Friday, August 21, 2015

The Mayhem

Captain Slow accomplished something special back in July.  He went balls out to crush demons and history, all while narrowly avoiding killing a tequila bottle.

Boy still thinks he might not be that fast.  He's a liar

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Captain Slow Rides a Mayhem
To get ahead, one needs a plan. So I set two simple but crucial goals for 2015.
1. Complete Michigan Mountain Mayhem 200km road ride
2. Not suck at Iceman

All of this is about point 1 because we won’t know until November, about the other.

One wintry night a few years ago, I was hanging out in my kitchen with my instigator neighbor Jim, and with too much wine in me, I agreed to a stupid plan. Let’s get in shape and do a road ride in Northern Michigan, near the ski areas, in mid-June. There are some hills. 10,000 feet of hills actually. (Yeah OK it’s Michigan. Up 600, down 600, rinse, repeat. Still counts.) And the ride is 200km. So why not, I like a challenge, and I need to get back in shape. And, mostly, wine.

This was 2013. I trained, a little. Not even near to close to enough. I showed up. I faked it. I bailed out and did the 100k loop while Jim and Mike did the full ride. I finished, and I was proud of that, because, bail notwithstanding, it was the hardest 100k course I’d ever been on, and I knew that I hadn’t done the work. The guys said nice job anyway.  But, a hollow victory. I had proven to myself that I am weak, slow, and stubborn. Only one of those is going to get me anywhere, and by itself, it’s not enough.

Last year, I did the same thing and was less proud. Well not at all proud really. I trained I think a bit more. Still not enough. Signed up for 200k and rode 100k. Again. Crossed the line and immediately went to the timing tent to report my fail, so my time wouldn’t screw up the 200k rankings. Again. Waited the extra hours for Jim and Mike to finish. Again. Drank 1 beer and rode the bike 2 more uphill miles so I could move the car to the finish line, again, because slow and weak is no excuse for asshole. Drank more beers and got bitter. Congratulated the guys on their finish and felt worse. Went home and told my family what had happened. I could feel the question “why are you even trying to do this?” hanging in the air. Hell maybe I put it there myself.

Faking the same thing the second time around shows less excellence in, well, everything except fakery.

Now I had two expensive T-shirts that I couldn’t wear. One says right on the back, “Can you handle 10,000 feet?” No. I could not. The other one doesn’t say that, but remains living proof of the same fact. I am not of Mayhem caliber. Shirts stay in the drawer. And churn drives them to the bottom of the pile.

So January 2015. This must be the year. Has to be, if I am going to continue this pretense. I buy a bike trainer that can simulate elevation profiles, and I upload the Mayhem course, and ride it. Hours and hours of work. Riding different sections each day, watching my dot move on Google Maps. I learn the roads, the turns, where the worst hills are. I work and sweat and obsess over watts and seconds and fractions of mph. Mostly I sweat. Salt stalactites form on the bike. My family becomes less enthusiastic and more confused by, or afraid of, what I am up to. Body fat slowly turns into hope, which weighs less, so that’s good. But is it enough? After 4 months of this self-created hell, I’ve completed the Mayhem course a total of 7 times. That’s a lot of trainer miles. But for the actual ride, I won’t have the luxury of overnighting at every aid station along the course.

Spring takes a while to come to Michigan, and it usually arrives wet and sloppy. So there are not as many good outdoor riding days before June 13, as one would maybe expect from, say, looking at a calendar. And I am getting a little over the top with the daily trainer rides and making little hash marks on the course map that is taped to the wall each time I cross that virtual finish line again. I could ride outside? Hmm it’s wet and cold. I might get wet or cold. Can’t have that. But if I ride inside 2 more times, I can make another mark.

Still, I do get outside, which is good because as good as the trainer is, it’s not all that, compared to reality. Real hills are more nuanced um harder, you have to deal with wind, and the crushing psychological blows of dropping to 5mph as you climb a steep hill are lost in translation when it’s just a number on a screen.

