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DC AIDS Ride 4: Day 3: Richmond, VA to Manassas, VA

Day 3: Richmond, VA to Manassas, VA
Saturday, June 26
Distance: 97-102 miles (95 completed)

Today I started on the road at around 7 AM. I had breakfast with Rob after having slept very soundly, and after a hefty dose of Motrin I was ready to roll. This day was sold all throughout the ride as the most difficult of the four. "Hills," they said, "and more hills." Not only that, but the lunch stop would be at pit 4, not pit 3. This would be a source of confusion.

Thirty miles on Route 1 heading out of Richmond showed me they were not exaggerating. Hills numerous as ripples on corrugated cardboard, bikers like a trail of carrier ants traversing a vast expanse of flattened boxes, the sun a magnifying glass scorching our limbs and necks. Route 1 was not at its most exciting for the trip between Richmond and Pit 2. The arrival at pit one (Miss DC AIDS Ride 1999) brought out some of the more humorous sides of trashy camp. Miss New Jersey (Winner of Miss Jersey Shore 1969 and Miss Toxic Wasteland in 1980) and Miss California (previously employed as a fluffer in adult movies) graced the entrance to the stop, and my ten minutes applying sunscreen were well enjoyed. Pit 2 provided gatorade, and one of those Nerf water thingies that sprayed us from head to toe. A couple of bushes along the road became good friends. My knees were not in great shape, the tendons and ligaments feeling the stresses imposed by three days of biking all day with (as I later found out) incomplete stretching.

A mile or two after pit 2 we began a long descent down a rural road flanked by thick, tall trees. The wind refreshed us, the trees covered us, the downhill slope gave us respite from the pains of pedaling. Somewhere 5 miles from the next pit stop I realized that if lunch was at pit 4 and I had to leave the lunch stop by 2 PM I would not make it. However, after riding into Pit 3 (Pleasantville) I found out that I had until 4 PM to leave pit 4, and it was noon already.

Two things I have felt that are unique during this experience are the pleasure of breathing after being inside a portajohn and the joy of discovering I have 2 hours more than what I planned. Motrin, my new friend, would get me to lunch.

There were some brave uphill stretches going through the Rappahannock State Park into Fredericksburg, and a treacherous and deceitful driveway up into pit 4. I met up with Michael and Karen who were still having lunch at the stop, and as they left Mike encouraged me to focus, and I would make it in time.

I left lunch at around 2:30 with knees in pain. The upcoming stretch turned out to be the toughest of the day. A steep, long uphill caught many of the riders in high gears, and my own lowest of the low gears was almost not enough to make it up. The well-wishers with hoses and sprinklers placed themselves all the way at the top of the hill, which brought pleasure to many a sweaty face.

At the 8 mph pace at which I was riding I would never make it to camp on time. Each little bump sent shots of pain up my right thigh, starting from my knee and piercing my stomach. As rider upon rider passed, asking if I was okay, I would grunt an affirmation and continue pedaling. The landscape, or what I saw of it, was full of farmlands, rural homes and an occasional development in the style of Northern Virginia, complete with cul-de-sacs, wide driveways and the occasional minivan. However, i was much more intent on the pavement. Truth is, most of this ride I've paid more attention to the asphalt underneath my tires than to the butterflies, clouds, flowers and lush forests.

I had made up my mind to not stop at pit 5, thus saving precious time in my race against the sag truck. However, my knees were in enough pain that I thought a short stay at the stop with some ice and some Motrin might do the trick. The ten minutes became 25 or so. I learned that putting ice on one's knees for only a few minutes is not enough; ten or fifteen is just barely enough to start feeling any kind of relief. So, sometime around 5:20 I left the stop, hearing that i had about 18 miles to go until the next stop and then 7 from there until camp. If I hurried, I might make it to pit 6 before they closed at 6:30.

I was determined to hurry. I would make it to pit 6 before closing, and would ride into camp. The determination only grew stronger as I biked on roads that seemed familiar, that had names I had seen on maps. Near Quantico I pulled energy and pain killers out of sheer will, and biked faster than i ever had. I was clocking 15 miles per hour, 12 on the uphill stretches, a cadence as regular and heat-intensive as Old Faithful. Once I pulled onto Sowego road and onto familiar territory, I felt even more earnest ot make it on time. I had biked these roads, once from Nokesville to Casanova and once again from Nokesville to Warrenton. I was back to where I had twice thought of giving up when left behind by a fast pack, where I had before considered turning back because my knees hurt, or my legs hurt, or my ego hurt. I was within an hour's drive from home. I had to make it to camp.

