Saturday, August 16, 2008

Conquering the Beast.....Within

Tackling a challenge in life, whether it is on the bike or otherwise, is the impetus that keeps one fresh, current, strong, and alive. There are certain trails in our repertoire, no matter how many times ridden, that always test and stretch my cycling aptitude.Introduced to these trails in the early nineties, we refer to them as Rich Mtn. Now, many folks call it Stanley Gap, but that's just one of the many "gaps" you climb on this beast of a ride. Accessing the system from the Cherry Log end of North Georgia, or from Aska Rd outside of Blue Ridge, you will find more than your fair share of a climbing fiesta.
Today's ride originated from the Cherry Log end at the game check station off Rock Creek Road. Being the "elders" of the group and stuck in our ways, we insisted on this starting point. That's the way we learned it, so that's the way they must do it. None of this easy warm up stuff off Aska Road. A nice 1 mile climb up a gravel road would bring us to the 3 mile singletrack climb to begin our challenge.The first time Raja and I ever attempted Rich was probably in 1989, and it was pretty pathetic. Sure, the initial climb was harder then than it is today, (thankfully it has been rerouted a bit) but we only made it a couple miles up before bailing. Pretty bad.

Dozens of repeated attempts and many years later, we now manage to do the entire trail. Sometimes it is ugly, sometimes it is fun, but it is never easy. Ever. We have been in various forms of fitness through the years from expert racers to just riding w/the racers, and it still has never been easy.

We have brought along all types of riders from first timers to seasoned veterans, and have been witness to all kinds of results. From bailouts on the first mile, to "show me the quickest way back", and "I'm going to finish this thing" attitudes, we have seen it all.
Rich Mountain has dished out more wild experiences to us than any other trail system we ride. I was hoping today would just be one of the memorable because it was fun rides.

Our cast included Regularjoe, Tweety, Concrete Blonde, and Robb. Each person had had a few encounters with this monster course, with Regularjoe being the most green behind the ears. His first experience here was 5 months prior on a big epic group ride in the snow. It was not a ride he wanted to remember. Today represented something big for him. Would five months of pushing himself, learning and growing as a cyclist be enough to turn the tide in his quest to conquer this beast called Rich Mtn?
Inwardly, we all hoped this would be a day he would not forget. But that was a battle he must learn to fight, for it was not Rich Mtn he was battling today. It is the beast from within you must conquer.

This is all he had to arm himself with before today's ride: "The first time I was there (in March) we only did Stanley Gap and Flat Creek. The ride was 14 miles. it was pure hell. That ride was pretty depressing, but it drove me to realize that if I want to ride in the mountains, I better start learning and riding and pushing myself.

I'll never forget that ride. After that ride, I remember sitting at El Agave in Ellijay and Chocolate Girl asking me about my ride experience that day and gently encouraging me by recalling her experience with that trail some 20 years ago. I also remember saying to Tweety that I thought I could never get stronger riding at Big Creek all the time. He told me to that was B.S. and to do intervals in the freeride area. So I did. I had delusions of being right with my sherpas the entire time."

We began the climb up Stanley Gap with a gentle stride. The ride ahead was long, so a conservative approach would be beneficial. Each wheel click goes round, stroke by stroke, that's how you make a climb. Amazing the progress that can be made when taken inch by inch.

The three mile climb is beautiful. Thick fern covers the ground and glimpses of the mountains can be seen through the trees. But no one is gazing off at the scenery because the climb demands your full attention.
Normally we ride here in the dead of winter through ice and snow. I was enjoying seeing cool features of the flora I do not usually notice.
Raja had scored yet another demo bike for the day. Rich Mtn is not easy on the body, and he wanted all the suspension he could find. The RacerX was not going to cut it here. He was very pleased with what the Fisher had to offer so far. After letting the rear shock absorb the rough roots, all he had to do was flick it back into pro pedal for some more climbing.
This was my MotoLite's first visit to Rich and I was loving it. The Talas is almost as good as a box full of chocolates to me. I dialed it down to 120 for the climb and switched the rear to pro pedal to see what this baby could do. I felt indestructible. The higher bottom bracket has opened up a whole new world to me than the Blur could ever offer. Raja may go through the bikes, but so far I am content with what I have.

