Saturday, April 23, 2011

Race Report: Massasoit Lung Challenge, April 23, 2011

Singlespeed, Cat 2
Rigid Surly Karate Monkey that is so old it's actually starting to rust. 34/18 gearing.

The Massasoit Lung Challenge used to be called the Lung Opener, which made me picture ribs spread wide open on a surgical table.  Glad they changed the name.

Before I describe the race, I want to thank Kristy for supporting my racing and training. I'm so blessed to have someone like her on my team.  Thanks honey!

So, where was I?  Oh yes.  So, the hour car ride up to Taunton from the Cape gave a preview of the conditions - pouring rain.  In mt biking, that translates to mud, mud and more mud.  As I warmed up for the race, the pros and Cat 1s were finishing and I saw my riding buddy Jim, who had just finished.  He was covered head-to-toe in mud and was absolutely beat.  I'd soon be just as mud-covered, and just as beat.  Witness the post-race face carnage:
I met a really nice guy named Nathan at the start line. We chatted a bit, then the whistle blew and we were off.  We'll meet Nathan again in a bit.

The Course: Each lap was 7.1 miles, and we Cat 2's did two. The start was on pavement for about a 1/4 mile and then went straight into very rooty, twisty, very muddy singletrack. There were a couple short-but-challenging roller hills at the beginning, though I think they would have been much easier if the ground was dry.  Also a couple of bridges which held up really well (wet bridges usually turn into grease, but these were good).  The middle miles flattened out and had a few long stretches of doubletrack.  Towards the end, there were 2 or 3 sandy climbs (loved those), then 2 very steep and rooty hills (hated those) that I don't think anyone was making because of the mud and wet roots.  After the last hill, it was a steep, curvy, muddy, rooty downhill that led out to the pavement and back to the start/finish.

My strategy was going to be to start really fast and try to get out in front early and try to hold a lead.  No way.  People kill themselves at the start. I entered the woods in about 8th place out of 15.  And the mud and roots really made it difficult to pass people, especially with my rigid fork bouncing me off every root.  But, like last week's race, I regulated my heartbeat a bit after the fast start, and then began trying to pick people off.  About halfway through the first lap, I had caught up to a group of 3 riders who I figured were the top 3. These guys were going at a good clip, but I felt pretty good and suddenly got a little boost of confidence.  I figured I'd pass these guys, take the lead, and ride a brisk-but-not-killer pace to the win.  Man, I'm so stupid sometimes. 

Just in front of me was that Nathan dude I met at the start line.  I got on his wheel and said hi and asked if he and the two others were the top three.  He said no, there was one ahead of them.  Huh?  Yikes - that one was nowhere in sight.  I thanked Nathan, picked my way through the three, and started hunting.

I was pushing very hard, but seeing noone. When I got to that steep and rooty final hill of the lap, I saw my buddy Dave and he said I was about 20 seconds behind the leader. I said for real? or are you lying to make me feel good?  He said for real. 

I came out of the woods and onto the pavement and past a smattering of spectators who enthusiastically braved the elements. I definitely get energy from those kind folks, even if they're secretly rooting against me and anyone else who's not their family member.

So 20 seconds behind.  I could make that up, I told myself, just keep the motor running and take some chances where you can.  I got back into the singletrack and started pushing hard.  I soon approached a rider who seemed to be having a mechanical issue with his rear wheel.  Wait, I think that's a singlespeed! Hey, I think that's him!  I passed him, but I knew he'd quickly be tailing me, so I put it in top gear and blasted as hard as I could for as long as I could.  And that would have been fine, except I started cramping up.  Right thigh, right calf, left thigh, left calf. I think even my spleen was cramping.  So I had to dial it back a bit and ride that thin line between showstopper-cramping and max-effort-without-cramping. It was precarious, but I somehow managed it.  I caught up to some geared riders in the middle of the lap and traded spots with them for a while, all the while looking back, and thinking ahead to that last climb - that would be the ultimate cramp test. 

With so much muck and wet conditions, my brakes became near useless, and I know lots of other people had the same issue.  So a couple downhills were spent hurtling over wet roots and sliding around mudded corners.  And several times a splotch of mud would hit one of my eyes at the perfectly wrong time. I actually resigned myself to crashing, but it luckily never happened.

