Livin' the Dream

Livin' the Dream

About Me

I am a sophomore at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, majoring in journalism. My passion is cycling. I am a category 4 bike racer and my absolute dream would be to turn pro one day. My more realistic goal is to become a journalist for the sport of cycling and eventually move on to become a broadcaster for the sport.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Day in Heaven and Hell: Part One

On Sunday September 29th the already great cycling town of Harrisonburg, VA became infested with cyclists, all here to ride Jeremiah Bishop’s Gran Fondo. The group ranged from adventurous cyclists to the hard-core amateur racers to the pros, the lucky ones who get paid to ride their bike. Not to mention nearby pros Ben King and Joe Dombrowski, not just any pros, but big time pros riding for the top teams of RadioShack-Leopard-Trek and Team Sky, respectably. Many in the large group of riders would tackle the feared Alpine Loop, with 4 main climbs, 107 miles, and 11,000 feet of climbing. It was going to be a long day in the saddle.

Nervous Energy

            Living just minutes away from the race, on the campus at James Madison University, I had the pleasure of riding straight to the start. With the 8 am start I set my alarm for 6:30 so I could get a big breakfast and have plenty of time to get ready. I had already picked up my number and timing chip the day before so I could get that extra few minutes of sleep. I have to say trying to go to bed early on a Saturday night in a college dorm is a little challenging, so to say the least I did not get the best night of sleep. When I arrived at the start many people were already there getting ready. It was a toss-up as to what to wear due to the cold morning start, but the forecast said it would heat up come afternoon time when most of us would be finishing. I chose to wear just bib shorts on the bottom, and on top wear two layers of Nike, one short sleeve and one long sleeve, and then a summer jersey on top. It was a good choice—I never shed any layers except my gloves and was not too hot at the finish. As I rolled around the parking lot looking for people I knew I saw Joe getting ready and came upon a good friend Gonzalo. I was pretty excited to ride with him because we had “thrown down” together a couple of times at the CycleLife Thursday Ride. As 8 am neared, we were called to staging. Even though there were multiple routes everyone would roll out of town together. I made sure to get a spot up front so I could ride with pros, at least until they dropped me.
Rolling out of town and riding up front with Jeremiah and Joe.
Pretty amazing how far the pack of riders goes back.
Photo Courtesy: Jeremiah Bishop

The First Test

            The first serious climb did not begin until about 20 miles or so into the ride, but from the start I knew it was going to be a tough day for me. My legs felt absolutely awful. They were heavy, fatigued, and I just could not produce my normal power. When the group hit the first climb the race was on. For one glorious moment I was on Joe’s wheel before I popped off settling into my own suffering pace. I knew the climb well having trained on it many times before. I was going as hard as I could go, but still everyone just kept on passing me. The 4-mile climb seemed to go on forever. I knew the descent well and because there was an aid station at the bottom I knew my chances of getting back to the pros was pretty good. As I pulled into the aid station the pros were just picking up their bikes to roll out so I did a 180 and rolled out with them.

Who Makes a Road This Steep

            The next climb on the list was the feared Fultz Gap. It’s 2.9 miles with a 9.3% average, climbing 1300 feet. Oh, and by the way, it’s also gravel. The group I was with rolled slowly towards the climb chatting. As we came around a bend at the base of the climb a gravel wall loomed over us. The climb was absolutely brutal. I stayed with the group for about three fourths of the climb and then popped off. The pros went up the climb chatting away as if it were a normal training ride, while I was red lining. By the top of the climb my legs were finished, I was pedaling squares, and most of the miles were still in front of me. As with the first climb I bombed the descent, taking many risks on the corners in an effort to make it to the aid station before the pros headed out. I didn’t know the descent, never having ridden it before, so I just channeled my inner pro descending skills. It worked because when I got to the aid station the pros were still sitting around chatting. I got the chance to refill my bottles, get some food, and talk with a bunch of my buddies from the Miller School of Albemarle who had made the short trip from Charlottesville to tackle the Alpine Loop.
Fultz Gap is brutal. I'm somewhere
behind them suffering like hell

A Push From a Pro

            I rolled out of the aid station with the Miller guys. I looked part of crew with my high-viz Charlottesville Bike Camp (CBC) jersey, which looks remarkably like the Miller School team jerseys. The coaches of the Miller School team run CBC. I rolled along easily, enjoying the fresh mountainous air. Everyone along the route was kind of taking a breather and enjoying the scenery after those back-to-back difficult climbs. Ben King eventually joined up with us, which was pretty sweet. The third major climb was a long one that wound its way upward. It didn’t become steep until we neared the top of the climb. The pace lead by Ben was pretty relaxed, but my legs were absolutely fried. It was just one of those really bad days. Had it been a training day I probably would have cut the ride short, but this was the Alpine Loop and I was going to finish it. Toward the top of the climb I popped off the back. Ben, who saw I was suffering, dropped back to push me back up to the group. I was really appreciative, and yet pretty embarrassed. For me, being pushed on the bike feels like cheating and I am not a cheater. I accepted his gesture of good faith though and got back up to the group. The second time I got dropped I told Ben and the guys to just go on ahead. I told them “I’ll get back at the aid station, I always do” and I did.

Coming up in Part Two

The Dark side of Reddish Knob awaits. At roughly 12 miles, 4.2% gradient average, and all on gravel. It defines the Alpine Loop and boy is it an adventure. I find the Miller boys, attempt to pump my tires to my weight, Hayden gets lost and oh so more. After hours on the bike the mind begins to go……INSANE!!            

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