At the top of the climb, faces were rather serious. I was a little concerned, and hoping the mood was not going to turn sour. But then the magic word was spoken and smiles began to appear; Downhill!
For all your hardwork climbing at Rich, there are equal amounts of long downhills to reward you. Screaming, fast, technical, flesh ripping, rocky, rooty downhillin'! Whoohoo!
Rich always pushes me to the edge of my comfort zone on the downhill. The price one pays for a crash here is quite high, and I let that sit in the back of my mind. That's not necessarily the beast I want to conquer, but a consideration to take in mind. Raja has no issues here, of course, and he was chomping at the bit to take the lead.

Robb, Tweety, and CB live for that stuff too. I did my best to stay on somebody's wheel as long as I could before my eyes began to shake out of their sockets. Once you talk yourself through it.....relax, look ahead, weight is alot of fun.

Racey Tracey is the huckster supreme, and my little point and shoot could not keep up with her. When I grow up, I want to be like her!

No time for daydreaming though. That downhill ended and we crossed Aska Rd to climb Green Mtn and head down down down to Lake Blue Ridge. With the thrill of the 2nd downhill fresh in our minds, we turned around to climb back up what we just came down. Regularjoe was fighting a major battle. Who was going to win?

I knew he could do it, and I did not mean that flippantly. The past few rides we had done together showed he had the endurance and stamina, but this was a different beast from anything else he'd done. I wanted him to want it, to taste it, to own it.

Other than hearing him say he thought he was bonking and us encouraging him, we didn't exactly sit down and have share your feelings time. I know bonking, and he was not bonking. Trying to kindly let him know he was doing better than he realized, I could only hope the truth would win out over the screaming demons. I knew all to well about the battle going on inside his head, but was not privy to all his thoughts:

"Coming back up out of there was tough and I started to get really nervous. I was tiring fast and I was starving. When I tried to eat I felt like I wanted to puke. I was afraid I was on the verge of bonking and I couldn't stop thinking that we still had to go back over Stanley. The part that killed me last time. Dammit. Again, I was encouraged by chocolate girl's gentle brand of tough love, Tweety's no nonsense coaching, RSutton's positivity and Concrete Blonde gently giving me tips from behind as we climbed......"

As the battle raged within us all, we climbed up to the intersection of Long Branch Trail for a well deserved reward of downhill that dumped out onto Aska Road. See! I did do some road riding afterall!

It is not a bad grind a mile or so up to the Aska pkg lot. Everyone was riding sensibly and keeping their heart rates in check. We still had 2 more major climbs to go after this. I was proud of the Pain Train. All engines accounted for...onward we go.
Our group was a little too sensible today.
Janusz would have been so proud.Okay, enough. I cracked the whip. Let's get a move on. You know how impatient I can get.We climbed up towards the Flat Creek Loop, passing the cut off to take you back to the car. Tweety gave Regularjoe the option to take it, but Joe would have none of that. I was so glad. I could tell, he was going to win this battle. For me, that was his turning point.

We carried on. My bike started making this horrible popping noise, but I could not figure out what it was. Neither could my sherpa. Oh well, must not be too bad. Everything checks out tight. I'll keep riding.

Down the Flat Creek downhill we went with Racey Tracey going at warp speed. Geez Louise, that girl can fly! They all can. Riding with these guys (and gal) was forcing me to push myself. I needed that.
I love the climb out of Flat Creek and middle ringed it to see if I could do it. My legs almost felt stronger as the day went by. Rich never ceases to serve up surprises.

