Whenever I am weak, then I am strong

6am start with Hugh
The 6am start at UDF with Hugh

Well, my quest for the ACP Super Randonneur (SR) is completed. While I hoped to do the SR in Indiana, I DNF’ed (did not finish) on the 600k due to my feet and returned two weeks later to the Detroit 600k to complete the series.

So while I still have the P-12 Award to go this year, I started to ponder… What is next? I had the first three months of the R-12 under my belt so I figured I might as well continue that, as well. As a refresher for the non-Randonneur, the P-12 Award is achieved by completing a Populaire (100k~199k bike ride) at least once a month for 12 straight months, while the R-12 is achieved by completing a 200k or longer ride for 12 straight months.

I planned to do a 200k Saturday, July 11, that started 5 minutes from my house, then I saw Hugh’s email to the Ohio Randonneur mailing list asking if anyone was interested in riding Toshi’s Loveland – Shawnee State Forest 310k Permanent. I have been eyeing this route of Toshi’s for a while now. I cycled in the area of the Shawnee State Forest once last year and found the area simply amazing. It is a totally different world then what we have here in the big city of Cincinnati. So I adjusted my plans to ride with Hugh.

Going in, I knew it was one of the tougher rides Toshi has to offer. As Irma drove me to the 6am start, the light fog we drove through was an omen of the other challenges ahead. This is the second time I have cycled through fog. The first time was last year with Irma. We were up high enough to see the THICK fog in the valley and like a duff, I allowed us to descend into the abyss that was the fog. Once I realized that I could only see 50 feet (not a big deal at 12 mph) and cars could only see 50 feet (which was a HUGE deal, when they’re moving at 25~35 mph,), I got the two of us turned around and back up into the clear as quickly as possible! This time Hugh and I could see 250 feet pretty well so while it was far from ideal, with our vests on and taillights on, cars had enough visibility to see us.

I would have never imagined that riding through fog would be worse than riding through rain! The fog condenses on your glasses in the finest of fine droplets and just sits there blocking your vision. You can see the road fine, but you cannot read the cue card to save your life! What a pain! The fog cleared by 8 or 8:30.

There was an interesting event at the first control. As I mentioned, I DNF’ed the Indiana 600k due to a tailor’s bunion on my right foot. After seeing a doc about it Friday and lots of stretching of the shoes, I figured I would give them another try. Well, at the first control it was clear that the pain was rapidly returning, so much so that something needed to change. The end result was I did what I should have done back in Indiana: cut a hole in the shoe to relieve the pressure. Once done, the shoes didn’t give any more problems! I have custom shoes, baby!

After the second control we quickly got to the Shawnee State Forest. Toshi has you enter the Shawnee State Forest with the highest single climb of the whole ride, a 1.5 mile long climb up 515 feet. This climb simply blew me away…

Last spring, when I would climb 177 feet up a local hill that is pretty steep, my heart rate would climb to about 168 bpm. It would feel like it was about to explode out of my chest. I would have to stop on the hill and let it come down a LOT before continuing to cycle. Then 40 feet farther up the hill would be a second stop to rest again before getting to the top.

When I hit this hill Saturday I knew it would be long and get pretty steep towards the end. It turns out the last third of the climb my heart rate was over 168 bpm, for around 6 minutes! While I knew I was putting in a lot of effort, it wasn’t until I actually look at the heart rate monitor that I realized my heart rate 170 bpm ~ 172 bpm!

In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul says, “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” I stop and ponder, what I have done to be able to go from about to die climbing a 177 foot hill to climbing a 515 foot hill with a fast recovery? Well, the way I see it, all I had to do was say yes to the hardships of cycling. Then take a few days off and abide in the Lord. It is only through his amazing healing and restoring ability, my body, my legs, my heart come back stronger and ready for more. I love the little quote:

How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.

All I have to do is say yes to the hard stuff, and boy was Saturday hard, but when it is over, I simply need to bask in God’s glory and he restores me. It is really the whole gospel in a nutshell: trust in the Lord, say yes to the crazy daring things he puts on your heart, and trust when it is all over that when you abide in the Creator, he will restore you. In the end, your character will be one with God’s and that restoration will be resurrection.

Well, the ride continued through the forest and it was simply wonderful. For those of you that are not cyclists, there is great peace in climbing moderate hills for long periods of time. What I love about them is that you are going slow enough to be able to take in the surrounding landscape. This is in contrast to racing down hills at 35~45 mph where you are simply holding on for dear life! The gentle climbing in the forest was pure peace!

Once I came out of the forest, I was a touch low on water. I saw two gentlemen talking in their large garage and leveraged a technique I learned from the Indiana Randonneurs: ask locals for water. They were kind enough to offer me a bottle of nice cold water! I asked them if there were any more hills before I got to West Portsmouth. The younger one said there weren’t. He said that I should just keep going until I hit 74 and turn right. I shared with him that I thought there was one more big hill, so he took a look at my cue sheet. I think his eyes almost popped out when he saw the route Toshi picked for us. He said, “Yeah, with that route there is a hill. You will have to walk that one!” It didn’t surprise me a bit, though I hoped he was wrong… but he was not wrong, I walked the end of it.

