Sunday, September 8, 2013

Highlander cycle tour ride report: Pedaling on

Naples, New York, one of the many beautiful scenes at the Highlander. 
This blog post was almost about quitting a century ride at Mile 30. I wrote it in my head as I looked for the SAG wagon as we turned onto Route 6, heading east toward Prattsburgh during the Highlander Cycle Tour's Corkscrew Century from Canandaigua Saturday. My quads hurt. I was exhausted.

Would I have blamed myself for quitting? No, just add it to the list of things that have gone wrong in the past few weeks. Most days have brought new challenges. Why should this slightly-chilly morning be any different? (And why didn't I wear a base layer?) Pile it on. 

Ahead were 73 miles and some brutal climbs. French Hill nearly killed me and now this flat road was fatiguing. But what if I managed to hoof it up that beast of a hill from Naples on Flower the Cannondale Synapse, my trusty companion, then five easy miles until pulled pork and a bottle of wine? 

If I could finish this ride, it would mean that all the crap life has put me through these past few weeks would not win. If I could ride 100 miles, I could definitely wake up Monday morning, bang out a few cover letters, and move forward.

The SAG wagon approached. The driver slowed and made eye contact.

I gave him a half-hearted thumbs up and pedaled on. Today was about me. 

Six hours later: Jessica: 1. Life: 0.

* * *

I was on the fence about doing the ride to begin with. I had registered about 30 seconds before I heard the layoff rumor at work (the unfortunate reason why I am not doing the Pain in the Alleghenies.) Friday I was in Cleveland, debating if I wanted to go south to run with my old running group, east to the ride, or nowhere where my lovely family would continue to take care of me.

At 7 p.m. I hit I-90. This put me home at midnight. Sleep didn't come. I was back up at 5, and by way of Wal-Mart and McDonald's in Henrietta for "The biggest coffee you have, please," I headed south. 

I randomly made friends with Solveig during an indoor cycling class, we've since met up at a couple of triathlons and she emailed me Thursday inviting me to meet up at the ride with one of her friends, Matt. 

It became the perfect arrangement. We went at our own paces. I pulled ahead on the flats and dropped back on the steep uphills. We tagged back and forth on the course, looked out for each other, and met up at the rest stops.

There's a reason I've done this ride two years in a row. The organization is phenomenal. Rest stops are well placed and well stocked. Other cyclists were courteous and friendly, along with Solveig and Matt there were others whom I tagged back and forth with. Flower's tires held up nicely but the SAG wagons were everywhere just in case we went over glass or a sharp pebble.

So it wasn't all me after all. I had new friends to look out, a well-supported course, mother nature being gentle and a bike that handled well due to a nice tax-time check from Uncle Sam.

* * *

"The only way I'm going to make it is if I take my time," I told Solveig and Matt as they took off from the Prattsburg rest stop at Mile 50. I needed another five minutes or so. I sat in the grass and took a breather. 

Prattsburg was a busy rest stop. All rides converged here. Volunteers stayed on their feet to keep the watermelon and orange slices available. A block away there was a farmer's market. Traffic was heavy but every car was considerate. 

Starting downhill it took a minute to get back in my clips and headed toward Pulteney and Italy. 

Fifteen minutes later I was alone. I rode on a slight downhill grade on brand new blacktop past grapevines that supplied the local wineries. I thought about stopping to pluck one. I should have. I wonder what a Riesling grape tastes like. We could see far in the distance and soon catch glimpses of Keuka Lake. 

The chills were long gone. 75 degrees and sunny, perfect riding weather.

The occasional set of three white arrows assured me I was still on course. I had ditched my throwaway in Prattsburg and was comfortable in my sleeveless jersey. 

I thought about my friends back in Columbus, who changed my life for the better. They taught me how to set goals, how to appreciate victory and handle defeat. But Rochester is home now. I've met some wonderfully awesome people. Life will take me where it takes me, but I fit in here.

* * *

The three of us survived the brutal climb that was Friend Road. What went up wouldn't come down for awhile. Route 18 went briefly south then turned west through Italy. I wondered if I was finally succumbing to the fatigue, but really I was continuing up a slow, gradual climb that would last for seven miles. 

Again, Solveig, Matt and I regrouped at the rest stop at Mile 86. There was a bit more to the climb.

Last year, the ride took place in a torrential downpour. It cleared up as we got over this same hill, and I saw a rainbow as I descended into Naples on the hand-me-down Giant hybrid, on long-term loan from my mom.

This year, as we started downhill, it started to rain. (Why did I forget my sunglasses?)

Still, I got low, shifted into high gear and let gravity do its best. My fastest mile was 30 miles per hour. Eventually I'll figure out how to sync my Garmin to get my max speed. 

A few of those raindrops hurt, but I felt free. The two miles up Route 12 in the lowest of granny gears probably sucked, but they're not what I'll remember about this ride. 

* * *

As we compared stories of being ill-prepared for the ride that morning, Solveig made a good point. Our bikes worked. The weather was nice. Our training was... what it was. Our bodies would do what our bodies would do.

There were no prizes Saturday. No start line. No finish line. No Mary to mispronounce my name on the way in :) Moving time was 7:34:12. I stopped my watch and took my time at each rest stop. I averaged 13.6 miles per hour. 

Thursday I was in a panic because my cell phone didn't work as I drove around Columbus lost, and I couldn't reach the people I wanted to catch up with. Today, my phone was in the car. TMobile wouldn't have gotten signal anyway, so why bother? I didn't miss the outside world. Those who mattered knew I was out and about. I trusted the ride organizers to keep me safe. 

I rode the century ride plus. I let my quads recover Sunday. I'm looking forward to the Wine Glass October 6.

I'm moving forward. 

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