I finally, mercifully, got to the last very steep hill, got off my bike, and walked up it, using the roots like steps. Debilitating cramps threatened to erupt with each step, but I shifted and stretched and kept them at bay.  Over the top, one last brakeless/near freefall descent, and I was back out on the pavement.  With the win.  Yay. 2nd place was that guy I passed at the beginning of lap 2 - he was a minute and a half down, which was probably at least what it took him to figure out his mechanical issue.  Tough going.  

What I learned:
> I have a hardtail on order (glossary entry: a hardtail has a suspension fork for the front wheel).  Can't wait, I think I need it.  Stupid roots.  My full suspension (front and back wheel) Turner Sultan would have easily flowed over those roots.
> I need to work on my starts.  I'm pretty happy with everything else, though some longer rides would help too.
> The cramping - much research to be done.  I'd prefer a natural, rather than chemical, solution.  I have 3 weeks break before the next race - lots of early mornings to play with.
> My wife rocks.  But I already knew that.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fat Tire Classic, Winding Trails CT, April 17, 2011: Race Report and other musings

Root 66 race series, Race # 1
Singlespeed Open, 2nd place
My first race for team Cape Cod Mountain Bike Racing
Surly Karate Monkey circa 2004, rigid Salsa steel fork, 34/18 gearing

Took one of the seats out of the 2nd row of the Honda Odyssey and Tim "Young Gun" and Brian "The Natural" (aka the Falcon) piled in with their bikes and settled in for the approximately 2 hour 45 min ride from Cape Cod to Farmington CT on Sunday.  I don't know what kind of taxes people in Farmington pay, but it's worth it - the Winding Trails recreation area is the gold standard for rec areas.   Besides the miles of bike trails, it has 3 sweet hoops courts (one with a low hoop for the kiddies or so we vertically-challenged can dunk), several tennis courts, a plush soccer field and baseball field, water to swim in (presumably).  Place was killer - if you have kids, bring them.  I saw so many dads with their sons and was really missing mine.
Anyway, onto the race.  A quick pre-ride of the first mile or so of the trails to see what we had in store - not too technical, some short steep hills but us Cape Codders are used to those. Course seemed to set up pretty well for singlespeeds, and nothing too techy for the rigid fork. 
It was clear that the best line at the start was the left line, so I lined up with my fellow SS-ers and got to talking and ended up far over to the right.  Der.  Whistle blew and at the top of the first hill I was probably 6 or 7 out of 10.  I took a look at the jerseys in front to see who I should be chasing, then took a minute or so to regulate my heart rate, and then got down to business.  There was a nice colorful jersey leading the pack.  I passed the rest of the jerseys in front of me within the first couple miles and caught glimpses of that colorful jersey here and there, but it was more like a ghost teasing me through the woods, and as the race continued, the ghost disappeared completely.
The singletrack was a thin ribbon of packed mud that flowed well and followed the contours of the rolling terrain.  There were a few logs across the trails, but nothing that you needed to dismount for (unless you're a, well, you know). 
There were also several long runs of fire roads, sprinkled with rooty sections, but they hardly even slowed you down.  There was one awesome steep gravel uphill that was a dream for singlespeeds.  On the 2nd lap I think I passed 5 gearies from an earlier heat on that hill alone.  Towards the end of the 5.1 mile lap there were two areas of deep mud and long muddy puddles - they could be pedaled through, though I got sucked in on the last lap and had to dismount into ankle deep mud.  Very close to the end was a very steep, muddy hill that was not doable on my 34/18, so I had to dismount and push.  After that hill it's a quick and flat run to the lap/finish.
This was my 3rd overall race and 1st SS race.  My two previous races were in the EFTA series.  I like that Root 66 breaks up the Cats into different times of day.  Makes for A LOT less traffic on the course.  Another thing about Root 66, and this is just my impression, but the racers seemed a bit more friendly and supportive. Maybe it goes hand-in-hand with the lack of traffic on the course, but nearly everyone I passed gave a sincere word of encouragement. And the spectators were telling me how far in front the colorful-jersied ghost was -- and I'm pretty sure they were lying that he was "just 30 seconds ahead" to keep me motivated - it really worked, I pushed friggin hard for the whole race.  Oh, and they have nice prizes - I got a medal and a sweet Pedro's brush set that I've already used to brush off the mud caked on the Surly.
In looking at last year's times, I figured 1:16 would win.  So I was very happy to ride 1:15.37.  Mr Colorful Jersey (Tim), a granite block of a guy on a sweet Lynskey with Niner fork, rode (I think) 1:13.30.  That's just flatout fargin fast, and no way I could have caught him.

