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Zwift has me daydreaming

When I discovered Strava, I found a new motivation to ride. Going “Strava segment hunting” helped meet a competitive desire now that I was no longer racing. Then I found that I wasn’t strong enough to beat my own times on Strava, much less up and coming whippersnappers. I’ll admit that when winter 2014/2015 came along, I basically parked the bicycle.

In November I rode my bicycle for all of 7 hours. In December, I rode for three times for less than 5.5 hours. Finally, on January 5, I started finding the urge to climb back in the saddle. It was just soon after that I discovered the online program Zwift. Suddenly, January found me racking up 18 hours on the bike. 11 of those hours came in the last week… and I’ve got one week to go.

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Sure, improving weather was a help, but just as Strava gave a shot of motivation, Zwift did the same. It is kind of hard to explain, but I’ll give a short description here and then let a video I recently published give you more details.

Zwift is part video game and part training tool. You download a program just as you would the latest version of Call of Duty. Once it is installed, you use wireless technology to connect your bicycle’s data collecting devices to your computer. The computer program then uses the data input to control your avatar on the screen.

Instead of this being a first-person shooter game it is a first-person cyclist game. What makes it interesting is that it takes the simple data from your trainer ride and combines it with the virtual world. It adds a new dimension to an otherwise static experience on the trainer.

On the trainer when you increase your wattage you increase your speed. The harder you pedal, the faster you will spin the rear wheel. To mix things up, you typically will use a stop watch to add variety (or intervals) to your ride. This works, but is so often still boringly sterile.

Zwift changes that up. For instance, you approach a climb. Obviously, the virtual world creates a change visually. However, it does something more. As you begin to climb a grade, you notice your speed on the computer readout begins to slow. You also get the audible cue that your wheels are turning less (even though your actual wheels are turning at a consistent speed.) So, if you want to go up the hill faster, you are going to have to increase your wattage.

Boom! There you have an interval. However, it is more than just a stop watch. You now have visual, audible, and self-generated force feedback.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 4.25.01 PMI’m just getting started. To add to the motivation you have dozens of other people doing just what you are. My sons enjoy playing multiplayer first-person shooters on their Xbox. Zwift brings the multiplayer aspect to trainer rides. I’ve already found a consistent group of riding buddies!

I can see where this can go… How about riding a Tour De France route? What about a special interval training course that gives you visual cues to guide you through multiple sets of repeats? Want to ride with your buddy in Italy and chat while you are at it? Just log in with your “race radio” and ride side-by-side.

I even have my own app idea that I would love my software firm, Worthwhile, to build. It would be a phone app that allows you to use the camera function of your phone to bring your body within an outline on the phone’s screen. When you snap a photo of you in your kit from four different angles, you will find your team’s kit rendered on your avatar. This would then be uploaded to Zwift allowing you to enter the virtual world looking a bit more like yourself!

Oh, sorry. So much for a short description! Without further ado, here is the video.

Thanks for watching and get ready for the Zwift experience. Word is that the software should be available this spring. I’m thankful I was able to get in for the beta testing. You can learn more here at Zwift.com.

Strava

Strava Segment Installment: Sandy Ain’t Flat

Soon I hope to put up a short video montage of my recent ride on the watershed. However, on my way there I came upon this Strava segment named “Sandy Ain’t Flat”. You guessed it. It is on Sandy Flat Road and though it is at times flat the road is mostly rolling. On this segment it even has a little bite at the end. Remember… be sure to change the video resolution to HD for best viewing.

Hope these videos give those who do not ride and opportunity to see what it is like. For those of you who do ride, I hope this will give you something to try out. If you are into Strava, my goal is to give you a new goal to try for and perhaps a little knowledge to help along the way.

Thanks for watching! And as always… don’t forget to check out I Do It For Foundation and consider it for your next event.

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Strava Segment Installment: Nature Trail at Herdklotz Park

Sometime ago I started creating videos of Strava segments. The main reason was that I was enamored with the technology that allowed me to overlay my ride data with the video of the event. It gives the person watching the images a better idea of the effort it takes to ride the bicycle.

