I could write a typical ride report, stating how perfect the weather was for a spring classic and complaining about how brutal a course the Hell of Hunterdon is, especially in March, but that wasn’t what yesterday was about for me. Cycling has the power to break you down and build you up and yesterday’s ride was a little of the former and bucket loads of the latter. I arrived shaky and nervous about riding in a group, especially with 18 sections of dirt and gravel. I didn’t know how my shoulder would hold up or if my legs could go for 79 miles and hit 5,700 feet after resting all of last week. I assumed I would cut the course early and use it as the week’s long ride in my training plan.
The first few dirt roads were very sketchy. Elbows locked, my body was tight as I held my breath through the deep gravel. I slammed into three consecutive potholes, my bottle flying out of its cage, my shoulder absorbing the impact. I was doing everything wrong, making every mistake. I was mentally unraveling and Rob, who was coaching me through Battenkill, saw this and reminded me of how many times I’d ridden these roads, carved the turns gracefully and picked good lines. It was still there. None of those skills had disappeared. I just needed to get out of my own way.
Over the next few hours, the sun warmed our backs and the day pleasantly shifted. The route’s dirt roads and off-cambre turns were frequent and relentless. The route forced me to face everything I feared head-on. I passed over numerous narrow bridges similar to the one I crashed on, that finally my body began to soften and ease back into its old muscle-memory. Every time I needed another reminder, the Cycling Gods delivered. Over those five hours, many of my racing friends just appeared by my side, offering encouragement and advice for letting go and moving on. “You did the training and put in the work. You’re ready for Battenkill.” That’s right. I am ready.
Instead of calling it quits, I listened to my legs as they urged me to keep going. “I need to finish this, for so many reasons,” I said to Rob as we muscled over another steep climb. We forged ahead, hitting the final dirt sections and pedaled victoriously home to Lambertville.