First and foremost, "Suck it up Buttercup!!"
Secondly - "if this old lady can do it, so can you!"
Third - when in doubt, sing a really annoying song, preferably out loud.
She dubbed one Brian-Induced death march in steady downpour and 40 degrees the "Unicorns *Pooping Rainbows Ride" and taught me that even in the most dire of straights, humor can bring you back to the front porch.
What does this all have to do with Gila, all the way in NM? The lessons I have learned on the wheel of Cynthia, Brian, Mark, Andrew, Craig, got me through this day. To many of the racers it was just another day in the peloton. To me, it was like getting kicked in the shins. Repeatedly. By 20 5 year olds. It just kept coming. As was my fitness. But doing these events on a solid aerobic fitness base bodes well for lots of development which I am sure to reap the benefits from down the road, but that Thursday suffering at 7,000ft, it was just one hard day.
The small peloton had a massive acceleration roughly 40 minutes in heading into the sprint, which I knew about. Yet that 4 minutes of complete VO2 effort left me dangling off the back with lack-luster stragglers and a few other worker bee's. Let the chase begin. Mentally I knew what happened, my heart was thumbing out of my eyes, my quads seizing up. But the lure of the caravan, just around the corner, inch-worming its way up the climbs, kept our group motivated to make final contact. It's a horrible feeling to be 50 meters off the last car of the caravan just as the front car drops over the crest of the climb to begin careening down the Gila Monster. Gapped. Out. Again. I found it interesting that I wasn't getting stressed or angry, just much more focused. We had a group of 5, which descending the gnarly Gila Monster - a route I did not know - I sheepishly thought to myself that I was glad we weren't with the other 45 riders at that time!
The hardest thing about the chase was eating. I didn't know my compatriots, some sketched me out, some attacked, and I just couldn't get food in riding a steady zone 3/4. I couldn't drink. This would pose to be my biggest downfall. I had learned the day before to surf the cars, ride the bumpers, hang on the tail just long enough to catch a breath and get up to the next car in the caravan that in the valley, our little group made contact. As I crawled past Michael and the car I grabbed a coveted bottle and headed through the group.
The group had been riding chill. For a long time. But once you are popped and you are 5 vs 45, you do the math. I found Clara and Flavia and they both did a really bad job hiding their amazement that I was back! Clara said "put it in the 27 and spin. Eat. Survive. That's it."
It had taken 1:10 minutes to get back!! That's insane. I paid for one 4 minute effort for 1:10. It was slightly eerie how the time passed descending the Enchanted NM forests and rolling through the desert like land. I tried not to look at my Garmin, I thought about those horrid, freezing winter rides, I thought about what Cynthia would do. Just keep pedaling, if you are steady, you will get there. It never even crossed my mind that we could get time cut, because we were going to make it back!
There were a few crashes in the bunch, some crazy tactics as I worked on my pack riding skills and hid as much as I could. Alas the final big long 15 mile climb came. And again, engage parachute, ride through quicksand, or straight drop back through the pack, it happened. I was alone again. As the caravan passed, Michael and Bea handed me extra bottles for the ride out and encouragement "Just ride your pace, make it to the finish. You did good." Hearing that kept me in it. I knew I could get to the end, just not too rapidly. The caravan was starting to take a liking to me because they got to see so much of me - falling out of the group, riding back to the group, and falling out again. Several team cars gave me a thumbs up, words of encouragement and a smile. Perfect. It was beautiful outside, amazing landscape, no Unicorns Pooping Rainbows today! I was experiencing raw racing at its best!
As cars snaked by I attempted to ride some bumpers but the only one slow enough was the ambulance. At least I am from SoCal so extreme smog is no big deal. But that was short lived! I found one other rider who had been in a crash earlier and rode together in silence into the finish. Shockingly only 10 minutes down on the winner. Cool.
I was beat. But a huge improvement from Redlands where my mind was foggy, was that my mind was clear, just my body was extremely taxed. I was covered with salt, my eyes completely blood-shot and water pouring out of them, cheeks and thighs covered with spit, with snot running down my lip. Where's Brian when you need him, right? haha.
I sat on the curb still in kit and helmet, with my head in my hands coughing, and coughing and coughing. I think I coughed up dirt from the Beaumont Stage it was that bad! Clara was busy doing interview and during a down moment she stuck her head out the door: "Are you ok?" haha yup, just give me a minute. :)
All I did the rest of the day was eat, shower, eat, sleep, eat, snack, and sleep. I was still on the list, I was not anywhere near defeated, and I found as much silver lining and sunshine I could. I was sharing an amazing experience with people who believed, even in my novice state of experience, that I could make it to the end. Super sweet. :)