Monday, April 21, 2008

Don't Forget a Flashlight!

On a sunny and warm afternoon last Friday, I left the scenery-rich town of Durham for a spelunking expedition with Ryan. Unfortunately, I must have misplaced my flashlight while packing, because the cave I explored on Saturday was DARK.


I had been anticipating Battenkill-Roubaix for the past month. It's the supposed largest one day race in the country taking over the roads surrounding Salem, NY. However, as the name implies, this was no ordinary race. The course wound up and down the long, steep hills of Upstate New York on both paved and DIRT roads giving it a slight resemblence to the longer, more famous race, Paris-Roubaix, raced on the pave of Euroland.

We arrived in Cambridge, NY just in time to sign-in for the race. Looking around the small town, it became obvious the locals were eager to make us welcome. Shop windows were covered with signs of encouragement, cow bells were being sold on every corner and each restaraunt seemed to have a pasta special. Sensing the impending pain we were soon to endure, we decided to devour numerous plates of pasta, lasagna, meatballs and salad at a pasta buffet before taking a drive on some of the course.

It's funny how a car can make roads seem so easy. Driving up a hill at 35mph hour takes minimal effort. So, when we found the Saturnmobile was having a difficult time climb over the Twin Tops Mountain road, I suddenly felt the urge to put my head out the window and splatter the rock-strewn shoulder with bits of chewed pasta and meatball. The elevation profile, on paper, looked hard. The elevation, in person, looked deadly. As the car turned the dirt road into a cloud of brown haze, I imagined how my legs would be ripped from my body. Battenkill-Roubaix was going to hurt.


Most races do nothing to steal my sleep. But, as I lay awake in our mountain top host house, Beaver Cross, my scattered thoughts of how I would survive Battenkill made sleeping nearly impossible. I was relieved when the sun shone through the window, and I was finally able to quit pretending I was getting needed rest.

At breakfast, we sat by the window and scanned the lumpy horizon. The hills were laced with tiny roads and pastures. Certainly, from behind a plate of eggs and glass of OJ, the hills were beautiful. Those same hills would later break our legs and minds.

Ryan, Matt and I got to the start line 15 minutes early. The predicted low 70 degree temps were already passing 80. Our team strategy was easy: survive. The heat would prove to be an ugly opponent. So, like everyone, we had our jerseys packed with water bottles and gels. After a quick word from the official, we were off.


The dirt road stared me in the face like a wall. Already 45 miles into the grueling race we had conquered countless climbs on both dirt and pavement. The loose gravel and rocks lead us between two fields. Unfortunately, they didn't farm trees and we were left to suffer with no shade. A bank in the last town flashed 85 degrees on its sign. My brain was boiling. My legs felt like cinder blocks. My morale was approaching catastrophic failure.

Once again, I reached the top of the climb and was rejuvenated by the beautiful downhill winding through the field. But, before I could take a drink and enjoy the breeze, I could see the flashing lights of the pace car going left...and up. Another hill?! Are you kidding me!?! We just climbed a million hills. This was supposed to be a downhill. This was supposed to be a minute for me to rest. But, we're going up!? After fending off the blow from the previous climbs, my morale finally took a direct hit. It seemed I was slowly rolling downhill, backwards, as the front group disappeared.

I thought my race was over until Damien Colfer rode up to me. We worked together (mostly him working and me sitting on his wheel) until we once again found ourselves nestled back in what was left of the peloton. In general, it seemed the mood of the group was rather sour. The day had taken its toll already and there was still more racing to be done.

With a few miles of easy cruising, the pace began to force our small group into a long line. We had passed through the final feedzone and it was only 15 miles to go. Ahead, I saw the orange vest of a marshall. From the dark cloud enveloping the marshall, I recognized this turn would be onto dirt. I jumped to the left and hit the dirt by the front. Behind me, I heard the sound of rock scratching metal. A tube exploded like a gunshot to my left. The soft, beach-like sand covered sharp shale waiting to slice tires. My bike became impossible to control as I struggled up the short hill. In front, I saw a string of riders cranking down the dirt road. I followed until I came to the next climb. Riders from other categories littered the road and served as obstacles to ride around. This clearly was the last straw for many. Bikes once ridden were being pushed. Riders once motivated were now defeated. I rode on.

Back on pavement, four of us joined forces and headed for home. We could see the dwindling peloton ahead, but they were out of reach. We were no longer riding for the win. We were riding to finish. I was riding to get a coke.

After almost four hours and 85 miles, I crossed the finish line. There was neither prize money nor podium appearances. But, I finished. I got my coke. And, I got some sweet tan lines.

Battenkill-Roubaix was an awesome race. In the end, I managed to find myself in 18th, and Matt Rossman and Ryan Kelly were 26th and 27th, respectively. I highly suggest this race to anyone who wants to suffer.

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