By: Robin Rongey
Have you ever thought about how ideas sound like such good ideas six months before the event happens. Well, this like every other event, sounded like it would be so much fun when I signed up. That’s right, I’m talking about the Vino Fondo and not the sissy mini, or midi, but the full blown mondo. You know what I’m talking about don’t you, 132 miles of pure misery. When I signed up, I was thinking 132 miles of pure joy, fresh air, nice weather, good company and a few hills, they can’t be that big, right.
Chuck tried to tell me how big the hills were, but I, who knows all, decided that he was overly worried that the hills just looked big, they weren’t really that bad, I mean it is Missouri not Colorado. I said don’t worry, all we have to do is keep a 16 mph average, which is my easy day pace and we will finish with a ride time of about 8hours. Of course our stops will be short because the hills can’t be that bad and we are riding a nice easy pace of 16 mph, so piece of cake. Chuck just gave me that blank stare like “are you kidding me, I saw the hills, I drove out there and rode the mini just to see, you have no idea what you are saying.” He was right I had no idea.
Chuck Edit #1: I had to back-up and read that last sentance a second time. Then a third time. Haha, bet that hurt as much as the Hwy T hill.
I met Chuck, Jeff and Krystal at the start of the race, our plan was to ride it together, having each other to work with to make it easier. Oh, and I guess I should say this upfront, I suck at hills, whether it be biking or running. I’m terrible. I don’t have the leg strength needed to be a good hill climber, plus I have a lot of extra junk in my trunk, so I have a lot of extra weight to pull up those hills. I probably weigh more than both Chuck and Jeff and I could fit Krystal in one of my legs. So for me to say that riding with this group will make it easier is kind of hilarious since there is no way in H….L I will ever be able to even ride their wheel on just one of these hills. Maybe I should call these hills, mountains, because the closer I got to the end of the ride the more mountainous they appeared or at least through my tried, foggy eyes that is what they looked like. I can usually keep up on flats if I get in the draft, but since there may have been 6 miles total of flats in the entire 132 mile course, that didn’t help me much.
The racers lined up in lines of 10 according to numbers, since we all had different numbers, we just lined up and decided we would ride easy until everyone was on the train, then move out based on the course and wind. We were lucky the wind wasn’t bad. It looked like the rain would hold off for most of the day, other than a few sprinkles and a wind gust or two, it was a beautiful day with the sun even shining some of the day. The race started and it didn’t take long to get into our group and get moving. We quickly found out that the entire course would be either up or down with no flats in between. We held a nice pace to the first rest stop at 38 miles, and I hadn’t fallen off too much yet, but I did see the writing on the wall. We had an 18.7 mph pace at 38 miles. At the second stop, the 58 mile mark, I had completely fallen off, and the group had to wait for me at the top of a couple of the hills. Plus I dropped my chain twice on mountainous hills and had to fix it and start again going uphill. Nothing can break your spirit more then seeing your teammates at the top of the hill all recovered and smiling just waiting for you. Then when you get there you have to stuff down some food and go again, never quite getting enough recovery time, but not wanting to make everyone wait for you.
