I consider myself someone who has a good sense of direction. I don't get lost. At least not for very long. But I remember reading somewhere in Outside magazine about how our reliance on GPS devices was eroding our natural ability to navigate a landscape. Why use your actual sense of direction when you can just follow the little blue dot to your destination. Well guess what sometimes the blue dot lies. Sometimes it is not where its supposed to be or the whole device just decides to crap out and just die on you. Hup United was invited to the Rapha East Coast Gentleman's ride held in lovely Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. When I saw the invitation I was sooo stoked! Hup United is a cross racing team. I am not built for endurance riding. But I have learned to love it. Maybe it is the fact that I am not built for it and am not really good at it that attracts me to it. I suffer. A lot. But these types of rides change you. They change you as a biker and a person.
The RGR is such a special event. If you are unfamiliar with it it is an invite only team endurance race. 6 person teams start and finish together. You must work as a team. And not just in the road racing sense but in a way that requires you to take care of each other. The unsaid rules are never ditch a rider, ride with class, help out other teams if they need help. Hence the Gentleman moniker.Hup had a great crew consisting of Mike Golay, Markie Mark, Ctodd, DJ Roberto, myself and Rosey's doplanger Matt Aumiller. Matt rides on Cambridge and is one of the strongest and coolest guys I know. We transferred a large sum of money to his offshore account in the Cayman Islands for his team transfer for the day. Seeing him in Noir was worth every euro...in all seriousness it was so cool to have one of the nicest guys in the NECX riding with us. What better way to get to know someone than to spend all day suffering with them. The fact that he busted out hardcore rap tunes on the climbs made the suffering that much more bearable.
One of the biggest revelations of this ride is the amazing ability of one's body to surprise you. The entire week leading up to this huge undertaking my body was a disaster. I still have no idea what I did. I assume it was a combo of laying down 5 yards of mulch, putting in some big miles to get ready for this, an insane amount of life stress and getting a bit to jiggy with it at yoga. Yeah I am old. I pretty much injured myself almost beyond repair by trying to stretch. That by any definition is both ironic and hugely stoopid. I am way to old to be trying to get limber. So I started to panic. I emailed Coach Al and he talked me off the ledge. He had to deal with both my and Mike Golay's aged bodies (knees). Hup owes Al big time as he got us both ready. I'd be remiss if I didn't thank both Tim Johnson, Molly Cameron, Pete Smith and the makers of Saran Wrap but that is perhaps better explained in another blog post...
We left Boston early on Friday and rolled out in the swaggervan from Brighton with Ctodd and Robert. Robert took the first shift and things got how do you say hectic. Damn I haven't seen grown men argue about directions like this in my life. At one point we were up on a median strip in Whackoff New Jersey playing semi-tractor trailer roulette trying to decide between north or south on 17...of course we picked the wrong ramp. It really was a harbinger for just how monumentally directionally challenged we would be for the rest of this trip. We made it down to the lovely Bear Mountain Resort in time for a nice opener ride. Did I mention my body was a disaster? Holy quacamole. Have I mentioned that the Lehigh Valley is really just one rolling hill after rolling hill? And not like Boston rolling hills. Boston has no hills as I was about to find out. We rolled out of the resort and just flew down a descent. We rode for about 30 minutes then started back to the hotel. Half way up the climb Ctodd gets a flat. Ok no biggie. I do my usual quick change with a CO2 for him. But I am so spooked by being on the side of a road with no shoulder and all of us exposed as trucks and cars fly by us at like 60 that I rush it and something slips into the bead and flats the new tube within seconds. Literally. I inflate it give it to Ctodd and it starts deflating. FML.
We decide its best to move up the road to a driveway. In PA's defense while the cars and trucks were hauling ass they never did any of the usual Masshole bs we deal with every day in Newton, Dover and Lexington. If anything they obviously had a ton of experience (and patience!) being around cyclists and never beeped yelled or generally harassed us in any way. In fact the Lehigh Valley may be the most cyclist friendly region I have ever had the pleasure of riding in. The whole weekend I never heard one negative comment about a driver. So we sort that out and finally get back to the hotel. In spite of the flats it was just what we needed after 6 hrs sitting in a car.
When we got back to the hotel we got a call from the Rapha guys and Bill Strickland of Bicycling magazine inviting us down to happy hour in town. We didn't really know where we were going but when I saw a bike shop with a super sexy black Ira Ryan in front of it I knew we were in the right spot. We went in and met Bill and his wife Beth who had laid out the route for Rapha. The whole staff at Rapha and Bicycling deserve such high praise for how welcomed we all felt and how at ease they made us. Even though we'd really never met each other before they made us all feel like we'd been friends forever. I think that is what the RGR brings out in cyclists. Its like a shared history. They were so excited to show us the roads and the area that they get to ride every day it just became infectious. Even when Gerben was telling us how hard it was you couldn't help just feeling relaxed about it. Well maybe we didn't believe it could be as bad as he said it was...