Feedback has been positive and so I will occassionally get motivated to sit down a create a new one. Here is one from this weekend. It is a favorite segment for those of us who have for years ridden the Sunshine Cycle Shop’s Hour of Power Saturday morning rides. It is a Strava KOM that I would love to have, but one I’ve never managed to land.

In case you are curious, on this attempt I finished in 1:58. That is 13 seconds slower than my best time and 18 seconds slower than John James and his KOM of 1:40 seconds. Consider that as you watch the video to realize how much more effort I would need to put out to capture the prize!

Thanks for watching! Also, for best viewing, make sure you switch the Youtube resolution to HD.

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Our City: Greenville

Here is a little video of Main Street in the city we call home — Greenville, South Carolina. The first part of the video includes a ride over the Liberty Bridge and then up onto Main. The ride ends near McPherson Park on the north side of town.

Greenville is a city full of charitable people. It is a great city for an organization such as I Do It For to grow. We’re grateful to be in Greenville!

Looking over downtown Greenville

I think I know why I ride fast

It is that time of year again. The last big ride is done and the motivation that comes from having a goal is gone. I’m also in that awkward time of wondering what 2015 will bring. Do I try to race? Do I aim for an “epic” event? Do I just let it go?

First of all, I just take a break from it all. I figure I have until Thanksgiving to make up my mind. No need to overthink things. I tell myself I don’t even have to get on the bicycle at all.

Today, it was just too beautiful not to ride. I decided to go out and ride over to my sister’s new house they were moving into today. I snapped a photograph looking out from the top balcony toward the mountains in the far distance. From there I wasn’t sure where I would go. I figured I’d head down that road when I got to it.

Looking toward Paris from Villa Road.I had one more stop before I could decide where the ride would lead me. Turns out I left the carbon brake pads on my bike even though I was now running aluminum rims. So, I headed over to Sunshine Cycle Shop to get some new ones installed. That done, it was time to make the call.

Looking out to the north west from Paris MountainSo, since I saw the mountain from my sister’s place and Sunshine Cycle Shop is only a mile at most from the base of the monadnock, I was once again drawn to the summit. I had been on the bike for about 30 minutes by this point and wasn’t sure how much longer I wanted to ride. However, once I got going, I knew I would have to reach the top.

As I wound my way along the various spurs that looped away and back to the main road, Altamont, I had time to ask myself a question. “Why was I pushing for speed?” I think I came up with the answer, “Distance divided by time equals speed.”

The primary issue for me is that I typically put my focus on DISTANCE. I have a particular route I want to take or some spot on the map to reach. That choice is then effected by the amount of TIME I have. With my schedule, TIME is at a premium. This means to cover the DISTANCE I want to cover in the TIME I have to do so requires that I ride at a SPEED that makes it possible.

That gives me a new goal. Why not turn this formula on its head? Why not put the focus on TIME and then ride at a SPEED that fits my mood? Distance then becomes relative. The only issue with this is knowing what route matches the above. I guess it’s best to do out-and-back routes.

Looking over downtown Greenville

But for this day, I was just happy to find my way to the top of Paris Mountain to look out over the city I call home. Somewhere just to the left of the skyline is my house. I am so blessed to live in this wonderful place. Maybe that is why a 30 minute ride so often turns into a 90 minute one and a 90 minute ride becomes an excursion.

So long, Team Low Cadence

You may notice a major change to LowCadence.com if you haven’t visited in awhile. You might even be asking, “Where did Low Cadence go?” It is true that the brand has gone away and the I Do It For brand has taken its place. That is how it should be.

Team Low CadenceLowCadence.com started out as a personal blog. For years, I used the space to tell of my cycling adventures and mishaps. Some of those experiences revolved around my annual Ride For Mike. Out of living those stories arose the I Do It For Foundation. While the foundation was the main focus for me, I still had some residual nostalgia — and well, pride — in the Low Cadence brand. I didn’t want to see it go.

To work around this I attempted to bring the two brands together. IDoItFor.org would be the site for the foundation and Low Cadence would become a sanctioned cycling club under USA Cycling. The “team” would be for those people who wanted to represent the foundation and support it financially and by volunteering.

