I had a great week in Switzerland with the weather. I could not ask for more. Well, yes I could. I could ask for two. But I would not get it.
As I prepared to go to Finland on Saturday, Corinne Kolb said to me that it looks like the weather is going to be bad all week. From then I kept an eye on the weather in Bormio, Italy.
My plan was to rent a car and drive to Bormio, stopping in Liechtenstein along the way. I would ride Stelvio Pass from both sides, perhaps one of the most ambitious days on my bike – ever. But the forecast continued to get worse. Daily highs for the town of Bormio were in the 50s with 100% chance of rain.
I’ve driven to New Hampshire where the Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb was canceled – twice – because of bad, i.e., dangerous weather. And I viewed going to Bormio with the same risk. The weather on top of the mountain could be 10-20 degrees colder with freezing rain or snow.
When I went with Trek Travel, I at least had a SAG vehicle and extra clothes at the top for crappy weather. This would simply be me all alone against the elements.
I planned to stay two nights plus had the expense of renting a car and gas. I really couldn’t justify the cost of going to Bormio to watch rain. It was a tough decision but I know it was the right one. I decided to return home instead.
My biological cycling clock is ticking. I don’t know if in five years I could get up Stelvio Pass. Or even one. I would like to one more time but not at the risk of death (and one pass over, Mortirolo, is the Mountain of Death). The only time I descended Stelvio I almost crashed head on into a car. It simply wasn’t worth the risk.
And if there was any question I made the right decision, Will Swetnam send me a photo from Stelvio Pass. I made a smart decision.
Stelvio – I am hoping I will see you again. In decent weather.
The event was the Texas 4000 Atlas Ride, the official first day of the Texas 4000. Riders had the option of riding 25, 50, or 70 miles, often determined by the friends and family that came to the Atlas Ride.
I drove to Cedar Park and met Will Swetnam, who brought along a Garmin mount since my BarFly mount broke yesterday. I made it to the start with five minutes to spare.
After the National Anthem, the current 2017 team of Texas 4000 riders were the first to depart. They were followed by alumni riders. Then the rest of us.
I had no expectations for the ride. At first I was sitting in with a group then decided to go faster and bridged up to the next group on the road. A “train” came by with about 10 riders and I jumped in. We were flying until we came to rest stop one. I stopped but no one else did.
Back on the road I kept my own pace until another group came by. We had a good pace until we came to a rest stop. They all turned right (rest stop). I turned left (70 mile route). I was all alone.
I soloed for about two miles then pulled over to fix my handlebars which were misadjusted. Eventually another group came by. One of the riders was Scott Towle from the 2004 group – the original group. The official story was that Chris Condit, the founder of the Texas 4000, was in San Francisco, when the Hopkins 4K was just finishing. And that brief moment was the inspiration for the Texas 4000.
Later I saw a Hopkins 4K jersey from 2006. I did not get the rider’s name but he shared stories of the early years. He offered his opinion that the Texas 4000 does a much better job at building community within the teams than the 4K for Cancer does.
The 50 mile and 70 mile rides followed the same course except the 70 mile ride diverted to the west, probably 10 miles and found some wonderful grazing area protected by many cattle guards. It was a free message on the bike.
For much of the ride it was overcast but humid. I was drenched. There were some raindrops but nothing of significance until safely in the food tent.
Will and I rode together the last 30 miles. We integrated with a group of 2017 riders and I started talking with Trey Curran, a rider with the Sierra route. As we got close I remembered the Silent Mile. Surprisingly Trey, nor his teammates had heard of it. When we came to the last mile, I slowed and looked for the signs. Jake. Alex. Amelia. I even doubled back to make sure I didn’t miss them. Found them all.
I ended and was greeted by name. I think that helmet sticker (and number) was a clue. I turned into the mail area and saw Ayesha Kang, my Bicycle Buddy from last year.
I got food and sat with the Rockies 2016 team, having met them last year. Then Vanessa Beltran found me. I moved to sit with her 2014 Ozarks team. While eating the skies opened up and poured. It lasted about 20 minutes but sent water throughout the tent we were sitting under.
I also got to meet my bicycle buddy from this year – Luis Salazar. Luis is a bright and athletic young man. I also learned that he will not make it all the way to Alaska as he will have to return on Day 48 to start medical school. Well done my friend!
After the rain we sought out the signs from the Silent Mile. We then found Amelia Schmidt’s bicycle buddy, Lauren Nix. She wrote a note on the sign for Amelia – to be delivered to her front yard on Tuesday.
As I was leaving, Trey came over to say goodbye. That was actually very touching.
The Texas 4000 does it right. A wonderful event where friends and family can ride with this year’s team – 25, 50, or 70 miles. And very well attended by alumni. I just wish we didn’t need cancer rides.
Six years ago I didn’t see myself doing charity rides but then … cancer. And today I lined up for my fifth Livestrong Challenge. Two were in Philly (actually King of Prussia) and now the third in Austin.
I wanted to ride with 13 year-old Alex Shepherd in Oregon but never got the chance. At his service in June I told his dad, Dan Shepherd, I’d like for him to join me in Austin and we would ride for Alex.
