The Only Way Out is Up

The down hills on Hillier weren’t for the faint of heart or those with shitty medical plans. I ran off the road going 20mph. I pushed it and paid the price. Didn’t stop me from pushing it again because I’m too dumb to know any better. The weather also played a big role. It was dismal all day. Hillier is demoralizing. Nobody cheering you along. A couple of folks manning the rest stops, dead animals and those eating the dead was it. You were left alone to suffer, peak a ridge and then suffer again…

The Cast:
Tom C (Longest Day)
Aaron D (Longest Day)
Insuk D (Central Jersey Clan)
Jeff C
Kenny M.

Hillier Than Thou is like no bike race I’ve ever competed in. It’s 100 miles of attrition. I can’t compare it to going to war because I wasn’t being pursued by an enemy yearning for my life, though the climbs weren’t going to just hand me their crests without an all-out fight. There were atrocities. My bodies still shot out today and I don’t plan on being back to 100% before Christmas 2015.

The good people from Cyclecraft special ordered the weather for us. There’s no suffering on a clear day in the mid 70’s. At 7:30am the weather was dismal and approaching in a leisurely fashion 50˚. The sun decided to hang out with the kids in Salisbury. I saw pictures of club members smiling at the Seagull Century. There was no smiling at Hillier. I saw grimacing, looks of people turning themselves inside out and going into those dark spots in their psyches reserved for self preservation and fundraising periods with NPR. You think about think about smiling during this event and you get your teeth handed back to you pulverized into fine powder.

Gearing is everything. Randy Jackson lent me his touring bike to help me realize the nightmare. 32 toothed cassette saved my ass. Jeff had a similar set-up. Insuk powered away on a more traditional road set-up. She’s nails. Tom and Aaron ran standard set-ups to and finished well ahead of Jeff, Insuk and I. I left my Madone at home crying in the stable in order not to cry myself which I still did when the road hit 20+.˚I had been dancing around doing this race for 3 years. This year I decided to fight! 9 hours later, I was beaten handily.

The only of the ride I truly enjoyed was the ride out of the parking lot at Long Valley School. 3 blocks afterwards we were ascending Schooley Mt Road cold and tight for over a mile with a 16% grade. We would loosen up gradually, but the cold part was constant. The Schlecks, Contadors and Wiggins of the peleton attacked from the start. Jeff, Insuk and I used the period to prepare for the onslaught that lay ahead.

The course was designed to test not only your ability to climb but your capacity to struggle, get beaten and somehow keep the cranks advancing forward. Always turning, always moving forward. I only pedal this much mountain biking. On the road I always know there are spots where I can recover. Recovery wasn’t built into this race. I honestly could have thrown away the big chain ring because it really only got used to keep the chain from hopping off the smaller ring and scurrying into the woods.

After the first ascent of the day of the day came the first flat spot, that quickly led to the second ascent. These climbs were serious in nature and not even marquee ones. Descending is where I do damage control. The roads were wet, graveled in some spots and manicured with foliage placed precisely at the entry and exit points of blind turns. I’ll push my 210lbs harder because I’m extremely confident in my skills. And then I ran off the road going 20mph into the woods. My very first Lance Armstrong moment. I’ll never sleep with an Olsen, Oprah or whomever else he did, but flying out of control and living to tell the tale is one that we share. I veered back onto the road gave the thumbs up. Bike was intact as was I. After a few feet the shrubbery and God knows what else came flying off my leg and we were back to it.

We picked up two additional riders Adam from Queens who had wrecked on the same descent and Lenny The Coffee Guy who also pushed the envelope into the bushes and snapped his front derailleur cable. I believe Adam signed up with little knowledge of what he was going to command his extremities to do. Jeff, Insuk and I had heard the stories from the Taylor Elders about what was waiting ahead. 30 miles in Adam had mentally cracked but the heart hadn’t. He weathered the onslaught as well.

The course was well marked with “H’s” signifying direction. The bonus markings had sickles next to them. That of course meant that something wicked lay up the road and to start chugging gels. The sadistic bastards that concocted this course made sure to give you very little in the way of recovery time. Screaming downhill at 40mph on serpentine turns isn’t necessarily relaxing. I’d guess that 15 miles were flat and the rest were extreme in nature. I think there were 20+ categorized climbs. Categorized climbs are measured using this formula: (duration of the climb x pitch upwards) x how many times you curse your worst girl/boyfriend= cat1-4. Cat 1’s being the worst. I don’t think we have any 1’s or 2’s in Jersey but we are a state rich in 3’s and 4’s. I was shell-shocked early with the sickle markings on the road. Those markings did however give you ample time to find somewhere nice to empty your bladder. Modesty loses purpose when marching into the woods for privacy just means blowing watts. Every watt counts.

