Throwing Caution to the Wind

January is a funny training month.  You never know what nature has in store for you.  And, after my last post, I am sure a few of you may have been eager to see where the intersection of my ethics and survival lay.  On Saturday, a few met at the Bakehouse at the usual hour.  I showed up in jeans and a team jacket, Route 37 coffee steaming in hand and, due to prior commitments, bid the riders (Gary, Kevin and Jared) a good ride.  I would ride later in the day- a jaunt around Lemon with Purvis and Field.  It was a casual ride, chatty all the way.  The wind, however, was wearisome across the small spit of land heading east between the lake and the backwater.  This was an omen for what the following day had planned for us.  It was so strong, that whitecaps were rolling on the generally placid lake.  Those of you who sail know that whitecaps require a significant amount of wind speed to be lathered into a froth on such a small body of water.  Something about the ‘fetch’ and volume.  The only thing that kept me focused were the kind words from a chance encounter at the Bakehouse from a young woman who appreciated our art.  Strange where your mind drifts on a ride.

The following day found us again at the Bakehouse.  The wind was present predominately out of the west with an inclination from the south according to the flag at the courthouse.  A large group assembled, as big as any January ride I remember.  In addition to the Scholars Inn team, a large contingent of IUCC riders (with a large Phi Delt presence) arrived with new Scholars Inn Cat 2 Chris West.  About 20 of us wandered down the sidewalk, finally making it to Kirkwood, then down to Dunn in the usual fashion and we were met by about 6 women riders lead by Liz Cobb and Emily Palmer just leaving from the Sample Gates!  Fred Rose and Jon Purvis lead us through the usual streets all the way to 446.  We were met by Lyle and Hans on Knightridge as we rode a smart tempo toward the lake.

So, it’s January, it’s in the 40s and the wind is beating a relentless rhythm against our broadsides.  We were tapping out a steady tempo and the speed was just high enough to suggest the big chainring but I fought the temptation to push too big a gear so early in the season.  But others had a different philosophy.  Palmer and Rose were shepherding the group safely and doing yeoman’s work at the front for long, steady pulls.  Others joined in for their share, Ibold, Preske, newcomer Johnson, Purvis, West and others.  The IUCC riders were impressive and steady as well.   The women were in force in the middle of the group and were riding well.  The group was large enough that riding in the shelter of the group was the rule, and pulls could be few and far between if you knew your limits and weren’t too proud to beg off.  I was remarking to a rider alongside as we were approaching the lake, still just 1/4 of the total distance completed, how awesome this was to see such a large, disciplined group rolling along in the winter!

But enough talk of butterflies and fluffy clouds.  The press of the pace and the force of the wind and the slant of the causeway would create a schism, as it always does that would quickly and mercilessly sort out the wheat from the chaff. I was on the back edge of the middle of the group as we began the approach to the climb.  We were crossing the barren causeway with the wind directly perpendicular when the splits began to form.  It was here that the majority of the women called it a day, seeking the shelter of their own group and riding at their own pace.  The riders in the lead weren’t accelerating, they were just steady to the climb and that was all that was needed to put the pretenders (of which I am included) into great difficulty.  About 20 made it to the base of the climb and I quickly became aware of my own labored breathing as the pace was now above my pay grade.  a group of about 7 or 8 made it up the road leaving those of us with lower VO2Max levels to scramble for our inhalers.   I didn’t need a heart rate monitor as I could simply count the pulsing vein in my temple as it pounded against my helmet.   The riders who made the ultimate selection included Rose, Palmer, Johnson, Ibold and a few others I couldn’t see through teary eyes.

Just ahead was Purvis, and West and Preske and a few Phi Delts.  Once I got my wits about me, I realized that a catch of the leaders had to happen in the next couple of miles or it was going to be a long afternoon.  I went to the front and stepped it up but slowly became aware of the widening gap.  West and Preske made the right move and accelerated to the leaders and caught with in a few kilometers.  Purvis dropped back to pick me up and a couple of others and made a solo effort for 2 miles accelerating from 20 mph through 29 mph as we  (he) bridged to the two riders he had previously left.  I remember sitting on his wheel, just left of center as the wind broke against his right shoulder.  I was cocking my head, listening desperately for the quiet spot in his slipstream, wondering how long it was going to be before I came unglued.  I remember digging so deep that my teeth hurt.  We caught and trudged on, single file now in our small group.  Gone was the conversation, so to, the nervous discussions on forgettable topics.  Too much was at stake now.  We were chasing.  It mattered little that it was an out and back course and we could just wait for the leaders return.  Bike racers don’t wait.  We chase.  It’s in our DNA.