of sunlight slanted through the chalky fog and highlighted riders
strewn in disarray along the rise before us. Scattered about they
all struggled to reach the summit.
shocked me. I could never have imagined finding so many in this
remote spot. The hill had caught them and held them for our arrival.
Some seemed motionless standing on their cranks. Many were at odd
angles to the slope: facing left and right they weaved diagonally up
the groaning hill. Small groups were dispersed among the solo
climbers which accented the lurching wobbling angles of ascent.
There was no rhyme or reason. Road bikes amongst mountain bikes,
touring bikes with panniers, riders dressed in full gear, riders
dressed in street clothes. Some walked stumbling and pulled their
We were many
miles into the McQuade Fall Foliage Tour. The Monday Night Recovery
riders know this climb as "Heart Attack Hill." I know it as several
brutal bursts with a final insult near the top. It is preambled by a
subtle half-mile grade that leaves the unwary wasted before the
surrounded by three Army riders. We had come upon this littered
crowd quickly and were now picking our way up through them. I hoped
they didn't know this route. It would be to my advantage.
I'd been on
this slope every week all summer, and what I had learned would be
decisive. If only I could crest the top without being dropped, I
would fulfill a four-year goal: To hang with the West Point Team.
myself to be patient, I swiped two gears lower and spun into a slow
build to anaerobic.
years earlier I was on my first organized ride?The Tour de Goshen.
My first time off the Heritage Trail, it was a cool sunny
August morning, and I was stunned by the promise presented by the
crisp new blacktop draped over the hills of Scotchtown Road. In
amazed wonderment I was thinking, "I can actually take my bike out
on the road. I can go anywhere!"
I was long
since breathing hard along the flats of Stony Ford Road when I heard
a couple of riders coming up behind, talking. When they finally
passed, I redoubled my efforts to stay with them. A couple of miles
later, just before the right turn onto 211 toward Montgomery, a few
more riders joined us. The pace increased, and I was riding outside
All at once a
blast of color and noise surrounded me. Countless riders passed over
me like a dream of tropical fish in a chattering school. Furtive
glances found multicolored spokes, exotic tires spinning on strange
wheels, glinting helmets and unbelievable outfits. Extreme
proximity, but just barely not touching. I gasped at how lightly
they took the moment, as if disaster wasn't just millimeters away.
They maintained conversation while I squeezed my twist shifters and
held a straight line on the merest edge of the pavement. I fought
not to panic and tumble off the road.
Then just as
quickly as they'd engulfed me, they passed and were gone.
sprinted and held on for a few moments, but finally everything was
silent. Then things seemed dead and colorless. Only the screaming in
my head remained, "That was GREAT! Someday I'm going to ride with
THOSE guys! I don't care WHAT it takes!"
A bit later a
rider came by and said, "Did you see West Point?" So that's who they
after on the same ride, the same group reached me just after the
hills on Hulsetown Road. Somebody barked, "You won't be able to
lead. There are seven riders in the group. Just fall in behind."
managed to hold on for a couple miles. Much later I opined how that
barking sounded a lot like Sir Paul Levine (OCBC Pres at the time,
whom I did not yet know), so sometimes I think it was actually the A's and not West Point. Doesn't much matter. All in all it's the
same. My eye was on Army, and later that year I joined OCBC and
began slingshotting the A's. Biding my time, laying in wait.
So this year
at the McQuade Tour when I was with the B's as the front three West
Point riders blasted by, it was time. I jumped and told the B's, "I'm going to go kick Army's ass." Everybody chuckled.
However I was
still holding on ten miles later, half way up "Heart Attack Hill."
One of the Army riders was in front, one to my right side and one
just behind and to the left. I had been very cagey in getting here.
I knew this climb and knew I would have to be even cagier to make
the top. I clicked down another gear maintaining my spin. I felt
Try not to
appear threatening. Another click down...spin, relax on the tops,
click down spin...click, spin. Just thirty feet from the top. Hide in
plain sight. Don't trigger an attack. Click. Full anaerobic. The
two riders in front of me move a foot further ahead, and the third is still behind but now
on my shoulder. Twenty feet click, click. No more gears. Spin. All
three are now in front... stand push, push. Aargh! At the top I am ten feet
As soon as I
blew up they regrouped and immediately gained a hundred yards.
