I got dropped from the beginning. Now, just to be clear, not “dropped” in the traditional roadie sense of the word that implies that my group just kept going without any regard as to if I made the correct turn or was okay or not. I don’t ride with people who would do that. But I couldn’t keep up with the other three, not in the least.
Maybe it was the hike-a-bike-heavy ride the day before. Maybe it was whatever was causing the inexplicable muscle soreness in my right calf. Maybe it was my Friday night caving adventure that was actually way more physically-intense than it sounds. Whatever it was, my legs didn’t have it.
I’ve been lucky. Most of the 50+ mile rides that I’ve done, I’ve felt good going into. I’ve either coincidentally had great days physically or I consciously set myself up for success before long rides by not overdoing it in the days before and eating right and hydrating properly. I’d been doing the latter two, I think. The first one, maybe not so much.
You never feel great in the beginning though, I told myself. Like a diesel engine, it takes me a while to warm up. I usually hit my stride about an hour, hour and a half in. Endurance is my strength. I’m not particularly fast, but I’ll keep going at a steady pace all day.
You’ll feel better in 20 miles.
It’s taken me a long time to not beat myself up about not being able to keep up. I have always felt the need to prove that I belong on the ride, whatever it is, especially in the beginning when I am struggling to hold on to a blistering fresh legs pace set by the others in the group. It’s taken me 5 years to learn how to tell myself to cool it – at mile 50 I’ll be able to keep up just fine. And even if I can’t, chances are I’m not that far behind. And even if I am, chances are the group really doesn’t care.
I’ve ridden with my core group long enough now that we’ve all seen each other through good and bad days on the bike (well, no day on the bike is a bad day; I just mean “not feeling it” physically). At the top of the climb, we all smile and laugh and enjoy the view together. I don’t need to prove myself. I do belong.
Around mile 30, Allen is riding with me and we roll up to Evan and Shannon stopped for a break. We contemplate the fountain of water pouring onto a flat rock and the divet caused by its continuous stream. Then we contemplate whether or not we’re going to add the Jacks Mountain climb into our ride. Evan is all for it. I cringe.
C’mon, you have legs of steel! he proclaims. Right now my legs of steel feel like legs of spaghetti trying to push their way through molasses, but his encouragement is all I need. I wasn’t backing down.
We hit the last pitch of the long, gradual climb up Licking Creek Drive and I actually feel better than I have all day. The descent down the other side is amazing – a mix of everything. We get muddy at the top where melting snow and slush still lingered on the gravel. The road dropped off sharply to the left, offering stunning views of the valley below. The bottom turned to pavement and offered swoopy turns and a final aero tuck into the wind to finish in McVeytown.
The next few miles are a blur, and then it’s time to climb again. I pull my tights up as far as they’ll go on my calves to provide some relief to my sweltering legs. The mid-afternoon sun quickly warmed the earth from a chilly 30 degrees to a balmy 50 or so and I was arguably overdressed (though the wind was still cold). I settle in for a slow and steady grind as Evan takes off to catch Shannon on the uphill.
I glance at the mountains in the distance to my right to gauge how far I’ve climbed, resisting the urge to look at the elevation on my GPS. Jacks Mountain Road is gradual enough that it’s a long climb to 2000 feet but graded enough that it doesn’t let you forget that you’re climbing. Towards the top, I notice a small shanty built into the hillside that I’d never seen before – I’d only descended this side of the mountain, during which I was apparently too focused on where I was going to notice my surroundings.
It feels like forever (it was actually about 30 minutes) but finally, I see the gravel pull-off at the top. Evan is blowing bubbles and we watch them dance every which way as the wind changes direction on a whim.
The rest of the ride involved some nasty headwinds (there’s not much more demoralizing than a headwind), a couple wrong turns and a first-time tour of downtown Lewistown. I finished thoroughly whooped with 71 miles in the books and super proud of myself for keeping on keeping on even when I didn’t feel my best.
Sometimes, you just gotta keep pedaling. And also, mega thanks to Evan for not letting me take the easy way out.