“I try not to make plans. Because, even the best laid plans etc. etc.” ~Brent Spiner
This isn’t a story of bitterness; and it’s not a story in search of pity. It’s a story about how even when everything is done right, things can still go wrong. As cyclists, we need to understand this. You can do all the hard training and prep for your first century, and then the temperature blazes at 110° all day and you don’t make it. You can plan your race strategy and skip those cupcakes and focus in every right way, but during the race someone makes a mistake, and you end up in something more akin to a rugby scrum instead of on the podium.
It’s also a story to show just how much goes into the events we participate in all the time. A peak behind the scenes, as it were.
This is the story of the Hilton Hill Climb Challenge.
Last year, with a little skill, a lot of strategy, and what I won’t deny was a decent-sized helping of luck, I managed to hammer out my first real win: top spot on the podium for the Cat 4/5. It was an incredible feeling, not least of all because it was a pretty legit win against racers whose day it could’ve easily been instead of mine.
This year my racing will be pretty limited. But I knew that no matter what else I did, win or lose, I had to come back to Crosswinds.
When it’s windy out, I try to train anyway. And in Tulsa, we know all sorts of wind: breezy, gusty, OMFGsy, etc. If you don’t train in the wind out in the Midwest, you might as well not ride your bike.
When I first wanted to dabble in racing, I was given exactly zero advice. In fact, the only thing I was told was, “Hey, you should race.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming my teammates at the time. I didn’t ask a lot of questions. At the same time, not much was volunteered. It’s just how it is.
That doesn’t work for me, though. I’m a planner. The more I think and know and analyze going into a situation, the more comfortable I feel. But what I found was that those who are racing tend to speak in racing terminology, to others who have already raced.
So, for those tour riders who have been speeding up and enjoy competition (and a lack of elbow room), I’m going to go over some of the things that I know now that I did not know before I started racing. Think of it like an IFAQ – Infrequently Asked Questions – for getting into racing.
Things have been rough on the riding front this year. Lung infection, injuries, high work loads, family needs, etc. I’m about 1,500 miles behind where I was last year at this time. I don’t say this for sympathy; I say this because all the reasons mentioned are valid reasons to not ride. The problem? I feel guilty for not riding.
See, at some point, without realizing it, I crossed over to a dark road. Riding went from something I wanted to do to something I had to do. It became a requirement. Worse, it became a chore.
If I didn’t ride with the my race team, I felt like I was letting down the team; whenever I did ride with them, I felt I was just holding them back.
If I didn’t ride with my casual team, I felt like I was not being a good supporter of the other riders on that team.
If I didn’t ride on my own, I felt like I was wasting opportunities to ride, stay in shape, burn calories, clear my mind.
So every time there was an opportunity to ride (or even when I couldn’t) and I didn’t, I felt like I was letting everyone down, including myself.
Now, I grew up Catholic, and if anyone knows how to do guilt, it’s the Catholics. So it was easy to blame myself for not riding. But here’s the deal, folks: you can’t ride because someone says you should ride. You can’t ride because others are riding. There’s only one valid reason to ride, and that’s because YOU want to.
[Before I begin, I want to give a big shout out to Chris Wilcox, the Tulsa Wheelmen, Eucha Volunteer Fire Department, and all the volunteers that made for such a safe, smoothly-run, and awesomely fun race. Even if you’re not a racer, you need to drive up and check this event out!]
With the weather looking very Oklahoma-ish, riders converged on the small town of Eucha, OK (pronounced “oochee”), a few miles west of Jay. Winds were strong but erratic, mostly from the South, though rapidly shifting SE and SW; there one second, gone the next. Drizzling rain was followed by hard wind, then eerie calms. Lightning in the distance (thankfully in the distance), but the charge in the air was all around.
The BikeMS-OK website finally posted the route maps (with a whopping 4 days to spare until the event). Unfortunately… they leave a little to be desired. So for anyone needing a more detailed map (including rest stop locations, distances between rest stops, elevations, etc.), I’ve created the following maps.
For the fourth year, I will be participating in the Oklahoma Bike MS event. The last three years it was known as the Mother Road Ride, having a large portion of the route follow good ol’ Route 66 from Tulsa to OKC. Admittedly, it was pretty awesome to make that last left turn south and a couple miles off see the capital building in the distance.
This year’s a little different though. Instead of going between the two largest cities in Oklahoma, we’ll be doing out-and-back rides on day 1 starting and ending in Chandler, the overnight rest stop location for the last few years. Day 2 will include part of last year’s second-day route, and a good portion looping back along route 66 to Chandler. The idea is to make it easier logistically for all the teams, and to make it fair for teams traveling from OKC and Tulsa.
Why this event? Why support fundraising for MS research? What does “MS” stand for?
I’d like to tell you an epic tale of challenges, of hardship, of triumph. Of pain and joy. Of people giving their all for one another as much as for themselves. I think it would make for an awesome story. But I can’t.
It’s not that I don’t want to; I do. And it’s not that it didn’t happen; it did. The problem is that talking about this ride – going over the climbs, the rollers, the sprints and downhills – it just doesn’t capture what we really went through. Maybe I just don’t have the craft to convey what it is our intrepid team accomplished. Maybe it’s still too fresh in my mind to put into words. I’m not sure.
As we rolled and we picked up fellow riders, our team grew, and our performance improved. Each rider added their strength, skill, determination, and support to all the other riders. We were all affected in different ways by this ride. A climb would hurt some, but not others. A set of rollers would hurt those others, but not some. What stands above it is how our unity in facing these challenges made up for any individual deficiencies.
If there is only one takeaway from this year’s Tulsa Tough, it’s this:
What I couldn’t achieve, WE could.
Climbs: Hilton Hill, Keifer Hill, Teel Rd. Hill, 44 to 33 Hill, Double-Hump to Coyote, Coyote/Hound Dog Hollow, New Prue Rd., Pogue Short Climb, McKinley Tulsa Tough KOM, Mile 98 Climb, New Osage Dr.