I was very pleased that Chey Hillsgrove could join me for Jeremiah Bishop’s Alpine Loop Gran Fondo Presented by the Prostate Cancer Awareness Project. Chey was Jake Grecco’s Pedal Pal and while I had met him in Baltimore before his cross country trip, I had never ridden with him. So today would be the first day.
|Barry Sherry, Chey Hillsgrove|
Last night we checked in then went next door to Dave’s Downtown Taverna. By luck we ran into Erin Bishop, the event director, who invited us into the Gala. That solved our issue of where we would eat. After the ceremonies we met Robert Hess and his sister, Jodi, as well as Jeremiah Bishop. Robert presented me with a cycling jacket from the Prostate Cancer Foundation Project. My friend, Scott Scudamore was the emcee so we got to see him and his wife, Margaret, as well.
|Barry, Jeremiah Bishop|
Today in the parking lot, my cousin, Krissy Harlan, came over from JMU to say hello. When we got called up to the line they called fund raisers followed by cancer survivors. I was the only survivor who went to the front. Strange, I thought. There are more of us.
|Krissy Harlan, Barry|
I found myself on the front row with Ben King, racer for Radio Shack-Nissan-Trek. Ben was U.S. National road race champ in 2010. We chatted briefly and had a photo op.
|Ben King, Barry, Robert Hess|
As we rolled out I went just a one block then pulled over looking for Chey. As he rolled by I moved up and caught him.
Chey was on his new Lightspeed bike and hadn’t yet been fit to it. After 18 miles as we came to the base of the first time climb, we pulled over to adjust his seat. There were probably 15-20 people at this point who had also pulled over. It appeared to be a woodsy-bathroom break too, but not for us. Although we had discussed doing the climbs at your own pace, and I thought he’d pull away from me, I pulled away from him. Chey hadn’t been on a bike since the 4K ended August 4 and his bike was stolen in Tacoma. So it was fair enough that he had lost his bike fitness.
|Top of the first climb, looking back towards Va.|
Last year I did this five mile climb in 48 minutes, just riding a comfortable pace. And I was passed early by a number of riders. Today was different. Although I was passed by one rider, I pulled back 10 riders on the climb. My time was 35:05. It’s not going to win me any prize but I love seeing the 13 minute improvement over last year. And it was rated eighth out of 18 in my age group so it was above the line.
At the top I waited for Chey. Then we bombed the descent on US 33. I pulled back another 10 riders on the descent, at one point passing a motorcycle as we both cornered. I was flying. My top speed was 46.7 mph.
After the first rest we came to the Medio/Gran Fondo split, off the main road and up a three mile dirt/gravel road with 15-18% grades. Rough. Last year I, along with everyone else, walked most of the way as this section was all mud. Today it was dry and while I made it most of the way, there were two sections that had so much gravel I simply dismounted and walked for 100 yards. And I’m not ashamed.
|Meadow at the top of the gravel climb|
As I waited at the top I talked to Richard Canlas, from Texas, who made his way up. He was waiting for his buddy, Ronald “Zeke” Smith, from D.C. Zeke tried the route last year but couldn’t finish so he had his friend from Texas join him. While Richard expressed concern we might miss a cutoff point, I told him whatever happens, happens.
After Chey crossed the top we hit a dangerously steep two-mile descent then pulled into a rest stop. The other two riders pulled in after us but rolled out one minute ahead of us. And then we were last. The last riders on the Gran Fondo course.
|One tough gravel climb|
As we started to climb, Chey was struggling with his bike. It may have a bottom bracket issue but being set up with a 39 tooth small front ring, the bike was slowing him down. He needed a compact. Still, we rode together and could see the two riders in front of us. I went ahead and caught Zeke who by then was alone. I think minutes before he told Richard to go ahead and make the cutoff without him.
Arriving at the cutoff we were told we had missed the time and would be rerouted over to the Medio climb to get us back on course. No problem. Although Zeke took off, I quickly hit the descent, passing him going 40 mph. When I got through all the sharp curves I sat up and let Zeke catch and pass me. I looked back but didn’t see Chey. At the bottom I soft pedaled for Chey to catch up but he didn’t. I was only three miles from the top and I stopped at the rest stop. And waited. After about 10 minutes and asking about Chey we heard he had crashed hard. I was sick.
