Stars and Stripes Challenge – Part Two

I left off yesterday having climbed the third time up Paris Mountain on the Stars and Stripes Challenge ride. However, to continue with the story of the ride, I have to go back a little bit. It is a story of things not working exactly how you hoped, but then having things happen better than you expected.

(A warning: this one is a little longer than my normal 1000 word limit!)

Earlier in the week I received a call from my friend, Dave McQuaid. He has popped up before on some of my other charity rides. Most notably I remember he and Chris Hartzler showing up in “the-middle-of-nowhere” Georgia to pace me through a hard segment of the Ride for Mike from Memphis to Raleigh.

Here is the bib number for the 2012 Stars and Stripes Challenge

This time he was wanting to help in anyway he could for the Stars and Stripes Challenge. He didn’t think he would be able to ride the whole three laps with me, but he thought perhaps he could meet me as I started my second lap and help pace me to the mountain again. If possible, he wanted to help provide some drafting help along the way. Not knowing who many people might attempt a second or third lap, I was all for the idea.

Sure enough as we rolled down Main Street after the third lap, I saw Dave in his Low Cadence kit. He moved up to the front and began to pull us. However, at the same time, Richard Bailey (a local Category 1/2 racer) also joined us. It turned out that he did much of the pulling toward the mountain with Dave on his wheel.

Then it was time to climb again. I knew that Dave’s best time was around 14 minutes. My mind got a little confused as I wondered what to do. Should I go slower to keep him with me? Should I go with the other riders? Finally, I had to decide to once again find a rhythm that worked for me. It would be up to Dave to stay with me. Besides, I might not go that fast!

Turns out I climbed in 13 minutes. Looking back, I’m quite pleased with that. What shocked me was that coming off the mountain I got a PR. I came off the mountain in 6:50. I chalk that up to two things: 1) changing my line to Boyd’s, and 2) the fact that I didn’t have to brake as I approached State Park Road. Having Richard as a rabbit didn’t hurt either.

David was somewhere well behind me at that point. On this second lap, I was was just staying with John, Eric, Richard and Clark. I was hoping they would stay with me on the third lap!

My trusty Giant TCR Advanced (16.3 lbs) helped keep me going

We slowed a bit in order to talk some. It helped to pass the time as we rolled into downtown. At that point, we lost Richard.

As we came through the start/finish line, there were still people about who recognized that we were part of the charity ride. We got some kudos as we passed. However, it was also obvious that things were just beginning to ramp up for the pro race. We made our last turn left to start the third lap.

I said goodbye to John Cash as we rolled through. Now three tired riders were heading out into the wind to finish a final lap. We didn’t have a lot of talking going on. We were just sharing some time at the front to get us down the road.

Then we came to an intersection and Eric let us know that this was his stopping point. His brother was there waiting for him. Now it was left for Clark and myself to handle the mountain.

It was pretty uneventful those last miles to the base of Altamont. We turned and started up. Stars and Stripes riders on their second lap were now climbing along at their own pace. I’m sure they, like me, were using the “In Memory of” and “In Honor of” signs along the side of the road as a motivator to climb to the top.

I realized at this point that I had not done a good job eating. The hollow feeling of a pre-bonk was starting find its way to my stomach. On the Water Tower section, I told Clark to go ahead of me. This was going to take a much slower pace this time.

Multiple times I took my mind to think of Mike as he was going through his chemotherapy sessions. How many days was he fighting sickness and pain, but he kept going and fighting to the end. 2.2 miles of chosen suffering up Altamont was nothing compared to that.

Finally, after 15 minutes, I crested the climb. I’m sure I looked like death warmed over to those beginning to assemble to watch the pros. My pride wanted to tell them all that this was my third time up and that is why I was struggling the way I was. All I could do though was smile a grimace and keep pedaling.

I caught and passed Clark on the downhill and that was the last I saw of him on the ride. Before was what I thought would be a lonely ride into town. However, as I approached the left turn onto Pleasantburg Drive, I saw a familiar jersey in front of me. It was Dave.

