This will be a new category for us. Fitness! Staying in shape is of course a job requirement for me, but it is also something that I have always enjoyed. I do a lot of different things but my favorite pastime that also keeps me fit is cycling, road cycling in particular. The following is a little story I wrote of a magazine after I completed the Pax Avant event put on by the Orbea bicycle company. I was asked to participate by some friends of mine that have an awesome advertising and production agency called Ad Lips, based in Dortmund Germany. I will have a lot more to say about this subject but I would like to share with you all that story first. Later we can get into other things and the why's and how's and what it all really means as well as answer any questions you guys have.
This is my Pax Avant story.
When I was first asked if I would be interested in taking part in the Pax Avant it took no convincing. I was game. It seemed like a wonderful idea, a beautiful ride and a good time. From the first, there was always the thought that I would have a few words to go along with the ride. There is of course the wonderful story of the Pax Avant, the historical event from which the event takes its name. Feel free to look that up for yourself, this small bit of time will not be used going over the events of the distant past. My desire is to tell the story or the recent past. What just occurred that perhaps has changed me for the better, only time will tell.
As you arrive in Isaba, where the race was to depart, you get a feel for what it is to climb these mountains. The small winding roads leading ever further up and into the sparsely populated area. You pass an old walled town with the towers of the castle still on view but not a soul in sight, it has been abandoned. Left and deserted, slightly broken, but still standing are those walls. They still stand as a monument made by man. The wall will one day fall, but these mountains will be here as long as the earth continues to turn and make its journey around the sun. You can see, just across from the abandoned town, the beautiful lake Yasa, the color is some shade of turquoise that seems from a dream. It too is man made just like the walls of the abandoned castle, there is even another ancient town buried beneath the water. The sense that there is something special going on keeps growing inside you as we approached the hotel.
Once inside, we were greeted by, and, introduced to, the staff for Orbea. All of them extremely busy, but smiling and happy to pass a moment with you. Discussing whatever comes to your mind before hustling off to the many duties that need to be preformed to pull off a function of this size, in this place. We had arrived around lunch time so had a typical local style lunch in the hotel. Salad, beans, and choice of meat. From there to check the bike and get it “fit” properly. (More on this later as I learned a lesson or two by the end of the event!) The sign-in, (which I forgot but thankfully had taken care of for me), and then the receipt of your number. The fitting of the number on your machine, for me the first time I ever put on a number before a ride. Then the dinner and off to bed. It is an early breakfast at 6am before the depart at 8 the next morning.
As I laid in bed, excitement building, all of the happy busy faces of the staff ran through my head. I counted those smiles like sheep as I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, after a large breakfast of potato omelet and as much coffee as it is possible to imbibe. It was time to dress. Water bottles get mixed. Gels get counted and recounted, the pressure on the tires checked again, little nervous trips to the bathroom made. Then, click click, off to the start line.
It was a bit overwhelming for me to see all of the people at the start. I was supposed to be out in the front, but was not aware of that until after it was over, so I sat back and soaked in the atmosphere. It was amazing to see the cross section of people it brought. There were of course the serious riders, the ones seeking a podium place in the distance that they chose. The club riders, out with their friends for a ride, a bit of pride on the line. Those like me, alone, more or less, trying to do something for the first time, or the fiftieth. The reasons for doing it only they know. Everyone, expectant in their own way. Even those of us that had no idea what to expect.
After watching a few hundred departures I thought, “Okay, its your turn”. There were so many ideas floating around in my head as we made the gentle climb out of Isaba along the river. Everyone chatting, mostly Spanish with a little Italian and some French thrown in there. As always with a mass start, (I have done a few charity rides and fun rides with large groups), I try to find a pilot fish, a rider I think I can trust to hold his line and seems to know what he is doing. The guy I picked was kitted up all in yellow and moving at a fair clip. We weaved through the crowd and along the winding roads in the wonderful morning cool. It was quickly apparent, however, that my arm and leg warmers were not necessary. There was not a cloud in the sky and only bright warm sunshine on tap for the day. Not wanting to stop to remove clothing so soon after starting, I waited until the top of the first pass. This was my first mistake, of many, I made. The climbs on paper do not appear to be that difficult. Most have an average of around five percent for twenty kilometers or so. Difficult but doable even for a novice like myself, one that unfortunately did not get a chance to train as much as one should, for this type of undertaking. The average, which means nothing to your legs, you learn that lesson in very quick order, as it varies between pitches at just constant enough of a rate to make your slow to learn mind understand that the average means nothing. Part of a climb may be only one percent, followed by a spike of seventeen. I opted out of the longest distance at the last moment, still thanking my guardian angel for that! The middle distance would prove to be a monumental task, even without overheating on the very first climb. Note to everyone, heat is not your friend in cycling. When I finally reached the top, I re-filled my water bottles removed my excess layers had a quick refuel of banana and was off again. That first decent saw a bit of carnage as overheated carbon rims popped the tire from the glue, tires without the proper pressure took punctures and a few people overcooked the turns. For my part, I made it through unscathed,physically, though with a mental note to take it easy on those descents.
