On Saturday I went on the most grueling, challenging bike ride I had ever performed yet at the same time I was in awe of the scenery and the amazing feeling of accomplishment during and after the ride. Over the course of 82 miles I climbed 7,801 feet, passed by waterfalls, saw horses grazing in wide open fields, was passed by a mini cooper club all with customized license plates and found a real deal old school country store - not bad in a day's ride!
My mission on Saturday according to Coach Orton was to:
"Ride a very hill course with long climbs: Zone 1-5a. Push hard on climbs/hills when you feel good, but always keep it under zone 5b. Do not force your effort"
My description of the ride after I uploaded my data to my TP account:
"ummm yeah.... that was hilly, well that's one word for it, another word would be insane and yet another description could be near death; hardest bike ride I have ever done but was awesome; was cool that I still had juice when i got to the flats to crush them in a steady high zone 2/ low zone 3 heart rate"
Over the first 20 miles my elevation changed more than 3,000 feet and my average speed was just about 13.5 mph - 13.5 mph!!! Seriously, that's how much I was climbing, little gears, legs churning, up and up I went. My strengths and weaknesses were on full display for this ride. But you know what, climbing is fun; climbing isn't like cycling through annoying rollers where you can't get into a rhythm or where you can jump out of the saddle to power over them. Climbing requires patience, requires dedication and requires a strong mind, because as you continue to go higher, the hill continues to get steeper. The Blue Ridge Parkway is like nothing I have ever ridden before, it provides breathtaking views with climbs that you could find in the Tour de France. Saturday was my favorite bike ride of all time because of that.
Each new peak was rewarded with a view that was better than the last. Some bikers passed by me headed in the other direction but I was alone in the direction I went. A few cars passed by, including that cool Mini Cooper club, I passed a guy hiking the Blue Ridge accompanied by 2 dogs carrying his gear but mostly I was entertained by climb after climb after climb. The Blue Ridge doesn't plateau, the Blue Ridge just gets steeper and I loved every increase in grade and every extra foot I climbed, by the end of the 20 mile ascent my legs were jello but I felt perhaps for the first time less like a hammer head and more like a cyclist.
Miles 30 to 40 presented some rollers, a bit of a rough road and not a ton of opportunities to find a rhythm; I was able to get my average speed back up but this was one of those mundane stretches that you just need to focus to get through; the reward for those 10 miles was perhaps the most incredible 25 mile stretch I have ever cycled. Just past mile 40 I entered the town of Montibello, VA; a picturesque country town with horses in lush green fields, grazing on a hill side. Small ponds were on each property and I felt like I was transported back in time to a community out of the 1800s - it just had that feel for no particular reason at all. I crossed into the town and saw one of the most quintessential country stores I have ever come across. A large log cabin that sold pocket knifes, fishing bait and all the snickers bars a cyclist could lay their eyes upon. The store served as the town's outlet for information with a gas station and post office in the same parking lot, advertisements were hung up for rental cabins, adventures in the woods and other activities. It reminded me alot of my training days in Lake Placid and other amazing places in the Adirondacks.
I sat on their porch, filled up my water bottle, ate a Snickers bar, received some weird looks for being clad in all black spandex but then was off to continue my cycling adventure. My stomach filled with nuget and caramel gave me the energy burst I needed as I descended into Crabtree Falls. The descent was incredibly fast and had at least 5 hair pin turns; on my right side was a cliff with a rushing river below, on my left the side of a mountain. Riding beneath the cool cover of trees I cruised down the hill at 35 mph just trying to soak in the scenery. Before I knew it I was down my 5 mile descent and then it happened..... I reached the flats.
Just before mile 50 I was able to get back into my aero position, shift into my big gears and simply unleashed my quads. Having climbed for such a long period I didn't think i would have any juice left in my legs at all - my heart rate and speed over this stretch convinced me otherwise. At a cadence of 93, and a heart rate of 142 I saw my speed climb from 25 mph, to 28 mph to 31 mph - all on a flat. Over this 10 to 12 mile stretch I hummed along at speed I had never felt for sustained periods before. Over this stretch my speed never dipped below 21 mph and my position felt as steady as my effort. Hills, descents and flats, this ride had it all.
After mile 60 I was greeted by my third 8% graded climb of the day; back to the little ring, I spun and spun with my heart rate getting into zone 4b. At this point my legs were really starting to feel it but I knew that this 1,000 foot climb was the last huge challenge of the day. Finally I crested the ridge, descended down the backside of the mountain and had just some rollers to get through to make it back to my car.
Miles 65 to 75 were perhaps the most mentally draining of any I faced that day. I knew that I was close to finishing but knew that I still had about an hour to go. I was tired, my allergies were bothering me and I was supposed to meet some friends out at the Vineyards. But, I couldn't really get into a rhythm, this stretch was up and down, up and down; and I kind of knew the roads but not well enough to know exactly how far I had left to go. After what seemed like an eternity I finally reached the intersection I was dying to see and was able to return to my aero position to fly back to my car; amazing I still had legs, I was able to churn out big gears at a high cadence, as Coach Orton would say, my strength endurance is outstanding right now.
Saturday's ride was indeed "beautifully hard," the scenery was incredible and the ride offered everything. My weakness as a cyclist is climbing, my strength is the flats. The challenge on Saturday was to climb as much as I could, to challenge the hills and challenge myself; the ride was tremendously hard and with perfect blood sugars all day and some of the most amazing views I have ever had the opportunity to witness it truly made it beautiful - what an amazing Saturday.