Though I find myself unsure about what my pace should be for a 200 mile race, I know how to do hills. I'm totally relaxed as I shift to lower gears. I find my pedaling cadence as the climb gets steeper. It feels like coming home.
Most of the cars have been diverted other ways. Though we can't cross the yellow center line, we take up our entire lane. As the pitch increases, so does the number of riders. Of course no one is drafting any longer. At our speed, there is no benefit. That, too, makes me smile and helps me relax further.
I notice that for the first time today I'm really starting to pass people. Lots of people. This surprises me and, for a moment, I panic that I'm going too fast. I check my gears and look at my speed. No, this is exactly right. I can keep this up all day.
I pass more riders.
A few months ago, I decided to try to combine two tough climbs for one long ride. Well, it didn't end up being that long, but 72 miles felt long enough with the 6000' of climbing I did. Though I could get many more miles in if I eliminated the climbs, I couldn't bring myself to do it. The more I trained, the more I discovered that climbing was the part I enjoyed. Whenever I daydream about riding, it always includes some combination of climbs I like to do--or new ones I've never been on.
There's congestion and it frustrates me. I'm glad to not be drafting, sure, but I want to go my pace now. I see an opening and I sprint past 10 or 15 people so I can get to where it is clear. I find it interesting that it doesn't kill me to do so. What is going on today? There is no way that I'm better than the rest of these riders. How did they end up in front of me?
I start looking around and I notice by their numbers that many of them signed up as Cat 5--much higher (and with a much earlier start time) than my mere Citizen 27-34. Were they all bluffing when they signed up?
I pass more riders.
When I was studying the course map last night, I remember finding comfort in the feed zone located about 1 mile from the summit of this climb. I now find it more of an inconvenience. I don't really want to stop and, because this is a neutral feed zone, I know I'm going to have to. I take a pull from my water bottle and find it empty.
On the other hand, I'm starting to warm up.
As with all the volunteers I will encounter on this long stretch of road, everyone here is very friendly and helpful. They seem to understand both my hurry and my need. I'm back on my bike in less than a minute.
The closer I get to the top, the more I start to think of the descent. I hate descending. I'm terrible at corners. I know I'll be passed and that I won't utilize my kinetic energy as efficiently as I should.
There it is. I reach back to grab my vest out of my rear pocket and my hat, which shared the same space, comes out too. I only know this because the cyclist behind me points it out. Great, I think. I haven't even started down the hill and I'm already fumbling.
My speed increases and I'm glad to have my vest on. I realize these turns aren't at all the tight switch-backs I was dreading and so am able to let myself go. A rider slips past me effortlessly. I know enough about cycling and aerodynamics to know there are better ways of going fast with gravity. My hands are in the drops with my finger tips on the brake levers. At this speed, I don't want my hands any further away from my brakes.
Another rider glides past.
Though we spread out on the descent, we gradually come back together as we roll through the valley. My mind goes blank as I get back into the rhythm of the pace line. A glance at the time and I suck down a GU. I must have already had my banana.
I've been riding for 4.5 hours as we approach Montpelier for the third feed zone. I'm already finding discomfort in the saddle so I'm looking forward to this stop. There is something emotional about finding James waiting for me after my toils. I find comfort and relief that he is there supplying my basic needs: food and water.
"You haven't been drinking enough." He says this, not as criticism, but like a worried parent. I make up something about how it's been all downhill since the neutral feed. He's right, though. I tell him that I'll need sunscreen the next time I see him. Unfortunately, that won't be until I get past the next neutral feed zone.
After much too long of a wait at the outhouse, I'm refueled and off again.
The next climb is short, and the lowest of the three today. Once again, I find the groove--my own without the constraints of a pace line populated with strangers. I climb. I relish my time fighting against the mountain. I revel in the people I pass. This climb is also steeper than the last. This doesn't bother me. I love it.
Another benign descent brings me to the next feed zone. I know I've been drinking enough now because I need to wait in line again. While I'm waiting a guy tells me that he's broken two frames just like mine. Is he trying to psyche me out?
They've got Clif Shots here and I grab a mango flavored one. A quick pull and a quick squeeze almost brings me to quickly vomit. How can they destroy a flavor so well? I'm glad I brought so many banana GUs.
The last climb of the day and the King of the Mountain time check. I've heard the last few miles are a 7% grade. Though I'm probably a little cocky, I smile at this thought. Is that it? Many of the climbs I do are 8-10%.
Of course, those aren't followed by almost 100 miles more of riding. I'm at mile 105. I'm no longer feeling fresh, though it never occurs to me that I couldn't make this climb. I always make the climbs.
I try to shift down and find I'm in my lowest gear. I take a pull of water and a GU. Steady. Keep the pace steady. There's no need to speed up, and I don't have to slow down.
I pass more riders.
A cyclist hastily stops at the side of the road to vomit. I can't help but shout out, "I'm so sorry, man," as I pass by. This is one hard race. Among the body parts I've begun to take more notice of, so far the stomach hasn't made it to the long list. I wish I could say the same for where I sit.
I glance down at my computer and notice that I'm over half-way through the race now. How long has it been? 6 hours. Last night, James said, "All you have to do is a 6 hour century followed closely by a 7 hour century. You can do that." And I almost have all the climbing out of the way.
I unzip my jersey all the way.
I don't realize how little my mind is working until I notice that the man shouting at me and taking my picture is James.
James, my thread of reality. My contact with the world. He's shouting praises and running along beside me. "You are doing awesome! You've got it! You rock! Ride through the chute over there and get your time-check and I'll see you at the next feed zone!"
I'm full of adrenaline. I shout and pump my fists in the air as I pass the King of the Mountain check, "Woo Hoo!" In fact, I'm even excited about the descent.
Now, I'm flying!