Monday, September 15, 2014

What's So Challenging About It?

This is a story about the triumph of the human spirit.  This is not a story about me.

At mile 55 on the Hub City Tour I stared hard at my right knee—my good knee—and willed it to stop being disagreeable.  I was walking up the meagerest of hills unable to pedal my bike.  I could walk with no pain, but there was no strength in my knee to push the pedal and the pain fluctuated between a 3 and an 8.

Staring at that one foot as I pushed my bike up the tiniest hills.
Mandy was somewhere far ahead of me and for once I was the one suffering most on a long ride.  It rounded my perspective somewhat.  I felt some desperation as we rolled out of each aid station as the volunteers were loading everything up and closing the spot down.  We were the laterne rouge peloton: me, Mandy and Jeff and Casey.  We’ve never been the last riders on an organized ride before.  It was somewhat surreal.

Just before the first aid station Jeff had a flat.  Before the ride finished Casey had two flats.  Mandy and I had shifting problems the whole ride.  She needs a good tune up.  I’ve decided I can no longer ignore my gummed up cables and housings.  For a year I’ve neglected them and for a year my rear shifting has gotten progressively worse.  There’s no excuse for my laziness.

We were all suffering due to a non-existent summer of cycling.  Going into the Redbud Ride we all had some miles under us.  I was riding more to get ready for the Mohican than for the Redbud, but I had some miles.  The nasty winter had limited all of our saddle time, but we were making due.

The day of the Hub City Tour started off cool and overcast and that would be the theme for most of the day.  At times we were downright chilly and actually had to break out the gloves and arm- and knee warmers.  The cooler fall weather was a welcome reprieve from the oppressively hot Preservation Pedal.  That ride had been tough for many reasons despite our collective familiarity of the route.


By the time the Preservation Pedal came around I was coasting on my Mohican conditioning but Mandy rolled out in “off the couch” status for that ride.  For the first time since starting out to do the Kentucky Century Challenge it felt like a challenge for me.  I think we all felt it.

In the long weeks between the Preservation Pedal and the Hub City Tour we became dedicated runners (training for our respective events) and left the bikes idle in a corner of our living room.  We rode the Gorge loop after District 10 put down some fresh blacktop and Mandy and I rode from Mount Sterling to Owingsville and back more than a month and half prior to the last KCC ride in E-town.

Two weeks before Hub City and with one week to go until the Rugged Red we were both bemoaning the situation.  Then it was still wicked hot and we worried it would be another miserably hot ride like Preservation.  I needed to focus on my trail run, and Mandy needed to be ramping up for Iron Horse.  The bikes had to wait a little longer, but we didn’t think we had that luxury.  For whatever reason we never got around to riding our bikes.

Making for very dangerous conditions
Jeff and Casey were in the same boat.  All four of us were dreading the sufferfest to come.  Mandy and I seriously considered just not doing the ride.  As late as Friday night in the hotel room in E-town we were discussing bailing on the ride.

Miles into it our sit-bones hurt, our hands tingled and twinged, and our necks ached.  Those things made me want to quit, but they weren’t enough to make me give up.  You learn to tough things out.  After a while you can just work through them.  That’s part of developing mental endurance.  I firmly believe mental endurance sticks with you a lot longer than physical.

After the fourth aid station (at 65 miles) our group was fractured.  My knee dictated I finish my century faster and earlier so Mandy and I split up there.  It was odd for us to do that.  She was going to be riding all alone.  We’ve never diverged like that: me, leaving her to fend for herself.  I felt like I was abandoning her to torment and death.  She seemed to be in pretty good spirits about it.

“I’m a big girl,” she assured me.  I had completely confidence in her, but still I was concerned for her.  It was a lot of miles to tackle on your own.  At that point there was 30-35 mile to go.

Early in the ride when we were all still together.
More reinforcement that fall had come in force.
Once I finished I jumped in with the roving SAG truck that was out sweeping the course.  At that point Mandy was the official laterne rouge.  She wasn’t too far back from another woman (who looked strangely familiar) and another guy who was struggling with cramps.  Her determination to finish was obvious.  She had many opportunities to quit.  She had good reasons to quit.  But she never looked like she was struggling or going to give up. There was a look in her eyes that told me she wanted to finish more than she wanted to live with the regret of not having covered the miles.

