For the backstory on this post by Paul Levine, follow this link.
Today was two months since my final operation, of four, to bypass my external iliac artery. The day after the last operation I was challenged to use a walker for fifteen minutes. I moved on quickly to a cane and then went sans cane five days later. My thoughts were would I ever be able to ride my bike again and if so, would I be able to ride with my same group at the Saturday ride. I thought about the Hump ride for two months and visually road the course figuring out the best way to effectively stay in the group with the least amount of effort. We all know that no two rides are the same and the dynamics of the ebbs and flows of the pace is determined by several unpredictable factors. The best I can plan for would be to be aware of my redline and use my energy sparingly. Considering that I have been off of a bike for three months, I had no idea if I had any matches to burn. The strategy to ride with the “A” group was a crap shoot, hence the butterflies in my belly this morning.
Having friends in any group makes the difference between riding hard and riding home alone. Today I had “friends”, those who would keep the pace steady, cover gaps, bring me back when the elastic snapped and encourage me to hang in when my poker face was showing that I was holding a nine high in my hand. I dug deep and used every trick that I learned over the years that kept me from getting dropped from groups that I didn’t deserve to be riding with: never getting to the front, surging up the side of the line before a climb so I can slide back on the climb and still stay attached, feeling the wind on my face to choose where to be in the line always staying protected by human shields, and staying behind friendly wheels that are predictable and won’t surge leaving me dangling in the wind. Every watt that I could save would bring me closer to the finish line.
The finish line for me today was to get to the base of the Ridgebury climb. A climb that typically separates the group from those who can stay attached to those who can’t hold onto the last twelve inches of the wheel in front of them and get snapped off the back. Once gapped on this climb, you have an insurmountable task of chasing down a freight train by yourself and maybe with a couple of other stragglers that have already burnt all of their matches. We have all been there, and it isn’t a pretty site watching the train of cyclists move down the road at a pace that can’t be matched by any one weekend mortal. The base of Ridgebury was my goal; anything more would be a stretch and would surely set me up for disappointment.
Pain comes in different levels. Legs start to burn, lungs start to rattle and your eyes feel like they are bleeding. Then the real pain begins. Somewhere deep down you make a commitment to yourself that this isn’t the day for you to get dropped. You hope that every combination of wheels around you can be played to hold on to the lifeline of the group. Having friendlies in the group brought me to the top. George, Jenn, Kevin, Clemson and countless others who had no idea that their existence made that little climb the greatest accomplishment in my cycling career. A climb on any other Saturday I would be expected to set pace for the front group. Today it was more challenging than Ventoux, Alp de Huez, Galibier, and all the other classic cols that I have crossed. Ridgebury today was the gateway to my comeback.
Rolling over the top of the climb is when I had my WTF moment. I made it that far, I am going to try and stick it until the finish twenty miles away. The rest of the ride I used my tricks and my friends to stay attached for the surges, attacks, and climbs. We all wound it up towards the sprint finish. For the first time ever I sat in the group three hundred meters out and didn’t even consider where I should be to find daylight between me and the finish line. The sprint wasn’t the goal today, my goal was already accomplished. I did something that wasn’t imaginable two months ago lying on my fourth operating table. I don’t think that the doctors squeezing my cold leg, wondering if it could be saved, would have known that I had plans to ride with my best friends two months from then and I wasn’t going to let blood flow or Ridgebury or any short term pain keep me from riding my bike.
Today I came back, and it feels good.