I do a few road rides alone to work out the kinks and try to recalibrate. First time out I go right for the longest hardest hill loop that I train on, crush half of it, and explode. Next time I pace a little better and force myself to consume actual calories on the bike, by spoiling my clean refreshing water with lemon chalky grit. Maybe it is orange chalky. I can’t really tell. Since I can never remember to eat on the bike, this is the only way. But it seems to help. Apparently muscles require ready fuel for long efforts. Who knew?

I manage to work in a couple of good training rides with the guys. Mike has done this ride with us both times before, has always been the fastest, and proves this by dropping me, decisively, on every climb. But I am maybe in less pain than before and was that Jim dropping off my wheel just now?  Still back there? Maybe during the ride Mike will take pity on Jim and we can ride at a compromise pace and I could maybe hang on?

The week before the ride, Jim gets the flu. Not the bullshit virus we all call flu, the bad, real flu. He recovers but is not ready to ride. Not expected to ride. Now it is just me, and faster Mike. And, as I find out in the same text, another girl Holly, whom I’ve never met. She is young and fit. She’s doing the 100km but will be starting with us. Shit, what if I get dropped by BOTH of these people that I barely know?

The afternoon before the ride. We meet in a parking lot, and while we are loading the bikes, Jim rolls up to present us with a gift box of Don Julio tequila. We had acquainted ourselves with the Don the previous year, in the appropriate pre-ride dinner fashion. So it now becomes part of the ritual. Jim makes many challenges regarding the use of the tequila. Amounts, times, demands for photographic proof. With that done, he goes home to rest.

So off we go to Boyne City. Holly drives separately, so for 4 hours it’s me and Mike awkwardly not talking much in the car. I’ve told this part of the story before, and guys understand. Girls say “what, were you nervous, like on a date?” Well of course not. But you don’t want to be too talky, or too quiet, or really say anything that was supposed to be funny but turns out dumb. So, um.

Check-in. Do people need to show up in full riding kit the night before the ride, to pick up packets and maybe hit the beer truck? We didn’t get that douche memo. We pick up our stuff, down a beer, and head to dinner, where we side step our first tequila challenge (shot-upon-arrival) by sending a photo of a few Don margaritas and the fabricated explanation that civilized cyclists consume tequila in glasses, with ice, laced with hydrating elixirs by professional mixologists, and delivered with a side of Mexican food. That argument does not go far. The retort challenge is a bedtime shot, with photo.

Which is why I end up carrying the still-boxed tequila into the condo, really quite sober, and then proceed to trip on a poorly placed, put your winter wet boots in this, rubber tray. But since I am using both hands to carry my valuable cargo, I have nothing with which to break my fall except my legs and a side table. Hard bang on the knee, big ouch, start to kid myself this is NOT a problem NOT at all. Nope didn’t see any blood taking off my jeans before bed.  Certainly not THAT much blood. Trick of the light.

Nobody does the night time shot. I could have left the tequila in the car. Little sleep that night. My knee hurts. A little. Maybe a lot. Doesn’t matter. Must ride. No other option.

The 6:30am breakfast shot goes down better than expected, video is sent, and we head on to the start. It is a timed ride but you can start whenever. We get going, find a pace, work together. Holly doesn’t know from pacing, so she is all over the place. But I figure that out and let her bound to and fro, like an excited puppy. I take it easy on the hills and let Mike go. And catch back up on the flats and downhills. It’s working, so far.

The second aid station on the Mayhem route is about 30 miles in. This is where the 100km ride splits off from the other two, a 100 miler and the 200k. This is my traditional unplanned-bail point. After the split, the 100k route heads up a long slow hill that crests at the Antrim Country Airport, which in my mind shall always and forever be known as the Airport of Shame.

We relax for a bit, and then with some encouraging words and what I believe to be good course info from my own memory, Mike and I send Holly off to her Shame. We continue. Effectively. Trading the pull, getting over the hills, pounding down some miles. I am still letting Mike pull ahead on the steep hills and catching up on the flats. It is still working. This may all be OK after all.

Then he is not pulling me on the hills.

Then he is not matching me on the flats.

I begin to worry. Not for him, he’s got that. This is pure self-interest. We need to do this together. It is hard to ride alone and the fast groups are long gone. Now it’s just us. Has to be.