He had made a short cut to get him back to Piney Mountain. With great relief, we stopped at the SAG stop and then Dave started to pull me toward the finish. I had to tell him to slow a couple of times as my lack of nutrition was starting to really pay a toll on me.

Finally, we reached the area of the start/finish. I went to turn to go down the straight to the line and I was stopped. Some USPro staff and a policeman were standing by barriers. I looked at them and said, “Can I please come through so I can finish by crossing the line? I’ve been out there for three laps.” The staff said, “Sure.” The policeman gave a more forceful “No!” I asked one more time and he still said “No!”

I’ll admit I was a little frustrated at that point and said, “Well, that was a waste of all that time.” Of course, that was a stupid thing to say, but I was fixated on finishing that third lap for Mike. It was the lap I was supposed to do all those years earlier. At that point, the policeman said, “You can go down the sidewalk.”

I started down the walk kind of in a mood of frustration and self-pity. Then I saw a break in the fencing. On impulse, I rode through it and set my sights on the finish line. I kept waiting for someone to yell at me. I also realized why they were blocking it off. The pros were being called to the stage to be introduced.

I did have a few staff members glance at me with quizzical looks. However, I rode like I knew what I was doing and like I was supposed to be there. Whatever the case, I made it to the  finish line just a Ben King was rolling past me to make his way for introductions.

I crossed the line and pushed the stop button at 3 hours and 38 minutes. As I pushed the button with finality,  I said to myself, “That was for Mike!” Then I felt very, very tired.

It was now just past 11:00. I was supposed to be at the top of the mountain in 30 minutes to help Timmy, Ted and Craig! There was no time to hang around. I needed to go!

The next thirty minutes or so were horrible. I was slap dab on empty, I pushed my bike through the crowd hoping to find something quick to eat, but didn’t have time to get my included charity ride lunch. Then I remembered that Cleve Blackwell and his SRAM gang would have BBQ at the base of the mountain. I got out of town at around 11:15 and it was that BBQ kept me going on my fourth trip down Old Buncombe Road.

I reached the base and quickly downed a sandwich with a Coke. Then I started up the mountain for the fourth time that day. It struck me that would be the same amount of times as the pros.

Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, I made it up to the top at around 12:10. I found Matt who was helping to organize and asked him what he wanted me to do. He told me he appreciated me making the effort, but he wasn’t sure I was going to make it after trying three laps. He had arranged for some others to step in.

At first I was pretty bummed. It would be really cool to say that I had an opportunity to hand a water bottle to someone like Ted King during a pro race. However, as I stood by the barrier (there was no place to sit down), the day started to catch up with me.

The field came by for the first time of what would be a very exciting race. I hung around a little bit talking with a friend and then decided I needed more food. I rolled down the mountain and started the ride back to Greenville.

I spent the rest of the event eating food and drinking lots of water in the VIP tent. I could watch the TV coverage on the large screens while listening to race announcers from the stage. As the racers entered the city, I would leave the tent and go to the barriers to see them speed pass.

Then the end of the race approached. I knew that George wouldn’t be winning his final national jersey. Still, I wouldn’t have minded Tejay keeping it in the BMC team.

However, then Timmy Duggan moved to the front. I remembered seeing him there Sunday evening unassumingly making crab cakes. My mind saw him sitting there on the steps of a deck getting ready to fill water bottles and do the “menial” work to prep for the next day’s race. I couldn’t help but start pulling for him.

Sure enough, he pulled it off in a very gutsy performance! He did the jersey justice and I’m sure he just picked up a bunch of new Greenville fans. You can’t help but respect that kind of move.

My only regret is that I didn’t make it up in time to be part of the Greenville Militia to help Team Teamless to victory. It really would have been cool to be a small part of it.  But, hey, guys… I really did try!

Then again, it was a wonderful day of an incredible Memorial Day weekend. Come to think of it, I really don’t regret a thing. Congratulations Team Low Cadence! Congratulations Timmy Duggan!

How I spent my time after the ride... getting old, I am!