It truly was the best of times and it most definitely was the worst of times. There are moments in cycling where you are in pain, where you can't push any harder and you watch a group ride away from you. You are defeated. You simply aren't strong enough to go that speed.
Then there is an entirely new place. It goes beyond pace/speed. Its part emotional part mental. Its not physical. This place is where you're empty and way past your limits. Speed is irrelevant. Turning the cranks is the only thing you can do. In these moments, looking up the road and trying to see the top of the climb is useless. It doesn't matter where the top is, because you know there will be another climb, and then another, and then still another.
The Diabolical Double is dangerous. If 50% of people that began, finished, I would be shocked. Think about what 5,100 feet of climbing feels like in a ride. Now think about it in 40 miles. And think still further about the fact that the first 20 miles is mostly downhill... And now you're at mile 40, with 85 miles to ride and another 11,000 feet to climb. It is mentally shattering. That's why its dangerous. And that's why it was awesome.
The first 50 miles of climbing were unbelievable. Steep climbs 2-3 miles long averaging 8-10% were common. 12-15% climbs were the tough ones, and put everyone out of the saddle regardless of your gearing. 34-28 ruled the day for many and seemed to be the best gearing if you wanted to spin faster than 60 rpm.
I recall getting to the aid station at mile 58ish and realizing that I hadn't been eating or drinking enough. The day was beautiful and the weather couldn't have been better. I fueled up and a few of us rolled out again. Soon there after, we hit a gravel section about 1.5 miles long. RE: 1 mile of descending on gravel and dirt and .5 miles of climbing at 10-15% UP gravel and dirt. When you think of middle-of-nowhere-backwoods and you hear a banjo, what do you think of? Now imagine riding your bike on a dirt road, grinding up a hill with everything you have, and then hearing a banjo. I was freaked out for a split second until I looked and saw a sweet couple on the side of this awful section entertaining the riders that rode by! It was really quite amazing, and a good boost for the spirits.
From there we had some sweeping descents and gorgeous vistas to behold. Someone noted at the end of the day that if you weren't going 40mph you were going 5. It was true. I'd regail all the various climbs like Killer Miller, North Hill and Bowman's, but honestly, they all blended together and they were all harder than any hill I ride on regularly. I'll put it to you this way Rich, Ivy Hill is kind of a joke now in my mind. Illchester, is very short, and I'll never complain about Jerome Jay again. There was rarely a hill that didn't have at least 200m of grade that was over 10%. In all honesty, I was probably in my lowest gear for 5 of 8 total hours riding. 5 HOURS OF MY LOWEST GEAR.
So those are my ramblings on the topic. Here are a few other more chronological points.
We started at the top of Wisp and descended as a mass group through the clouds to the valley. That was hairy but kind of fun too. I followed the Great Descender himself Pete Bolster, and soon found myself in the front of the whole thing along with some people looking like they took a wrong turn for RAAM. One guy specifically had so much crap on his bike, it looked like he planned to do the whole thing unsupported. This same dude had not quite planned his training the way he did his gizmos and was descending quite dangerously over the first 5 miles. He ended up crashing close to Mike Wunder and apparently broke his shoulder.
Garvin, Bolster, Tom and I charged ahead as fast as we could (so it seemed) and were at aid station 1 quickly. We found rittler, jerry and wunder had been doing the same as they were on our heels. We all left that station together and began climbing for what seemed like an eternity. Bolster and I disconnected and found ourselves behind two triathletes who I determined would blow up by the end of the day based on how hard they were riding the hills. I never saw them again though, so I'd guess I am a pretentious cyclist. While they were riding away from us, we were desperately trying to ride away from a very strong female wearing a rapha kit who seemed to be keeping up with us quite well. Every hill we'd hit we'd sort of just groan and begin struggle all over again.
Garvin's front derailleur decided it was done for the day somewhere in the first 40 and Tom coaxed it back into full time labor. Quite the save on his part as the gearing for the ride was really either 34/28 or 50/11. Two gears was all one needed. We all regrouped at the 2nd aid station and Rittler went to the mens room. Garvin, thinking Rittler had went on already, took off on a "chase" which took him over some of the steepest climbs of the day alone. Meanwhile, the rest of us started together and hit Bowmans Hill and Killer Miller together. Those were both "timed" climbs that had timing mats but the RD botched the setup so we all suffered in vain.
The next station was at 58ish miles and we regrouped and set out again. At this point, survival was on everyone's mind as the group settled into a different mentality: ride at the pace you can. Taking in the scenery was more than enough to keep one occupied, so it wasn't too bad riding alone for hours. The group strung out as people kept their own pace. Around mile 80 my GI system was in full protest and I was getting quite fuzzy in my head. Bolster and I arrived at the aid station before Hell, and I stayed there for about 30 minutes eating, drinking and evacuating myself. I left there with garvin and blanks and we quickly split up as we hit the first 5 mile climb. Rittler and Wunder were there quickly afterwards making the order out on the road
I never saw bolster or jerry again until the finish. Aid station 100 was fantastic and came right on the heels of a very fun descent. It also prefaced a mother of a climb (as did every aid station). North Hill just beat me up and didn't stop. Steep, then it would relax to 8%, then it was steep, then it would maintain 7%. Ugh. Awful suffering. Mentally you just couldn't do anything but go somewhere else in your head. We hit the first stretch of "flat" right before the last aid station at mile 111. But I had forgotten about wind, and of course there was a head wind. So it was virtually uphill to that one as well as the wind was quite strong.
When I got there, I was sprayed with a hose, got a cookie and drink and layed in the grass until blanks wunder and garving showed up. Rittler had ridden through the station because he is superman, and bolster and jerry were about finished the whole ride at that point. I layed there for what seemed like an eternity not wanting to go on. Garvin had been fighting crazy cramps for hours now. Tom hadn't drank a single bottle for over 20 miles, nor eaten anything for hours. Wunder was doing famously for a man who admitted to not much training. The last 14 miles were the longest of my life. It seemed it would never end. But all the while, you had wisp in the back of your mind. Wanting to get there, but not wanting to is a strange feeling, one that drained me emotionally as I hated the ride very much at that point and wanted to be finished, but couldn't imagine climbing wisp.
But like the rest of the ride, you just do it. You turn off your brain, get out of the saddle, and push through the searing burn in your exhausted quads. And then, its over.
Rittler, Jerry and Bolster were cheering Wunder, Garvin, Tom and I on as we rode through the final stretch to the finish. It had been such a long day. We all swore off the DD and made fun of Tom for doing it twice. We geeked out over strava and beer that evening regalling stories of how terrible we all felt on various hills throughout the day. And now, the emails have already begun: "maybe I will do it next year". All in all, it was the hardest thing I'd ever done, and hopefully will ever do.
Oh God, help us all. But seriously, I may consider it, but will certainly hate myself for it afterwards.