Sunday morning finds me drinking beet juice in the dark. Yesterday’s metric has left me with fuel in the tank and ready to take on the 40 miles out to Sugar Loaf Mountain and back. Today is less about enjoying the ride and more about getting it done, packing up and driving 4 hours south home to Miami.
Still the weather is perfect for a ride and we travel at a pretty steady 20-22MPH for 15 miles out to where the climbing begins. We hit a mile long hill leading to Sugar Loaf with a 2.7% grade. I struggle to hold onto wheels and loose some ground in the group whilst other riders slide on back. One of which is the huff and puff dude from yesterday’s ride shouting in recognition, “I remember you” as he is dropped without remorse. A short descent provides some respite just before the base of Sugarloaf. The 9% incline slows me down to a crawl while I watch manorexic sons of amateur racers float effortlessly past. Some quick math reminds me this will all be over in just ten minutes as I make new pledges of dietary discipline.
A well placed and crowded rest stop atop of the climb has everyone filling bottles, eating bananas and lining up at the port-a-johns. The mood is relaxed and quite social, so I take my time and partake in some idle conversation. It is not long before a small group prepares to roll, quickly I lineup and leave with them avoiding the crowd that will soon follow. We head out to take on the final climb of the day affectionately known as “The Wall”.
Once again it begins; chains begin dropping on a 2% climb preceding The Wall. On a 2% climb! The pace line splays open like buckshot forcing me to dodge the chain droppers and other riders scattered across the tarmac in an effort to remain upright and unscathed. Another descent brings me to the base of The Wall where I prepare for the 8% climb with a steady pace in the saddle; no attack, just spinning through. My pace is slow but I feel no pain. As I approach the top I have a rider passing with intent. slowly I stand up and raise the pace just enough to leave him behind. No hero here, just a little selfish pride.
I return to Mt Dora in the comfort of a small group. Stories of chain droppers can be heard as volunteers serve up some soda and brats cooked to perfection. Now the race to beat check out time begins with a quick shower and ends with the key in the mailbox. I say goodbye to The English Rose Cottage I called home for the last three days, turned the key, dialed in the tunes and pointed the Explorer south.
“Have tunes, Will travel”, I whisper with a nostalgic grin.
Another beautiful morning greets hundreds of riders at the start of today’s ride. Century and Metric riders take off, up and over a short climb that keeps the initial pace in check. A familiar figure slides on past me while riding his red Bianchi. I step up my pace and ride alongside Xavier Falconi, the President of the Everglades Bicycle Club, and engage in some light conversation. Xavier is a mild mannered, intelligent man who has brought to the EBC his organizational experience from the Pacific Northwest. We meander through the mass of riders as we attempt to position ourselves with a group that suits our pace. We settle into the third group with the first group still in sight, in the distance, yet out of reach. I hold my position as I struggle with the instinct to jump and bridge the gaps as I had done every year before. “Not this year kid, not today” are the words I tell myself to make it sound alright, to soothe the beast that is raging inside my head.
We run the rollers and head over to Thrill Hill. This baby is a short (0.1 mile) but extremely steep climb. You must prepare by shifting into the small chain ring and your smallest COG while you are coasting at speed down the preceding hill. The incline sharpens so fast that you go from 40 to 4mph in a matter of seconds. You must also prepare for the mayhem as riders to the left, right and center, are dropping to the ground like ducks along the Mississippi flyway come autumn. The scene is a little humorous and more than just a little bit pathetic. As the group approaches Thrill Hill experienced riders can be heard, “change to your small chain ring while coasting down” throughout the pace line. And still, you watch in disbelief as you see riders try to muscle up the 18% grade of Thrill Hill. Their bike slows to a crawl and while maximum tension is being exerted on the drive train they will then and only then attempt a gear change. The chain springs off the 52T like McKayla Maroney vaulting for Olympic silver. Slapping against the seat tube the chain comes to rest on the bottom bracket as the full weight of the cyclist is directed straight down towards the tarmac. If the cyclist was sitting he will get one or two rotations of the crank set sans resistance before he tips over in comic relief; and if the cyclist was out of the saddle? Well let’s just say he will gain experience through suffering.
There is still a couple of hill climbs left. Four of us form a groupetto and keep a steady pace of 20mph as we rotate every few minutes. As I slide back after a turn on the front one rider says to me, “you huff and puff but you keep on going”. I am sure he thought he was complimenting me. I am sure he meant no harm. He is right though, I am breathing heavy on some pretty mild climbs. I am struggling with an extra 30 lbs and an asthmatic condition diagnosed during an early morning trip to the emergency room 6 months ago. Even so, I took it as a challenge.
You see, my philosophy has always been, “Speak with your legs”. So on the next climb the beast takes control and I huff and puff my way away from that group never to be seen again.
Taking off on a road trip and especially one that leads to a three day cycling weekend fills me with anticipation. I left work early to do some last minute packing and head north on a four hour drive to Mt. Dora. There is some mysterious and inexplicable force that pulls at me, holding me back, slowing me down, and keeping me from escaping the comfort of home. There is always one more thing to pack, to do, and check before I bounce.
Once on the road the sense of freedom engulfs me as I enter the freeway and gain cruising speed. Old school music streams down from the heavens and through the speakers adding to the road trippin’ vibe reminding me of old times with the Rudy’s. “Have tunes, will travel” was announced before every trip and just prior to inserting the latest cassette tape.
The morning’s ritual includes donning brand new Rapha Classic kit purchased and received just in time. The folks are keeping a gentleman’s pace as we ride through some residential areas and around East Crooked Lake beneath tree cover dripping with moss. It is a beautiful, cool morning. Heading north we crossed a highway and turned west towards Lake Eustis this time with the sun warming our backs. The lake is glowing a turquoise blue usually reserved for the Caribbean ocean and what little ripples exist are gleaming with a bright yellow and Chartreuse green stained by the sun.
As we roll up and over the first set of hills we ride tempo along a huge rolling pasture lined with horse fence. The sun continues its magic across the open field. “A perfect day for riding” is being muttered throughout the peloton. The tempo quickens and so silences the group. A series of rolling hills increases the effort even more creating gaps in the pace line. I lose the lead group reminding me I am not the man rider I was just 12 short months ago.
After rolling into town and receiving a post shower massage I am greeted by Sal and family, David and Marilyn. Sal invites me to join them for lunch and we sit on the shade covered patio of Cecile’s French Corner and casually pass the time away with conversation and crepes. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Friday afternoon.