Team Velocipede organized a three day bike camp in Lost River State Park. Apparently the river is called ‘lost’ because it disappears underground somewhere and comes back up, or at least that’s what I think based on a big wooden sign we blew by on the bikes. We didn’t stop so it was hard to read. This is what a bit of googling brings up, I think the bridge we passed over the river where the sign was, is somewhere near where the river disappears or reappears. While I’ve been on 70 and 80 mile rides with them, I’d never done three days of back to back cycling at this level before, nor do I think I’ve ever done this much climbing in my life.
Day 1: Tears, sweat, and I’m determined to go home tonight
I arrived around 1 PM, just in time as Faisal was serving lunch. Although I was on time, as I was the last one to arrive I felt as though I was late and felt a bit rushed. Consequently I scarfed down the huge, delicious lunch Faisal had prepared. Faisal also served some carbonated water beverage. I asked, ‘is this good for cycling?’ and he said yes, so I drank it down too, not realizing what terrible consequences this would have later on. As soon as we finished lunch we jumped on the bikes and started the sixty mile ride. Right out of the driveway of the cabin I was already getting dropped. The Velocipede ‘warmup’ had me above my max heart rate. Then soon after the cramps started. Very painful cramps, throughout my intestines. I think it was a combination of eating to fast, not giving any time whatsoever to digest, and the carbon dioxide from the bubbly water. I hadn’t had any days prior to this to warm up as we had been having torrential rains in Maryland, and I really hate spinning on the stationary bike. Out of camp the first stretch was a bit of climbing followed by a steep descent over sixteen miles, which on the way back would be an awful sixteen mile climb home. That stretch of road is in horrible condition, covered in potholes and gravel. This descent was also the only place I was able to catch back up with the other riders, as I descended a lot faster than anyone else. I looked far ahead and visualized the straightest path down the twisting road, doing my best to see the potholes and gravel through the tears that the wind was forcing out of my eyes. I was still on the brakes quite a lot as I did not at all fancy wiping out on the gravel and ending my trip in the ER. As the ride progressed though I struggled and struggled to keep on anyone’s wheel. They would stop whenever there was a major turn in the route to make sure I didn’t get lost, which was great, but as soon as we started again I would get dropped. I was completely miserable, and by the end of the ride I was hating it. I cycle because I really enjoy it, and this ride was completely devoid of enjoyment from start to finish. The last sixteen miles is a straight climb back up to camp with no turns, so I limped that back on my own with frequent stops. It’s during that last leg that I decided I had enough, and I was going to drive back home that night. There was no way I was going to attempt a seventy mile ride with ‘epic climbing’ the next day after that – I just didn’t have the physical capacity and I needed to be realistic. When I did finally manage to crawl back into camp, Faisal somehow got me to stick around for the night. He said James was coming the next morning and he was closer to my riding/fitness level, and that we could do a shorter ride instead of the 70 mile ride.
Lessons Learned on Day 1:
- take the time to chew your food – you’ll enjoy it much more and it’ll absorb better
- give some time to digest before riding – probably 30 minutes to an hour is good
- struggling not to get dropped, just plain sucks the enjoyment out of riding
- cornering on sharp turns on a steep decent covered in potholes and gravel can be scary. Slow down and don’t wipe out, it’s not worth dying over.
- beware of the water in West Virginia. My normally bright red cycling mix turned clear when I added water from a sink at a gas station stop. I drank it anyway, I had no choice. Hopefully it was just a pH thing…
Day 2: Feeling much better, and the descent made the climb well worth every ounce of effort (full map and stats on Strava)
So James was late, but he did show up before we left so we were able to include him on the ride with us. But, James was pretty determined to do the seventy mile ride. I’m not sure how best to summarize day 2 – I should have written this right after the ride to capture the memories best. I felt 150% better riding, on Day 2. There were a lot of contributing factors to this:
- I didn’t bother to try to keep pace with the faster rides. I knew I had the route on my Garmin as well as a printed map, I figured I could ride it by myself and if I did get lost, eventually somebody would find my body. I wasn’t going to worry about it.
- Not struggling against the drop, made the ride enjoyable. I was able to take in the amazing scenery and I could stop whenever I wanted and take some photos.
- The sixteen mile descent down from camp was a lot more fun the second time because I was familiar with the road and knew what to expect.
- as usual, I’m blown away by the capabilities of the iPhone camera, and mine is just the 4S
At one point we stopped at the base of a mountain, and Tariq gave us a kind of scary pep talk. He said to eat our ‘goo’ (our gels) now, because this next climb was a nightmare, a horrendous ascent that we were going to struggle with. Oh great, I thought, this is where the fun ends. He said they would wait for us at the top. As it turned out, the start of this climb would be the last time I saw the faster riders until they struggled back to camp or were carried back. I would also lose James until much later. But I was fully prepared to solo this and make the most of it. I knew from the previous day there was no point in trying to keep up. This was the climb up through George Washington National Forest.
