Monday, April 18, 2016

Back in Black: 2016 Dairy Roubaix

Back in black I hit the sack
I've been too long I'm glad to be back
Yes I am
Let loose from the noose
That's kept me hanging about
I keep looking at the sky cause it's gettin' me high
Forget the hearse cause I'll never die
I got nine lives cat's eyes
Using every one of them and runnin' wild

Moments before the start of the 2016 Dairy Roubaix
photo by Glenn Gernert

Being "back" came in two strong forms this past weekend. First, there was a brief thought in my cycling circle that my favorite bike event, Dairy Roubaix, would no longer be. Second, when it was officially in the books, I didn't think I'd have what it would take to get through it.

I often think of the quote from Toby Depaw, previous owner of North Central Cyclery and event organizer, "All good events should have a shelf life". I believe in this full heartedly, but any time I think about this for Dairy Roubaix, I begin to get a bit weepy. You see Stew and Michelle Schilling have been doing such an amazing job with this for so many years—making hundreds of cyclists smile from ear to ear while riding their bikes up endless gravel hills—that I couldn't handle the thought of it disappearing. Neither could they I guess since instead of chucking the event, they passed it off to another couple, Pete and Alycann Taylor who own Bluedog Cycles in Viroqua.

Now first you have to understand how detail oriented and what perfectionists the Schillings are. They make all of their events run so smoothly, you'd think very little work went into them. Wrong. They put so much into all of them you "think" this way even if it just about kills them. This is one of the reasons they needed a little breather. Knowing this, you can imagine it wouldn't be easy to find anyone up to par to carry their torch. Thankfully, they knew just where to look, and that was Vernon Trails/Bluedog Cycles. You see Pete and Alycann run a bike shop, build mountain bike trails, lead adult and kid mountain bike camps and run advocacy programs. When you're used to juggling that many things, adding a weekend gravel event isn't easy, but you sort of know what to expect. 

From a participant's viewpoint, the event was flawless. They even ordered up sun, light winds and temps nearing 80! Oh sure it was hard for me not to see Stew and Michelle there for the whole weekend (they were there the first night and through the morning of the ride), but almost instantly, Pete and Alycann felt like family and I was so unbelievably excited to hear they were already planning on doing it again next year.

Now, to get back to the actual event. For the first time since my inaugural gravel ride, I stood on the starting line cursing myself and fretting over if I could make it through. I knew I had done less training this spring than any other in almost ten years. More than half the rides I did complete, I found myself gimping it back home exhausted and in pain. I HATE going into events unprepared and that's exactly where I thought I was. Because of this mindset, I made a vow to ride any pace I wanted (alone or with friends) and take as many rests as I needed.

Come to find out, a little bit of sun and warmth can be ridiculously healing for both mind and body. Five miles into the ride and I thought "Huh, I'm not feeling that bad". Ten miles into the ride and I thought "Where the hell is this energy coming from?". Twenty miles into the ride and I thought "Oh shit, there's no way I can keep this pace...I'm going to crash and burn if I try." But I didn't crash and burn. I did, however, get a flat which a great friend helped me fix in a flash to get me back up moving in about five minutes. And although I kept looking down at my tires for fear of having another flat, I didn't get one. I rode the last ten or so miles essentially alone. Pushing when I could, letting up on the throttle when the energy bar and whiskey shot I had fifteen miles back started coming up. I put my head down for the long climb up Co.Rd. C (a climb I usually like) and pushed hard back through Wyalusing park. 

Sandy Hollow Road

Although I didn't have much in me left when I finished the cross course, I also didn't feel terrible either. I felt relieved, and honestly a bit shocked by what I had just accomplished. Here's the funny thing. By no means is the 54 mile course "hard" compared to other rides I've done. Essentially, it would be something I'd go out and do almost every weekend if I lived near it. What had been hard was breaking the barriers in my mind. In essence, it was a full circle. The first time I completed Dairy Roubaix I was a nervous wreck beforehand since it was my first gravel ride. Only after being on the course for about ten miles did I allow myself to relax and have fun. After that first ride, I didn't care at all where I finished in the group—I was just so happy to have finished...with friends. And this is exactly how I felt Saturday. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that can beat being on two wheels on beautiful terrain, and when the ride is over, sitting in the grass with great folks enjoying cold beer. For 36 hours, I allowed myself to forget all of my stress, worries and checklists, but more importantly, I allowed myself to heal and come back into the cycling community. 

Post ride refueling with friends
photo by John Driscoll

So many thanks go out to Stew and Michelle for starting this whole thing, Pete and Alycann for picking up the torch, all of the volunteers working hard behind the scenes and all of my friends who helped me through some really dark hours. 

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