“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” –Theodore Roosevelt
It was time. It has been a year since I crashed, and I worked my way back to a suitable condition for racing again . . . only to have discover that I had Covid and off the bike again for two weeks. It was discouraging to say the least, but I had a date on my calendar highlighted in yellow, March 20th. The Assault on Mt. Currahee is a gravel race. The course is only 37 miles long, but it reaches over 4,500 feet of climbing in that small package . . . again, on gravel. I knew it would be very difficult for me, but there was an unexplainable desire to get back into the pit again. No, I am not delusional. I just want to know if I still have things that can only be found in competition. Not a hard group ride or pseudo-race with friends, this had to be the real deal.
At the line it was 35 degrees Fahrenheit with strong wind gusts. There were a couple of dudes I knew from the area who said they were glad to see me back at it. I was appreciative, taking a drink from my bottle, trying to appear as though I was not nervous. It was a four-hour drive to the race, and I slept horrible the night before. My nerves were not good. This was a course to face monsters, mental giants who stomp around my brain on steep descents. The course was basically nothing but steep climbs and descents . . . again, on gravel. I took another drink from my bottle. I looked at my Garmin. It was five minutes until start. Before, I knew it . . . three, two, one!
I felt good again after the gravel started popping underneath my bike. We stayed flat for a bit; then the road began to give way to a downward trajectory. Nothing too bad in the beginning, but as the pitch became drastic, I began to lose contact with the wheel in front of me. Throughout the entire day, I continually caught myself braking when I had no business doing so. I should have been hair-on-fire descending like I did only a year ago. My whole body would tense. I never realized that my forearms could burn before my legs did. My breathing was fine, legs felt great, but I noticed a shortening in my sustained power. I kind of figured that would raise its head, but that can be worked on.
Going down became easier (sort of) as the race progressed. I had to force my body to relax, to feel the bike and soften my legs to absorb the road. A rider has to be one with the machine to truly descend without regard. This was the monster I was battling. In the end, I worked out a few things. I still had the timidity that gripped my brain. Should I still do this? It is either 100% or nothing. The middle ground is where a rider gets hurt. I came across the line in mid-pack. At least, I was not last. I could smile that I finished and see my biggest fan waiting for me and clapping. It was tough on her too. I am extremely blessed to have her support. I am not saying I am back. I am just saying I did it. Now, I need to go check my calendar.