I arrived with doughnuts, large maps, an envelope with the cash prize, winner’s certificate, winner’s stuffed lion and losers stuffed Rhino. I had grown quite fond of that Rhino and had been conspiring to keep it but more on that later. The doughnuts were quickly consumed and everyone seemed prepared for the death march except Dave, who volunteered he would cut the ride short. We turned left out of the parking lot and immediately hit the Thornwood climb (on Sunday’s Canal ride someone in so many words essentially told me that was really dumb to have put a significant climb within 100 yards of the start and I agreed) and then out Burg to Dry Creek and Chatham out to 657, the normal route. Cyclists had gotten very strung out and as the model host, I stayed back to make sure everyone made the turn onto Preston. On one descent, a certain female member of the group got into the aero position with her head way down and rear stuck way high and Roy stated, “You could project a drive-in movie on that space!” Very funny and wish I had witnessed. At Preston, Amanda was the caboose but clearly she was saving her energy for the podium girl performance and after all, had not ridden since mid October. Eventually we all arrived in Utica via Reynolds Road. I scanned the crowd carefully, looking for signs of desperation but everyone appeared in good spirits, still. Curiously, Ned had decided to skip the stop and continue solo. We wondered aloud if this was his way of getting a jump on the hills or had he planned an audacious solo attack for that cash prize.
Having had a relaxed pace for the last several miles, I felt good and got ahead of my companions, up the wall on Houdeshell (22-24%) and subsequent other climbs before reaching Pinewood Trail and a monster of a long and steeply constant 18% grade (what was I thinking when I designed this route?!?!). Eventually came out on Reform, made a right on Smith Chapel, stayed straight onto Montgomery, more climbing, left on Wilken’s Run and then, thankfully, pulled into the market where Steve, Larry, Woody and Dennis were waiting. While we fueled up, we thought Larry may have found a local red-neck who finally appreciated his humor. The first four started back out before the rest of us and we headed north on Purity, turning left on Loches, another climb, headed into Louisville before turning south on 13 and then right on St Joseph. By then, we were again all strung out but I just wanted to finish and kept going. Half way up the Joseph climb I could see the front 4 with someone zigging and zagging across this steep climb.
By this time, the wind had been strong with gusts surely above 30mph. Thankfully, the hills had given some protection but turning southwest onto Chatham brought me into the teeth of the wind and I covered that stretch at a crawl, finally reaching 661 and then Dry Creek Road and after motoring along at a speedy 2mph on Burg, reached the final climb and descent onto the main drag and a quick right into the Wildwood parking lot. I would love to know how many calories we burned on this killer course of climbs and wind. We ended with 63 miles and 5400’ of climbing. I gladly presented the winner’s check to Woody, assuming Ned, who we never saw, had taken a short cut somewhere. Later, I discovered a note on my car from Ned that indicated he had finished the entire route so technically, he was the winner but….. Now, regarding the Rhino, I had expected Susan to claim it but Mitch had a flat with Jeff and Cindy hanging back to watch. Susan finished ahead of them but, the GAME was to start in an hour, I had a bottle of wine to buy and I wasn’t going to stick around to give my favorite Rhino away to someone who really was not deserving of the last place prize. Therefore, my favorite Rhino has a new and permanent home beside my computer. A reminder of this epic day. NOTE: Tonight (Saturday) I received a call from someone who wanted to ride but could not. He suggested we throw in a bunch of serious cash and make this a real race next Spring. We’ll see but it is a spectacular route and one I’d like for others to see.