I arrived on Thursday and attempted to find a route called the Volente Loop using a downloaded file on my GPS. The problem was there were a couple spots where the route crossed over (think figure eight) and the GPS wasn’t sure, or probably I wasn’t sure, which way to go. At 16 miles I found myself back at my car. OK, at 95 degrees, I gave up.
Friday morning I went to the airport and picked up Dan. We didn’t have much time as he assembled his bike then we rode downtown to meet Will Swetnam and some of the Cyclists Combating Cancer group at Mellow Johnny’s. We rode over to a Rudy’s which is delicious BBQ in a gas station.
Yesterday Dan and I went to Livestrong Headquarters to pick up our registration materials. After lunch were able to do the real Volenti Loop. Still hot with some punchy hills and “heavy” pavement. Those 42 miles seemingly took something out of me.
This morning we timed our entrance perfectly. I had raised enough funds to get a priority start in the first coral. I wanted to ride with Dan but being in the front coral meant I could ride out with the top fund raisers. Our CCC team almost always the top team but this year we were second to “Lance and Friends.” Well good for him.
Lance Armstrong lined up in the first group and I thought if I had a chance to ride next to him, I would. I got to the coral at 7:29 a.m. One minute to spare. But there were lots of cyclists in cue and I was at the back of the group. I never even got a glimpse of Lance at the front.
We rolled out at 7:30. Our plan was for me to soft pedal if I wasn’t with Lance and in either case, we would meet at the first stop at Mile 10. I wasn’t with Lance and I began to back off the pace. At Mile 6 Dan and I joined up, both looking splendid in our Team Alex jerseys.
I rode up behind a man wearing a picture of a child and said “tell me about your daughter.” I slowed to talk and I think Dan saw that it wasn’t all about the riding. The best moments of the day would come from riding.
At the second stop I met the kids from the Texas 4000. That was a surprise to them as I started dropping the names of Vanessa Beltran, and Lexi Rogers and others who were part of the program the past couple of years. They seemed genuinely excited to meet me. Well, I was excited to meet them too.
Each “challenge” is designed to feature a challenge on the century route. While this route was mostly flat with some rollers, I remembered well the Wall. Around Mile 50 you could see this butte in the distance. As one got closer you could see there was a road straight up the side to the top. Closer still, you could see almost everybody pushing their bikes.
As Dan pushed on I told him we should back off a little. Don’t want to hammer it and then having nothing left for the big climb. At Mile 48 we pulled into a rest stop. There I met Rudy the Chicken. A girl was holding him and offered to let me hold him. She now has me rethinking my love affair with Chick-fil-A,
As we rolled out I wondered about the Wall. Dan went ahead and I found myself next to a woman, Christy San Antonio. I asked her if she had ridden this century before. She looked at me and said “I rode a century yesterday.” She must have heard “ridden a century before.” We talked.
The next 25 miles went by as quickly as any I have ridden this year. Not quickly as in fast but quickly as in the time few by. Mostly, Christy and I rode side by side and did not notice we were pulling 12 riders. Christy’s friend, Christa Ginsburg, and Dan were busy talking too.
Back at the rest stop (with the chicken – we made a loop) there’s always that moment of truth when you have been riding with strangers. Do you wait for one another or do you move on? Not sure who but we waited for one another and the four of us rolled out of this rest stop.
Both women are strong. Both are triathletes. Christy has been to Kona for the Iron Man. Do I need to say more? But on this day, her derailleur wasn’t functioning and she was stuck in a small ring on the back. Not the 11t but close to it. Having ridden a century the day before in Houston and now riding in a “big gear,” I actually had a chance to stay with her.
At the next stop we found a mechanic. He put the bike on a stand and said a piece of hair was in the derailleur and he removed it. None of us believed that was the cause but her bike functioned again. The mechanics also confirmed that Lance and friends came by real early but apparently did not ride the full century. I never saw him the entire day.
We rode back to Austin enjoying more talk about cycling, doping, school, and politics. Once we passed a man, fit looking, who was struggling, and he looked over and saw two women. Whatever struggles he had that day he put behind him because he took off just like someone lit an afterburner. It was apparent he wasn’t going to get “beat” (it’s not a race, it’s a ride) by women.
As we approached the finish line I soft pedaled and let the three of them go on. I still find the first 99 miles of these challenges to be easy but the last mile difficult. Even while talking about cancer all day I was really thinking about cancer. But the last mile is one where I think of others and I reflect on my own journey. I slowed down and moved to the right where volunteers handed out yellow roses to cancer survivors. It was my 5th time receiving a rose but it’s still hard.
Back at Camp Livestrong, Dan and I went to the food tent. While we were there a woman came by pimping her kid with a donation jar. She told us her sad story of how she needs money because he child has brain cancer. Dan and I were taken aback and I was the first to ask “what kind of brain cancer?” We know a little about pediatric brain cancer. She started backpedaling both from her story and from our table. Pathetic but perhaps a pathetic cry for other help.
I made bibs/cards for 60 people that I wanted to put on their message board. Just as soon as we started putting them up, workers were tearing them down. It was 4:00 p.m.
With nothing more to do we gathered our belongings and went back to shower at the hotel. Dinner. Pack the bikes and reflect on the day. It was a great day of talking about Alex, Jake “the Hero” Grecco, and others affected by cancer. The talking was therapeutic as was the riding.