On the way in to West Portsmouth the killer steep part is longer then the return climb leaving. It was one of those hills that was long enough and steep enough for me to have to stop walking the bike multiple times to catch my breath. Here is the crazy thing, my heart rate was only in the mid 160s when I felt like I had to stop. Why is it I can cycle into the low 170s but I cannot walk? If you have any insight on that, I would love to hear it!

The whole ride through the forest was the highlight for me, both before and after the control in West Portsmouth. On the way back home was when the true wonder of it hit me: the long, long slow and easy climb to the top of one of the hills, taking in all the sights and sounds. You are moving slow enough to be really quiet, so you can take in the surrounding environment (well there is that annoying huffing and puffing, but that is a minor detail.) Once you reach the top of the hill it is a long, long ride down. When you have slow climbs like that, the descents are also not too steep, so they last longer and are not at all scary. I give a big thanks to Toshi for finding some really wonderful routes through the forest! It was simply very peaceful and fun!

Once out of the forest we were finally on 74 for a long time, 16 miles. The road was nice. I remember driving it a few years ago and it felt a lot worse in the car then it did on the bike, but I am learning that is normally the case: What looks really up and down, back and forth, and in the end painful when in a car is actually a pleasant ride on a bike. On the flip side, some of the steepest hills don’t feel that steep when driving up them! My only issue about 74 – and it is a minor one – is that it is a relatively busy road.

Hugh at McDonalds in Peebles
Hugh as we packing up at the McDonalds in Peebles,

Hugh and I finally found ourselves at the Peebles control around dinnertime so we had some chicken wraps from McDonalds. Peebles was where the ride started last year that gave me the deep appreciation for this area. It was nice being back in the area, or so I thought…

Normally I like to do my homework on the route beforehand to know what to expect. I failed to do that this time. I was expecting a somewhat easygoing ride from Peebles back in to Loveland. While we didn’t see any hills as long as we did in the forest, we did see some steep ones! It felt like there were 20 hills of a grade 10 or greater. I toll Hugh that at the next grade 10 hill and I was DNF! Ok, so it wasn’t 20 hills, more like two or three, but at 140 miles into a ride with nearly 8000 feet of climbing, one hill like that feels like 10! While I did NOT mean it, I did check every evil hill after that, not a one exceeded a grade 8.5. I wonder if God heard me 😉

I must admit by this point I had turned really, really sour. Hugh summed it up perfectly when he reflected that all randonneur have their moments when they fold in on themselves. There is nothing like having someone there who can empathize with you. (Side note: that is a BIG reason why The Creator limited himself and became man in the form of Christ. So that he can empathize first hand with us.)

At about my lowest point I told Hugh that if I could see him, I would chase him. He was gracious enough to stay close enough through the rest of the hills that I had my rabbit. Mind you, I was so very folded in upon myself most of the time I had no desire to chase, but it was his mere presence that made all the difference. Knowing that I wasn’t alone out there.

The art of simply being present is mind blowing. I think that’s because it makes zero sense. We think we need to do something, but more often than not we don’t, we simply need to choose to be present. I remember one time I was helping a friend learn how to use a web application. I didn’t know it much better then he did and I really wanted him to just explore and play with it for himself. What I found was that simply being present gave him this confidence to go and explore. I sat there quietly and just enjoyed the thoughts going through my head and was simply present so that he could ask questions or seek affirmation. He really did all the work; all I did was be present. It seems it was like being a lifeguard, building confidence for my friend. Knowing I was present seemed to empower him to go and do things he wouldn’t do on his own.

I don’t fully get how Hugh’s presence pulled me:I simply know it was because of his presence that somehow, despite being totally folded in on myself, I was able to push though.

Here is the worst part, it was NOT a physical issue. I knew it wasn’t. We left the last control shortly after dark, about 9:15 and I pretty much took the lead and rode all-out the last 25 miles. I simply wanted the ride to be over with!

Now, two days later, I am reflecting on the amazing forest and wonderful hills, and am blocking out the hard parts. I think that is a God thing, too, personally. Otherwise I don’t think anyone would continue to do the impossible if God didn’t win us over with his love!

I did learn a few things on this ride:

  1. I truly, truly love that part of Ohio. I hope to, in time, cycle farther east in Ohio then West Portsmouth, maybe some micro adventures!
  2. While nothing is going to stop me from the P-12 Award, I am not going for the R-12. It isn’t what God has planned for me.
  3. And finally, I will be back to ride this route again this fall when the leaves are changing. Well, it might not be this exact route, I would like it to be as much about photography as cycling. So I might try to hook up with some folks who are also both avid touring cyclists and photographers and have a three day weekend of it or something. Time will tell!
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