On paper it looked like a good idea. It would bring some identity to the volunteers and allow them to have some cool gear. Besides, at that time more people knew of Low Cadence than they did I Do It For.

However, in the back of my mind I had the nagging suspicion that attempting to combine the two brands would weaken both of them. What came from it was confusion and split loyalty. My suspicion became a reality.

I Do It For FoundationThere were some who joined Team Low Cadence because they liked the Low Cadence brand. They didn’t have a clear understanding of the I Do It For mission. Those who were interested in the foundation were confused by the existence of Low Cadence… “What has that got to do with I Do It For?”

I am still very thankful for the people who joined “Team Low Cadence” and recognize that most of them joined to support the foundation. It is for them we are consolidating under the common I Do It For brand. The only remaining parts of Low Cadence will be the URL to this blog and the Twitter account @LowCadence.

Low Cadence is hanging around because of my personal tie with the brand. This blog will help me tell the story of I Do It For, but it will also have some personal posts as well. I look forward to sharing both with you.

So, thanks for spinning along with me and welcome to Team I Do It For.

2014 Ride For Mike (Part 2)

The results are out for the Gran Fondo Hincapie. There was no surprise there for me. My time came in at just over 5 hours and 53 minutes. That is nearly 20 minutes more time that last year’s attempt. I know exactly why it happened.

It all started with the Skyuka climb.

My strategy going into the ride was that since I knew I was not in good shape, I would try to pace myself up the climbs and spend less time stopped at the rest zones. So, I rode on past the first SAG in Tryon. That allowed me to stay with several people who were riding a pace line to the start of the climb.

When we reached it as a group, I moved over to the white line, motioned the others around me, and went into my easiest gear. Right there I put my pride on the shoulder of the road and determined I wasn’t going to push this. I knew the 4 mile and then some climb averaging 9% was only the first step up to an even greater challenge to come.

There isn’t much to say other than I kept plodding along with riders coming around me one after the other. It wasn’t as though I could have kept up with them anyway. Even at this early point in the ride, I was starting to wane.

I was about two-thirds of the way up when Tejay van Garderen and a rider in a Hincapie Devo Team kit came flying past me. As they sped past, Tejay looked back and said something that based on the look on his face was meant to be encouraging. I didn’t catch it, but I did get out the words “Hey, throw me a rope!” as they moved closer to the turn ahead. Then they were out of sight.

I stopped at the top to take a picture. Last year my battery was dead in my phone by that point and I didn’t get one. That view is worth the climb. Yes, it is true, a photograph just can’t capture it.

I also stopped at the SAG just before the descent. I didn’t stay long, but as I was leaving I stopped once again to take another picture. There was no need to be in a hurry at this point. Besides, any delay allowed me to put off the pain of Howard Gap.

Before I could get to that climb, I would have to descend the other side of Skyuka. Here is where I really began to notice the difference between the Giant TCR and the Felt AR. The AR was my bike for the day due to the need for a last moment repair for the TCR. Going through the corners with the aero frame Felt with the longer wheel base was not normal for me.

I had to take it easy and even so, I over-cooked one corner and had to take a detour into a driveway. However, that was better than at least two riders I came upon. One had obviously laid the bike down. There were marks on the road and rider was standing in that stiff post-road rash stance.

I was happy to reach the rolling section that followed. Now my mind was turning to Howard Gap. I was already feeling tinges of muscle cramps. It had taken me 40 minutes to climb Skyuka. Howard Gap was less than half the distance, but with an 11% AVERAGE grade it was going to be tough.

Right away on the bottom of the climb I began to feel my legs cramp. It was as though they had gotten so use to spinning along that throwing them into the fray of climb like this had them protesting and threatening a strike. It wasn’t just my normal calve muscle cramp. It felt like every muscle from my hip down was seizing.

Experience told me to just relax and keep spinning. If I didn’t feed the cramps by tensing and just kept my legs moving, I would find relief. Sure enough the cramps backed off, but like wild animals just outside the ring of light from a camp fire they let me know they could return at any moment.

