Greg Bell and I recently headed north up to Coburn, PA for our annual riding of the Wilderness 101, a 101 mile epic in the mountains of central PA. I have a true love/hate relationship with this event and it has quickly become a integral part of every year.My first: I rode off a narrow bridge and cracked my shin open. I could see bone. This was at mile 20 or so. I stopped at every aid station from that point on for at least 20 minutes to clean the wound and to change out the blood soaked bandages. To say that I was unhappy with where I finished would be an understatement.
My most recent: After a successful run and growing comfort with the course and it's many many challenges... A series of unfortunate flats forced me to walk for at least a half hour. In addition to at least 15 minutes of cursing and searching for the defective C02 inflator head that I'd thrown into the forest in frustration. (Which was a complete waste of time as it truly was defective.)
There was a slight breach of protocol this year, as Greg's wife joined us for the trip. (Dude!) Of course, Greg's wife is one of the sponsors of Team Revolution, so what you can do? And then there's the fact that she covered my pre-race meal, stitched me a kick ass hanky, and worked it at the aid stations. So... new protocol. Wives and significant others are allowed.
I wasn't left high and dry however, as super-kick-ass-ex-employee-and-good-friend Hannah Banana came up to hang out. Hannah also worked the aid stations and was instrumental in getting my sorry ass back on the bike after a demoralizing hike a bike.
The start was fast.... I couldn't find Greg, but figured we'd meet up somewhere out there. Turns out he was in front of me for the roll out, then got stuck on the slow train while I was working to stay on the express.
The key is a good start. You can make up gobs of time just by working to stay with the train. Once you fall off... you're off. It's impossible to maintain that kind of speed on a singlespeed.
I managed to stay with the first group... even over 3 Bridges... the site of my first time mishap. It's a series of 3 narrow bridges separated by gnarly babyhead rock gardens. I'll be honest.... I don't ride it. After trying the first year and failing, I do a cyclocross dismount and run them. Greg Bell rode the damned thing. I LOATHE him. But I didn't fall and managed to stay pretty close to the group... Until Croyle, that is.
WHen I finally hit the bottom... 20 minutes later, I'm still 10 miles from the closest aid station. So... I keep walking. Finally I borrow a pump from a rider just as frustrated as me with his race (he'd flatted twice and wrecked once) and I'm rolling. But I'm not in a good place.
It's been a hard week. A hard year, in fact. Personally... professionally....
There hasn't been very much going well for me, honestly, and there are few things that I feel like I'm truly good at. Riding a bike is one of them. I don't screw that up. Or at least I'm less likely to screw that up.
And here I am, with ONE MORE thing in my life going badly.
It led to a total psychological downward sprial. I thought of my son. How much I miss him when he's not with me. I thought of all of the things I've done wrong in my life. All of the things I continue to do wrong. And I thought of how bad I felt physically and mentally.
And by the time I hit the aid station, I was ready to quit.
Hannah greeted me with her wonderful smile.
"What do you need?"
"Okay.... But besides that, what do you need?"
After alot of pouting and sitting there resignedly (in poison ivy, Hannah cheerfully pointed out) Hannah told me to get my ass back on the damned bike. She gave me a bunch of swedish fish, filled my bottles and gave me a swift kick to the arse.
Like a pouting child, I did. Throwing it around and stomping my foot... trying to show her that I'd DO it, but wasn't happy about it.
Immediately following this aid station is the one hill that I cannot successfully climb on my single speed. Sassafrass is a hike a bike, even for a number of the geared riders. So I walked. My friend Jimbo, who is THE rep for Genuine Innovations kindly gave me a functioning C02 inflator and we walked together for a while. Jimbo, I might also add, once came to my house and threatened, very empathetically, to take me to the hospital if I didn't pull my s*** together. This following a particularly bad episode in my life involving crushing depression and alot of my own blood. The scars have healed. Funny the scars that disappear and the ones that stay.
When I rolled into the aid station, Santiya came up and asked what I needed. She filled my bottles and gave me encouraging words. When she asked how I felt, I believe these were my nonverbal responses:
But honestly... I was feeling better every second. I asked how far ahead of me Greg was. 15 - 20 minutes? I believe he was in a similar state to me:
Rolling out of the aid station, you begin yet another epic climb... this one possibly the most challenging. The terrain is fairly loose and it just keeps going. Greg truly despises this section, but I don't mind it as much. I'd rather climb this 3 times than descend Croyle once.
As I kept climbing and picking off riders, I saw a familiar kit ahead. Amazing! I'd caught Greg. He was doing pretty badly. He was having a hard time eating, which wasn't exacly helping his stamina. From that point in, we rode together, just crusing the rest of the course. At one point, as we descended yet another rock infested trail, I heard Greg let loose the longest string of expletives I've ever encountered. All held together with the anchor word "ROCKS." I knew what he meant.
We rolled to the road and knew we were there.... very happy and content to have finished in one piece.
Then Greg outsprinted me to the line.
As always, post "race" recovery is fueled by the local microbrewery. The campground becomes a bachanal with the perfect backdrop of the PA mountains. This is truly one of my favorite events on the planet, regardless of how I finish and what happens on the course. I'll be back next year.
A special shout out to Chris who puts on the race with Shenedoah Mtn Touring, and to Freeze Thaw Cycles in State College, PA. They are everything a bike shop SHOULD be and everything I wish mine WAS. If you are ever there, visit them.
Also to this guy... who kicked our a**es. Big time. Matt Ferrari, rocking Freeze Thaw's awesome duds.
And a shout out to Hannah, for setting me straight and being a generally awesome girl. When you coming back to work for us?