Lost in the
desolate high country north of Middletown, beneath a sky that looked
like torn tufts of gray cotton, we stood astride our bikes with
water bottles in hand, breathing hard. The wind was picking up.
We had been
dropped by the A's and were long since lost and tired. New pavement
had overwritten the yellow direction markers with black gunk and
stone. A prudent short cut had turned into a long detour.
Now our necks
were cocked back as we looked up at the crossroad sign standing
small and erect beside the gray pavement far above. The sign was
about three-quarter's of the way up the hill and towered over us
like a small billboard on the side of a skyscraper. The intersection
it indicated was at the top and out of sight. We looked small
against the hill.
had agreed to a hatred of stopping during a ride, only to endure the
increased pain of warming up all over. But this was one of several
times today it was necessary to regroup and get our bearings. Mike
was mumbling, "I hate to say it, but it looks like we just made a
So the last
ten minutes had been a total waste...and at a bad time. On the first
approach to this climb Mike mentioned that merely being able to
remain standing when we got to Middletown would be enough for him,
"Forget world record times." Then we had gone right at the intersection...only to loop around and find ourselves at the bottom
again. Doubly tired, we'd have to climb once more and try something
else. I wasn't sure I could make it.
I was first to be dropped by the A's, but pushed for several minutes
more in order to latch onto the second straggler's wheel. It was
"Jerky Mike" of Vernon Bikes and The Bicycle Doctor
fame. He had not been riding much since the birth of his two kids,
now six and one. This was his longest ride this year. I was
returning from six weeks off because of a broken clavicle. We made
our introductions and were off, afterwards came way too many miles
for us both. Over an hour ago it seemed we were almost to our cars
at the Medical Center, but we made
a wrong turn and the hills began.
As the wind
kicked up a little more, we stood up for the next assault on the
steep climb. Visions of Sisyphus danced in my head. Would we find
ourselves here again? Pain welled up in the front of my thighs.
the top, we decided to go straight through the intersection. After
that everything's a blur until we turned onto a major road with long
rolling hills and broad vistas. Mike knew this road led to
Middletown. I told him to go on ahead and not let me hold him up. I
would manage. He pulled ahead and steadily increased the gap.
The wind had
moved to little moments of ferocious gusting as the sky darkened.
Afternoon thunderstorms were predicted. Hopefully the rain wouldn't
be as bad as the day before when Sparta lost bridges and roads.
I spotted Mike a few rolling hills ahead, down in the drops and
pushing strong into the wind, a tiny figure under the tightening
sky. I soon learned that if I got close enough to see him, it meant
a major climb was coming. That tempered the happiness of knowing I
was going in the right direction.
A delirium of
hills, then it was over. I was at the Medical
Center. Mike's car was long gone. I popped out of my clips, coasted over and
leaned against the truck to nudge myself off my bike. Turning round
I saw a rider coming up. It was Louie (Prince of Pain) leading the
A's into the parking lot. I quipped, "What took you guys so long
for coffee (smile)."
Then came the
pay-off afforded by the shortcut turned detour. Louie was telling
me what he'd just done to Matt.
At the crest
of some unnamed peak from hell, Louie had gotten the jump on Matt by
doing a series of five-second sprints punctuated by gear changes and
brief spinning rests. Matt pulled up beside us and added that what
had happened was he'd run out of gears. He was in his small chain
ring and had spun out. By the time he saw what was happening, it was
too late to shift into his big ring...and the Prince of Pain had him.
This is not
an incident to be taken lightly. Getting the better of Matt on a
hill is a mere dream for most mortals. The guy has a well-earned
reputation for spinning effortlessly up massive cliffs as if he's
tethered to an overly quick ski lift.
Plus Matt is
no idiot. As the day's ride had begun, everybody watched him figure
out how to retrieve his bike from the locked trunk of his new car.
Who would have imagined that a trunk key might not be the same as
the door key? Comments much to the point were heard as he jockeyed
the bike through the hole where his back seat had been.
get it out?" somebody asked.
"Matt?...He can do a Rubik's Cube in about three
seconds. He'll get it out," spurted Twin Lynn.
So neither brute
force nor guile offers an easy path to lure Matt past a gear change. Louie's little tip of
"Five Second Sprints" is very strong juju, big
medicine, massive voodoo indeed. You may ask, "What gear does one
use? How many intervals? How do you train for it?"
Had I not been dropped, lost, and toasted with such perfect timing, I wouldn't
even have gotten the summary, so for details you'll have to ask
Louie...if you can catch him!