I watched from the truck as she pedaled on, alone, and out in the middle of nowhere in a strange place.  I was proud of her, but I worried about her.  Having been in lonely situation like that I know how deep you have to dig to find the will to keep going.  It’s not that I didn’t have faith in my wife—I know she had it in her—but that she would struggle to find her strength too long and give up without having tapped into it.

We all do that.  The strength is there within us, but we can’t manage to harness it when we need it.  Afterward we kick ourselves because we know we could have finished, but we gave in too soon.

I was waiting for her at the last aid station.  Just before she came in the last group of cyclists rolled out.  The familiar woman—named Michelle according to the SAG guys I was riding with—had just pulled in.  I finally put it altogether.  Michelle is married to an old climbing friend.  I’d bumped into him a month or so ago at the bike shop and he told me she was planning on doing her first century.  He hadn’t mentioned it was the Hub City ride and it didn’t occur to me until the SAG guys referred to her as “Michelle” and said it was her first century and she had said her husband had probably finished.

She didn’t recognize me at first.  It’s been seven years since we last bumped into each other, but we struck up a conversation while she recharged for the final push into E-town.  She was excited that she was going to finish her first century and told me it had been an ambitious goal to get herself active and off the couch.  She’d worked hard all summer and her efforts were ten miles from paying off.

Before Michelle pulled out Mandy rolled in to cheers from the volunteers.  She stopped next to me with a look of pure misery on her face.  She could have given up then.  I might have myself had I been in her bike shoes.

“Is there real food here?”

Sadly I shook my head ‘no.’

“Then I’m going to go on to the finish.”

And she took off.

Michelle left right after her.  I helped the other volunteers pack up the last aid station and jumped back in with the roving SAG guys.  We followed Michelle until she overtook and passed Mandy and then we followed behind her as traffic increased on the outskirts of town.

Heading into the intersection Mandy had a close call and my heart almost stopped.  She moved into the left lane approaching a left turn and the SAG truck had moved into the center turn lane anticipating her moving on over.  A car zipped past us on the right in the left lane and bore down on her.  They must have thought she was in the right lane.

I watched in horror as the car kept on speeding toward her without slowing.  In my mind I was praying for the car to stop and whispering for Mandy to get on over.

Finally, with only a couple of car lengths to go, brakes lights flashed and the car slowed hard.  I let out held breath.  My heart was slamming in my chest.  The horrific image of her tumbling head over heels through the air was stuck in my head.

At the same intersection Michelle went straight through and after making the turn Mandy took the lead.  As we came through in the SAG truck Michelle fell in in front of us and closed in on Mandy once again.  It looked like they were in a race for dead last.  It was going to be close.

The second time Michelle overtook Mandy more slowly.  As she came abreast of her she fell in and for the last few miles they rode together.  Later Mandy said Michelle was the reason she was able to ride those last few miles to the finish.  I was happy to see them sticking together.  Those pedals kept turning.  They both were fighting through those final miles.  There’s nothing quite like riding the last few miles of a super long bike ride.

At the finish Mandy looked beat, but there was a glimmer of satisfaction through the weariness. 

“I will never…EVER ride my bike a hundred miles again,” she said with dramatic finality.

“On purpose,” I added with my best devious grin.  The look she lobbed back at me almost quelled my warm fuzzy feeling.  I was so proud of her toughness and her resolve to keep on riding long after the fun had gone.  She worked hard to earn her 2014 Kentucky Century Challenge jersey.  If anyone deserves one it’s her. 

This year we all felt the challenging nature of it.  The SAG guys I rode around with asked how much I rode and I said two years ago I had been riding 5,000 miles a year, last year was about 2,500 and this year probably 1,000 or less.  It’s been a really sparse cycling year for us Chainring people.  That makes my beautiful wife’s feat of off-the-couchedness even more impressive. 
We’ve decided next year we’re not doing the Century Challenge regardless of how cool the jersey is.  Of course I said I wasn’t going to do it this year either.  Sigh…

Course was marked well, but as usual with these types
of rides could have had upright signs in key places

The Nolin River at White Mills



  1. Way to go, Mandy! A hundred mile ride is a huge deal, and when not getting in the miles we hope for, it's an even bigger deal. I think many can identify with the saddle pain and the thoughts of wanting to just call it quits. It just seems to be what happens when we spend hours on a ride. Congrats to you all on a job well done!! :O)