Tour de Cure, 2013, Little Mountain, SC

All the teams and "red riders" ready to ride.

When I chose Tour de Cure for my first century of the year, I expected it would be a glorious sunny day in early May. Not only was it for a good cause (which was my primary reason for riding), but it would be the best opportunity for an easy and enjoyable century.

That didn’t happen. Although the calendar said May 4th, it felt like February 4th in the southeast. I’m not complaining, as some people had it a lot worse (Tour de Cashiers, 3 State 3 Mountain had some of the ugliest conditions imaginable), but it made for a far more challenging ride than I had expected.

The ride started at 7:30 AM under cloudy skies, in the midst of swirling, heavy winds. Base layers and warmers were on order. I rode for Team Doctor’s Care and Team Sandroid (BCBS). After a number of photo opportunities, all the teams massed together at the starting line, itching to pedal. Many of the participants were “red riders,” people riding with diabetes. We were encouraged to cheer them on when we encountered them in their distinct, red jerseys. Glad to.

I found a few familiar faces from the Tri-Cities weekday rides — Jack, Ricky, Wes, Julie, Dave, and 15-year old Russ from FACT. Most had been training all winter long for Mitchell, so they were in far better shape than I was, but they were good riders and great people. Although I wasn’t sure I could hang with them all day, I appreciated the company.

Drafting off Wes and Julie in the early pack.

Drafting off Wes and Julie in the early pack.

The headwind was relentless. Even though I was on wheelsucker duty, it gave me fits. There were a couple occasions where we would be riding along comfortable, when all of a sudden a gust would smack us in the face. It felt like we were instantly stopped in our tracks. Other times when it wasn’t in our face, it was at our side. At one point, the wind made my bike veer at least a couple feet to the left. We had to be careful to maintain our position and not wobble too much — not easy for someone with marginal fitness and a cracked rib.

Getting frustrated by the constant headwind, Wes wished out loud for a tailwind later. Oh no, I joked. You just cursed us. Days like this never give us a tailwind, although I quietly held out hope.

Despite getting a little tired, I was hanging along fine with the crew. Our average speed was above 20 for most of the early going, then dipped down to 19 as we hit a particularly windy section.

At mile 40, the pace was taking a toll. We hit a hill and a tough headwind at the same time. Ricky was at the front, pushing a big gear to motor his way up. I felt a tightness in my legs, and realized I had reached my limit. I moved to the left to let the rest of the guys pass, as I cracked and fell further behind. They were about 50 feet in front of me by the time I crested. I pushed my weary legs as hard as I could, which wasn’t very hard, but was enough to make up a little distance before giving out again. They rolled away, and I was dropped, riding alone for about 5 miles until the next rest stop.

Fortunately these are good people. They waited for me, and we left together. I heard Jack say that he wanted to make sure I stuck with the group. Appreciate that, Jack. You’re a good man.

Oddly enough, I felt great for the next 30 miles or so. Everyone was getting tired, including me, but I was keeping up without my heart rate spiking too high.

When we approached Lake Monticello, I started to get unglued again. Another hill was my undoing, again with Ricky in front. As the grade turned up, I felt myself drifting backwards. This time Jack stuck with me and gave me a good draft as we crossed the lake. He said he was tired and cracking, but I think part of it was him just watching out for me.

Jack giving me a break from the wind.

Jack giving me a break from the wind.

We regrouped again, still fighting a stiff headwind. As we turned onto Highway 213, our fortunes changed. I felt a gust to the left, and instantly realized the direction it was going. “We’re in business!” I yelled. Julie was in front this time, and she hammered down. It felt awesome for a short while.

After we traveled about 100 feet with the wind at our backs, I realized that there was no way I could stay with this pace. I hung in there for maybe half a mile, pedaling for dear life before I cracked. I fell off the group, at first disappointed, then elated. Alone or not, it felt good to have some help. I could see ahead that Jack had also fallen off from the group. I joked later that his was a sympathy drop.

Even though I was alone and the tailwind didn’t last, I felt terrific. I was maybe 10-15 miles from finishing my first century. At mile 80, 85, and then 95, I still had gas in the tank.

Jack waited with me at the last stop, and then we rode together for a short while until we reached the final climb up Parr Rd. There’s a short section with a 12% grade, which never feels good, either at the end or beginning of a big ride. Jack got ahead of me on the climb, then I passed him later as he slowed down to encourage another rider. Nice job, Mr. Mayor.

While I cannot say it was a terrific day for the elements, any day is a terrific day if you can ride nearly one hundred miles. I’m blessed to have recovered enough from my injuries to complete what turned out to be an extremely challenging event.

Thanks to the Tri-City folks for carrying me most of the way!

Strava GPS Link


8 responses to “Tour de Cure, 2013, Little Mountain, SC

  • Natalie Weston

    Congratulations Aaron!

  • Jen

    Sounds and looks like a great ride! Awhile back I asked about how, as a beginner, to get started on these rides and you encouraged me to try one of the shorter routes. Yesterday I did the Tour de Cashiers quarter century and it was a great experience despite the rain. Thanks again for the advice and the inspiring posts. I think I’m hooked and can’t wait to do another.

    • aaronwest

      Hey Jen, sorry for the delayed response. This has been an eventful week. Of course I remember you, and that is awesome! Tour de Cashiers is one of my favorite rides. I’m not familiar with the quarter century route, but I imagine that it is far more challenging riding those miles around Cashiers compared to anywhere else. Keep it up. You’ll get better and stronger, and can travel longer and farther. In my opinion, there’s no better feeling than riding 100 miles amid scenic mountain views on a sunny day.

  • exmaschine

    Big ups AA! Nic ride. Sounded like great company too.
    “when all of a sudden a gust would smack us in the face. It felt like we were instantly stopped in our tracks.”
    Oh, described perfectly, but all too familiar and frustrating!
    The wind is worse than any climbs in my opinion! I Ioath the winds…:P

    • aaronwest

      You and me both. After a particularly windy ride last year, a climbing buddy of mine also concluded that we would take climbs over winds any day. Wind is just frustrating, and it feels like you’re making no progress. It’s also tougher to hear each other. The good thing about climbing rides is that they usually block the wind. There have been very few rides up in the mountains that I can recall as being anywhere close to as windy as last weekend.

  • Cherry

    Awesome Aaron, you continually amaze me to continue on with these challenging rides even under your condition, yet still listening your body at the same time. I applaud you. Your ride was so scenic, beautiful!

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