The mood in the groups as they passed, either faster or slower, had changed drastically from that of the start line. It was much warmer now. There was still over one hundred kilometers to go with three more passes to cross. Not so much chatting at this point, even those of us that did not really know what to expect at the start could now see the suffering in our future. The ideas I had for a story about the most beautiful day on my bike. A story, half written already in my head halfway up the first climb, had started to change as well, even before I reached the top. As I looked at what lay before me, the re-writing began.
There is no longer a play by play of what went on located in my memory banks, I’ve looked. From the top of the second climb until the shower when it was all over, I have only impressions with a few clear moments.
As you climb you see streams of cold, snow melt water coming off the rocks. Each one more inviting than the last. You watch your fellow sufferers unclip and clack up the steep grades. You see the car pass with the sad faces of those that abandon. You keep climbing. Passing then a lake of an even richer, more vibrant, turquoise than the Yasa that just the day before seemed like a dream. Looking upon that lake, trying to etch this beauty in your brain as your legs scream at you, “ENOUGH”! Down again, up again. Cross the border to France. The final test just up ahead. Bottles are full but it is later now, and the heat has become intense. You see the sign telling you the distance and the grade you must traverse, no longer fooled by this, you pay it no attention. You will go up for as long as it takes. Be it at two percent, ten or twenty, it does not matter. Nothing matters anymore. It will all be a struggle and you know it. Smiling to yourself, (on the inside only so as not to waste the energy on such a silly gesture), you begin.
Here is where I learned why all the others that were riding on borrowed machines had spent a good deal longer getting theirs dialed in the day before the ride. The heat and the pressure causes that oft talked of “cable stretch”, on the new cables. You really should ride around for a while shifting like crazy the day before to get as much of that eliminated before attempting something like this. Too late, I noticed that the shifting was not very smooth. I was hoping it would continue to work until the end, just as I was hoping that I would last to the end. Then, the grade got steeper. Searching for a lighter gear as I went up, it happened. At first it just jumped a cog down. Cursing at the loss of momentum, I try again and it thankfully shifted that time, but no more. Riding along with three more gears on this eleven speed set up, they are of no use to me. I fight, churning up in anger. Standing, grinding, swaying and praying that the end will come. At a point where the grade thankfully decreased for a bit, I unclipped and kicked that derailleur and swung the lever popping it up to eleven. Now, at least, I could spin again, for a bit. It was still a single speed bike, but in a much more manageable gear allowing me to sit and ride. Still, even in the lightest gear, the temptation of the water along the side of the road, coming down in a cool stream, could not be resisted. I stopped, almost blind with spotty heat stained vision. I sat with my feet in the stream, helmet off, pouring cool water over my head, the kind of cool water that reminds you that God loves you, just at a moment when you fear you are in hell. As my vision cleared and I could again see clearly, and after an amount of time I do not know, I got back on the bike to continue the test of wills between me and this mountain. Only a couple of kilometers further up there was a water station. The photographer, thankfully, was able to adjust the derailleur, tightened it enough that at least I could finish the ride using all the gears. Though to be honest, at this point my legs were doing all they could to turn over the pedals in any gear.
Finally, at the top, there was a sign for the turn off for those doing the long ride. It indicated the way back down in order to tackle the way up yet again before heading home. I thanked my angel once again that the sign could be ignored by me. Then, saying a brief prayer for those making that turn, asking God to grant them strength, I made my turn taking the descent slowly so I could enjoy the view. As the decent continued and the feeling began to return, bit by bit, to my legs, I risked a smile on the outside.
The finish line was in sight, my thoughts of, “Why am I doing this”? slowly fading. Rolling through the finish line slowly up to the room. Blessed shower, rubbing down the legs. Still not sure its over. There were so many images and impressions running through my mind. To much to try to explain. Everyone asking me, “How was it”? Making answers, but mostly, just to say something. At that moment, I did not know how it was. It was hard. It was beautiful. Now, as I write this, two days away from the day of the start, the legs again itching for a ride, I can see it clearly. It was my most beautiful day on a bike.