Sunday, September 23, 2012

The 2012 Tour Part II

So now it's on to the ride.  I know at the very least, Tim Joe is itching to find out how the actual Century went so let us begin at the beginning.  The very early beginning.

After the calamity of Friday, I finally got to sleep sometime before midnight with my clock set to go off at 0300.  Now if that sounds ridiculously early, believe me, it was.  The plan was to head out with my (previously loaded) truck to the site, get unpacked, set up and ready to go without the mad rush of last year.  Nice thought anyway but as usual, it didn't quite work out that way.

Although the alarm went off as intended, it took a while to roust  my younger son and his buddy; (one of the neighborhood strays that hangs at my house and keeps my 'fridge running on empty) out of their racks and into semi-consciousness.  I told them I'd hit the door early...

Breakfast, riding kit, last minute checks and more coffee were done and at last, it was time to hit the road.  Just as we were about to start engines and taxi out, said stray announced calmly that he didn't have his signed parental waiver form, even after I had asked about oh...four or five hundred times the day before if he had all his stuff together.  He may never know how close he came to a near-death experience.  His answer to my unbelieving stare was that I could just sign one for him.  I was forced to explain that although I feed and house him on a regular basis, I am not a legal or biological substitute for one of his real parents and hence cannot sign any kind of document in that capacity.  He'd have to wake up his Dad and get it on the way.  The fidgets began in earnest.

Fortunately, the father's house was on the way so we made the stop for the missing paperwork with only a minor detour and then hauled off through the early morning fog for the Tour site.  It was just about getting light when we rolled in the parking lot to unload.  The plan went a little better for a while in that we got the pop-up tent put together, tables set up, assorted boxes of team stuff spread around and the truck parked before the rush of sign-ups began.  I got myself registered and tried to look 'captain-ish' while at least pretending I knew what I was doing.

People started showing up pretty early for the Century since that was the first group set to launch at 7:00 am. I ran around talking in twelve directions at once and probably making absolutely no sense to anyone.  Sort of like my normal day.  We made a valiant effort to get everyone together for a team photo and then most wheeled off to the starting line.  My sister was manning the team tent and had all under complete control so I had time to locate my helmet and shoes which had vanished in the rush.  By sheer dumb luck, my phone was in my jersey pocket as intended but true to tradition, I couldn't find my truck keys.

The sun was burning off the fog as the 100 milers got set for takeoff.  And at last, after all the months and hours, the Tour was off and running.  Things were looking up.  There's a whole bunch more photos on our Fb page over here.

On three of our Tour routes, the cool, flat streets of Watkins Glen quickly turn into a long climb out of town that puts the burn in less-than-warmed-up riders early in the game.  That first incline is great for some as it gives the young and better conditioned an opportunity to show off their big-ring abilities for those of us who are old and ride triples.  I just settle into a low gear and spin along while the ambitious jump off the saddle and mash the pedals up the hill.  The sight of many high-zoot exotic bikes disappearing into the distance is depressing or inspiring depending on how you look at it.  Depressing because I can't climb like that; inspiring because having done this before, I knew I'd catch some of those same hammerheads in about 60 or 70 miles when their legs gave out.

It stayed cool all the way up the hill so the climb seemed easy even if it was a little slow.  I took it easy and sort of floated back and forth in the pack just chatting with different folks as the first miles fell behind and the sun got higher and warmer in the east.  My cell phone stayed quiet so I assumed everything was falling together somewhat as it should and began to hope we'd make it through the day without major crisis.  Memories of last year when Penn Yan closed the main road through town just as the Century riders arrived were in the back of my mind but so far, so good.  An ever-more insistent burning sensation reminded me that I'd neglected chamois butter.  I hate it when that happens.

Rest stops came and went until suddenly, I was halfway around.  I'd eaten enough peanut butter sandwiches and Stinger Waffles so I actually felt pretty strong for running with a couple of teammates that were averaging about 17 mph for the last 15 miles.

I'm too old for that kind of pace however and I knew I couldn't keep it up and have a hope of making it back so I switched off to another set of riding companions and just cruised along into another rest tent on the east shore of the lake.  I'm pretty fond of this spot because it's in the middle of Samson State Park which used to be a Navy base back in the 40's but now it's miles of old roads weaving around the campgrounds and boat launch.  How a major naval installation came to be so far from the ocean makes a lot of people wonder but I guess water is water.  I guess there probably wasn't any U-boats in Seneca Lake to worry about either.  I always try to picture how it must have looked when it was all groomed and busy back then so it appeals to my history-nut side.  I'm easily amused.

