I don't remember waking up during the night. Instead, I slept hard and awoke a few minutes before the alarm clock was set, feeling refreshed and ready to ride. Gordon, thank you for sharing your condo!
After an early breakfast and a very impromptu team photo, I ran into Tim, rider of the singlespeed Sekai. It sounds like there were maybe four singlespeeds this year, though we only had visual confirmation of three. I was geared the lowest by at least a few teeth.
The Chumstick Highway quickly takes you out of Leavenworth and into the country. It's shady and chilly in the morning as we pass farms and homesteads in this narrow valley. The pace is generally relaxed on this section, although there was one bullet train of seven guys that blew by me, led by Tony from Tacoma Bike. That guy could give Superman a run for his money if Superman rode a bike. I was glad to see Gene in that paceline though: Gene rode the Courage Classic last year on a 8-speed internally-geared bike while wearing slacks, shirt and tie for all 3 days. He's a cool guy.
Jaarvis fell in love with my road bike
Neighbors: Me, Steve and Gary live within 2 blocks of each other
Prepare for climb! Remove a layer!
A few of us regrouped at the first rest stop, everyone still pretty full from the pancake breakfast served up by the Leavenworth Lions Club. So, back on the road.
Once reconnected with Hwy 2, the main line over Steven Pass, there's another rest stop with rootbeer floats, massage tables, and a hula contest. I was a reigning champ from last year (with the tshirt to prove it!), but I lost this contest early to Terry and the 10 year old in the middle. The kid won, making us both look like fools. It was fun and funny. (BTW - any of the action shots with me in them were taken by the Courage Classic photographer.)
The real climbing starts after the Hawaiian rest stop. Unlike the other two passes which are both really just one long climb with two grades (steep and steeper), the climb up Stevens is more like five separate climbs each with its own grade and little mini descent afterwards. My teammate Joel rode the first of these main climbs with me, his pacing was perfect and we were really moving. I was out of the saddle for much of the climb, but felt good. Joel moved ahead on that first mini-descent as I coasted down behind him.
The next 2 parts of the climb were very much the same. Most of the riders that I'd passed on the climb would pass me on the following downhill section, then I'd catch them on the next climb. I pulled over to stretch and eat a snack a few times as the miles started to add up. My knees were starting to stiffen a bit, but I was still hammering away with a smile on my face as I approached the final water stop just four miles from the summit.
I stopped for water and stayed only long enough to stretch, maybe two minutes. I must have had an adrenaline rush or something, because I really didn't want to stop. All I could think about was getting to the summit.
I left a few teammates at the water stop who were waiting to regroup and headed into the home stretch. The grade of the last four miles always seems significantly steeper than the other climbs, though I've always wondered if this is just because it's Day 3 and I'm getting tired. Today it didn't really matter how steep it was because about one mile into this final climb, my knees really started to bug me.
This is where the ride started to be less fun. I pulled over to stretch and take a long drink. Other than muscle fatigue and burning lungs after a hard sprint, I'd never hurt like this on a bike. Something wasn't right and I was now struggling. I tried to mentally refocus on my technique, thinking that I should try to pull instead of push the pedals, anything for some relief.
Lori and Brian, who had been waiting at the water stop, caught up with me after my second road-side stretch session. I gingerly got back on the bike and rode with them for a half mile or so, then feeling like the pace wasn't working for the pace I needed to pedal, I picked it up a little and climbed out of the saddle. Not long after, I had to pull over again. This time I just sat on the jersey barrier and massaged my knees, trying to look cool, trying to convince myself that I wasn't on the verge of some major injury.
Lori caught me again and I got back on the bike. All I could think about was my knees and how much I wanted the summit to be around the next bend. It wasn't.
I don't remember who passed us (Katie?), but I recall Lori pointing out my signlespeededness, boosting my spirits a bit. Katie was riding a little faster, more the pace I needed to ride, and Lori wanted to slow for Brian. I took Katie's wheel and tried to stay focused on something other than the pain. "GO MATT, GO!! YOU CAN DO IT!!" yelled Lori from about 100 yards back. I almost cried. Instead I smiled and pedaled on. It hurt.
That last half mile from the summit was the longest 2600 feet of my life. I had fallen off Katie's wheel. Why didn't I just stop and take the SAG wagon to the top? Was I too proud, too stubborn, or just too distracted? Maybe all of those things. I know that at this point, I wanted to reach the summit on my own power in a bad way. Besides, it was all downhill after that, right?
I barely made it. That last 200 feet, I could hardly turn the crank even while standing. I was emotionally overwhelmed as I started thinking about my friends and how they had encouraged me and supported me so much, thinking about how I was finally to the top and how hard it had been, and thinking about how this might be my last Courage Classic - maybe not ever, but at least for a while. I was emotionally overwhelmed by all of these thoughts, right there at the summit. Even this last part of the ride had been awesome in its own way.
I choked it all back, not wanting anyone to see my watery eyes, not wanting my teammates to know how hard it was. If someone had hugged me, I probably would have lost it. I was limping quite a bit, my left knee feeling worse than the right. I called Sarah to let her know that I'd made it and that I was going to be at the summit for a while.
We ate lunch and relaxed for close to an hour. Several teammates had hauled tallboys the whole way up Stevens so they could celebrate the weekend (this is becoming a tradition.) Hanging out with them made me feel better. That's what friends do. I've listed many of them in these posts, but have left out twice as many (or more). Camaraderie is the best reason to ride Courage Classic.
The summit lunch would be a great ending to the ride, but there's an intense descent down the west side of Stevens that can't be missed. Before we departed, I had to limp down to the summit sign for a photo. I wasn't feeling much better, but I was surely feeling proud. Regardless of how stupid this whole singlespeed thing may seem, I had done it.
The descent was faster than Blewitt, but still slow for me. I had a head start on our group, but pulled over to get out of their way as they caught up. My camera processor simply wasn't quick enough to catch them all as they passed at 40+mph.
Wait for it...
I coasted all the way to the entrance to the Iron Goat Trail, the most beautiful section of the ride. I found myself riding the brakes on the trail, just to make it last a little longer. The last few miles to the finish in Skykomish were very slow for me. I took it as easy as possible.
One of the biggest highlights was seeing my family at the finish line, cheering me on. My kids have only heard about the ride and never seen any part of it, so this was a uniquely special ending to the weekend. Maybe more than anyone else, these kids understand how much I love riding bikes!
On the way home, I tell Sarah and the girls about my day as Terry nods to sleep in the backseat. Gwen talks about how she wants to ride the Courage Classic soon, maybe on her trail-a-bike with me. And it's going to be awesome.