Jeff and I gladly popped drugs to quell pain. Insuk welcomed it. That’s why dudes don’t birth children. I’m ok with that. I think Jeff is to. The two marquee climbs of the day lived up to the billing. Fiddlers Elbow and Iron Bridge were both brutally hard. I had to max out my efforts on Fiddlers. The pitch in the road was so steep that I had to pop into my ugly room for a spell. My dark room got plenty of use during this race. On Fiddlers Elbow I had to open the door, lock it behind and swallow the key. No way out, but up. I had the displeasure of seeing Insuk get right to the ridge of Fiddlers to fall short of taking it all the way up. She stayed saddled all the way. Raw Power!! Jeff powered up only standing when the degree pitched 24+˚. Fiddlers is sinister. It wraps around the hill never truly revealing what lay next. If you maximize your efforts too soon; your popped. I powered up literally trying to rip the bars off the stem and the cleats from my shoes in the attempt to crest without unclipping. Mission Accomplished! 70 miles to go, so not really… At his point I through away the concept of riding and adopted the mantra of surviving.

The celebration didn’t last too long. We kept it going. Not time to break out the bubbly just yet. The transition to Iron Bridge involved recouping up the Church St climb. I didn’t like this one because I could see all of it and knew that I was going to be nearing my capacity to get up it. Any climb where your craning your neck to see the peak ain’t good. We all crested that climb and began descending into the valley just to climb it again. Iron Bridge introduced itself to us before punching us in the face. At this point we had been getting pummeled all day anyway so like The Italian Stallion we kept coming forward. Insuk took point on this one as she had on most of the climbs. If Central Jersey has a tougher rider, I haven’t seen em’. Show yourself! Didn’t think so…

My technique on Iron Bridge involved staying saddled more than not. The slick tar on the road caused me to slip several times. I kept the wheels going forward at 3mph per hour before cresting. The rest stop was at the top of the climb. We loaded up on synthetic crap and emptied are bellies like we had sense.

The worst of it was past; sorta. We were still 30-40 miles before the end with several thousand more feet to climb. The climbs from there on in were gut punchers, but not on the level of Fiddlers or Iron. Insuk broke away leaving Jeff and I talking. Adam stayed with her and then was popped. We didn’t chase. Maybe we couldn’t? Who knows. The story will change over time.

The weather never broke. Didn’t matter. The cranks were going to turn regardless. Insuk dropped us so bad that I feared for her safety. Coming off the Sanatorium Climb was a pretty treacherous descent that involved sharp turns, one lane bridges and I swear moguls. She nailed every turn handily. At the next rest stop the guys manning it informed us that she was 4 minutes up the road. We took about 7 minutes preparing for the next 30 miles and started off. As soon as we started we were climbing again. Seriously? Back to the dark room. I wanted to chase Insuk, but the legs had just about had enough of my demands, so we sat back tapping out a cadence fast enough to get back to the car. As I was climbing out AGAIN I thought about the wild horses at Salisbury. I looked around to see dead animals in my path and the animals that like dead animals. I was in my element. Internal struggles, external victories. With 10 miles to go we still had 1,500ft of climbing to go take or take. The last climb, before the last climb, before the last climb was one that I was familiar with. I had ridden it 3 weeks ago at the Gran Fondo. It was the hardest timed climb in the Fondo which paled by far in comparison to every other climb we had done. After humping that and then another I saw a tent up the road. I was so shot that I hadn’t noticed that it was the end until I heard a guy yelling out my number. From there it was all downhill, though I didn’t completely trust that the day was over.

Insuk stayed away beating us by 5 minutes. She claimed the bronze. Jeff, Adam and I claimed pride. Tom finished and hour ahead of us and Aaron 2 hours ahead. I went over my decision to forgo the Seagull in order to be beaten repeatedly all day and 10 out of 10 times chose to be beaten. Something sounds very disturbing in that, but it is what it is.

Hillier took a lot out of me but in return gave me something that can never be taken away. A water bottle that no child in the house dare use, a long sleeved death metal looking tee shirt and a medal signifying the fact that I have little sense but a lot of heart.

Too tired to proofread. You get the gist…

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