Date: August 1-3, 2014
Type: Gran Fondo
Riders: Teresa DiSessa-Johnson and Erin Mandato
The Devil Awaits...
On Saturday, Teresa and I ventured up to the Catskill Mountains to participate in a 77 mile grand fondo ride with almost 5600 feet of climbing through the rolling countryside with challenging climbs and direct passes through cute, quaint towns with a max grade of 22% on the infamous Devils Kitchen Climb. Yes, this is what Teresa and I call fun for a weekend with no mandatory races. After an almost three hour drive up to the Catskills, we checked into our B&B, about 30 minutes away from the start. Pulling up to the B&B, personally reminded me of the homes in Bavaria in Southern Germany. We enter the main house and immediately the smell of old, musty, moth balls infiltrate our nose. Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad, the place was super clean but appeared not to be renovated since it's opening in 1936. After checking in at an office that smelled faintly of smoke and had the most annoying beep, we headed to our room. The room was super clean, outdated but had a magnificent view of the mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking. After relaxing for few moments we hopped back in the car, taking a nice unplanned detour through the Catskills before making our way into Tannersville where the ride will go off the following day. Once parked, we walked through the very small town, finally settling into a Mexican restaurant for lunch. Even after reading just the "okay" reviews on the place, Teresa and I still went in and afterwards, completely understood why the place just received mediocre reviews. Oh well, we were fueled and ready to pick up our packets at the cafe. According to the emails we received, pick up was from 5-7 PM, not until 6 PM did the promoters finally arrive! Yes, an hour late and not very professional in my minds as riders sit around and waited. With packets in our hands we headed back to our B&B.
Before heading to bed, we painted our nails in Riptide colors and added funky designs to each nail. I really dug deep to find my inner artistic side and was surprised with the artwork I created on Teresa's nails! After hydration and few more laugh we were asleep. For once, there was no rush or alarm setting to get ready for this ride considering the fondo didn't depart until 10 00 AM. We took our time getting ready, packing up before leaving for Tannersville. We arrived around 9, scored a sweet parking spot right at the start and prepped ourselves for a challenging, adventurous 77 mile ride. We were ready by 9 30 and didn't really feel like waiting until 10 for the official departure so we went up to the promoter and asked if we could start earlier. He was very kind and said go right ahead so we were off.
The first 20 or so miles were fantastic, nice descents, steady low grade ascents and absolutely beautiful scenery! We knew this wouldn't last long and were mentally preparing ourselves for a challenging climb. We made a right hand turn from a beautiful town and our first challenge was staring us right in the face, yes a nice climb. This climb went on forever! Over X miles! I kept it slow and steady knowing I had to conserve my energy for many more climbs and the infamous Devils Kitchen Climb. Teresa was Super Women, strong, amazing to the point I thought she had an invisible motor attached to her bike. I knew we had a rest area coming up at mile 33 so my focus was to get there, hydrate refuel to be able to continue on. Somewhere around mile 23, I lost it and I mean lost it. Now I was burnt out before going to Catskills but I figured I could conquer this ride, going slow and steady, well guess what? My body said No Way Girlfriend. I'm done. I'm fried. At this point, I am going into survival mode trying to get myself up this climb and to the feed station. Teresa is next to me talking me through it. As I am climbing, I'm realizing, I have nothing left in me to even tap into. The tank is empty and not many fumes to even use to keep going. When I was finally able to get words out, I told Teresa I was having a very vulnerable moment. Oh and to make matters even worse, I drop my chain on one of the climbs. Yup, that's right. Just what you want at such a crucial point. When we finally approach the feed station, we were greeted with no water, apples and fig newtons. Who gives riders apples and fig newtons?!! Where is the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bananas and most importantly WATER! Well, I'm on the ground having my vulnerable moment while Teresa is scrounging for water. One person offer us some of the Pro water for the pro riders that would be racing through a few hours later. Oh thanks a lot! I told Teresa that I am not sure I could go any further but she convinced me that the next 30 miles are easy and that if we could get to the next feed station at mile 64, I would be a lot closer for a pick up. Even knowing my body was done, I tried one more time. I got on the bike, found the decent even hard to handle. At mile 38, an official drove by just asking how we were doing and I said I am done! DONE! Yes, for the first time, for as long as I could remember, I pulled out. This was a tough decision because I didn't want to let my teammate down, but there was no way, I was going any further. We decided that Teresa would continue on and I would wait for SAG support and when I got back to the car, I would go get her from the 2nd feed station.
The official asked me to turn around and bike 1/4 mile to the corner where a volunteer was positioned and a cop so it would be easy for SAG to find me. Now a 1/4 of mile is nothing but it felt like an eternity for me. I arrive, put my bike down and lay down under a beautiful tree. The women volunteer was extremely nice, living in the house just down the street. The Officer, Officer Scarey, yes you read that correctly, was an older gentlemen with two hearing aides who was also nice. As I waited for SAG, I was chatting away with the volunteers; being introduced to the town drunk who was walking down the street and the other interesting characters. As I continued to sit there waiting, the first hour passes by, no SAG. The second hour passes by, no SAG. Now, I am growing frustrated because I am supposed to meet up with Teresa and my phone is going dead. I'm in touch with our teammate Cristina who is there to support Ronald and finally asked her to come pick me up. Well, by this time, I got to see the Pro Men race by, all the stragglers and the race/ride is pretty much over. Officer Scarey departs but states that he can give me a ride when he is on his way home if I am still around. Well in the meantime, the pin I dropped on Google for Cristina wasn't working, there was no SAG insight and so when Officer Scarey passes by, I decide to take him up on his offer, plus he had a phone charger! We put my bike in his car, plug my phone in to call Cristina to tell her I have my ride back and we are on our way back to the start.
