I don’t know if it’s me. Or if it’s men in general. But offer me help and I’ll probably turn you down. Maybe if I accept assistance it indicates a sign of weakness I’m not ready to admit to. So when Greg, and his daughter Sam (Samantha), from Rocky Mount, NC, saw me changing a flat and offered me a ride in their truck, my first instinct was to say no. But then I thought about I had one CO2 cartridge and if I messed that up, I’d have to walk 3.5 miles back to where I parked. And I had wedding to get to.
Greg and his daughter Sam
I was here for the wedding of friends David Vito and Kelley Noonan. I came down a couple of hours early to be able to ride. I parked in Nags Head and headed south on S. Virginia Dare Trail, the road parallel to the main highway. No shoulders but a reduced speed limit. Still, one “local” (I assume, he had North Carolina plates) gave me an ear full of horn even though I was all the way to the right and there was a wide open lane to the left. I gave him a friendly (true) wave.
David, Barry, Kelley
But what’s up with the road rage in North Carolina? David and Alistair Hastings had a couple incidents yesterday and Pierce Schmerge said he was yelled at also today. Hey North Carolina: Bike Belong.
At the south end of Nags Head is Cape Hatteras National Seashore. I headed south on the main road, Rte 12, Cape Hatteras National Park Road. Although the speed limit was 55, there was a decent sized shoulder. I went into Bodie Island to see the lighthouse and was disappointed to see that it was covered by scaffolding.
Bodie Island Lighthouse. Closed for Remodeling.
Heading south again, I wanted to cross the sound but only went about 200 yards on the Oregon Inlet bridge. No shoulder. None. And 55 mph. I turned around.
Oregon Inlet Bridge
I headed back to explore a little more of Nags Head and thought I might try to make it up to Kill Devil Hills and photograph the Wright Brothers’ Memorial. But on my way I flatted. I’m not sure what it was that I pulled out of the tire. Possibly a sand spur, which I pulled out of my skin. Ouch!
Pier at Nags Head
My track record with CO2 cartridges is about 50%. If I was in a group ride and messed it up I could always borrow another tube or cartridge. But if I messed it up it now it would be walking time. So Greg and Sam offered and I accepted. And I’m glad I did.
One Property is Footloose. The next is Fancy Free.
I got to the wedding with plenty of time to spare plus I was able to change my flat in my room with a floor pump. Thanks to Greg and Sam and for once I knew when to say yes.
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.
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 to 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.
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 fundraisers followed by cancer survivors. I was the only survivor who went to the front. Strange, I thought. There are more of us.
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.
As we rolled out I went just one block then pulled over waiting for Chey. As he rolled by I jumped in, 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 understandable enough that he had lost his bike fitness.
Last year I did this five-mile climb in 48 minutes, just riding at 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 stop, 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.
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 the second 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.
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 intersection 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.
I knew I was last on the course. I had the 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.
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.
I planned to get to Thurmont early for the Civil War Century because severe storms were forecast to move into the area around 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. Up at 5:15 a.m., I still got caught in traffic north of Frederick as a “mudder” event with 20,000 participants was also being held and traffic was backed up for miles. I was wheels down at 8:18 a.m. – an hour later than I had hoped.
Ominous looking early morning sky to the west
After a seven-mile warm up climb through Catoctin Mountain Park, ones comes to Wolfsville, Maryland. Just beyond Wolfsville is a hill. It has no name – I just call it “50 mile hill” because two years ago I hit 50 mph on the descent. Like last year, I didn’t recognize it when I descended and only hit 47. So I decided I would double back one mile and try it again. I had a head wind and gave it my all and hit 49.1 mph. Sigh. I decided there would be no third time.
I caught, Jeff, who was wearing a RAGBRAI XL (40 years) jersey. I had talked to him in the parking lot briefly and we would ride together the rest of the day. We chatted about family and RAGBRAI. He attended this year with his 16 year old son. As for RAGBRAI, like me, he was basically one and done unless his son wanted to do it again.
As I rode I didn’t feel particularly well, especially approaching the climb on South Mountain. I never thought about abandoning or sagging back, I just thought it would be a day where I would suffer through. I usually finish what I start.
South Mountain rest stop
The route took us off South Mountain to Sharpsburg and past the battlefield and cemetery at Antietam. I think there’s a 50 mph hill in the park. I’m not entirely certain because when I rode it during Bike Virginia my Garmin was in a pause mode. I thought briefly about riding it today but decided to ride on ahead.
Mount Aetna Rest Stop – Before the Storm
At the second rest stop, halfway at the Mount Aetna fire station, there were some guys with radios and Jeff said they told him the riders should take the bailout route back to start as the storms were very strong. I have no pictures available to share on this blog but looking to our left the sky was already an ominous black color. And it wasn’t yet 1:00 p.m. We knew some massive storms were close.
Quietly it seemed riders massed as though there were safety in numbers although I’m not sure that is the case. Just outside Smithsburg we began the climb to go back over South Mountain. And South Mountain stood between us and Thurmont.
Then the rain came. Hard. And lightning. Thunder. COLD rain. Wind. Although it was a tail wind, it also contained lots of debris, mostly leaves and small twigs although it was certainly knocking down branches and trees too — but we weren’t getting pelted by those. It wasn’t fun being on the road. Pounded by a driving cold rain and being hit by debris, we stayed on the shoulder and hoped any passing motorists would see us.
When we traveled through Boonesboro an hour earlier the temperature hit 90. Now on the mountain the temperature dropped to 66 degrees. This was a massive storm front.
We were guessing the best way back. I know the official bailout route was up ahead in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., but it seemed we could do better. We passed a road marked Md. 77 with a sign towards Thurmont which really was the best way back. That would have connected us to the road we rode out on in the morning.
Instead, we stayed on course and began the climb up Raven Rock Road (491). Two miles up there is a turn on Ritchie Road, a lightly traveled heavily forested road. Jeff and I opted to stay on the main road hoping it was a direct, or least a shorter way to Thurmont. Turns out it wasn’t. In fact, when we reached the top of the mountain we were probably 200 meters from where we would have been had we stayed on Ritchie Road.
Fort Ritchie Road
We turned down Fort Ritchie Road and saw it was littered with tree debris. We were told a power line was down in the other direction. We found our way through the debris.
Drenched – but safe
Arriving back at Thurmont the rain stopped. Briefly. I started to second guess our decision to abandon but accepted the fact that getting back safely was the most important thing. There were more storms behind this first one and the most important thing was that we made it back safely and can ride another day.
I didn’t get to Gettysburg but this still is one of my favorite routes. But I learned additional roads to ride on. And for the first time, the lines weren’t too long for the Antietam Dairy ice cream.