Side notes:
> On the ride up, we stopped to gas up and Brian went 'round back the station to relieve himself.  As he piddled, a nearby rustle caught his attention and he was amazed to see that a falcon had just taken down a smaller bird and had him pinned to the ground and had his eye pierced at Brian.  To Brian it was a sign not only to zip up, but that his Spring spent telemarking instead of training wouldn't hurt his performance.  The bastard was right, as he finished 3rd in the Cat 2 30-39 geared div.  His time was in the 1:14's.  Awesome.  His nickname on my phone list hereby officially is changing from "The Natural" to "The Falcon."
> With Helena Ophelia joining Team Maguire on or around July 1, Kristy and I decided to expand our hauling capacity and we traded in the Mercedes for a Honda Odyssey.  Trading in the Merc was really sad for us - until we reclined into the captains chairs and played with the power doors and watched Julian running around the back of the Honda.  Yes, our sadness lasted a whole 5 seconds.  And, as a plus, the Odyssey is a bike team hauling dream.  3 bikes, 3 guys, all our gear, no bike rack needed.  Nice ride, quiet, plenty of power.  Now I'm really totally sold (plus we got an awesome deal 'cuz the dealer couldn't stop drooling over the Merc).
> I switched up my diet a bit recently - adhering fairly strictly to Brendan Brazier's Thrive diet. It's nearly totally raw, whole (organic) foods - "one-step nutrition" - so it's simple foods that are less stressful for the body to process.  I've adapted to it surprisingly well.  I've been vegan for a few years anyway, but I had gotten sucked into some processed foods and sugary stuff.  On Thrive, I definitely feel like I've lost some weight, and some fat, but no power. On my training ride this morning, I rode a 2-hill combo that I haven't previously gotten on the SS - it just feels like I have maybe 5% more power - just enough in certain spots.  My complexion is also cleaner than I can ever remember - which will be good in case that modeling job comes through (haha).  For the next race, I might opt for an onboard Gu pack over dates soaked in agave nectar though, as the date acted as a throat plug and I had to regurgitate it.  And I might go back to my pre-ride apple, as nothing I've ever eaten/drank has given me a more noticeable energy boost than a good old fashioned gala apple.  My recovery smoothie was awesome - bananas, dates, hemp protein, flax, greens, almonds, coconut milk all blended up into a delicious mud. I felt great the rest of the day - none of that post-race drag.  Another rider asked if I was drinking sand - I told him ya that's what all us Cape Codders drink.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Welcome to my blog

Thanks for visiting.  I'll hopefully be posting new things on a regular basis, but I'm also posting some past things I've posted elsewhere, in case, you know, you're wondering why I'm posting about my dog that's been dead for 5 years....

Your Favorite Places on Earth

The second-to-last time we lay down together to sleep - you were too sick to greet me at the door when I came home from work. So I got down on your bed with you and we cried for a while - for what we knew was coming. And even though you were the reason we were crying, and even though you were in pain -- you were still there to console me, your big paws reaching out to pull me closer, your big head gently lowering into my lap.

Your breathing slowed, your body slumped, and I said my goodbyes. I was amazed at how peaceful and perfect the scene was, but couldn't help wish that mommy also had a chance to say goodbye.

Then a burst of rain came crashing onto the roof as if spilled from a giant bucket, like God was splashing water on you to wake you back up. It startled you awake, pulled you from the soft embrace of passing on. And there you were again - alert and strong, still protecting, and still comforting.

You greeted mommy when she came home from work and then lay next to us as we ate, and later as we watched tv. And as always, you perked up as soon as you heard the tv shut off for the night, and you hobbled down the hallway, knowing that your cushion in the bedroom was warm and inviting - it was one of your favorite places on earth.

When I woke up the next morning, you were flat on your back, your head and neck arched to one side to brace the weight of your once powerful body. Your gangly legs were sticking up - folded over like a reindeer in mid flight. You must have seen me stirring before I awoke, and now you feigned sleeping in that awkward position - knowing that I couldn't resist but to jump down on top of you, bury my head into your neck, and coerce you into battle. You didn't have much battle left, but you never could resist a row, so out came the teeth and that rumbling Rottie growl.
You could use your aggression in such destructive ways, ways that I secretly admired for you showed no fear in the fight, full blast in, teeth blaring - and I wish I could approach the fights in my life with such abandon. We humans so civilized, and thoughtful, and fearful of outcomes. You could swallow my body parts whole, but you only gripped down enough so that I'd know that you could never cause me that kind of pain. Your playful restraint stirs a different kind of pain in me now - one of my teeth clenching and tears held back.

