The plan was to pedal 105 miles and traverse some 8,000 feet of climbing with 6,000 riders from 70 different countries on Sunday as part of my personal AIDS/Lifecycle ride training. But this year's third annual Campagnolo Gran Fondo New York felt less like the grueling bike race that it is and more like an endurance swim.
When three of us—myself, my AIDS ride teammate Angie, and our self-described "domestique" (a pro cycling term for a rider who works for the benefit of their team) An—rode to the starting line at 5:30 a.m., we didn't think much about the drizzle. Weather.com assured us that the rain would pass, so we were prepared to get just a little wet. In fact, the scattered droplets almost felt refreshing.
Thirty-four miles into the race, however, the rain wasn't letting up. I pedaled hard, trying to ignore the people who had gotten off their bikes to walk and the thick fog cloaking every twisting turn on the windy road. At the top, I was met with a DJ blasting some lively music that had me instinctively head-banging to the time check point, where I clocked a slightly better time than my previous PR, which was impressive considering the weather conditions. Up to this point, I'd dare say, I was having a great day even though it was horrible out.
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The freezing descent down Bear Mountain changed everything—it was the first time all I day that I thought about quitting. Chilled and soaked to the bone, I couldn't stop my teeth from involuntarily chattering the whole way down. My fingertips were numb, which made gripping the brakes challenging and scary. At the bottom, around mile 50, I told Angie and An that I needed to pedal hard to warm up fast, so we agreed to meet at the next rest stop.
For the next 18 miles, my legs kept churning somehow over short and painfully steep rolling hills. I welcomed my screaming muscles, which were a wonderful distraction from my borderline-hypothermic body. The endless hills rolled one after another, like swells of waves knocking a surfer while he's down. But it never ever occurred to me to get off my bike. It was simply not an option for me.
By the time I arrived at the mile-68 rest stop, I was exhausted and still freezing. I ran over to the food tent, inhaled a PB&J bagel, and stood there waiting for my friends. A kind volunteer offered me his rain jacket while I waited, which turned out to be for a while. Poor Angie had gotten two flats along the way, which put her and An in at the rest stop a little more than 30 minutes later. When they finally arrived, they both looked miserable.
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I'm so grateful that a volunteer immediately informed us that the course was closed at this point and we couldn't continue. Knowing these tough chicas, I'm sure they would have wanted to keep going. Instead we waited until Angie's awesome older brother, Gilbert, picked us up.
We weren't the only ones who didn't finish. Only 2,300 of the 6,000 registered riders made it to the end. Of those, less than 200 were women. Our friend Gemma, who had been waiting at the finish line to greet us, says everyone looked miserable, tired, and beyond cold. I didn't have the urge to cry once during the ride, but I'm sure if we had continued, the tears would have wet my face along with the rain.
In good news, we're already thinking about signing up for next year's race to give it a real go! Look, we're not crazy. We're just cyclists.
For daily updates on my training, follow me on Twitter @CDGoyanes.