Diabolical Double – a ride that lives up to its name
Garrett County Gran Fondo
Deep Creek, MD – June 22, 2013
They were not being “cutesy” in naming this ride the “Diabolical Double.” When I planned out my summer I thought building towards a double metric century – 124 miles – in June would be reasonable. And this ride was in beautiful Deep Creek, Maryland, and reportedly beautiful. And there would be a fair amount of climbing in it. I like to climb hills on my bike, so what the heck, sounded good. I felt ready. I had ridden a double metric with Danny Chew a couple of weeks earlier, so now was the time to climb a bit more within that ride. I would not add distance, just some elevation. Also had trimmed down a few pounds to a lighter race weight (every pound matters when you’re climbing).
The ride was also for the Joanna M. Nicolay Melanoma Foundation, and having heard a friend of mine had recurrent melanoma, it got personal. I decided to climb these mountains in honor of Tom, and with that purpose I set out on an incredible ride.When I found out Ryanne and her husband were joining me in this adventure, it got even better.
On Saturday we got up early to get to the starting line at the top of Wisp Mountain. We were eager. It was going to be a good (and long) day on the bike. The first 8 miles or so were mainly downhill, and then the climbing started. You see, a lot of races have a few climbs, and then rolling hills, and some flat areas. But this course? Nope. The ride organizer must be a relative of close friend, JR Petsko, as both seem to create these super challenging courses. It’s like they internalized the quote, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” So there were not rolling hills, but one mountain after another. It’s like all the mountains around Deep Creek were stitched together. You either were going up or descending, sometimes 35-40 miles per hour.
This was a ride called a gran fondo, which means it was not a race, but had timed climbs within it. I had not planned to hammer them until the first climb when Ryo took off. Well, damn, I gotta go with my teammate – so I went too. We worked hard and thought, isn’t the end here yet? And soon enough first timed climb done. After the 2nd timed climb we waited at the top for Jeremy, but he never showed. Worried, Ryo asked if anyone saw a guy fixing his bike. Sure enough, it was him. We headed back down to find him when she turned me and told me to keep going, not go all the way back down the hill. Knowing this ride was for my friend, I did that. I was sorry to see her go. Turns out Jeremy was fine, but his bike wasn’t. His diabolical derailleur (the part in the back that makes the chain switch gears) came clear off his bike, tore his spokes, and cracked the bike frame. They were done for the day. (Although I think they might go back to ride it…)
So I climbed back up the hill and pedaled on. Now I started to feel a little fatigue in the legs. It was early, but I felt it. I also started to count the sips from my water bottles, as the day grew hotter (it got into the 90s and my Garmin said 100, though I’m not sure about that), I got nervous I would not make it to the next rest stop without being dry.
It was lonely on the ride for awhile as most of the double metric pack had moved on, but I started to catch riders, and that reassured me I was on course. However the day got hotter, and the climbing did not stop.
For the first time, I started to feel myself almost cramp on my ride. I downed electrolyte capsules (Hammer Endurolytes) and drank more water. And prayed for the aid station/rest stop. It came. After refueling I set off for the next. Given all the climbing I became nervous I would not make the time cut-off, so I started grinding out miles a little faster. No worries. I made it with time to spare. Relief at mile 82 or so. Leading up to that point I had been thinking, this is the hardest ride I’ve ever done.
Now when you’re on a hard ride, more than half the battle is the mental aspect. The mind can go to some dark places, and you have to pull yourself back. I started going through the rollodex of recent life events and things I had to do, and stresses and such – and then pulled back from that. The next mental challenge came when i was approaching the split off to just to 102 miles instead of the 125-mile course. The rice director said it was going to be hot, to be safe above all else, and that there would be a choice at each fork in the road. But no, I’d promised the metric, so I pulled my mind back from that. Then, I started wondering if I was – um – off course. I hadn’t seen a rider in awhile and also there were not any arrows in awhile leading to Hunt, MD. And then I hit these steep neighborhood streets, remniscent of the Dirty Dozen, but saw a painted arrow on the road so knew I was on course (whew).
Yeah, the mind goes to challenging places when your body is stressed to the max. As my teammate Ryo said, you don’t go through a ride like that without having to pull yourself back from your brain seeking an escape route for your body. The key is to pull back. Each moment my mind started to take hold, I harnessed the advice of Scott Jurek, ultramarathoner and author of Eat and Run. Jurek’s four-point response guide to difficult challenges: 1) Feel it; 2) Take stock; 3) Seek a remedy; keep moving forward; 4) Separate out negative thoughts from reality. If you conquer your fears (what if I don’t finish?) and doubts (am I strong enough?), you conquer a lot.
When I arrived at that aid station and saw all the other riders and friend, Chris Popovic, it felt like 100 degrees, but I felt so much relief seeing people. Also reached out via text to my friends, Ryanne, Stacie and Kate, looking to harness any positive thoughts from them. It worked. Also from that point on I’d ride with new riding buddies. The crew who took me on was a group from Bethesda. Philip and the guys who ride together a bunch and use this ride as their big ride. Super super nice guys.
Each aid station was amazing. The volunteers were so numerous, and all pleasant and helpful. And ice in the water bottle in Hunt, MD – well that was clutch. It was one of the next aid stations that Wanda, one of the volunteers, came up to me – in all my stinkiness at 100+ miles – and gave me a hug. What compassion to hug an exhausted, sweaty cyclist!
I was also saved by another riding buddy that day – Abby, a triathlete from Washington DC. We probably ended up riding the last 50 miles together, and having a riding buddy was crucial. She has no idea how she helped get me to the finish line.
I kept feeling myself pre-cramping, and kept feeling a little nervous about the famous final climb. I was downing Heed and Endurolytes like they were going out of style. And I think it worked. But by the time we got back to the Wisp climb (and the 10 miles leading up to it were some of the nicest, flattest in the course), I was ready. Neither Abby nor I were going to stop short of rolling across the finish. I even felt a surge as I went up that hill (there had been tougher, longer hills before it.)
When I crossed the finish line I felt relief, and felt a bit of triumph. The Diabolical Double was definitely the hardest ride I’d ever done. Yet I thought to myself it is nothing compared to the ride that my friend is taking in his battle with melanoma. It is nothing compared to what people go through who are challenged to breathe. And so you get perspective. Might be sore, but man was I grateful I could do that ride.
Totals at the end of the day: Over 11.5 hours on the course including aid stations, 130 miles, 17,612 feet of climbing (over twice as much elevation gain as the ride I did with Danny, and the farthest I’ve even been in one ride). The only part that was missing at the finish was my teammate and her hubby. Ryo would have crushed this course the way she handled those first climbs. But somehow I feel like we’ll have more opportunities to log crazy miles together.
And there is this part of me that is thinking, maybe I can get down there and do that course again – this time in under 10 hours… Yeah, I think this ultra-endurance bug is for real. And maybe, that ride and challenge of it, changed me a little bit. Diabolical Double, not just another gran fondo, but the hardest ride I’ve ever done. And I actually want to do it again…