Friday, June 5, 2015

The Other Side of Awesome – The CAT5’s in the Cradle and a View of the Mohican 100 from the Rear

Like a classic sitcom, I have two stories to tell you.  There is an “A” story and a “B” story.  The B story is a secondary story that runs at the same time as the primary A story.  Both stories contain a common theme – me doing difficult things, poorly.  But which is the A story?  You decide.
The "A" Story

The "B" Story

You may have read my last post, wherein I chronicled my recent flurry of bike frolicking.  Last weekend, I took on my toughest adventure yet.  The Mohican 100.
I wasn't last, but I was close.
I didn’t really intend to race the Mohican 100 this year.  I have only raced a handful of times, and never over this kind of mileage and terrain.  True, I ride a lot, and I do long rides all the time.  But this was different.  Still, a week before the race, I changed my mind, signed up, and paid the $125 entry fee.  Little did I anticipate the crack to come.

Almost that bad.  Photo from
I talked to my family before I registered.  I was curious how they felt about it.  See, I sometimes feel guilty for leaving for bike adventures (but only sometimes).  And when I’m not off riding a bike, I inflict my hobby on everyone around me. I make my kids ride with me all the time.  And even our vacations tend to be bike-centric. 

For instance, my oldest son and I started riding together 5 years ago, when he was 11, for GOBA 2010.  I had already been riding bikes for a few years and I thought it would be fun to drop him on the back of a tandem and take the weeklong trip through Ohio. 

And really, who looking at my backside in lycra for a week straight?

We didn’t have many interests in common, but as it happens, we both really like bikes.  So we have done a tour together every year since, eventually rolling in my younger son, then my wife Natali, then my youngest daughter.  As one kid got big enough to ride his own bike, the next kid could be deposited on the back of the tandem.  

I asked Cedric how he felt about my many bike trips away from home.  Despite my angst about being away from the house, his response was elegantly simple.  He said: “It’s normal that parents are gone regularly.”  (My wife, Natali, travels regularly for business too).  The revealing thing about this statement was that, for him, an absent parent is “normal.”  That’s just how it is—he doesn’t have a different frame of reference upon which to make a normative judgment.  This didn’t assuage my guilt, but at least it buys me some time—he probably won’t be mad at me until he’s an adult, in therapy.  He also added that my “obsession with bikes” is “a fairly normal parent hobby.”  God bless him.

I reflected on the bike tours Cedric and I (and later the whole family) have completed, as I prepared for the Mohican 100.  Without all those miles in my legs, I probably wouldn’t be cut out for such a race. 
On race day, Michael Whaley picked me up at 4:30 am for the drive.  Along the way, we chatted about our goals for the race.  While sitting in the car drinking coffee, 63 miles didn’t seem all that intimidating.  And for some of my friends, it’s not – they will race 100 miles, or just go flat out fast over the 63.  But neither Michael or I had done it before.  We talked about finishing times from last year and the MPH required in the woods/on the road to finish in good time.  I hoped for a time under eight hours.  Michael thought this would be reasonable.  He finished in seven and a half.  My day was much longer.
Michael is on my team – Breakaway Quickdirt. 
We have only had a few races so far this season, but I feel great about the team already.  A really fun bunch of guys.  And, there’s a lot of talent on the team that I can learn from, if they can slow down long enough (Nahum and Max – we need to go ride).
Nahum and James enjoy some post-race shade.  Photo via
My son Calvin is on the team too.  That’s because of me.  He didn’t set out to be a cyclist, but as soon as he was old enough, I had him pedaling.  He rides to school with his brother too.
Before the growth spurts
Because Calvin showed some interest in mountain biking, I started taking him with me more and more.  And, this season, since I have started racing, I bring him to races too.
He seems to be enjoying it.  And my teammate Joe Worboy has a son (Mikey), who’s Calvin’s age.  So, we can hang out and ride together.  I asked Calvin what stands out the most about biking and he said “the mountain bike wrecks.”  Like father, like son.  Guess he inherited his skills from me.
He thinks my “excessive bike stuff” is a mid-life crisis.  When I asked what he thought about my time away from home, he said he doesn’t really think about me on the weekends, so it’s fine.  And he’s actually happy that I’m out of the house, because then he gets to do what he wants on Saturday mornings.  Last Saturday, he had plenty of time.  It took me over 10 hours to complete the race.
It’s hard to tell the story of my Mohican 100, because there’s a lot of layers.  I did the “metric” 100, or, about 63 miles.  I was hoping I could finish pretty quickly – my goal was eight hours.  This was based on my best guess looking at the times from 2014. 
When we arrived at the race, I picked up my race number, happy to see that my streak of awesome numbers was continuing.
The number of the beast
The neighbor of the beast
The father of the beast
I started the race strong, although the high humidity and 80 degrees made it hard to breathe.  I was keeping up a good pace on the road out of Loudenville.  It’s hard to gauge your position among 600 other racers, but I felt good and was passing more people than passed me. 