I didn’t look up. I just tried to find a rhythm. I wasn’t going fast, but I was moving. It was then my phone started “dinging” because my daughter and wife were carrying on a text conversation in a group of which I was a part. As I moved slowly around another rider who was even slower he said, “So, do you ring that bell every time you pass one of us?” I knew better than to make a comment. I figured he might be passing me back before the top.

Yes, I stopped. It was on the final straight section. I still had over half the ride to go. I simply could not cook my goose here. So, I dismounted and began to walk. My focus was on my left hamstring which was teasing me with a cramp. I took my mind off by watch the riders go around me in slow motion. Some were riding higher gears (a good idea!) and they were spinning along, but seeming not go anywhere fast.

I tried mounting one more time with about 50 meters to go, but had to get off and stretch out my leg. Then it was off again. Even though it took me 20 minutes to get up the less than 1.5 mile section, I was in good spirits because I had done it! Yes, Green River Cove was going to be tough, but I knew I could do it.

Time meant nothing to me at this point. All I wanted to do was find groups of riders that I could tag along with. The wind had picked up a little on this beautiful day and riding through it alone would only compound any issues I might be having.

And so it was that I made it to the SAG just before the gorgeous route through Green Rive Cove and to the base of the climb with 17 switchbacks. I spent some time talking with other riders there before climbing back on and getting underway. I was starting off alone.

It was along this stretch of the course that something really started to get to me. I think it had to do with the setup of my Felt. I have to stretch out more over the bike and it was causing me to tilt my head just a little more than normal. Since I broke my neck several years ago this has become the one remaining issue from the accident. I cannot hold my head in a position like that very long without the muscles in my neck and shoulder starting to fatigue.

By the time I reached the climb up Green River Cove I was almost audibly saying to myself, “If I could just stop and lay down my head.” Maybe you don’t realize just how heavy your head is. Hold a bowling ball and extend out your arm. Now, hold it there. Before long your arm will begin to tremble and your muscles will complain for you to drop the ball and give them some relief. That gives you an idea how I was feeling.

Even so, I only stopped once on the climb. Granted, it was my slowest ever time, but once again I rejoiced that I made it to the top. Now it was just time to head home!

It isn’t that the ride was easy. The entire way back to Hotel Domestique, I was fighting the urge to just lay my head down on the stem. The only portion where I felt somewhat normal was the descent down the water shed.

I was completely alone as I made the turn up the final climb to the finish. I felt like I had been out there forever and so the 5:50+ time I saw on the clock was not a shock — I was actually surprised I made it in under 6 hours. As I neared the line Chad Andrews called out in that announcer voice, “And here we have Jonathan Pait!” Frankly, I didn’t want any attention pointed my way and was slightly annoyed by his enthusiastic callout.

However, that annoyance quickly gave way to relief as I turned right after the finish to head back to my car. It was a challenge. Wasn’t that what I wanted?

Well, I got it!

2014 Ride For Mike (Part 1)

I was thankful for the new start time for the 2014 Hincapie Gran Fondo. This meant I was able to get up at my normal weekday waking schedule. Then it was just a matter of getting the stuff I had prepared the night before into the car. In the cool (but not cold!) air of an October morning, I drove the 30 or so minutes to Hotel Domestique for the start of my 2014 Ride For Mike.

The VIP package allowed me to drive right up to the hotel and park within a stones throw of the start. The only hitch I had was with the zipper of my vest. The base came unattached and I fought with it for awhile before finally deciding to ditch it and head over for the breakfast. I could sense my nervousness. However, it wasn’t the riding that made me nervous. It was wanting to make sure I was at the right place and the right time.

The breakfast was in the dining area of the hotel. You could look out of the large pane windows beyond the pool to the mountains in the distance. The sun was just beginning to kiss the tops of the ridges as I downed my muffin, egg biscuit, second cup of coffee, and more fluids.

Probably the biggest perk of the VIP area was not the chance to meet the pro riders who showed up, but the easy access to the hotel restroom. I did see a couple of the pros — though I didn’t speak with any of them. However, I did take advantage of that restroom multiple times before the start!

