The Sublime Art of Hanging On

It was a warm day for the middle of Winter. I live on the top of one of Bloomington’s notable climbs, so descending it on even a cool day is bracing. I was on my new Cannondale Evo Six13, presented to me unexpectedly as a gift from the team a short while ago, a kind gesture beyond words. I thought of taking the 1989 Atala that I recently restored with new paint, decals and period Campagnolo components, many of which hung on the original frame, but I sensed that the unseasonably warm prediction would bring the elite riders out to play and I would need every last ounce of weight-shaving, wind-cheating, ego-centric technology at my beck and call!
I arrived at the downtown Bakehouse about 15 minutes before the departure of the usual Sunday noon ride and a large group was already assembling. Yes, the elite had chosen to participate in what was expected to be the last warm ride for a few weeks. Ryan, Jon, Andy, Fred, Tomas, Brian, John, Joe, Sean, Kevin, Dakota and Jake were there. A couple of elite women joined as well, Laura and Mary. I counted 21 in total. Other notable riders included Abel and local top junior Ryan B., Dr. B. Several additional Little 500 racers were in attendance. The winds were blowing hard out of the SSW as Fred and I escorted the group for the few relatively casual miles out to the start, traditionally at the turn at Moore’s Pike onto 446 where we would spend the next 44 miles together as one rolling unit as we headed out into the void towards Route 58. On 446 the well-known climbs would come at approximately 7 miles up the causeway, 16 miles into Heltonville, 29 miles into the forest on the way home and 37 miles up the north side of the causeway. Imagining the suffering up these 4 climbs was constantly in the back of my mind.
The ride out was surprisingly copacetic despite an average speed of nearly 20 mph into the wind and the pulls were long and fluid with riders tagged two abreast. Being an odd number, I attached myself to the tail end of the express train heading south into what is locally known as the ‘princess seat.’ But having already judged my age to be upwards of 25 years older than my mates, I took no shame in claiming it. The first test up the south ramp of the causeway came and went with cooler heads prevailing and a steady but not altogether easy tempo being set at the front. I looked back and saw that a couple of riders chose not to continue at this point and turned early for home. One or two continued on and would turn back as they met us on the way home. I was watching my heartrate begin to climb as we crested the top and settled in for the prologue out to the turn. Safe for now.
The ‘flashers’ ride actually has two turns, the first is at route 58 and the second is 4 miles further on route 50. No one stopped to turn at the first option (my usual point of departure), so we all continued to the end. At the turn, we stopped for several minutes, eating, adjusting gear, removing gloves, answering nature’s call. There was no announcement, but the group began to reassemble for the departure home as though a quiet alarm went off, perhaps the way geese decide when to head home. A few began the easy roll up the gradual climb and were joined by the rest of us within a couple of minutes. The wind was still blowing hard in the teens, but this time almost directly at our back and the group, sensing this opportunity for a big turn of speed began to test the limits of their resolve! The speed ramped up almost immediately to the high 20s as we all fell into line and within seconds of cresting the top of the first swell, we were going 30+ and sustaining this! Riders attempting to join the group from the other direction turned with us but were never able to connect. A gap of just a few bicycle lengths would result in getting dropped with complete and utter disregard, as though a parachute was being deployed. There was no middle ground on this flight back home and it was relentless. I had the where with all to take a brief video of this storm rising. Had I waited a few more seconds, I would have been expelled by the group and ridden home alone!
But there was this sublime, inexplicable joy in going this fast for this long. The desperate situation required each rider in the group to be all-in as the freight train picked up steam and barreled down 446. Those who had second thoughts about their ability, or about anything other than hanging on were quickly jettisoned from the experiment. Exercise Physiologists have long described the science behind this presumed endorphin release or physiological equilibrium as a second wind. For me it was like surfing a powerful wave but also being the wave if you can get your head around that. I was relishing the feeling of being unencumbered by weight or gravity, giddy-like. But alas, all things must come to an end and mine came at the 37 mile mark as we entered the climb on the north side of the causeway. I hung on for a few valiant hard turns of the pedal but as gaps began to form cracks in the group the inevitability of life came into full view. But I (and a few others) accepted this as a day well ridden and a life not wasted. I struggled over the climb with a few riders in the same state of mind and soon a small grupetto of 4 evolved. We continued on in silence with a steady tempo wanting to let the feelings we just experienced wash over us and sink into our souls just a little deeper.

sublime ride

1 comment

  1. You’ve still got it Tom….with the words if not the legs 😉 I’m glad the new machine arrived, I was happy to contribute just a small amount toward it. Well deserved!

    Onwards and upwards for Team SIB!

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