Monday, April 7, 2008

Yes, I choose to go on rides described as "Death Marches"

This past weekend was sort of a lull in the early racing season in New England. The rest of the NorEast 1/2 team was either racing collegiately, living in Washington State, or recovering from a cross-country ski season. All that was left in the seacoast region, once again, were myself and Josh Austin.

We threw around the idea of doing the Charge Pond Training Race on Saturday, but then we realized two things: That the weather was supposed to be crappy on Saturday morning, and that I was going to spend every Saturday morning for the foreseeable future driving to a bike race - so why start now?

At anyrate, myself, Josh and Drew "Polish Hammer" Szeliga went out for a lively 70-something mile jaunt on Saturday afternoon after the weather cleared up. We could feel winter slowly losing its icy grip on New Hampshire as the sun poked through cloudy skies and shone trees that should, at some point, sprout leaves.

This ride was one of Josh Austin's "creations" on the site For those of you that don't know, Josh works at Timberland. And by "works", I mean he sits at his computer creating hellish rides using Google map add-ons. Which is great for him, but not so great for my legs after spending an entire day going up every damn hill between here and Concord. Drew and I asked him about how he created this ride, and he said "I basically had it go up every road that had the name 'Hill' or 'Mountain' in it."

Thanks, Josh.

So anyway, Saturday's ride was merely a warm-up for what Josh described as his "masterpiece", a 100 mile (or so...depending on whether or not you have complete faith in the accuracy of Google maps) death march up to Gunstock. For those of you who are interested in following along with our suffering, you can see this fantastic map of pain here.

On Sunday I treated myself to a truly righteous ham, cheese and pepper omelet with three cups of BNG's Kenyan blend before spinning into Durham from Dover. When I got there, I saw that Josh and I were accompanied by The Button (sans Energizer Bunny), Bob Gagnon, Larry Driscoll, Tom Pruger and John Healy. From the Whit we headed out to Rochester past the Waste Management Hill O' Garbage - where there were frequent jokes along the lines of "Is this Gunstock?" and "Boy, this is a lot of climbing!"

We hit a few long, gradual climbs before hitting the only convenience store on the ride at about mile 43 or so. This was where Austin busted out his "Bag o' Waffle". This was a little invention he created in Florida. It's quite simple, yet quite amazing. The recipe is as follows.
1. Make a Belgian waffle.
2. Poke holes in it with a fork.
3. Cover it in maple syrup.
4. Let it soak in.
5. Put it in a ziploc bag.
6. Put said Bag o' Waffle in your jersey.
7. Enjoy halfway through a death march.
Basically, the waffle becomes merely a delivery mechanism for the sweet, sweet glycogen that is contained in maple syrup. Austin consumed that, I had my peanut butter and jelly sandwich that had been antagonizing my back for the last two and a half hours and others enjoyed the large cookies the store had for sale. I also picked up a Reese's Crispy Crunch Bar (king sized, of course) for later on in the ride.

Soon, though, the joys of consuming baked goods and soggy waffles would be sucked from our souls as we continued out of the flatlands and began climbing. At this point, there were no more jokes about climbing, as we were smacked in the face after every turn and every rise in the road with YET ANOTHER CLIMB. All the while, Austin had this crazy look in his eye, like a kid in a candy store. Except that the kid eats waaaay too much candy and then vomits all over the back of his dad's new Mercedes.

This was also the first time that I had ridden with a 25 since Tour of the Hilltowns last year, and I've spent all winter grinding up hills with an 11-23. So it felt great to have a few extra teeth up these long climbs. That is, until, The Button came up alongside of me with his 11-23 on and completely demoralized me.

So the ride continued, up Gunstock, down Gunstock. Up another hill, down another hill. Up another hill, down another hill. Until, eventually, people started to lose their minds and proclaim in sarcastic surprise "OH! LOOK! ANOTHER HILL! FANTASTIC!"

If anyone has ridden or driven with me at any point, you'd know that I have a terrible sense of direction and often have no idea where I am, where I'm going, or where I've been. So, I can't give you a mile-by-mile description of the ride. But I can tell you that the climbing started to get really annoying. Also, the fact that the sun and 60 degree weather of Saturday was now a fading memory didn't help either.

According to my poor memory, after Gunstock, there were probably five or six long climbs. Eventually, though, my poor sense of direction hinted to me that we were near Catamount (and thus close to Route 4, and thus closer to my couch in Dover, my TV, and my pile of chicken parm in the fridge) so at this point I loudly enjoyed my Reese's Crispy Crunch Bar. All 500-something calories and many, many grams of fat restored some joy to my cold and tired body. So that was nice.

Also, at this point, it started drizzling.

Thanks, New Hampshire.

Then came Catamount, the final climb of the ride. The last time I went up this hill was in February (and the weather was practically the same...go figure) and had a 23 on, and I didn't go up the road that fast. This time, armed with my 25 and a pair of legs that have already had their first round of abuse from Fiordifrutta, I felt quite a bit better going up Catamount. Not fast, by anymeans, but not as painstakingly slow as last time.

From Catamount, it was back down to Route 4. At this point, Josh and I wanted to go home. Most of the other guys had peeled off at this point, so Josh, John Healy and I tried to go "fast" on Route 4 back to Durham.

I probably could have been dropped by a six-year-old on a tricycle with plastic wheels at this point, though. But it didn't matter, because I really, really, really wanted to go home so I could shower and eat. But I figured attempting to hammer at the end of a ride like this is good training for the summer, when I'll have to go a hell of a lot faster at the end of races that are a hell of a lot harder than this ride was.

Once Josh and I got to Durham, he peeled off and went home, and I began the lonely crawl along windy 108 back to Dover. But this time, something magical happened - I got green on all seven lights that I hit on the way back to my apartment! This is the first time this has ever happened in the history of me living in Dover, so it was pretty fantastic.

It was also pretty fantastic that the Tour of Flanders was on Versus, so I could see what real suffering is like. On most days, I'd like to be Tom Boonen. But when he's doing a 270k race in rain, hail and snow over cobbles...well...I'm really happy to have just finished a mere 112 mile ride and be sitting on my couch shoveling chicken parm into my face.

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