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River City Bicycles
Words: Matt Karre
“I'm not feeling too good,” my teammate Patrick said, in what would prove the understatement of the day. “He says he might throw up,” Ryan added. “We have 15 miles to go, let’s make all this pain and suffering worthwhile. It's just 15 miles.” Perhaps on the cheesy side as speeches go but given the circumstances, highly effective. Patrick stood up from his seated position on the side of the road. He was ashen colored at best. He swung his leg over his bike and cautiously crossed the road. The gravel was done for the next few miles and the tarmac felt incredible. Unfortunately, the smooth strip offered only brief respite as, after the first few hundred meters, it quickly pitched uphill. The next 15 miles took more than two hours.
Exhaustion manifests itself in declining prowess. As soon as the road leveled even slightly, Timmy shifted into the big ring. Reasonable cadence had packed up and gone home hours ago. In those hours, we had covered only about 12 miles since the last checkpoint. “If we don't make it to the checkpoint at mile 105 by 4pm, we don't get to do the last loop,” I mentioned as we pedaled through the oven-like temperatures between Gaston and Forest Grove. A headwind turned our faces crusty white with salt, while Ryan pulled for miles on end. “Ryan Weaver,” John remarked in thanks, “you are living god.” The pace was steady and we finally reached the checkpoint. It was 4:13. Did that mean we could go home? Relief began to descend. Until Dave Roth announced the time cut had been extended to 4:30. “Up Hayward to the left to do the final loop,” he added. “It’s only 25 miles.”
Only 25 miles. Hayward is a great road, all gravel, about 3.5 miles rolling up then rolling down the rest of the way. We'd ridden together for the whole race, never separating, always keeping each other close. Hayward was the part that put the knife in – and twisted it. Cramps dictated cadence and pace. Jason continued his role as an unrelenting machine and pushed those of us that needed assistance. Timmy was cramping heavily, as was I. We both pedaled through, while noticing Patrick had become strangely silent. He began to fall off the pace, so Jason tucked in behind him and put a hand in the small of his back.
Timmy flatted. Jason and I stopped. I readied the compressed air only to realize I, too, had flatted. I wondered how long it had been flat. Bonus points for timing. Patrick, Ryan and John pressed on while we changed the flat. Ryan pushed Patrick while he contemplated spirituality. John needed to keep rolling or systems would fail. All the while, remnants of shattered teams passed us and we passed them. Ward and Cindy from the Ira Ryan women's team appeared. It was Ward's fault we were on this road. It was her fault we climbed the next hill, too. The victims of suffering need a device to stay motivated – and that device is ‘blame’.
As Hayward began to descend in earnest, my fear of flats sky-rocketed. Graciously, the county had dust-controlled several sections of the road, making it significantly less chaotic. The shadows, however, coupled with tunnel vision and dehydration, made the ride genuinely scary. Timmy was struggling with the light and took it very easy. Finally, we rolled up to Ryan, who was holding Patrick’s bike while once again he sat on the road, unwittingly showcasing his tight IT bands. John was gone and had pressed on with Zirbel and Trebon. We used provocation to get Patrick rolling and climbed Pihl road, toward Green Mountain. “After this slight downhill it pitches up hard,” I warned. The top of Pihl is damn near 20 percent and gravel. Staying seated and climbing was not an option. Neither was standing.
The five of us were together with John up the road. He ended up catching the remaining teams, except for the Steve Rex crew. We rolled down Green Mountain, a flowing gravel descent. In my head, I warned my team mates not to get too far ahead because we were about to make a left turn. Patrick missed the turn and Jason rode off to get him. Somehow, Jason got Patrick to climb back up to the turn. By now he was a zombie, a shell of his usual jovial self. Jason pushed Patrick, with Ryan monitoring Timmy. I took my shoes off and stared at the wool Swiftwick socks. Moron.
John was circling, waiting for us. We were going to finish together. “This is f***ing ridiculous, Timmy exclaimed, at mile 129.6. “It’s time to have a talk with Slate.” That blame device again. The approach to the finish line was steep and loose. The single-track route was actually rideable. I crossed the finish line and cramped so hard I couldn't unclip from my pedal. Immediately, I fell over in front of everyone. Patrick was walking his bike the last 20 meters with Slate proposing he finish quickly because we likely had the best time. With all six of us in, we escorted Patrick on to the grass. Finally, he made good on his desire to throw up - and unloaded.