October 18, 2014

My Buddy Cameron

October 18, 2014
The day that shall ever be known as:
The Day I Passed George Hincapie 
Staging at the base of the Washington MonumentOn a bicycle. At speed.

There was a price to be paid for this, and that was the price of a crash. [More about that in a bit.]

I had a special opportunity to ride a second time for Best Buddies this year, and so I found myself in Washington, D.C., staging with the rest of the pack near the base of the Washington Monument before dawn on a loaner Cannondale bicycle.

We rolled out and turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, paced by a lead car at a nominal 12 mph. They told us that the roads would be closed for us for the first 10 miles. They didn't tell us that one of the first roads was under construction.

Cameron Wurf approaching in the unpaved lane, seconds before I crashed. (Narrative Clip photo)
It was a small group, and the pack was spread out. I made a turn onto a surface that was prepared for paving, ground down and rough. The lane to my right was paved. In the pre-dawn light and pre-dawn brain fog, I decided to cut over to that lane.

Bad idea. Bad, bad, bad idea. The edge of the fresh pavement was too high and my angle of approach too shallow. My front wheel caught the lip and I was summarily slammed to the ground. Before I could get up, a second rider mirrored my mistake 20 yards ahead.

Shouts rang out. “Rider down! Rider down! Another one!”

As luck would have it, the Narrative Clip affixed to the back of my helmet captured the scene a few seconds before I crashed.

“Are you okay?” At least three guys stopped to help; a medic confirmed that I didn't need his attention. A tall rider in full Cannondale kit took charge (Cameron Wurf). My cell phone and water bottle having skittered away, it was the proverbial yard sale. My body cushioned the bike; apart from scuffing the tape at the end of the bar and dropping the chain, the bike was unscathed. My body fared less well: one shredded arm warmer and skinned elbow, a few scrapes, and ribs that would hurt more as the day progressed. Bruises would appear later, but nothing was broken.

Horses grazing in a Maryland pasture.
I climbed back onto the bike. The pack was long out of sight. “They won't wait for us,” Cameron said. “Do you mind if I push you?” With his hand on my back, we were off in side-by-side tandem. I was pedaling moderately hard and he was hardly breathing. “I wish I had a power meter on this bike!” he said with a laugh. He related a story from a (fallen) European pro, who had said this is what it feels like to be on EPO. [Being pushed.] Wow. We were moving, soon reeling in the stragglers. When the back of the pack was in sight, I thanked Cameron, expecting him to pull off.

Bird flies overhead after I pass on a long straight road in Maryland. (Narrative Clip photo)“I want to get you to the front,” he insisted. We passed some guys who knew him. “Hey! She's helping you! That's cheating!” they joked.

The closer we got to the front, the more tightly packed were the riders. I can ride in a pack, and Cameron has experience in the peleton, but these were riders of unknown provenance. “On your left!” I called out as we whirred past.

How did Cameron, who started the day at the front, end up behind me in the first place? [Evidently, he crashed, too.] And when he said he wanted to deliver me to the front, he meant The Front.

As we edged into the gap between the pace car and the lead riders, George Hincapie was at my right elbow and then ... he was somewhere behind me.
Maryland Scenic Byway C&O Canal Tour sign with Best Buddies route sign
Those early miles through D.C. and along the eastern shore of the Potomac were a blur. I lost any advantage at the first rest stop when I visited the medical tent for some attention to my raw elbow.

Before mile 20, the bike's bottom bracket was making a racket. It sounded like a loose ball bearing clattering inside with every turn of the crank. [Ugh.] Would I have to abandon? I wasn't confident that a quick repair was possible, and the time lost would force me to be sagged forward. I soldiered on, and for much of the ride the errant ball settled into some happy place and fell silent.

Sunlit yellow leaves on a distant hillside under a gray sky in VirginiaBy mile 30, the wind became a factor. It was blowing hard from the west—the general direction for today's adventure. My ribs hurt on the side that took the impact. I had been nonchalant about this century, which involved less climbing than September's. What was I thinking? The prospect of another 70 miles of rolling hills suddenly seemed daunting. I kept going.

Rolling rural road with changing leaves in VirginiaWithout a cycle computer, I had no way to judge my speed. Without a route map, I had only the yellow signs along the course to follow. My sole reference points were placards at each 10-mile mark, and the rest stops. I calibrated my effort by my heart rate and cursed the headwind. I couldn't drink while riding—the impact of the crash had shattered the hard plastic lid of my water bottle.

By mile 50, I calculated that I was flirting with the edge of the ride's 4 p.m. cut-off time. If you were still on the course at that time, the broom wagon would sweep you up (and drop you off near the finish, so you could ride ceremoniously across the line).

Colorful leaves on tall roadside trees in VirginiaThe course rolled along back roads through the woods of Maryland and Virginia. Autumn was changing the color of some leaves, but the theme of the day was green—an unfamiliar sight for those of us visiting from parched California. There were vast green lawns, meticulously trimmed in patterns by men on riding mowers. You don't see acreage like that in the West unless it's a ranch.

By mile 70, I was winning the endurance game. Few riders had chosen the 100-mile route, and they were mostly the fast guys. There weren't many fading riders on the course for me to catch, but I did pass some. A couple of ride officials trailed me at a courteous distance, but I got a gap when one flatted. SAG vehicles cruised by, some loaded with bikes and riders.

W&OD trail in VirginiaWhen I reached the W&OD trail around mile 89, I knew I was golden. I would follow this for some 10 miles, turning off close to the finish. The broom wagon couldn't touch me now! I relaxed.

I crossed the line at Morven Park around 4:30 p.m. The announcer was there to greet me. “She crashed in the first mile,” he explained to the people standing nearby. “Where's my buddy Cameron?” I asked. “He's been worried about you. I'll find him for you. You need a hot shower. Right now!” he commanded, assessing the chilled bare skin alongside my knee.

101 miles and some 4,560 feet of climbing, approximately 3500 Calories burned (and fewer consumed).

My buddy, I expect, had left the party hours before I arrived.

Thanks, Cameron, for one of my top ten moments on a bicycle.

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