Then it was time to head out to the start. Another advantage of the VIP pass was the access to the front of the LARGE pack of riders who lined up for the start. It was a chance to connect with folks that I don’t normally see except at these types of events and position myself to avoid the majority of the “scrum” that comes from a mass start like this.

Then we were off. The nervousness was gone now. The weather was AWESOME and I could see the leaders pulling off no more that 50 riders in front of me. This was going to be a good day.

The nervousness returned as we got farther underway. I was riding along in the right lane of the road as the pack got settled into a rhythm. Then I noticed a good number of riders passing on in the left lane. The 50 or so riders ahead of me continued to swell.

I was riding under the understanding that there was a yellow-line rule. What I didn’t realize was that during the “neutral” start, the marshals were creating a “rolling closure.” So, any traffic coming towards us (which was very little) was stopped and moved to the side to allow the pack access to both lanes. I could see this taking place on some of the longer straight sections of the road.

At that point, I decided to work my way toward the front. Sometimes I did this by going in the left lane and other times along the right shoulder. At other times, I just settled in to the middle of the right lane and followed others up through the riders ahead.

I was in this position when it happened. The group was taking up both sides of the road. We were in a slight right curve going down a hill. This allowed me to look ahead to see an upcoming left turn. Because of the vantage point, I could see that on the other side of the left turn a truck had been stopped by the course marshals. Suddenly the nervousness returned — at about 25 mph.

The riders ahead of me in the left lane began to call out — “Single lane! Single lane! Right lane! Slowing!” The brakes of multiple bikes were also calling out the warning of a quickly slowing mass of flesh, carbon fiber, and metal. I began to slow and look for my escape path. The wall of riders before me was beginning to compress as the riders to the left began to move over as the riders approaching the vehicle slowed.

Like an accordion the group compressed. I balanced myself on the bike fully expecting to get hit from behind. I aimed the bike to a small gap while trying to keep my momentum going forward. Just as I thought I was going to hit a rider moving across my wheel from left to right, the accordion released in front of me.

However, it was too late for a rider I could hear very near me but behind me to the right. As I was rejoicing that a lane was opening before me, I was struck once again with adrenaline as I heard brakes squeal and then carbon fiber snap. It is a hard sound to describe, but if you have ever heard it you understand. I can’t help but think of bones breaking.

Once again I just knew I was going to get hit. However, the anticipated impact never came and I rolled away. Just a second or so later an even larger sound of entangling cycling equipment erupted behind me. The sound was slightly more muted by that point as I was moving beyond the carnage.

Later I heard from a rider who had stopped to check on the group that all the people involved were okay, but that at least two bicycle frames were broken in half. At the moment of the event it sounded so much worse. After making my way past the truck (that had stopped, but had done so without moving out of the road), I set my position to the right of the field and decided to not worry about how many people might be passing me!

I knew that the craziness of the start would end when we started climbing. However, there were still a couple of technical sections I would have to make it through. I saw one more near accident as a rider was sandwiched between two others. He did a great job of using his body to protect himself and hold his position while keeping his balance.

Finally the faster guys started to pull away from me while the slower folks were beginning to fade back. Before I reached the first SAG, there was a sizable gap ahead of me and looking back I could only see a few riders interspersed along the way. So, rolling through Tryon, I knew the ride was now in my hands. There wouldn’t be a lot of pacing at this point and the climbing was about to begin.

There would be no more worrying about the riders around me. Now, I just had to worry about myself. I would find that was enough to worry about!

To be continued…

Riding the Gran Fondo Hincapie for Mike

People have stopped to ask me how my ride in the Gran Fondo Hincapie went this past Saturday, October 26. It will help me to sort my thoughts by putting them here. That is if I can get my dehydrated brain to work well enough!

This year I decided to avoid the large start by signing up for a VIP pass. This pass gave me parking place near the start, a breakfast “with the pros” before the event, a massage following the ride and — most importantly for me — a start near the front. It was good not having the pressure of worrying about how to park and making sure I had the fuel to start.