We brought you to Chapin beach for one last time. We had to carry you out of the Jeep and you didn't get too far down the beach. You laid there as the tide came in - I tried to build a dam of sand to protect you from the water, but the dam washed away in the incoming waves. But you didn't mind the cool water lapping up against you. The sand cushioned your aching joints and you were just happy to be at one of your favorite places on earth.

We took pictures to remind us of the day. Your head looks slightly droopy in them, like it pained you to hold it up. But you're still smiling, ears back, that wild and playful look in your eyes.

When the time came, I picked you up and placed you into the back of the Jeep, probably your favorite place on earth. You started the ride standing on uneasy legs, with your head out the window, your gums flapping in the breeze, and drool spinning down the side of the truck. But then you limped to the back, circled, and laid down - facing forward, watching us, just happy to be there even if you weren't smelling the parade of scents that rushed by the open window.

I helped you out of the Jeep and we made our way towards Dr. Tom's office - probably your least favorite place on earth, with its slippery floors and the man in the white coat prodding your painful tumors. Not the place you wanted to be on your final day, or any other day, so you limped to a comfortable spot in the grass on the front lawn, under the shady branches of a thick pine tree, and you laid down. I couldn't coax you further with your favorite treat, so we stayed there as mommy went to get the vet. Once again, you comforted me through my tears, and laid your big head in my lap.

The vet's needle pinch didn't phase you, but once the poison started to take hold you seized, your head arched up off my lap, and you stared at mommy. I can't fault you for being a little afraid. And I'm so, so, so sorry. We take on the role of God when we adopt animals, and sometimes it feels like all the happy times barely add up enough to offset the sadness we feel when cancer devastates our best friend and forces us to make the hardest of decisions.

You laid your head back down on my lap for the final time and gently passed. I buried my head into your fur, and when I smelled those puppy-scented ears of yours, I remember thinking "I hope I don't ever forget what your ears smell like." And I haven't. Haven't forgotten the puppy ear smell, the wet and coarse licks up the side of my face, or the way you would lean into me for hugs and pats, or roll on your back for "bellywubs."

When we walked away from you for the final time, I glanced back - squinting through the tears. You looked so content - fast asleep beneath the sheltering tree, a gentle breeze shaking the grass and lifting strands of your fur upwards. You were no longer struggling to hold your head up proudly through the pain. You were finally at peace.

Mommy and I left the vet's and started driving. There was no conversation - we each were lost deep in our own thoughts. We drove past our road and before we knew it, we were back at Chapin beach. We traced our usual path, and I pictured you trotting along beside us, that goofy look of utter joy on your face. We walked until what little energy we had left was spent. And then we finally spoke - the unavoidable subject of whether or not we did the right thing.

Despite what the vet said...despite what we knew in our hearts -- there was that flicker of doubt that more could have been done to help you. Had we exhausted all the medical options? Did the cost of your treatment - adding up so much over these months - play a part in our decision? I said I would pay anything to have you back and healthy - even for just one day. We walked slowly and spoke softly, our voices crackling under the weight of the sadness. If only we had a sign to tell us that we had done the right thing, made the right decision.

We found ourselves back at the spot where we had laid with you a few hours earlier. A crowd was gathering nearby. They all faced to the west. The sun was setting across Cape Cod bay, tucking down behind the white cliffs of Plymouth. The sky was streaked with intense pinks and purples - a lightshow of colors we had never seen before. People with various accents gushed and stared in awe as the sun finally dipped into darkness. And we sat with them, distracted from our grief if only for a few moments, but long enough to know that we had our answer.

It's been a few months now, and I miss you at the oddest times. Like I'll be driving on
Union St
under the Rt 6 overpass, and I'll wait for a wet lick on the ear, thanking me for the ride, and anxious to get back home to see if mommy's there. I miss you when I watch the Patriots, you getting up from your bed beside the couch and tip-toeing down to the bedroom to avoid the hoots and hollers. I miss seeing you stir when the morning alarm sounds, flipping onto your back to invite the bellywubs.

Moments when we could predict each other's movements, when our intentions became one. Those are some of my favorite memories of you...those are some of my favorite places on earth.

The Smearing

Dad's crooked fingers, bashed into awkward angles by years of rugby, and now dripping with a healthy dollop of saliva, arc towards my morning forehead, aiming to smear my wispy bangs into a greasy, artificial part. 

