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  • Writer's pictureJeff Pockett

Dropped Like A Lead Balloon

It’s been a couple of months since completing my first Century ride, I have definitely tapered off on training, although I still try to get into the gym regularly. I have done a few decent road rides and have really enjoyed getting back on the mountain bike and putting in some trail miles, so when I heard that there was going to be an organized group ride over Bear River Ridge, I figured why not give it a go. I knew it would be a tough day, just over 4,000+ ft. of elevation gain within 33 miles meant more sustained climbing than I had ever done before. But how bad could it really be? A few weeks earlier I completed a 25-mile mountain bike ride with some serious elevation changes, it was tough, but I finished it. So Sunday morning I was up and off, running late of course, maybe in hopes that the group would just leave without me. I’m not use to riding in groups, I primarily ride alone or with a friend or two, honestly I find it a little intimidating. But I figured I should be able to hang for at least the first 10 miles or so I thought.

As soon as I got out of my truck and rode up to the group I knew these guys were serious riders. We left the parking lot as a group and headed off, the first few miles were fine, I was staying on the wheel in front of me. The first climb isn’t a big one, or the steepest, or the most difficult. I wasn’t even a quarter of the way up when it happened, I was dropped like a lead balloon. I tried to keep up with each little group that passed me, and then I tried to just keep the little blinky red lights within view. By the time I reached the top, they were all gone. And then I was alone. Within the first 5 miles of the ride I was dropped for good, what the heck! I feel like I’m in decent shape physically, the first three climbs were really only hills, they don’t even classify as climbs. Not only that but I learned that I had PR’d those three hills that day and still I couldn’t keep up. I had a good 10 miles to think about what just happened and the massive climb that was still waiting. I should bail, no one will care. I can ride to Ferndale, then cut over to the highway and loop back around, it still makes for a good ride and no hills. Why am I even out riding this early, and its misty raining, this is miserable, I should just head back home.

The mind games just don’t stop! I finally convinced myself to just start the climb up the Wildcat, I could always turn around if it gets too tough. But as I made the left turn and dropped into my lowest gear and began to climb, I told myself no matter what, I was getting to the top. I don’t care how many stops it takes, if you have to walk, walk, just don’t give up. What did I think was going to happen today, why was I surprised when I was dropped on the first climb? These guys are serious, they are at another level, I’m still operating in intermediate mode, these guys are just out for another Sunday morning ride! The climb up the Wildcat starts out steep, it didn’t take long before I wanted to strip off my jacket, and pull over the side for a break, but I kept telling myself when it levels off you can stop, just keep going. Two mile up and I had to stop, do I quit, turn around? I took a few deep breaths, got some water, ate a bit, tried to calm myself down. I wasn’t quitting, not today, I just had to keep telling myself that there is no option to quit, you are going to finish this ride. This repeated itself every mile or so, and became even tougher mentally as I entered into the cloud layer and light rain began to fall. I’ve driven this road a few times, it never really felt terrible from the seat of a car or as long. Everything is slower, especially at 4 miles per hour. This was my first serious road climb, I’ve done shorter rides, 1,500 ft., 2,500 ft., 5,000 ft. accumulative over 100 miles, but never 4,000+ in 33 miles of riding.

At 1,800 ft., I tried to convince myself that the hardest part of the climb was over, that didn’t last long though. As, I went from paved road to gravel the climbs continued and were shrouded in fog. It felt like I was on a bike trainer, not really going anywhere, just pedaling like mad, with no end in sight. I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me, where the heck was the top? I stopped counting the false summits along the route, it was defeating, realizing that there was still so much more to go. I pressed on, and on, until I started to see some blue sky emerging in the distance. I had finally broken through the marine layer and was basked in sunlight and blue skies! I was almost half way done, I was tired, and sore, but I wasn’t going to quit. I heard tires crunching on the gravel road behind me, had someone from the group ride driven up looking for me? Was I that far behind, had someone called search and rescue? Nope, just a local rancher. As he pulled up alongside me he rolled down his window and in a country drawl said, “brave man!” I felt pretty good in the moment, of course he didn’t see the 10 other cycling beasts that cut up the road and who by this time were probably enjoying a nice cold drink back at the parking lot. I yelled back over the sound of his diesel truck, “or incredible stupid?” As he drove away, I thought to myself, well there was your opportunity for a free ride. I stopped for a few minutes to take pictures, eat, drink, and just enjoy the beauty that surrounded me. I still had miles to go, so it was back on the bike, and another false summit. This time I’m pretty sure I cussed out loud, where the heck is the top of this freaking mountain!! And then it happened, without even realizing it at first, I was starting to descend and pick up speed. Slowly at first, but then increasingly faster. My legs were overjoyed, as my hands took over pumping the breaks to keep control of the bike in the loose gravel. A switch clicked in my brain, no longer was I focused on discomfort and pain, there was BBQ at the bottom of this hill. I find it funny how the brain tries to protect the body by trying to convince you to give up as soon as the muscles get to that point where they are doing more work than they are use too. Or to just give up because you can’t keep up with the rest of the group, or because you got dropped on the first climb. But as soon as that switch is flipped, none of that matters anymore. As I pulled into the parking lot, I knew I was the last rider of the group to finish, but I finished. That was what mattered most, and when I had convinced myself that I was hours behind, in reality I was really only about a half hour behind. I had completed a ride that I had been wanting to do for months but couldn’t get myself to even try. It wasn’t about being dropped by the group that day, it was about not letting myself quit, no matter what. It won't be long before I look back and think that wasn't such a tough ride, or I am able to climb the whole thing without getting off the bike. It also won't be the last time I get dropped in a group ride, there will always be someone faster, or stronger in the group. Remember to ride your own ride, don't get beat by yourself, and just keep pedaling.

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