We were going slowly. Seriously slowly. So slowly that folks that started long after us passed us before long. So slowly that The Sweep could’ve been our personal team car. Jenni was *not* feeling well, and it showed. Yes, she was happy to be there (as was I) but she could muster none of what I’ve come to know as Jenni’s riding style. Normally she has a unique blend of pushing her own limits and knowing when to enjoy her surroundings. It’s one of the things that makes it fun to ride with her. Today she had nothing; her heart was racing. We knew that going in (that she’d been struggling with her heart), but what we didn’t know is exactly how hard the course was, the other variables that go into a ride, and how she’d be feeling this day.
We loped along by ourselves enjoying the scenery—which is quite spectacular. Hills, rolling farm land, horses, cows (The Belted Galloway or the Dutch Belted, also known as “Panda cows”), goats, dogs, roosters, chickens, fields waking up from a winter’s sleep, coniferous forest, and lots of pleasant folks doing chores. We inched our way up the super steep inclines, bombed the downhills, and settled into our own, personal, groupetto.
A huge part of what made the day possible was Wil. He came along and drove the course with us giving us the near equivalent of a team car. He didn’t literally drive right behind us, but he was never too far, and it made it easier to ditch bottles, have nourishment with us — in fact we never made to an “open” feed station. They had essentially packed up each time before we got there. A special thank you to him for devoting his entire day (driving 3 hours up there, then the 62+ miles of the course, at bike speed essentially, and then driving back for 3 more hours).
My part in this little saga was that I pulled and pulled and pulled through a metric ton of headwind. As I said earlier, Jenni was not feeling well. So I got out in front, and stayed there, boring a hole in the wind. As a tickling annoyance Ivan said that when we hit that stretch there’d be a tailwind, complete with a “let’s see, the wind is coming from thataway, and you’ll be turning thisaway so it’ll be a tailwind, which is good because that stretch is flat and boring”. Yeah, OK. Whatever. Jenni commented later that she didn’t notice the headwinds. That put a proud smirk on my face. (As an added bonus, when you look at the elevation chart, find the flat section… I’m still looking for it). I did make a bad choice of saddle on the day, and from about mile 1.5 a saddle sore got more and more painful. All the seated climbing, the pace, etc. helped annoy it until at mile 40ish I decided I was not having fun anymore. I wasn’t cooked or anything, but every stroke hurt, and the pain had grown wearying. But that’s when it got interesting. (Further proof that I wasn’t cooked—I’m not sore today at all. No weak legs. None of the symptoms of “blasted” that I’ve experienced before.)
Jenni’s insides had started to awaken. She was feeling like she could finish the route. She had clawed her way up the first two steeps and there was one more left, and she was determined to finish now that she was feeling better. So while I drank chocolate milk and climbed into the car, she continued on. Naturally, the first thing she did was ride off the course. It was classic. So we turned around and made sure she was back, and then moved up the road a bit.
Considering how she had ridden all day, I kept telling Wil to stop and wait, which naturally annoyed Jenni, so after her “suggesting” otherwise we switched to 5 mile intervals… she climbed up and over the hill that most folks complained about which was a looser sort of gravel than the previous stuff. I was thinking about the road conditions as we drove it but my choco-delirium prevented me from acting. I should’ve gotten out and made sure she was riding this collection of marbles well. The Moots was sporting relatively fat 27c tires which would have made it easier for me, but the plan was to meet her just ahead. We pulled over shortly, I got out, climbed back on my bike and rolled back down a short section to meet her on the last section of the loose gravel.
She arrived shortly, cussing about the climb and the decent, picking her way carefully over the tumbling gravel. Once we reached the pavement I could tell that she had ridden herself back. She was tired and flushed looking, but she was riding like herself. And as we completed the last 5 or so miles together I realized how magnificent a ride I had witnessed.
A lot is written about suffering on a bike, and there’s as many types of that as there are riders and roads. But this road was tough. As tough a ride as you could want. 18% grades on gravel roads (at least, that’s the number I saw swimming before my eyes), stair step climbs that mess with your head, and steep climbs with loose gravel combined with a unique relentlessness. And being so far off the back that the desk called wondering whether we had ‘forgotten to check in when we “left the course” since they were closing up’ gives you some idea of where we were at all day long. But it didn’t matter. She was determined to finish what she started that morning, and did so with no lesser glory for the empty lot that greeted us.
It was as magnificent a ride as any I’ve taken part in. My not finishing was not a big deal to me, those 17 miles didn’t represent my goal for the day except most peripherally. Jenni made the Battenkill Preview Ride 2010 a monument to the strength, beauty, and grace that makes cycling so incredible (and yet still a literal pain in my ass).
The ride is great, the volunteers, sweepers etc, were all genuine, concerned, and helpful. The course map sucked, and the placement of things like the first feed station was off by some significant mileage. I had hoped that more “folks” would be there for the ride, but it was really mostly racers who were previewing the course for the races, and so there was a lot of team kit, ass checking, bike checking and the like. Would I do it again? Sure. But I got what I wanted out of this ride and lots more, and there’s lots of other rides to take on… so who knows. But it would be fun to go again.
Check out Jenni’s ride report for more pictures and her own elation. Chapeau to the Cardiac Kid. That was brilliant!
Not shown: The home stretch 5 miles…
Here’s the elevation of the first 40ish miles of the route.