Once we entered the singletrack though, things started getting dicey.  The pack ahead of me was pretty big, so, at almost every obstacle, someone stopped to walk it, causing momentum loss behind them, meaning I had to walk too.  I was burning matches and time walking over things I would normally ride. 

Around mile 5 or so, we had a hard right turn, downhill on some wet grass.  I didn’t see the gravel underneath and wiped out.
Noticing a pattern?
After that, I was in a pack of riders again.  I rode with them for a while, but had to stop to adjust my saddle.  Wasn’t enough, so a few miles later I stopped again.  About this time, my friend Ken caught up with me.  We were maybe at mile 15 or so.  I was glad to see Ken, although I didn’t know how far we’d ride together.  But, as I led, he kept up. 

By the time we reached the first aid station, it was clear that we were going to finish the ride together.  Looking at the time, we were still on track for a sub-eight hour day.  Sweet!  We stuffed some food in our mouths, chugged some liquids and we were off again. 
Trail snacks saved my life
The next section kicked my ass.  It started around the picnic tables at mile 15 of Mohican State Park trail, if memory serves, and included the killer climb after the covered bridge.  But this climb was nothing compared to the long hike-a-bike up the gas line and horse trail that followed.  I think I burned more calories on these walks than in miles of riding, and they actually caused my first couple of bonks.  By the time we hit aid station two, I was already contemplating quitting.

Between aid station 2 and 3 were all sort of a blur for me.  We were still hoping for a eight hour day, but that was slipping away. 
Thankfully, the next few miles included road, so I got a breather.  It sprinkled a little and the rain cooled us down, but Ken was starting to cramp up.    And I was starting to need to eat all the time to avoid fading.  We managed to climb the big road hills, and enter Mohican Wilderness.  This is a rocky trail, made all the more challenging by how slick everything was.  We walked plenty here.  Somewhere in this section, I voiced my thought to Ken that maybe I would quit.  He wouldn’t let me.  “Nope,” he said.  “We’re going to finish.  Quitting is forever.”    I was grateful for Ken. 
Bryan made fun of me for taking selfies during a race.  I told him I was better with Facebook than bike racing.
My wife sent support too.  At each aid station, there would be a new text from her.  “Good luck today!” “Keep going.”   “You can do it!!!”

My wife doesn’t mind my time away from home.  She says it keeps me happy and healthy, plus it’s better than tattooing, gambling or substance abuse – previous hobbies of mine.  And she loves going on bike vacations with the family.  But she could do without all of the “bike stuff” around the house.  “Oh look, you took the last floor space in the basement.”  And she thinks my gear is goofy.  “Why are you wearing elastic sleeves [arm warmers].  Why not just wear a shirt?”  Her only worry is when I’m out and the phone rings – she always wonders whether it’s the hospital. 
But she has started riding mountain bikes too.  She gets it.  And she knew how much I was suffering.

At aid station 3, I was feeling destroyed, but I knew I had to continue.  We were now hoping for a sub-10 hour time.  I guzzled some coke and ate a cocktail of Sports Legs, Hammer Endurolyte, and Motrin. 

Fortunately, I ran into my friend Terry, and also Lori and Chris, who rolled in behind us.  I know all three of these people to be good riders, so it gave me hope that I wasn’t alone in my suffering. 

