Saturday, August 13, 2011

Highway to Heaven: A Fiddler, a few Foul Smells and a Four-Minute Effort

The Dow could be dropping, American workers losing jobs, the Horn of Africa starving, and my office mate could once again insist on cutting and slowly savoring his boiled eggs first thing in the morning with his shoes off and gouty feet up on his desk. This is a daily fumigation I endure, a test that lingers in the nose and brain long into the morning.

Here's what I've realized--all this bad stuff could happen, but if I take a single sprint at Hains, I'm happy for a few days. Let me win a real race, and I'm good for at least a month.

Anyone else?

It's not like I set out to be this kind of selfish, amoral bastard with hideously skewed values. I only realized it recently; I've been miserable and probably because I haven't won anything in a while.

This year--maybe like your year, maybe not--has been somewhat frustrating. No results. No Coach Troy Spinnervals DVD primes.

I pinned my hopes for a late-season mood-lifting victory on Highway to Heaven, a hill climb lasting between 3-5 minutes. The shortest race I've done since high school track. I needed a result.

My ride up to the race was a guy who's gotten results: Browner, or as he's insisting to be called these days, "Edvald Brown-Hagen." Brown's in a tight, awkwardly contested race with his teammate Keck Baker for the 1-2 BAR. I say awkwardly because Brown is busy getting BAR points while Keck, a builder, is somewhere in the greater Richmond area erecting a subdivision called "Keckston," with streets called "Baker Avenue," "TT Monster Lane," and "I Owe Calvini a Water Bottle Which he Gave me at Washington County Road Race Street." Brown already has the crit championship, a 2nd place in the MABRA road race championship, and a slew of other wins and results.

I've raced with Brownie since he showed up at Greenbelt on a 32 pound blue Trek, straight out V Tech and looking about 16 years old. The first jersey Brownie won was the Cat 3 Hill Climb jersey, two years ago on this very climb. I ride the bike frame he used for that win.

Also in the car was Corey, who, like me, has recently lost a little enthusiasm for racing. He hadn't raced since June, despite showing some decent form. When I asked him how he prepared for Highway to Heaven, he responded, "I bombed Hanoi." He'd spent the night on his computer flying A-7s and F-4s. As a former Army helicopter pilot, I imagine bombing Hanoi may be, for him, a nice way to unwind in the same way I unwind with a glass of chablis, a box of tissue, and an evening of Home Shopping Network.

Corey spent the last month focussing entirely on preparations for Highway to Heaven. Much of that preparation, I'm guessing, involved virtual strafing and bombing runs of various war-torn locales.

The advice I got from them, and from my teammate Brian Sacawa, was to moderate my pace on the initial steep section.

Like Corey, I looked to the race as a way of redeeming myself. In my case, I need redemption for a number of stupid crashes and mental mistakes. For example, falling into a ditch at Page Valley in the most idiotic fashion imaginable, and losing, once again, to Rick Norton.

Rick is the likely winner of the Masters BAR. He's also in third (behind Keck) in the 1-2 BAR. Like Brown, Rick's no stranger to results. Rick won the last two races I entered, Lost River and Page Valley; before that, he'd won Coppi 1/2 in outrageous fashion. I know he's won at least five races this year. In his lifetime--including his pro career--he's probably won more races than I've done this year.

When I saw him wearing an aero helmet, I thought, "I'm doomed." Norton in an aero helmet is like Bruce Lee with nunchuku--a badass.

A four-minute effort is something entirely different from a fifty mile road race. But if you've never done a four-minute hill climb, you don't know if that's good or bad for you.

They start you out with a wooden block behind your rear wheel, and you're looking up the climb, watching the guy in front of you already tossing his bike back and forth in a way that seems impossible to sustain for four minutes.

The juniors come out for this one, floating up the climb, as pliant and light as noodles, shorts flapping in the wind.

It strikes you as you begin, that you have no idea how to modulate your effort, since you've removed your computer (along with your bottle cages and bottles), and you've never seen the road's dips and turns. On top of that, you don't know how your legs will respond.

But you start, and you modulate your effort. It is steep, but not so bad as Brickyard.

You pass a spectator who cheers, then another. Over the steep part, and what's that? A fiddler? Well, he could be either a fiddler or violinist, sawing something, you think, but not enough to figure out whether it's bluegrass, Celtic, or a concerto. You can only hear a note or two and he is out of earshot.

How much time has passed? Should you shift into the big ring?

More people cheering--that's decent of them. There's an orange flag, but you can't read it. Either a construction flag or a Haymarket jersey hanging from a post. Either way, unhelpful.

Not fast enough--your 1-minute man doesn't seem much closer than he was when you first saw him.

There's the finish. Already? Out of the saddle and sprinting, and it's over.

You learn Corey put in a good time of four minutes even--good enough for the win. That's his second MABRA championship in two years.

Hanoi will be carpetbombed again tonight, it is certain.

Brown came within a few seconds of a podium, but, more disappointing to him, was slower than his time from two years ago.

Sacawa, who's battled illness for the last month, put in a special effort to take 2nd in the 1/2.

And I won the old guy race, barely nipping Rick, who'd done the thing twice. "This is the first time I've lost in a while," he said. "This is the first time I've won in a while," I said. Of course, if we'd gone up against the youngsters, neither of us would've been around to contemplate it; we'd have been on our way home, thinking about the next time. As it was, we got a medal, a bit of cash, and a reason to smile through the smell of eggs and gouty feet.


todd said...

"shorts flapping in the wind" Classic!

rick norton said...

congrats - wins are nice and in a solo start hillclimb, it was unrefutedly deserved. i dont know what a nunchuka is, but i obviously need one (or three). i also failed to reside in a holiday inn express last night, but i did have cuban food for dinner.
thanks for the animated racing in which you have engaged all season and the willingness to share your interesting point of view so eruditely and humbly - its always an interesting read.
sincerely, rick

Pete said...

You won a championship. That's awesome! I'd hang on to that photo, Norton's a pretty fast dude...doubling up or not!

Peter Warner said...

congrats, Kevin!

Calvini said...

Thanks, all.

@Rick--aw, shucks.

tsvidogg said...

Heck yeah. That's quite a group of cyclists you had in that car. Nicely done, Kevin.