It was 6:15 when I passed a water stop at Quantico, at the intersection where I first got left behind on the Nokesville ride way back when and met Jen and Gloria. Confident I only had 2 or 3 miles to go, and yelled out a question, asking them how many I had until pit 6. "Five miles," I heard. Either my math was wrong (it wasn't), their math was wrong (it wasn't), or what they told me at pit 5 was wrong (it was). Five miles in a quarter hour? I continued pushing the pedals, up Aden road, past the now-familiar turnaround past the store where Brian and Jeff caught up with me on the Warrenton ride and gave me a cue sheet.

I had to make it. I had to pull the speed out of nowhere and beat the pit closing even if by seconds.

I got to pit 6 at 6:35. The route was closed. I would be sagged to camp. I cursed loudly, not at anyone but at the situation. I had tried. I had mustered up speed out of nowhere and it was still not fast enough.

If only I hadn't his and if only I hadn't that.

I boarded the bus, dejected and frustrated, disappointed. Some bikers complained, some said that their computers had indicated that we were already at mile 97 and that the seven mile difference to camp would have made the route close at 7:30. One said very haughtily that he had talked to the AIDS Ride management before ("I said 'Joe, you've got to make sure this is working properly next year' and he said 'you're right, I promise you we'll fix it next year' and I said 'Joe, you've got a lot of good riders out there who can make it' and he said 'You're right, I'm sorry'") and that this always happened and that he had always said there was some kind of problem and so on and so forth and yadda yadda and I'm thinking you were slow, just like the rest of us, even though i remember you being the fast rider in all the training rides, the fast rider that was always at the end, perhaps because you helped other riders with flat tires, perhaps because you were the grasshopper to everybody else's hill-climbing ant, perhaps because things just don't always work the way Joe promises they will. But perhaps your complaining about it doesn't change the fact that I'm dejected.

Another biker, red in the face, came in, tossed his helmet onto a seat and said "I'm really pissed now, I'm not doing this thing again." Another just said "they should keep the route open, look, they're making us wait in the bus while it's perfectly sunny outside and we could still be riding."

None of their complaints were helping my upset ego and my sense of not-accomplishment.

Why must everything I do be as perfect as I imagined it for me to feel happy about it? I've been training for months for this, have pulled out the energy to wake up at 7 AM on Saturday and Sunday mornings to bike all day under the scorching heat or the pouring, freezing rain, I've found physical fitness in whatever dank and musty recess of my inner being in which it was stored, I've accomplished something unlike anything else i ever have, I've biked all day with pain in my knees to make it to camp on a ride where people are out there to remember others and to raise funds for a cause, I've biked 95 friggin' miles, the last 20 at speeds I've never seen before unless going downhill and why is this still not enough?

I stood up, walked to the front of the bus with my camera, turned around and asked everyone to smile. Grunt. Why? "Well, I've just got to take a picture of the bus in which I spent so much time, no?". Giggle, guffaw, click.

Team Sag after a long, hard day of biking and bitching...

Another rider sat across the aisle from me and said, out to the air "well, I've been biking since sunrise, I've worked hard, now I'm glad that they care enough for my safety to not let me continue. I've biked 95 miles today, that's darn impressive. Now I get to sit in an air conditioned bus and cool off." I looked at her and smiled. Somehow, her happiness at being there became contagious. I started talking to her, about why I was riding, why she was riding, how getting to this point was a personal victory, how it still didn't feel like a victory, and she just continued with her assertion that our having spent all day biking towards a camp which was not so much a goal but simply an ending to a day of riding was admirable and wonderful.

A man who sat right next to me agreed, saying "That was 95 miles! it just seems like it was longer, but the last 30 didn't seem to happen at all, did they."

All of a sudden, my outlook changed. If this is failure then I will never be able to recognize victory, as there is no other word to describe what I have done today.

The bus started rolling, somehow the mood seemed to lift. Someone said loudly "that's one hill we won't have to ride," the rest of us cheered. At the top of the first hill, the bus driver stopped accelerating, held the bus a bit and then sped down the next one. "Again, again" said a rider with a Tinky Winky doll. Someone else suggested we raise our hands as if in a roller coaster. We did it. We laughed. We laugh at you, hills. We have accomplished much today, and we laugh at you. Someone asked out loud why they call this the sag truck, and someone else said "Sorry Ass Group" and we laughed.

The lady across the hall said we should all get together and cheer when we got off the bus, and there was a loud cheer of agreement.

The crew members who was assigned to this bus got on the PA, cheered us on, and asked if we all knew where our bikes would be tomorrow, then told us to ask for the section with the sagged bikes tomorrow. "Great," someone said jokingly, "go ahead and humiliate us." We laughed, perhaps thinking it was humiliating, knowing it wasn't deep inside, wondering if other riders would actually think that.

As we got off the bus at camp, walked around the High School and heard the cheering and clapping directed at us, three of us joined in a cheer for Team Sag.