Still, maybe I could catch up.
The next few
miles of various turns and minor hills brought some relief and
recovery. My three targets remained a bridgeable distance ahead. We
were now in rolling hills. A long ascent showed I was slowly
starting to gain back ground. At the top I was looking down a long
straight gradual descent that troughed over to a similar gradual ascent
on the other side. One of the riders reached for a water bottle. I
off the bottom of the trough and up the opposite slope, I was soon
on the paceline's wheel. However I was moving faster by 10 to 15
I pulled out
could react I had a thirty-foot gap and was continuing to move away.
Uphill (sort of) and just over 30 mph. I never felt stronger and
figured I could keep it up all day. A few moments later I looked
back to see how much distance I'd gained.
They were on
and restraint they had quietly slipped up behind me and were
covertly monitoring the situation. No way to trip the triggers on
these guys. They had the safeties on, and discipline. It wouldn't be
long for me now, so I called, "Off" and drifted over. Maybe I'd have
just enough left to hop on the back. As they drifted past I saw that
a gap was open in front of the third rider. I looked at it twice
then he kindly offered it to me. I moved in, glad to be out of the
wind while still strong.
things got fast, and I lost track of the ride until a road sign woke
me with, "Round Hill Road."
'This is the
Thursday night ride," I thought, "where all summer Brian of the
Irish Maniacs brutally schooled me in the art of sucking a desperate
wheel. Yeehaa! I might survive."
When the lead
rider finally complained of a loose bottle cage and stopped to deal
with it, we were already on the approach to Goshen Road and the "Hamptonburg Alps." If we were going that way,
I knew with total
certainty that I would soon be finished; so I went on alone, hoping
to have the first slope or two beneath me before being caught.
the ride arrows soon pointed away from that route and took a kinder,
gentler course. By the time I came upon St. Dennis and his friend
finishing a shorter route, I could only gasp, "West Point's coming
up fast behind."
As we turned
onto 94 for the final leg into Washingtonville, Dennis said, "They're here. Get going."
Over my shoulder I saw more than a dozen
riders dressed in black, gold and gray. I soft-pedaled until they
caught up, then pushed with the leaders to the Winery, where I got
boxed in behind the final sprint. By the time I finally got out in
the open, three riders were just finishing a hundred yards in front
You ask how a
geezer of my advanced age and girth could hang with the West Point
I used: every
bit of four years determined conditioning, hard won knowledge and
sophisticated guile while keeping as close to my aerobic threshold
as humanly possible?a best effort.
While they: rode along easily
talking, remained mostly unaware of my presence?took a nice day off.
As soon as we
turned into the Winery, I looked back and saw (Shiftless) John
Handago. He reported that after I left with the front riders, he
jumped with the next group and hung with them while they eventually
re-grouped for the end.
parking lot, Shiftless struck up a conversation with the team and
invited them to OCBC Saturday morning rides. I took the time to
quietly watch, listen and learn whatever I could about these riders,
anything that might be useful in future encounters.
impressive, the way they carefully and kindly congratulated John and
me on how well we rode, how they discussed elements of their bikes,
maintained a truly communal (and co-ed) sense of teamwork and
support. Each was uncommonly polite, thoughtful and engaged. All
exuded a presence that reflected the highest standard of what you
would hope from the best and brightest. It seemed each was
constantly working the problem?all caution and coalition.
Maybe you had
to be there. It's really true and hard to express what those West
Pointers are like.
I thought, "These
are people not to be trifled with. Anybody that tries to come up
against these folks will be sorely tested. I'm sure glad today was
just a recovery ride for them. I wouldn't want to face-off against
them in all out competition. Teamed patience, skill and restraint.
you're wondering, I didn't hear a word of what they were talking
about during the ride; and, even if I had, I wouldn't be at liberty