So this is how it went for me, I would get to the top of the hill with nothing left in the tank, but would make the quickest stop I could so that my teammates didn’t have to wait any longer for me. Then I would back off on the way down the hill because I was afraid that as tired as I was, I would not have the reaction time needed if there were any quick moves in the group, so I gave myself plenty of room for error. This of course put me back behind even more because then I was off the back starting up the hill and since once again my hill climbing skills were not shining, I would fall off even more on my way up. As I said, by the second stop I was off the back, having a little pity party because I couldn’t keep up like I think I should have been able to, worrying about my chain dropping again, and wondering if I was going to be hit by an angry driver, since there were so many of them out that day. I told Jeff, Krystal and Chuck to go on, not to wait for me, I didn’t want to the worry about slowing them down. Like all teammates they didn’t want to leave me. Chuck said that he didn’t think he could stay on at the current pace for the entire ride so he would drop back with me. I really think he could have done it, but do appreciate him hanging out with me. Chuck has this theory he uses, if he is in a race that he knows there is no way he will place, then why not just have fun and have someone to hang with. This is what he did on this tortuous day, just hung out with me, dragging my slow butt around the course. At the 58 mile rest stop, there was a Big Shark mechanic in case a rider needed assistance. I didn’t get his name at the time, but I know it now. He was Steven Wilkes. Not only did he fix my chain, but he also drove by and offered us water 3 or 4 times during the last 60 miles of the ride, and a couple times we really needed it. He became our own little personal support vehicle, see what happens when you are last, you get extra support, mostly because the support people are so tired and want to go home, anything they can do to get you in faster, well they are all over it. I have to give it to Steven, he never once rushed us along or made us feel like the loser that I felt like during that ride. He and the other volunteers, including the guy and girl in the RPM car were great, I have never been on a better supported ride then this one.
On we went, we lost sight of Jeff and Krystal and figured they would finish a couple hours in front of us. We rode up and down the never ending hills. We rode up the hill on highway T and I think that was the mother of all hills, but I made it up, even when I saw people walking up it I kept riding even though I thought about walking, and I made it to the top. We caught on with a group of 5 guys mostly in yellow Ghisallo jerseys, we hopped on the back of that train for a few miles until I finally dropped, then a mile or so up Chuck dropped, I don’t think he dropped because he needed to, but because he was waiting for me. Again, I’m the one dragging everyone down. We soon lost sight of that group and were on our own again. This time we were only about 8 miles from the end. I was really starting to struggle, but there was some relief coming. First the RPM car stopped and gave us some water, then told us that there were a few miles of flat ahead and then one small hill to the finish. Yeah that guy, thought he was funny, one small hill, ha ha. We made it to the bottom of Schleusberg hill. Just as we started up, my right quad gets a grapefruit size charley horse in it, I’m about to scream, but I was way too tired and didn’t have the energy to do it, so I just let out a meek moan. I got off my bike, stretched and started to take a few steps, thinking I would just walk up, but then in true Robin fashion, I thought, I am not going to be the quitter that walked up this hill. I was thinking some really bad words too, but I didn’t say them, I just thought them. So I got back on my bike and rode up the hill and found Chuck at the top. We rode in and crossed the finish line together. To our surprise the Ghisallo group was just in front of us, barely any faster then we were, that made me feel somewhat better. Our pace for the 132 miles was 15 mph, so much for my early prediction of a nice leisurely pace of 16 mph.
I was so tired when the volunteer said you can hop in the van for a ride back to the start line or ride 4 more miles of hills. There was no debate, we were taking the trailnet van back. That girl driving that van could not have known that she may have just saved my life, I would have probably fallen over in the traffic lane on the next hill and been run over by a truck or worse one of those angry drivers we had been seeing throughout the day. Once back to our vans we changed clothes and headed over to see if there was any food left, and there was not. There was a little cold pasta salad and some rolls. Chuck ate the pasta salad and I ate a couple rolls then we went back to our vans pulled a couple diet cokes out of my cooler and settled in for a long drive home. A few miles out I see 3 guys riding in and think, wow we weren’t last. Chuck and I were the last two riders to make the cutoff time at the bottom of Schleusberg hill, but there were at least 3 other guys way behind us that were still coming in.
Post notes: I was so worried about Jeff and Krystal just riding away without a care in the world and wondering how they got so strong, while I seemed to be getting so weak, that I almost ruined a great ride. When I saw the results and saw that they only beat us in by 36 minutes over a course of 132 miles, I didn’t feel so bad. Now I’m not saying that I will do it again, but I am saying that just maybe, with time, the memories of the ride will not impact me as much as they did last week, yesterday or even tomorrow. Kind of like having a baby, you forget the pain after a while and say heck why not do it again.
Chuck Edit #2: I got a hundred dollar bill betting she'll do it again next year. Every race she swears off, gets added to her 'favorite, gotta do it list".