11:35 or Thank you, Boyd Johnson

Funny.  Just yesterday I was talking about how I was about to go into hibernation.  That post finished with me saying, “Sometimes all it takes to get you back going is a good ride.”  Well, I can definitely say I had a good ride, but I have to give the credit to the guys who made it happen.

First I was just hoping it wouldn’t be raining.  It was cool but a little humid.  There had been times of very light rain through the day, but for now it was holding off.

Then I was hoping people would show up for the ride.  As I pulled up to the parking lot, I didn’t see anyone or the cars of the typical members of this ride.  Maybe tonight’s ride would be solo.

I went inside and found Billy White.  He was putting down a Powerbar and looking around probably wondering the same thing I was… “Hey, where is everybody?”  It was good to know that there would be at least two of us.

Boyd Johnson rolled in about the time I was getting my Powerbar finished.  The three of us went out to check the parking lot one last time.  There we found Strad Helms.  Four is definitely better than one.

We headed out at a pretty nice clip.  I was talking with Boyd about his plans to import frames and build up his own brand of bikes.  We also had some of our usual unusual sightings.  One guy passed us on a moped and he had a huge knot on his head.  Another time we saw a guy out running – sweat dripping off him – with a beer in his hand.

It was a pretty typical ride until we made a turn onto a road and I went to put weight on my right pedal.  I heard a twang and felt my leg spin around with no resistance.  My chain broke.  Of course, none of us had a chain tool.

The good news is that we were very close to Boyd’s house.  We removed my chain and I remounted my bike.   Boyd then commenced to push me the distance to his street.  Before long, I was back together sans a couple of chain links.  John James happened by.  Now there were five of us and we were back on the road.

That road led us quickly to Paris Mountain.  We started up and I could sense John had designs to get to the top a bit faster tonight.  Billy and I tucked in behind the three other riders and tried to hang on.

It wasn’t uncomfortable.  I felt I was on the edge of too much, but not quite.  When we reached halfway, I knew why.  We reached that point in just around five and a half minutes!  Hmmmmm, this could be interesting.

As we moved past that point, John eased off to join a rider we were coming around.  As he did so, he said to Strad, “Fall back and let Jonathan on your wheel.”  Strad was a bit confused about John’s intentions and ended going behind me.  It was just Boyd’s wheel ahead.

I figured he (and Strad) would end up riding off to leave me in the dust.  However, I was staying with them.  The difference was I was laboring a bit and they weren’t.

We reached a point where I thought I was going to have to ease up a bit and at that point I realized these guys weren’t going to leave me.  They had plans to coax me to the top for my personal best.  Boyd turned around and coached me to shift down a gear and encouraged me to keep going.

We were at the dreaded blue post section of the climb.  It is the point where I normally begin to lose my rhythm.  However, the realization that I had a couple of guys expecting me to give my best motivated me to do just that.  I didn’t want to let them down if they were going to be there for me.

I settled down and just tried to get some oxygen in me while concentrating on trying to avoid gaps forming between me and the riders ahead.  No doubt those gaps would have come, but Boyd and Strad were keeping the pace just high enough to push me but not drop me.

“Keep your head up,” I heard Boyd say.  “Don’t look down.  It will defeat you.”  I jerked my head up to look at the road ahead of me.  I know it is psychological, but he was right.  I concentrated on keeping my eyes focused on the road ahead instead of myself or the bike — especially the computer!

“Two minutes to go!”  Boyd and Strad were now turning around to check on my progress and push me when they noticed me begin to ease.  My spirits lifted when Strad called my attention to the fact that we were nearing the yellow turn sign that marks the beginning of The Wall.

“Forty-five seconds…” Boyd called, “you’re going to have to stand the whole finish.”  I obeyed.  “Shift down,” he instructed and I put on more resistance.  “Good,” he said.  “Now, stand.”  He had to remind me one or two more times to get off the seat, but for the most part I was pushing hard for the top.

Strad now moved behind me and I could hear Boyd ahead and Strad behind.  They were willing me to the finish.  There was no way I was going to sit up at this point.

“Fifteen seconds,” Boyd was counting the time.  “You can do anything for fifteen seconds.”  I still had enough pride left that I didn’t want to sound like I was dying – even though I felt like I was.  I tried to contain the grunts and whimpers that I felt trying to come out.

Pride be hanged!  I was riding with a guy who just days before had raced up this mountain as part of the professional peloton during the USA Cycling Professional Championships.  Of course I was going to have a harder time making it to the top!  Then there was Strad still calling encouragement from behind.  He races with the Hincapie Development team and my guess is it won’t be long before you’ll find him on one of the teams now racing in the Tour of Missouri.

I let out a grunt and what probably could be classified as a whimper.  That kind of whimper that comes from a kid getting beat up by bullies.  However, I stepped on it and attacked that last kick up to the finish.  Only once did I drop to my seat, but I was immediately up at the command from Boyd.  Finally, I pushed that infernal bike across the line.

It took awhile for me to see the computer screen in front of me.  I’m sure my blood pressure was through the roof.  As it came into focus I saw 11.  That was awesome!  However, I actually felt a chill as I noticed what followed the “:” – it was a “35”!  I had crushed my best time by 30 seconds!

I didn’t know what to think.  A goal I had been trying to break for two years fell on a night when I had no intentions of trying.  The thought crossed my mind what my time could have been without the two nearly full water bottles.  Then I wondered if I could really claim the time since I got it by being paced up the mountain.

I’ll take it.  I worked hard enough to get that time.  Take off 20 seconds as a penalty for pacing and I’ll still have a sub-twelve minute climb.  Of course, as Boyd told me as we eased up on the other side, “The bad thing about this is now you know you can do it.”

I kept waiting for some sort of feeling of elation to come over me.  It never did.  It was more of a matter of fact feeling of relief.  There was no immediate feeling of, “Okay, now I need to get an 11:30!”  No, for now I am happy with having broken 12.

As I helped my six year-old break into the bathroom that had been inadvertantly locked so he could get the all important reach extender so he could rescue a toy out of a hole, it crossed my mind how much more time and devotion it would take to knock off another 10 seconds.  “Thanks, Dad!”  Hey, it is just a number.  If it comes, it comes.  If it doesn’t?  There are more important things in life.