Arriving in the parking lot at 9, it was already warm. When the fast guys started showing up, I knew I was in over my head. On the first climb, pushing myself to just below nausea, I got dropped. This was not the hill I wished to die on. Trying to keep up would be futile, would probably lead me to crash, and would take away from their fun. I did catch up with Ben, or rather, he waited for me, and I said I was going to bail on the group. He was thinking the same and I was more than glad for the companionship.
Catching up at a trail junction, we said our goodbyes. No one tried to talk us into staying. We rode on, and Ben and I each PRed a number of segments, so we were pushing, but three hours later the fast guys came out of the woods just a few minutes after us, having ridden 13 miles to our 11.
I’m sure I would have died.
Ben and I had a good, fun, hard ride. I learned. Paying attention to the fundamentals paid off. Rockland has a bunch of tight turns. Slow-speed balance isn’t my strong suit, and I’d be teetering through an acute turn, weaving my bars between trees, then look to where I wanted to be, the pedals would turn, and the bike would go there. That’s almost magical. It feels wonderful.
Other twisty situations were on climbs. I fight a fundamental laziness. If it looks physically hard, my impulse is to say “Fuck it,” then get off the bike and walk. I’m saving energy for what? I don’t know. But I overcame that voice, powering up chicanes through acres of laurel thickets. My thighs burned, but so what?
Other times I screwed up, but began to understand how. Getting over big rocks on climbs is a struggle. Time and again, I’d get my front wheel onto the rock, and then try to pedal over it rather than thrusting my body forward. That would jam the pedal against the rock and jack the back wheel off the ground, relieving me of any motive force and stopping progress dead. I need to session this skill.
Riding in 90 F temps took a toll. I sucked my Camelbak dry half an hour from the lot. My legs felt weaker and my reaction and planning abilities were declining. I stopped figuring out how to ride challenges and began worrying about crashing on them. I walked the final rock garden, one I’d cleaned the last time, because I didn’t trust myself.
In the car, I had two bottles. One was insulated and filled with iced Gatorade. The other was just water. I poured half the water over my head, then drank the other half before changing into dry clothes. A river or a lake would have been welcome. I sucked down the Gatorade. A mile out of the lot, I passed a convenience store, turned around, pulled in and bought a big, ice-cold, sugary Powerade.
Not a bad Labor Day.