I pulled up a little earlier than I needed to, but I wanted to make sure I was ready. The volunteers were all out working hard in the freezing temperature. I say freezing in the literal sense. The temperature was below freezing here in the foothills. The work they did earlier, at that moment and later is one of the things that made the event enjoyable. As best I could tell, there was only one hiccup in the whole day and that was the sound system went in and out during the start. Of course, that could have been the cold!

After breakfast where I saw Christian Vande Velder and Tommy Danielson (along with George Hincapie, of course), I started deciding what to wear. I knew it would be cold early, but I also realized that by the time we started climbing I would be getting warm. You don’t want to under dress, but you don’t want to over dress either.

I decided to go with knee warmers, my bib shorts, arm warmers along with a base layer under my short sleeve jersey with a long sleeve jersey over that, and topped off by a vest. Under my helmet I had a head cover that went over the tops of my ears. My hands were covered with knit gloves underneath my Specialized long-fingered gloves.

All geared up, it was nice to pull up to the front of the field — well at least lining up with the first hundred or so. Behind me stretched a longer field of at least 1000 riders. I remembered the year before where I had chased hard to catch the front group and was nearly taken out a couple of times. That was my first order of business. Avoid that kind of action!

Then we rolled off. I was really quite comfortable at this time. Though my computer read under 32 degrees, I did not feel that cold. The stillness of the morning played a role in that. By riding in the group I was able to avoid much of a draft getting through my layers.

The only issue that began to cause me trouble was that my head was getting cold. Shortly into the ride I found I could not breathe through my nose. I was doing all my breathing through my mouth. The times when I would take a swallow of water, I would find myself panting trying to make up for that second or so without oxygen. It came back to haunt me later.

I saw George once. He came back slowly through the field as he was making a phone call to the support vehicle to let them know a rider was having trouble. I sat on his wheel for a moment at that point before coming around to follow along with the group. It wasn’t long before he came around me and left me behind.

That was just before we entered Tryon, NC. It was also at this time I began to dangle off the back of the lead group. I needed to take a nature break and get some food. At this point I realized it was going to be a long day.

And so, less than 20 miles into the 80 mile ride, I was on my own. Only a couple of other riders stopped and they seemed to be in even less of a hurry than I was. After mounting up and getting on the road, I set my sights on Skyuka.

Skyuka Mountain Road is a 4 mile climb up around 1,800 feet along a 9% grade. Really, for me it was just something I had to get up in order to meet the real challenge — Howard Gap. To get up this first climb, I just set myself in a rhythm. Just as I started up, I was caught by a group of riders. We yo-yo’ed back and forth as they would surge ahead and then I would reel them back in. Finally, in the last kilometer, we all crossed the KOM line together.

It is funny because at that point, I was berating myself for how poorly I was riding. Mentally, I had already made succumbed to the realization that I was not going to finish the ride in under 5 hours like I wished. That thought was tainting my perception of how I was riding.

As it turns out, I climbed the mountain in almost the same time as I did the previous year — when I was in better shape. Actually, I finished 30 seconds faster than in 2012. I averaged 7 mph up the climb. Of course, Winston David, the fastest climber, averaged 10.5!

I stopped at the top to take a picture. I don’t know if it was the cold or what, but my phone crashed. It was the only picture I got to take from the ride. That is one of the reasons you don’t see and pictures here. Then I stopped at a SAG stop to eat some more before descending the other side of Skyuka.

People talk about the climbing on the Gran Fondo Hincapie, but don’t underestimate the descents on the route. There are some pretty hairy turns to negotiate on a steep descent that builds up a good amount of speed. However, once again, this is a place where the volunteers played a crucial role by warning us of the more dangerous lines.

From that point, the ride was simply a matter of aiming for Howard Gap. I can’t tell you much of what happened on the ride between the two climbs. My body was tensing from the cold. Oddly enough, it wasn’t as cold as when we started, but the wind had started to pick up and I was riding alone. The chill was definitely finding its way into my layers. My dread of Howard Gap continued to grow. I just wanted to get there and get it over with.

I dreaded Howard Gap because last year I didn’t make it up the climb. I had to get off and push my bike up a portion of it. No matter what happened today, I did not want that to happen. Still, the way I was feeling physically and mentally, I wasn’t very confident. To make matters worse, I was beginning to feel a tightness in my calf muscles. I knew I would be cramping before the day was done.