At mile 70 Mike has had enough. He cashes in and turns off to finish the 100 mile route. I send him off with my car key and a maybe not so polite reminder that the car belongs in the finish area. I enjoy a few moments of elation. I rode this guy off my wheel. I am fast. I am strong. I am awesome!

But wait. I am not done, really not even close. To get done, I have to ride 50 more miles alone, the wind is picking up, and some of the worst hills are yet to come.

I could be awesomely fucked.

Now it all becomes mental. Fucked is subjective. Pain is subjective. I will decide how much I am hurting and how badly I am fucked. But neither one is important because I am going to PREVAIL. I am going to FINISH. Just by riding the bike. Turning the pedals. Pace. Grind.

I catch a strong tail wind, bang out some more miles, going well. Flying along really, but I know it won’t last because the course is going to turn. I pass some guys that are too slow to work with, and then can’t quite hang with a passing group that could have been a big help. That was probably the last pack of 200k riders, now it’s just you, alone, forever.

The turn. Now head wind and lots of hills. No more bail out roads left. No shorter course. It is riding, or sitting at the side of the road waiting for a van. Vans are not subjective and cannot be argued around. Therefore not an option. Two wheels will deliver me across that line.  Not four.

The leisurely aid station stops with the group are no more. I am doing pit stops. Off the bike, fill bottles, back on the bike, go. No point in walking around or stretching out on the ground for a big old cyclist nap. I will cramp, time is short, I need to ride.

Naturally, one of the worst hills is right near the end of the ride. It consists of a 3 mile grind that gets steeper as it goes, followed by a quarter mile pop of WTF is this thing doing in Michigan. There is an aid station before it all starts, so you can pause to fill your water bottles and properly start to fret. Here I meet some Ann Arbor guys who are paying proper respect to the Wall by planning to ride the 3 mile intro as slowly as possible. So this becomes my plan as well, and for a while we ride and chat. It is nice to chat, I’ve been alone for hours. Then they drop me anyway. Maybe I am out resting them?

The Wall hits 18% and that is steep. I’d made it up the first year (how?) and walked it the second. Both times with 60 fewer miles under me than today. This time, I’m not at all sure that I am capable of walking, so decide that I must stay on the bike. Therefore the bike must always move and not be falling over. So as the road rises up, I follow imaginary switchbacks, tacking back and forth across both lanes, at walking speed, gaining a few feet at a time.  At one point a stronger guy goes up on the actual road line (that is, straight up) and while I may have offered encouragement, my principal reaction is annoyance that I must alter my slow and wavy line to let him by. The next day, I note that the data from the bike computer says that the ascent took me two and a half minutes. Or hours.

I make the top. Leg cramps hit, that’s real pain, not so subjective. I want to stop but fear that would be the end. So I drink some more foul energy concoction, and try to spin back up. Hey I made it up the Wall. I cry a little. Not too much, must stay hydrated and save some for the finish. Only 6 miles to go. I think this part is easy, I think I remember that from before. What I told Holly. Well maybe after this hill. Or that one. Nope, I am full of shit, it’s just going to keep on coming. I gave Holly bad post-Wall info. Right now she must think I am an asshole. No you idiot, she thought that HOURS AGO because she is already done. That bitch. Grind. Asshole. Grind. That ridge on the horizon has to be the other side of Lake Charlevoix. Which means the finish is before the horizon. So I may still make it. Grind. The computer clicks over actual 200k, and while I know that’s not the end, never was, wasn’t supposed to be, I get mad anyway. But, grind more miles. And finally a downhill, and I know this one, it’s the real end. Roll back into town and there is an inflated red arch at the line and bunch of riders and spectators who are cheering everyone in, and THAT is what is awesome. I cry some more.

This time I could look at the bike computer. 128 miles. 9,662 feet. 8 hours on the bike, 9 on the course, with stops. The computer didn’t say how many times I bent my left leg, but that knee hurt every one of them. Tequila always wins.

None of this, except maybe the pit stops, is remotely competitive in this race-not-a-race. But not a DNF, not a DFL, not a van, and I did not see that airport this year.

It's not a race.  Just a ride with numbers and a timer
Proper behavior from a sick ride mate...send fancy booze 

DC Kit.  Enough said
Proof, demons slayed.  Time to eat

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