Chey’s lack of riding for six weeks plus learning his new bike left him tired. At the Medio/Gran split I should have taken the Medio route. Instead, being macho, we turned up that awful gravel road and Chey started walking almost immediately. That should have been my clue. And now, he crashed. Damn me! I thought I killed Chey.
A few minutes later the SAG van came in and Chey was in it. I saw a smile on his face which was a relief. I hadn’t seen a smile since he began the climb on gravel. He got out and stood up gingerly. He was bleeding and his shorts were ripped up.
The guy running the rest stop was packed up and ready to go. He already had his son in the front seat and could take two passengers and two bikes. The quickest way back to get Chey treatment was to get him back to Harrisonburg. Maybe that was even quicker than calling for an ambulance here in a remote part of West Virginia. And Zeke decided he had had enough. So the two of them took the car back to Harrisonburg.
I headed up the 7.5 mile climb. This was the second climb on the Medio route. It was paved now but last year was dirt. Unlike last year, there was no timing station setup.
Jake loved blue butterflies and we are left to wonder about some mysteries in life. I have never seen a blue butterfly in my life. But since Jake left us these blue butterflies seem to appear at the strangest times.
|Jake’s Memory was with us|
I knew I was last on the course. I had the 7.5 mile climb all by myself. As I started off without Chey I became very emotional. I felt that I had pushed Chey to ride the long route. Maybe he even crashed because he was tired. And here I was all alone on this climb. Just as I was to start to cry a blue butterfly fluttered by. What the hell?! I had never seen a blue butterfly before. But I thought of Jake. And I knew that Jake’s Pedal Pal, Chey, would be OK.
My mind turned to the climb. After a mile or so the SAG van passed me then went about 1/4 mile ahead and waited. I passed and the van leapfrogged me. And so it went. I believed the driver was watching the clock and at some point was going to tell me I was beyond the cutoff and to jump in the van. Sometimes he walked down the road looking for me. But I kept the pace and kept going.
I was so sure he was going to pull me off course that I had my speech ready to go. He can’t make me get off the road. He could have my timing chip and my race number but I have the right to the road. I was going to finish the ride for Jake and that was bigger than his cutoff time. In fact, I probably had an hour in the bank. But nothing was going to stop me.
Then I started thinking about taking the lanterne rouge award for being the last finisher. Reaching the summit I flew across the top of Reddish Knob and began my descent. I was flying and got halfway down the mountain when I saw a number of riders. I caught the last guy going about 35 mph then tagged him. “You’re last,” I told him. He looked at me not knowing what I was talking about. Then I drifted back – to last – and waited for the SAG van. “I thought you said I could be last.” He laughed at me.
I pedaled ahead and came to a rest stop with lots of cyclists. I wasn’t going to be last.
Just 18 miles to go and the roads in this section were rollers — undulating ups and downs with some flat sections. On a gravel road I passed a farmhouse with the name Wenger on the mailbox. Then about 100 yards away I passed another farmhouse. A Mennonite woman waved to me. I stopped.
Her three young daughters were watching from the door and I asked if their name was Wenger. It was. I told them my great-great-great-grandmother was Mary Wenger. There was a pretty good chance we were distantly related. (This from my knowledge of Wenger genealogy) The girls, dressed in their plain long dresses came to see me. I gave them my business card. We were so different. They in their very conservative dress and me outfitted in blue/black spandex. With FUCANCER on the jersey. They must have wondered where I went so wrong.
I pedaled to the finish. Crossing the line the announcer called my name and said I was on a hot list. Then he found it to read that I was a survivor. I would have preferred him to say what I wrote — I was riding in memory of Jake Grecco – the toughest superhero I know.
|Finisher’s Medal for Alpine Loop Gran Fondo|
Chey was waiting at the finish. He was banged up and bandaged up a little. Nothing broke, he didn’t go for X-rays. Lots of road rash and some mechanical issues with the bike that will have to be fixed. But hopefully we can do this another day. And I didn’t kill him.