I can see it coming but I’m temporarily frozen to stop it, the connection between mind and body misfiring like the loose battery cable on the ’72 Corolla my mum taught me to drive a stick in.  I haven’t yet shaken off the cobwebs of a long night’s sleep and my dream-like paralysis now threatens to leave me caked with the coagulated gel of dad’s greasy Irish breakfast. 

My eyes widen and brows arch - involuntary reflexes not requiring active thought – but I take brief comfort knowing that at least my brain is online.  Can I now spark the synapses to act on command, to duck my head or raise my arm – some movement, any movement to spare my curls the smearing?  

I grit my teeth, hold my breath, and struggle to react in time.
It's my own fault really.  Dad was always notoriously early for church, as if God Himself was handing out prizes to the first 10 arrivals.  If dad had his way, he’d have arrived at the end of the previous mass and fought upstream as the celebrants filed down the front steps, bobbing and weaving his way to his preferred pew.

My priorities were a bit different.

Sleep.  Glorious sleep.  I'd wring every possible drop of doze from Saturday night's slumber, 'til dad slid my groggy bones off the side of the bed, down the stairs, and into the idling car.  The ride to church would be spent re-acclimating myself to consciousness, and then I’d stumble alongside him into the nave, and collapse in a heap into the pew next to super-celebrant himself. 

Dad would then ready himself to receive the Spirit. 
Hymnal?  Check. 
Monthly bulletin?  Check. 
Kneeler cushion intact and hinge in proper working order? Check.  Check.

All systems go...bring on the healing!

Of course, his attention would now turn to me. He'd look me up and down like he was inspecting some piece of modern art that he only understood enough to know that he didn’t like what he saw. 

Admittedly, I was a Sunday morning sight to disappoint.  Somehow yesterday’s clothes would make it onto by body during my rushed morning stupor, and whatever sweaty stench I wore to bed the night before would now have been reactivated.  Short of dragging me to the sacristy and stealing an alter boy’s robe, dad’s options for salvaging some presentibility out of his third-born were limited. 

But there was always the hair. 

The one aspect of my physical appearance that distinguished me from my siblings was my curly mane.  The sandy-brown coils that thicketed my scalp like some impenetrable jungle, would be twisted by many hours prone to pillow into a shaggy, lopsided muddle that was surely distracting God from blessing dad and the rest of the quickly-arriving congregation.  Dad’s embarrassment was too much to take. 

The smearing takes place in slow motion.  How is it that an act that I can’t move quickly enough to prevent appears to take place in slow motion?  I don’t know, perhaps it’s yet another of the Church’s great mysteries.  Or perhaps I’m subconsciously allowing it to happen as some act of self-penance.  Regardless, his warped hand arrives, and the sopping, gritty smudge slides across my hairline, transforming my front tufts of hair into a sculpture that can only be cured with several rounds of vigorous shampooing, prior to which I will cringingly glimpse myself in the mirror amazed at how my petrified tresses now resemble dad’s crooked rugby fingers.

There are few things I can look back on in my childhood that disgust me as much my dad’s sloppy spit styling my Sunday morning tresses.  I can still feel it cooling and hardening into some kind of bacterial snarl, distracting me from whatever pious perspectives the priest is sputtering from his perch upon the pulpit.   

And yet, I can’t help but laugh, for that mental mark remains long after, and represents far more than a crusty coif. 

It’s a reminder of a childhood blessed with my dad’s goofy brand of fun – the kind that only an Irishman who doesn’t take himself seriously can provide.  It’s a gift I’m still learning to cultivate in myself, and one that I hope I can pass on to my own son.

And as I sit on this beach, out here in nature where my God exists, I bounce Julian on my knee and notice how the cool Cape Cod breeze easily splits his wispy infant hair into a natural part.  Curls are just starting to form on the longer locks - thin tresses that creep towards his neck a little further each day.  Maybe I too once had a part, I think, before my curls took hold. 

Suddenly the morning’s wind picks up for a moment, gathering up from behind us and buffeting our backs.  I notice that Julian’s part is now gone, and his hair sticks straight forward like stiffened fingers all pointing out towards the bay.

I smile a grin drenched with memories, slide my thumb down the length of my tongue, and as Julian stares at me in frozen wonder, I reach out in slow motion. 