The legs were starting to feel it but apparently something was going right because "The Man with the Hammer" was still quite a ways behind me and it was looking like I might make it all the way around without him surprising me somewhere.  I did however know the guy who built the route so I knew what was coming...a couple more good climbs and a steady uphill run until the road reaches the top of the ridge.  I nearly bonked along this section when I first rode the loop to check it out so I'm leery of over-achieving.

Leaving the stop at the park, you ride a couple of miles along a bike path in the woods.  It's a little rough but it gives you a break from watching over your shoulder for vehicles so it's a relaxing jaunt through the trees.  I was almost to the gate that lets you back out on the road when I spotted a familiar giant strolling up the trail.  Here was my original riding partner, the legendary Doc Annabel; now afoot and nursing a banged-up elbow but Doc nonetheless.  He drove up from VA to ride regardless of the fact that he couldn't make a Century this time and I had yet to see him until he came striding along.  Some things never change and running into the madman was like we'd been out riding last week instead of last year.  My companions left me there shooting the breeze with Doc and by the time I saddled back up for the climb away from the lake, I felt like I could go all the way around again.  Good friends will do that for you.

So now I was riding alone and so my attack on the ascent was at my typical little-ring rate; which may not look as cool as standing up, stomping the pedals and snorting like a bull at full charge but saves my weary legs to fight on for the last 30 miles or so.  The wind was quartering off my stern which gave a nice break anytime the road leveled out a bit and the anticipated false-flats fell behind until the last stiff climb appeared in my sights.  It's really not a big deal unless you've been up since 3 am and have 75 miles under you already but it looks evil and nearly did in the Good Doctor last year.  I got down in the old-guy rings again and chewed my way up the grade.  I know that the top of this one is pretty much the top of a ski slope on the run for home.  There's a couple of little rollers but the trend is downhill and downwind from here with one last rest-stop to refuel and load the water bottles one more time.

It happens that that last stop is at a winery that also happens to make my favorite wine so a pause there is always a temptation.  Prudence won out again though since I know what would happen with one sip of a wine tasting at this stage of the game.  Complete and utter collapse would ensue if I ever put wine on top of about 15 PBJs, 6 tubes of Shot-bloks, a pocket full of Stinger waffles and 90-something miles.  Oh yeah, it'd be ugly.
Besides, who wants a bad-smelling, sunburned, windblown, pony-tailed F.O.G. (Fat Old Guy) with funny shoes tottering up to the tasting table?  I deemed it best to pour down some plain old water at the tent and get out of there before my self-control went on ahead without me.  I hooked up with another teammate and settled into the drops for the run to the finish.

The last blast is always a ball.  It's downhill with one pitch at the end that you can make almost 50 on if you tuck in and let gravity have it's way.  Then it's busy streets and traffic again for the home stretch.  A confused looking guy nearly did me in on the last left turn when he couldn't make up his mind whether to stop in the crosswalk ahead of me or bolt for the far side.  We danced a little dance that could have ended badly but between my fizzled-out reflexes and his desire to avoid skinny tire marks across his grubby T-shirt, we avoided each other somehow.  With no further adventures, we rolled under the balloons to a couple of cowbells and that was another one done.  The massage people were loading up their tables.  Someday, I'm going to get one of those...a massage, not a table.  You know what I meant.

I wobbled over to our team tent and started checking to see who was yet to come in.  There was a group of 65 milers and a couple of Century riders still out so I pestered the HAM radio guys to check on their progress, trying to decide who we'd ride back out to meet.  In short order though, the last 65s cruised in and that left only the 100s.

True to form, a bunch of us put stiff legs back over bikes and got back on those ass-hatchet saddles one more time to go bring 'em home.  We met our tail-enders just coming into town and swung the pack around to give them an escort.  Also as usual, we managed to block traffic and take up the whole road for the last mile, whooping it up and jostling Charlie to the front to lead us across the line.  He'd just made his first-ever Century despite being our oldest teammate and he deserved the honor.  We cheered like kids.

And so it was over once again.  We had the best weather you could ask for, the best people to ride with and one of the greatest events around.  I was worn out but I think I managed to be semi-coherent while we packed up the truck (I even found my keys) and headed home.  A bunch of us lolled around on the deck and told stories over burgers till it got dark and nobody could keep their eyes open.  I couldn't even unstrap the bikes off the truck.

Now that I'm posting this (a month later), I'm already planning on next year and another team.  We'll do it again, bigger and better.  But for now, the leaves are turning and it's pretty cool at night.  The Tour is both in the past and in the future and I'm just grateful for everyone who rode and helped.  They're quite a bunch of people I've found in this little adventure.  Yeah, it's worth it...and more than anything, so are they.