Lori, Chris, and some creepy uncle
From aid station 4 to 5, we rode with two guys who had been in our sights for a lot of the race, Michael and Mike.  Mike had dropped out of the race last year and was determined to finish.  Michael was super friendly and cheerful and lifted my mood for a while.  Ken was cramping bad and his stomach was upset from the Endurolite or the sugary exercise fuel we had been eating all day.

Michael, Mike, Me, and Ken
We rolled into aid 5 rather cheerfully, but dallied there way too long.  Mike and Michael rolled in and out, as did Lori and Chris and about ten other riders.  When I started moving again, it hurt. 

This last stretch was only supposed to be 6 miles, but the guy at the aid station said it was 8 or 9, which broke my heart.  Still, it was the finish and was through the Mohican State Park again, so it would be groomed and ridable. 

I fell down twice within the first mile.  My concentration was slipping because I was mentally exhausted.  First I went off the path and hit a tree.  Then, I fell on a bridge – luckily not off of it.  Michael happened to witness this, because Mike had stopped to take a leak.  “You got this.”  He said.  “You have ridden a bike a thousand times.  Just ride!”

Time to summon this guy
He was right. So, I pulled it together.  Then came the final climb of the day.  Ordinarily, this climb is manageable.  But just then, I couldn’t pedal up.  Had to walk.  About halfway up, I dropped the bike and sat down on a log.  I had cracked. 
“I can’t do it, Ken.  I am done.” 
“No.  We’re almost there.” 
“Just go on without me.” 
“Stand up.  We’ll walk if we have to, but keep moving forward.” 
I could see he wasn’t going to leave me.  And the ride out would be the same either way.  “OK.”

So we walked a while.  Thankfully, soon there was a downhill section.  And about then, Terry rode up behind us.  “You want a pass?”  “No! Keep riding!” 

Terry and James at the finish
The three of us coasted together for a while, silently.  Then came the sign.  I saw it first.  It said: “Two Miles to Finish.”  A wave of joy rolled over me and a shot of adrenaline.  I can ride two miles.  I can always ride two miles.  
Those were two sweet miles.  We rode flat out, burning up what little we had left.

At the finish line Ken and I crossed together.  My team was waiting for me with cameras and fist-bumps.  What a sight!
After half a BBQ chicken, slaw, rolls and two beers to wash it all down, I was myself again.  So, what did I earn for my troubles?  A pint glass.
The tale of the tape for my race is revealing.  I finished 174 out of 181, with something like 30 DNFs.  My time was 10:24.  The winner finished in 4:50. 

Also, my Garmin had been accidentally set to automatically shut off if my speed dropped below 3 mph, which yielded some interesting data.  My Garmin only recorded 53 miles, which I covered in 6:20.  That means that, in the other four hours, my speed was under 3 mph.  In those four hours, I only covered 10 miles and my rest stops.  The takeaway: the rest stops and hike-a-bike cost me a lot of time (duh!)

Other lessons for next year:
Ride more, walk less.
Put spikes in my shoes for the hike-a-bike (loose and sloppy terrain).
Have a better food plan and a feed bag.
Make sure the Garmin works right.
Stop being fat.
Stop being slow.

Easy, right?

Michael and I chatted a lot on the car ride home.  He had to get back to his family, and me too.

At home, first to greet me was my daughter, with a hug.  She said “we missed you,” and wanted to hear all about my ride.  She cringed at the wrecks and her eyes got wide as I talked about the day.  She got out the bandaids and the antibiotic for my cuts.  I never have to wonder where she stands. 

 She’s riding now too. 

But it’s a wonder she is willing to go near a bike.  A few years ago, we were on the tandem when we got caught in a sudden, chilly thunderstorm.  My daughter was terrified and we had to hide out under a bridge for what seemed like an eternity.  Once the rain let up and we left, it started raining again almost immediately, and we came home soaked and cold.  Plus, she's had plenty of bumps, scrapes, and spills along the way.  Still, my daughter rides bikes despite all of that.  She does it for me mostly, just because it’s what I do. 

I asked her how she felt about the time I spend away on bike trips. She said she misses me when I’m gone.


Be brave, and do it with your family and friends.

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