There it was. The start of the Howard Gap KOM. This climb was “only” 1.4 miles long. The problem is it averages 11.4%. This was going to hurt.

I set my wheel pointed straight up the road. Almost from the start, I saw riders begin to zig-zag their way up the incline. I just set my teeth and kept a straight line while trying to keep up my momentum.

It was at this point I drew strength from WHY I was doing this. I was riding in memory of my friend Mike in order to raise money for the I Do It Foundation. The foundation was helping Ellie, Jessica, Juanita, Andrew, Connie and the Slattery family. All these Inspirations have fought or were fighting battles with cancer and harsh situations in life. I took my mind off of the road. I put behind me the thoughts of stopping. I kept reminding myself that these folks couldn’t just “get off the bike” in their battles. They had to push through. I could push through.

I did. Slowly and steadily I made it toward the top while dodging the zig-zagging riders around me. Yes, I was tired, but once again I beat my time from the previous year by 4 minutes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was on pace to beat last year.

With that climb behind me. I really started to fight cramping. At one point along a rolling section of road, I stood to power over a rise. Cramps attacked my left quad and groin muscles. It threw me back in the seat. If this kept up, the Green River Cover climb was going to be rough!

The rest of the ride from there to the final climb was a story of me nursing myself along. I was trying to regulate my temperature by zipping and unzipping layers. At the same time I was trying to eat and consume liquids. Unfortunately, I realized that I had gotten behind on both of those needed resources. This was going to be about survival.

I took a good amount of time at the final SAG before the Green River Cover climb. However, I couldn’t put off the inevitable, so I mounted up and started out again. This was misery. The scenery was wonderful. However, a headwind was pushing through the gorge. Riding along it was tough. I found my cadence getting slower and slower. I was bonking.

Thankfully, a group of riders came around me and I jumped on hoping that I could maintain the pace. What a relief to find that I could hang on to the bottom of the final big climb of the day. At this point, I did not care at all how fast I got up it. I just wanted to get over and head to the finish.

Once again, I let the group leave me and I settled into a pace I felt I could handle up the 2.4 mile climb with 17 switchbacks. I know there were 17 because the ride organizers put signs by each one. It was a help to be able to tick them off. The more I did, the better I started to feel.

Before I reached the top, I had passed two of the riders. At the top, I caught a third one pushing his bike to the KOM line. Now I knew it was just a matter of getting the bike to keep rolling to the finish. However, I also knew that the distance to the finish could be deceptively long. If I pushed to hard just to “get it over with”, I could end up cramping just before the finish like I did in 2012.

I tried to pace myself and catch up with any groups to help me cut through the wind. As we came into Saluda I felt a sense of relief because from this point I had ridden these roads enough to know what was around each turn. Coming down the watershed, I opened it up a bit even picking up yet another PR on the descent.

That was it. By the time I reached the reflection of the water from the watershed, I was toast. A group I had left behind me coming down from Saluda caught me. I tried to jump on their wheels, but it didn’t happen. It didn’t matter, the finish wasn’t that much farther.

I did remember from the previous year that the finish kind of surprises you. It sort of appears when you don’t expect it. That thought gave me a great sense of relief. It was an anticipation that was rewarded as I began to see the signs along the road pointing me toward the finish.

The finish loomed ahead and I followed a group of Wounded Warriors up to the line. I slowed to let them get the attention they deserved and crossed the finish in around 5 hours and 32 minutes.  I do believe that was 3 minutes faster than 2012. The final finish list shows me 180th out of 434 riders.

No. I did not make my goal of a sub-5 hour finish. Yes. I did accomplish my goal of staying on the bike all the way up Howard Gap. Also, though I felt I was much slower, I actually did improve over my 2012 ride. Most of all, I raised over $2500 to help fund the I Do It For Foundation.

I’ll be back in 2014. Like a moth to the flame, I am drawn back to the suffering. Of course, I always tell myself, “Next year will be different!” I’m sure it will be, but probably not in the way I think.