But the sunny side up could not yet be had and our victory was not yet won. The hardest climb was looming ahead as we still had to get back up and over Stanley Gap.
Keeping the grumbling to a minimum, we each picked our way up through steep pitches,
and rocky, loose, rooty terrain.Unless you are riding with cyclists of all equally matched abilities, it is hard to climb together. I prefer to find my own rhythm, enter my zone, and ride away in oblivion to the rest of the world. I could not help but wonder how Regularjoe was doing. This last climb is a Beast with all the miles of effort in your legs, and it takes every ounce of mental energy one can muster. "Please Joe, fight to win," I thought.

He was: "At this point, I wanted to quit and I was scared of the climb back over Stanley. I had a gel, some salt caps, and got a snack to nibble on as well. This is where I would lose my sherpas as they did their thing and I did mine. They waited to give me back a bottle I had lost and I saw chocolate girl, giving a little check after she had taken some photos. I began to feel bad, as I did not want to make them wait on me."

"I didn't see them again until the top of the false summit. I started to get that feeling of never getting off the mountain. I wanted to get off my bike and sleep. I could no longer climb at 90% or more heart rate, so I had to stop a couple times and I walked 4 or 5 steep sections. I was walking as I could see Concrete Blond's blue shirt and pink helmet. This was the false summit. Holy s&%t! I made it and rode most of it! Much better than last time. I walked probably about a half-mile. Last time I walked about 3. I went from being discouraged to encouraged."

With Joe rejuvenated as he relished in his victory, we watched as Spider Rodge inspired us all to tackle the last really tough climb (doesn't appear on film to be the steep wall that it really is).More battles can be won when you join forces with fellow believers. Through encouragement and example the beast within seems to lose its power over you.But there was another beast roaming about, one inside my hub making an awful racket by now. But Tweety said I did not have to be afraid. Just put it in the bigxsmall and keep pedaling. "Have you ever ridden a fixie before?" No! "Well, you're getting ready to. Just remember to keep pedaling."

So that's what happens when your bearings go a wandering! Poor free hub just couldn't stay straight and was all buggered up.

Have you ever tried to pedal on a downhill? A steep, rocky, rooty, 3 mile long downhill? Kinda tricky, if not downright impossible. Thank goodness the real downhillers did not have to be concerned with that.
It was a challenge to say the least, but it could have been so much worse. I did not have to walk it out, no injury was involved, and Regularjoe did not have to feel like he was bringing up the rear!

3 flats, a bum hub, a busted elbow, and 2 bee stings later, we emerged from our 4 hour tour. We all had conquered this ride and had plenty of which to boast. 27.9 miles and 4,800' of climbing.
I was very proud of our cast, especially Regularjoe! He passed a milestone on his cycling growth chart. He dug deep, used his head, rode smart, and stretched himself further than he ever has before on a ride.

He could now go home with positive thoughts of being a conquerer instead of defeat. "I had struggled, but I had made it up the section I had been scared of all day long. It was a challenge for sure, but I made it."

We all conquered the beast within today. The beast that says to quit, you're no good, you have no business doing this, you'll never get any better. It is easy to entertain those thoughts, and harder to shut them up. The battle may be within, but the help comes from without, fellow cyclists fighting the same battle. Victory is sweeter amongst friends than in the solitude of your mind.

Now Joe says, "I'm looking forward to going back." That's what I like to hear. A sure victory.

Well done, my friends! Well done.


regularjoe said...

perfect way to weave together thoughts and tales. perfect.

great day...

Brian said...

I'm looking forward to the Raja's report on his test bikes. I have heard that the Fischer HiFi is one of the best ones around and that I should move up from my 10 y.o. Stumpjumper, but it's hard to justify right now. So tell him to put together a post for us interested in buying a new ride, some day. Enjoy reading!

Becky said...

Wow, congrats to Joe for pushing thru and conquering the challenge! It is so true about just having to take climbs inch-by-inch...and I agree "joining with fellow believers" helps so much too :) Great story!