Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hills, Heat, Headwinds and Heartbreak - 2012 RATPOD 3/3

In the last installment of Hills, Heat, Headwinds and Heartbreak - 2012 RATPOD I was contemplating my fate at the start of the ride being under trained and overweight.  Another thought that started whispering to me was the fact that every part of the ride occurs somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 feet above sea level resulting in less air pressure to put oxygen into my bloodstream.

The day broke clear and cool with the high to be over 86 and "some" wind from the south after 1pm.  Doubt really began to creep in to my brain, but I shrugged-it off and rode off into the morning with the other starters.  The group rode steadily until the first climb of about 1,800 feet where it broke apart - no sweat, just ride steady.  I could not believe how quickly my heart rate and breathing went up on this climb - oh yeah, under trained, overweight and altitude.  I reduced my effort and set into a steady rhythm.

I was rewarded a the top of the climb with a gorgeous view of the valley below bathed in early morning sunlight and a long descent.  The next 18 miles went by uneventfully and we arrived at the breakfast stop.  Again, it is hard to describe the panoramic view of meadows, wildflowers, and mountains as we rolled to a stop.  These guys take their food stops seriously and had burritos, fruit, bagels and pancakes complete with sausage ready for hungry riders.  I REALLY wanted to sample all of the above, but knew the 8 miles of climbing was next, so I settled for half a bagel and some fig bars.

Next came the climb up the Scenic Byway and again, I just settled into a sustainable pace and alternated between standing and sitting for the 8 mile ascent.  By the time I reached the summit, I noticed the temp had started to climb - no big deal since the fast ride down to Wyse River and the lunch stop was next.  About 3 miles from the stop I noticed that the wind was picking-up and seemed to be pretty serious - Uh, Oh.

I was once again tempted by an amazing spread for lunch but stuck to bread, a cookie and fig bars knowing the next 55 miles could be a hot, windy suffer-fest.  I also was downing Hammer Heed, and Endurolytes to keep hydrated and avoid cramping on the final climbs on the ride.

In reality, if I had just stopped at mile 75 it would have been one of the most glorious rides I had ever done.  Instead, I pushed on mile after mile with a good group of guys into 91 degree heat, 28 mph sustained headwind and 40 mph gusts.  On the very last grade I got shelled off the back and saw the 3 other riders in the group fading into the distance when I reached the top. I felt my will and heart break at the same time.  I knew if I had to go solo for the next 15 miles in that wind I would never make it. I gathered my remaining energy and gave chase for 2 miles solo in the headwind - all or nothing.

Somehow, I finally caught the group, but could barely hold a wheel.  I rotated to the front for a pull and lasted all of about 45 seconds before I started cramping after my previous all-out effort.  Each pull became a little longer, but we were only averaging about 14 mph in that wind. At one point a gust hit me from the left and pushed me onto the dirt shoulder.  I did my best cyclocross impression for about 100 meters and bunny-hopped back on the pavement.  This was really getting ugly.

 Dillon grew larger and after 7 hours on the bike we were finally pulling into town.  The finish is at the end of a 3/4 mile straightaway section.  The four of us lined-up side-by-side and spun-up to about 22 mph to cross the line together to hoots, hollers and cowbells.

2012 will probably go down in the records as the windiest and one of the hotter conditions for the RATPOD.  I could hear the radio chatter as I sat in the shade near the finish sipping chocolate milk.  Riders were going down and others were pulling-out on the course - not good.  In the end, I did not hear how many riders finished, but numbers would be down for sure.  I stayed long-enough to congratulate some other Spokane riders as they finished and then went to find a hot shower and some hot pizza.  I had made it thanks to the good fortune of finding a group of riders I could work with, but not climb with.  If I ride again next year, I may not be so fortunate - so I better get training.

See you on the road.

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