My ride with Officer Scarey was an interesting one. I was shown his personal gun that he kept in his console and was told that he had others in the car. He informed me that he comes from a family of police officers and that he retired in 1986 with a pension of $36,000. He currently works in a one man department in a small town, part time. When he receives his weekly pay check he gives it to his wife who then in return gives him his weekly allowance of $100 a week. He has been married for 26 years but was married previously as well. I also heard about the time he got whacked over the head with a cast iron skillet when responding to a domestic violence call. I tried to ask questions and talk at times but quickly realized that even with two hearing aides, it was still hard for him to hear me especially with the window down. I just sat there listening about his dogs and his grandchildren. The ride back to town was about 20 minutes, interesting but quite enjoyable. I got back to my car and turned my head just in time to see Teresa! Yes, she finished the ride! I was overwhelmed with emotion because I was happy to see her get back safely considering our original plan of me going to help her was scratched since I was stuck waiting for SAG for over three hours. I met her at the finish line and gave her a huge hug and told her how proud of her I was.
We packed up the car and headed home. It was a long ride home as we were both in pain on many different levels. For me, I was very disappointed I couldn't finish the ride. I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't finish something I started but if I continued I knew I would have seriously injured myself and that would have been way worse. There were many lessons learned and some deep thoughts contemplated on those climbs for the first 38 miles for me. In the end and now that I am home and feeling better, I actually had a great time in the Catskills and I am glad I got to share this experience with Teresa who I go to know even better on this weekend ron de vue. Now for me, I am taking some major time off from working out (minus the Flanders Time Trial) so I can come back next year ready to conquer!
From the eyes of Teresa after venturing off on her own.
The motor officials told me it would be best for me continue on and leave Erin behind. They had no idea how long it would take for Erin to be picked up and how much room they would have in there vehicle. For anyone who knows me really well knows that leaving Erin was not easy task for me to do. However, I knew I had to get back on that saddle and continue on. My goal was to just get to the next rest area. I thought for sure Erin would have been dropped off and on her way back to picking me up off the course. During the next 40+ miles of rolling terrain I knew I had to just pedal away and keep on trucking until I met up with Erin again. I got into a groove and really enjoyed the scenery around me. Along the way I passed many other riders and many who were in the same boat as Erin. During my adventure I had a honor to meet such a sweet young girl Jillian. Jillian almost wanted to quit several times due to her knee and painful feet, but she toughed it out! I pulled her along on and off for many miles to the final rest area. It was a pleasure chatting with her and hearing the excited in her voice about the sport of cycling. As we arrived to our 2nd and final aid station I was happy to hear they had water, but still no food besides Hershey kisses and apples. It took me several attempts to get my call to go through to Erin. Looks like she was still sitting at the same corner. I couldn't believe it and felt horrible that we were not together. At this point I was debating skipping Devils Kitchen and finding a quicker and shorter route back to the start. There were several riders who called it quits from this point and Jillian was on the fence as well. I was told to stay on course since I was alone in case of an emergency. One last call to Erin to let her know that I will be on the course continuing my way to the finish. At this point I just wanted to finish and give Erin a big hug. I knew how tough it was for her to listen to her body and stop. But I knew I had to get my head back in it and my butt back on the saddle as Erin is no where near rescuing me. I refilled my water and off I went heading towards the famous Devils Kitchen. The next 6 miles consisted of rolling hills and started gradually climbing more and more as you got near the climb. I saw this guy at the bottom of this next hill. I knew It was here when he told me take my last big breathe because the next few miles are going to hurt. At this point I was alone. Jillian fell back and I was conquering this beast alone. I look up and and told myself I wish I had my teammate with me. I have been feeling unstoppable all day, like I had a little motor in me. I was trucking along this 14-18% grade hill, but very slowly. I was making S turns to make the climb a little less painful. My lower left back started going into spasm, but I told myself I can do it. Until I see a car coming down this narrow hill and the roads were full of pot holes. With the car approaching my S turns turned into riding straight up! My back just couldn't handle it so I unclipped almost literally falling off. I took a breather and enjoyed the scenery around me as I walked little to a section I felt I could clip in again. Off I went again, but boy was this hill kicking my butt. This was the steepest thing I have ever climbed and it was relentless!! At this point I see the steepest part of the climb up ahead. My back and head just wouldn't let me pedal so it forced me to unclip and walk once again. All of sudden as I am walking I hear a voice scream my name. At first I smiled thinking it was Erin, but it was Jillian walking her bike up. I waited for her at the hair pin turn where this nice lady was there telling me to keep my head up that she has seen tons of riders walking today. I waited for Jillian and we took a picture of the beautiful scenery together. We walked past the steepest section and I was ready to finish last 3k where KOM climb ends. Jillian decided she needed to keep walking some more and told me to go on. I clipped back in with a help of a nice pedestrian who held my seat and gave me a big push. Off I went climbing to the last bit of this KOM section. I knew the worst was over so I couldn't wait to cross the finish in hopes that Erin has arrived safely. I hammered away knowing I only had 7 miles left. My legs felt awesome and I just couldn't wait to be done. It was a long day out in the Catskills. As I crossed the finish line I saw Erin and I didn't know if I want to cry in happiness that she was there or squeeze her hard for being such an amazing friend. It was a great weekend with Erin despite all that happened. She is an amazing athlete and friend and I am lucky to have experienced this with her. I know we will be able to conquer something like this again once she is better and fresh! And I can't wait! I am happy for my accomplishment and not giving up. I look forward to more challenging rides, but next time with better aid stations and water!!! I am bummed I never got to see Jillian again and I hope our paths cross again as she was such a fun girl.