We went out to dinner afterwards with Hup OG and international photographer Chris Milliman. I love Chris. It was so good to see him and to be able to take the time to talk with him and catch up. Usually we see each other at Gloucester. Talk about the sickest new Dugast tubies then we have to race off to get to the start grid and maybe share a quick beer post race. We talked a lot about cross (of course) and Flanders.
I have to say traveling with the crew we had was so great. Matt Aumiller rolled in around 12:30 and we discussed what badass Cat 2s we all were. Not Cat 2 in the USCF sense Cat 2 as in Cats with 2 kids...I went to bed praying to the baby jeezus in the gold lame diaper that he heal my broken body so I could bring Hup glory instead of crawl up into the fetal position on the first climb and be abandoned and have my bones devoured by the zombie hordes of the apocalypse. Race day as we got the 5 minutes to the start at the line Mike Golay flashed me his Garmin. It said take a U-turn. I had no idea what foreshadowing that was. We made one correct turn. Well two correct turns then I proceeded to lead us out onto an onramp to the highway. You can't make this up. We turn around and go back down the onramp. Again we somehow do not get killed by oncoming traffic due in no part to our superior cycling skills. We get back on course and get onto a really nice gravel road across a huge field. I have Wagner's Ride of The Valkyries in my head...and choppers. You can't pretend you are in Paris-Roubaix without the choppers.
The first 40 miles were probably the most brutal 40 miles I have ever done. Between my body just not being right to the course profile it just made for a sufferfest. But we got some great words of advice from the Godfather the night before we left. ZD (Zac Daab) said to use the word "less" as a mantra. And we really embraced it as it was brilliant in its simplicity and genius. I took it easy. Which was no easy task consider the 4 "bumps" on the elevation in that first 40. One hill called Goat Hill was brutal. It was dirt/gravel and possibly the steepest thing I have ever seen. I got about 3/4 up and was just like what am I doing. I have a 100 more miles and I am about to rip my knees out of my sockets trying to hump up this wall. So I got off. Yes I did. Quick hike a bike and I remounted and joined my mates. After that the good sensations came around. We made it to the first (and last until mile 90) stop for water and refueling. And this is where things came apart. There were a ton of teams at a quikie mart. We socialized a bit. Grabbed some food and water. Then we did a quick head count and we were missing a rider. What happens on the road stays on the road. It was just a communication mix up and a necessary search for a suitable nature break gone bad but we watched all the other teams leave us behind while we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally I went up the road and got a real PB&J sandwich from quite possibly the nicest British women at a coffee shop I have ever met. Finally the Rapture released our sixth rider of the Hupocalypse from its clutches and we were back on our way. Rumor is that The Wilcox returning to racing stopped the Rapture in its tracks. You can thank him for saving the Universe next time you see him ; )
Shortly after that our not so trusty Garmin decided it would crap out. Luckily we had cue sheets and super phones. And the Amish. And the really, really nice farmers. Even though we got lost more times than I can even remember that actually became part of the adventure. We used our wits. Matt and Rob were great navigators. The route we ended up doing was 105 miles, and about 7,500 feet of climbing. Our ride time was 7 hrs. We were out there about 8. I hope this doesn't sound like I am complaining about getting lost because that is sooo not what this is about. I love adventure and that is what this was. Every time we talked with Bill or Beth or Gerben about the ride the night before they would get all excited and say just think of it as a ride. They wanted to share this amazing cycling Mecca with us. They told us not to worry if we got lost. Their advice was if we got lost just look around enjoy the scenery find some new roads and tell them all about them. I love how much enthusiasm they have for their local roads. I get it after being on them. I can safely say that was one of the nicest loops I have ever done. People say they like dirt and gravel roads but sometimes I think they are just saying that cause they think its the cool thing to say.
But Hup loves gravel. We really do. And we can ride it. We shredded the downhills. For every super tough climb there was an amazing roller coaster waiting on the other side. Huge Hup Hugs to everyone involved. Riding the Velodrome at the end and seeing all our friends from the NECX and now PA and beyond was priceless. This day will be in my memory banks forever. We made some great new friends, reconnected with some old ones and forged some bonds that are stronger for the suffering. Thank you so much to Rapha, Gerben, Slate, Jeremy, Bill Strickland, Beth Strickland, the whole Bicycling magazine staff who I was blown away not only by how strong they are but how funny, nice and welcoming they were. Can't say enough about the event. It was one of the most well run events I have ever been to. Oh and yeah a Tandem won it. Think about that. A tandem did the whole 140. Well crushed it in fact.