The climb actually wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared from Tariq’s warning. I stopped a couple times, not because I needed to, but because I was enjoying the ride and I wanted to take some photos. One was a cluster of farm buildings, including a silo, that had been converted to a residence. Since I was stopping, James caught up to me and we rode together almost to the peak. Almost at the peak though I lost him again. And then once I crested that climb…
The descent went on for miles, and miles, and mile. It was exhilarating. It was beautiful. It made every bit of effort that went into climbing the peak, more than worth it. Tariq, Faisal, and Charles weren’t waiting for us at the peak. Nor were they at the bottom where the road ended in a T-intersection. And I had long ago lost sight of James. So I checked my map, and headed onward. More climbing, but it was beautiful, and again as I wasn’t struggling to keep pace it was rather enjoyable.
At one point, there was a turn for an ‘old highway 55’ or something. It wasn’t on my cue sheet, so I kept going straight and wound up climbing Route 40 for a ways until I realized that my Garmin’s ‘off course’ status wasn’t changing back to ‘course found’ and I seemed to be going further and further off the map. So I descended back down and took the turn for that ‘old highway 55’. As I started the new climb I saw James stopped on the side of the road! As I pulled up to him I told him, ‘your face is the most beautiful sight I’ve seen today!’ From that point I decided to stick with James for the rest of the ride.
Eventually we got to a gas station on the intersection of Old Highway 55 and 259. We stopped to buy bottled water (no more West Virginia tap water for me!). The nice lady at the check out commented that our cycling buddies had come by long ago and apparently left us far behind. Now we had a critical decision to make. We could alter our route, take 259 and cut straight back to camp – or keep to the 70 mile route and continuous climbing. The first big climb we had done, had actually shown up with a little arrow and the number of feet on my Garmin – I had never seen it show something like that before. And the climbing ahead was only going to get a lot harder. Only we had no idea how much worse – Faisal would later describe it as ‘the hardest ride of his life’. It was already after 5 PM, I think. We had a couple hours of daylight left. I was not really in the mood for more climbing and struggling up the mountain, I thought it was good to get done while we still could rather than wind up carried back in a car. However James was still pretty determined to stick to the 70 mile route – it was on his Garmin and he would rather take his time than get lost. But as we started to pull out of the gas station, the wind got really cold. I could smell the rain on the air even before the first few drops started to tease our faces. James said he didn’t mind climbing and getting wet, but I did. Finally, I was able to convince him to take the 259 shortcut back to camp. It was probably the best decision we made in those three days. Long story short, we had a fun and scenic ride back along the Lost River, which flows parallel to 259. Meanwhile, back on the 70 mile climb up the mountain, Charles got a flat, and Faisal gassed out. James and I made it back to camp before anyone else. Later Tariq rode in all by himself. He had to grab the van to go back and pick up Faisal, and Charles straggled in a while later, since he was on a spare tubeless tire that hadn’t been glued, he had to ride carefully and avoid cornering so as not to lose the tire.
Day 3: How did we get ourselves into this again? And, I can’t believe how strong we feel after all that.
In summary, at the start of the ride, as the climbing started again we were feeling a bit gassed – our muscles were sore and we felt like we had nothing left before we even started. But as we warmed up, it got a lot better. In fact, I tore down that sixteen mile descent with the gravel and potholes. I wasn’t taking risks, I was just a lot more comfortable with the road. I got to the bottom and had time to sit around, pull out my phone and wait for the others to catch up so I could take their photos. We rode out to the lake and then came back to ascend back up those sixteen miles. This was supposed to be a ‘recovery ride’ for whatever that was worth, with all that climbing. Based on my limp home on Friday on this stretch (James and I came in a different way on Saturday, with not as much climbing and a much smoother road), I had anticipated from the start that I would get left behind, and that I would probably make frequent stops and take forever to get back to camp. As it turned out, I did get dropped by Faisal and Charles in the early part of the climb. But I guess I wasn’t that far behind, I never did stop or take a break, and when there was a descent I flew down, knowing full well that at least Charles was going to descend slow since he couldn’t corner on that spare tire (tubeless tires need to be glued and then take three days for the glue to set). Plus Faisal was leaking air since the start of the ride, as well…he’d been topping off with CO2.
Towards the last stretch of climbing, I caught sight of a white Jersey. I wasn’t sure if it was Faisal or Charles, but I gave a yell and started sprinting with glee. I sprinted the rest of the climb back to camp and pulled in right after Faisal. I was amazed that, not only did I have the energy to do that, after three days of tortuous climbing, but in fact I felt better and stronger than ever. Turns out, that was the whole point of the camp – it makes you stronger and kicks your training to a new level for the rest of the season.
I’m posting the photos as I get time, on the Velocipede Flickr Group.