The Fort Jackson Awareness Ride was something special for us that ride in Columbia. The fort graciously allows cyclists to ride on their beautiful, traffic-free roads, which is simply amazing for the local cycling community. Having dropped buckets of sweat on their pavement, I cannot thank them enough.
This was the first organized ride on the fort, and it was a long time coming. Proceeds go to the Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (FMWR) organization, a quality-of-life program that provides soldiers family support and services. They do great work, and we were pleased to give a little back. Turnout was over 200, a surprisingly high number for a first-time event. I think most of the grassroots support was because cyclists value the fort so much.
This was technically a Gran Fondo, or ‘Gran Fundo,’ since it was both a race and a ride. There was a good mix of hardcore racers and casual, Sunday riders. I was somewhere in between. The course was a 12-mile loop, starting from the heart of the fort at Hilton Field. Riders could choose to do either three or six laps, extending clockwise in a large loop through the quiet, smooth back-roads. I chose the longer ride. Having ridden these roads numerous times in the past, I should have known better.
The fort is arguably some of the toughest riding in Columbia. The hills are rolling, but they bite. This route was particularly nasty. Our group rides typically go counter-clockwise, and for good reason. It starts with an easy descent down Golden Arrow, a chewed up and choppy bed of pavement. From there we turn onto the smooth pavement of Dixie Road. At first the road rolls up and down comfortably, and then the beating begins. The latter half of Dixie Road is called ‘Dixie Grind.’ It is a prolonged, gradual ascent. The grade is moderate enough that it doesn’t seem like a true climb, yet it has a way of chewing up even the strongest legs. There is little rest after turning onto Wildcat, where the real behemoth rears its ugly head. We call it ‘The Wall,’ and I was far from excited to climb it six times. After that the course calms down with rolling hills or descents most of the way back to the field.
I’m not a racer by any stretch, but since I’ve been having a good year, I decided to try and hang with the big boys, most of which were Cat racers. The lead pack set a ferocious pace. I hung with them until about midway through Dixie road. There was no way I would keep up during the tough climbs. I faded back and connected with the next group. This one had familiar faces, which I was pretty sure I could hang with, despite the intense pace. My time was around 32 minutes for the first lap, around a 22.5 mph average, which was probably in the top 15. I was happy with that.
The second lap went just as well. My heart rate was running high and I was somewhat concerned with burning out, but the legs were staying with me. Rather than push too much, I backed off again and hooked up with another pack. We made it up Dixie and The Wall without issue. The second lap was probably just a little slower than the first. My average at that point was around 21.
Back on Dixie road during my third lap, and realized I was in trouble. My body was hurting more than it should have. I could no longer hang with the current pack, so I dropped again. I was gradually losing steam, yet still keeping a respectable pace. By the end of lap three, my pace was 20 mph and and dropping.
I downed three orange slices before starting lap four. For some reason those always help when I’m struggling. All was fine until I was back on Dixie, when all of a sudden I had little. Ouch! My quads burned with every pedal stroke. I started breathing hard, yet my heart rate was low. This meant I was bonking. I grunted my way through that lap and took a 10-minute break.
It was tempting to just give up right there. My car was 100 feet away. I even said out loud that I was going to bail. Fortunately Vince, a good friend, caught up with me and I decided to pace off of him. He was generous because he was a lot stronger than I was at that point. My power was in the toilet and I would die on the climbs. He’s a good guy and waited for me. Lap five was a major struggle. About midway through lap six, my mojo finally came partway back. I accelerated, caught up with some other riders, and rode hard until the end.
Relief! I was very happy to be finished. Final time was 4:08.
Thanks to all the volunteers, organizers, and especially the Fort that made such a fine event possible. This was a blast.
Official lap times:
Lap 1: 32:23
Lap 2: 37:41
Lap 3: 38:25
Lap 4: 43:04
Lap 5: 55:57 (includes the 10 min break)
Lap 6: 41:29