Then I decided that I would simply ride and enjoy it, finish so I could get the belt buckle. How bad did I want the buckle? Bad enough to follow through even though the forecast was for cold and rain/snow.
Saturday morning, there was snow on the van, the pavement was wet and the sun was peeking over the horizon. As we pulled into the parking lot, I had already selected what I wanted to wear and I was looking forward to having long ride on the bike. I promised to myself that I would not be riding in temps below 40 degrees for a very long time after this.
I lined up, and headed out. Taking it easy and using the road before the creek to warm up my legs. I hit the creek crossing, barely noticing the dozen people stopping to remove socks and shoes. I rolled through the creek and up the road. Either way you get wet feet.
I was sticking to my plan and not paying attention to the time. This really is a beautiful piece of country, and someday, I am going to really take my time. But now, as I road, I fell into "race mode" and started riding my limit. Knowing that when I finished, if I could have gone faster, I would regret that I didn't. So, after about 10 minutes on the bike, this ride to finish, became a race against myself.
I rode, ate, checked in with myself. Pushed hard up some climbs, maintained a steady pace, recovered and repeated. According to RPE I had no idea of my past month of training had achieved anything. I would simply have to wait to find out.
My goal going into this was to see if I could at least beat 4 hrs. My record was 4 yrs ago on a single speed. It was a dry warm day in January. Conditions today were different. The first creek crossing was bottom bracket deep and there was lots of wet and some trail after that.
Overnight, the storm that rolled through had brought snow along the ridges. Trees were plastered with snow and I took a few glimpses of the ridges and valleys. The mountains in GA hold a special place in my heart, as they are the mountains that fostered my adventure spirit. College in NE GA meant that the mountains were a place of respite for a person not quite cut out for college.
About 4 miles from the finish, I was simply maintaining pace. I attempted to speed up, but I got winded and slowed, so I went back to maintaining. Instead of focusing on the cold and how tired I was, I reminded myself that I was riding my bike, and how much I love to ride my bike (when its warm). And that when I finished, I would get a cool belt buckle. I reminded myself one of the reasons I ride: to inspire my kid, with hopes that one day, he will follow his dreams and reach for his goals. I thought about the wife who has been with me through all of the training, races and DNF's. Who for some reason thinks I'm great. I thought about The Snake, the volunteers and all of the people involved. It was a good day to be out on the bike.
And then I crested the ridge at the water towers, headed down the gravel and the pavement grade for the last time. They handed me the belt buckle, I ate some cobble and was glad.
It took me a while after the results were posted to realize what I had accomplished. I finished #3 in 4:08, 17 minutes faster than #2. Huge improvement and considering all of the factors involved, I am uber pleased with that result. I had about 7 minutes overall of stoppage time. That figures out to 12 seconds per mile over 34 miles. Not much, and looking back, not much I could do to change that. I'll take it.