis at 1pm. Nebo Ridge and Hendricks and a few other teams were there, our good friend and former turtle Bob Brooks coordinated the ‘event’. Today was to be about 3 hours, an out and back course with a couple of significant climbs.
The ride began as cordially as most. We were chatty into the tailwind, crosswind flat sections as we headed south. I decided to ride my race bike and cleaned it before the ride. I mean a deep, wipe-down-the-spokes-clean. It just feels faster. I would have normally taken my winter bike, with lights, downtube shifters, no computer, more rugged tires. But knowing that we had some climbs and that we had a few hours in store, I opted for all of the performance and weight savings that I could get.
Resolution #1: Stay in the small chainring until I have 1,000 miles on my legs.
Early into the ride, Bob indicated a sprint sign somewhere south of 144 on the way to Brooklyn. The train began to fall into place with some opting smartly to sit this one out as we were early into the ride and energy and warmth would be a scarce commodity later. I was looking around at who was getting into position and wondering why I was so near the front at this inopportune time. Now, you know the rest of this story, and how it’s going to end of course. And I could no more control my urge to sprint than I could stop breathing.
Bob kindly led out the windup offering with a taunt, “C’mon birthday boy!” which I think were the only words spoken in this afternoon and I responded by, alas shifting into the big ring. It felt effortless and right, much like the sail filling on my sailboat in a stiffening breeze. My bike immediately responded. The young star Graham offered me Bob’s wheel as the speed increased. I declined and instead fell in behind the young rider as the three of us hurtled toward the mark. Bob did an epic pull, longer than was necessary but hard enough to make my eyes tear behind my glasses. I was sitting on Graham’s wheel when he accelerated toward the line at 35 miles an hour. I hung on to the line but coming around him was as impossible as turning back the hands of time. I remember telling my children at dinner the night before that gasoline was $0.25 when I was born and that Eisenhower was in the White House. That seemed so long ago now.
Resolution 2: No significant climbing until 500 miles.
It was a while before the others caught up to us. I know because I still had the peculiar taste of vomit in my mouth and my lungs ached from the recent effort. I quietly settled into the back of the small group and watched 5 of the fit riders pull away toward the climbs at the halfway point. We ascended one of the steepest climbs in Indiana (from my perspective at the time!) called Observatory Road. I remember looking at my computer and seeing 4mph! 4mph! I may as well be walking.
Fortunately, the ride was an out and back so the group would be waiting for us at the turn, or hopefully heading toward us. We made it to a small town called Wilbur where the leaders had indeed been waiting and refueling. I was soaked through my first layer and cold now. I didn’t stop but turned and headed back with three others in a second group.
Resolution 3: Don’t get hypothermia and bonk on pre-season training rides.
The cold, my hunger and my initial efforts conspired to create a perfect storm raging around me. The 4 of us continued on the final 20 miles back to the warmth of the cars. Fear turned to dread when I couldn’t stop chattering and shivering and the smallest rises became significant challenges. We maintained a structured pace-line, even sorted out into an echelon on the crosswind stretches. No one spoke as I felt a the rising mist meet me on this already gray day. I just wanted to stop and take a little nap along the side of the road. We were joined by Bob with about 5 miles to go, after an impressive chase for several miles. He turned out to be the final horsepower we needed to get home.
We made it back to the cars after 3 hours on the road and I remember starting my car before I put the bike on the roof. As I turned to leave the parking lot and head home, the young rider said, “Hey, Nice sprint back there. You really made me work for it.” “Thanks.” I said, and thought, happy birthday to me.