Hands Once Strong and Ripe With Veins

Hands once strong and ripe with veins,
Grease in every crease and crinkle
And caked under broad and chipped fingernails,
Now at rest forever.

Tools that once cherished trials of strength,
Of twisting and torque;
Remain stacked neatly in a red metal chest;
Curious for lack of use,
Awaiting the sliding of the drawer,
And the grasp of the master tuner.

Bikes line up along a garage wall,
Waiting for the door to raise
And their pilot to return,
Their dreams of flight fading.
Riders gather to bump, buzz, and whir
Over trails caked with memories.
A rider at the back is dropped,
A derailleur is bent,
A wayward comment goes unchecked.
Looks are exchanged - unspoken sentiment -
"He wouldn’t have let that happen"
"He would know how to fix it best"
"He would have said this..."
And it is understood what is meant
By the saying "the silence is deafening."

Push Through the Struggle

The mt bike race season starts in a couple weeks forward, so for a few weeks backward I've been getting up long before the sun to put some extra miles in as I commute to work on my single speed.  Pre-work riding allows me the opportunity to spend max time with the wifeandkid post-work.

As I wander and wind through the woods, my thoughts often wander and wind in kind.  Random thoughts, deep thoughts, inspiring thoughts - the flavor of the mind's early morning reflections as varied as the Cape Cod terrain I spin over.

This morning I came to the base of a double-climb; the first a long and gradual climb, the second a steep climb dotted with rocks and exposed roots.  Yesterday's heavy rain made for a wet and soft track, and I had a backpack full of the workday's necessities. It would be a tough slog: I needed inspiration. 

I thought of the sign in the front yard of a house I passed on the way to the trails a half hour earlier - the sign honoring the life, death, and sacrifice a local soldier had made. 
I began the pedal upward.
I'm not a fan of war but I do respect the sacrifice made by those who serve, and so I thought of the young Marine, stationed in Afghanistan, missing his family, fighting for what he believed was right. 
Halfway up the first climb and feeling stronger.
I thought of the inner strength he needed to posess, pure bravery in the face of a daily life and death struggle.
Bore down, pedaled harder, quick cadence.  I neared the top of the first climb.
The death was big news in town as his father was a popular local police Lt. The story goes that the father was on duty when the station was called with the terrible news.  His brothers in blue were alerted and quickly assembled for comfort and he was called back to the station to be notified.
I crested the top of the first hill and felt full of energy to start the more difficult technical climb.
The father then went home to tell his family.  When he entered his house, his family was in the midst of a regular day - his other kids' friends were over, wife was cooking, etc.  The father stood there for a few moments to soak in what would be the last time they'd feel the fullness of their family.
I pedaled hard and pulled up over a rock. My balance faltered, but I caught myself and pedaled on.
I think about the father often.  He put on such a strong public face through his son's funeral and in the months after.  Honors his son's courage every day with his own.  But how?  How can he keep his strength through such personal devastation?   
Halfway up the climb and my back tire slipped on a root. I pulled my wheel over and pedaled on, but my momentum was gone.
I thought of my own son, and the incredible depth of love I feel for him.
I felt my breathing getting heavier, faster. Slipped on a rock and stalled, but crept on, upward. 
Thought how I'd be anguished beyond repair if I lost him.
Another slippery root, rear tire spins out.  Panting, lump in throat.
Where did, where does the Lt find the strength?
Pedal strikes rock. 
If I ever...

I stood straddling my bike and chased my runaway breath, felt wetness in the corners of my eyes.  I looked up to clear them.  Two scrub pines swayed gently against the pink sky of the sun rising to the east.  The woods silent but for my shallow breaths.

I remembered the weekly rides I used to do with a Cat 1/expert racer.  I'd spend two hours desperately trying to cling to his back wheel.  Occasionally I'd hit the proverbial 'wall' and have to stop and take a breather.  I once asked him how he ever got to his level of fitness.  He said that you have to push through the struggle.  I thought of that often when I reached a point like this, when I felt like quitting. It became a mantra to me: Push through the struggle.

I thought of the Lt.  No pain I've ever felt on my bike or otherwise could ever match the pain he would have felt that awful day he found out his son had died, nor in the days, weeks, months after.  How could he possibly have moved on with such strength and grace?

I'm sure there were times when he didn't want to.  I'm sure he drew courage from the example his son had given, but there had to be solitary moments of cavernous and yielding despair.  And yet on he went. 

He pushed through the struggle.

I turned my bike around and headed back down to start the climb over again.