F8 and Be There — Tales of 2019 and the #GFNYHighFive

by Chris Geiser

 

This case has seen a lot of action this year! It’s been everywhere man!

 

Simplicity in the technical is equal to being present and prepared. No complicated photographic technique here: just a basic setting (f/8) with enough depth of field for most subjects. And then “being there” in the right place, right time, tuned in to your surroundings, ready to shoot the perfect moment when it unfolds in front of your lens.
— Rich Underwood

This is New York City — NOT Cozumel!

A year ago the three amigos Tom Niccum, Chrsitopher Torella, and myself were in Cozumel, riding fast, braving the wind, and interrogating the elusive Senor Frog about what is his real name might actually be. It’s happening now. Sun, sand, sea air, Senor Frog, and all that that entails. We are not there. Outside National Grid is digging up my front lawn, and I hope to the Great Magnet that they don’t find…never mind. The point is that it’s New York this weekend — but gratefully. Looking back through the photos that made up cycling in 2019, you could not help be anything but grateful.
“F8 and be there!” A friend told me of this quote, as the first rule of photo journalism. So I traced it back to it’s roots. While the F8 part may not apply anymore given smart phones and mini-cameras and whatever else, you still can’t get around being there. Being present in a moment or a series of moments that let you know you are seeing the world. While there was a lot written this year, it sort of got away from telling the stories of what was happening around the world. So to be there, we went. And we kept going. Never the same group twice but finding the wormholes that exist inside of work schedules to get to the races that gave you excuses to go to places you might never have thought of on your own. To give you the motivation to keep training when pancakes and Netflix sounded like a better idea. To keep hearing and telling the stories that kept the ideas percolating.

So winter training, began in earnest! Left side a lucky day hanging on to the GFNY A Train to Haverstraw, the right side, an ill-advised trip up Bear — snow and ice included — free of charge!

The Training Begins in Earnest…and So Does the Research

…and so with the blowing of the leaves, the darkening of the skies with clouds, the run off in the mountains and the chill in the air, training season had begun. An executive decision was made (in a silo as are most “executive decisions”) to try and grab on to the A Train every Sunday and then write about how it went at the end of the day. We managed to get through a few of those without incident. A lot of laughs! No really! A learning experience, where one begins to understand ones shortcomings, and strengths, and suddenly by the third week of January, realizes just how much “alone time” you get to consider all those things while you are simultaneously accepting that — you’re just not gonna catch them. And so you find a worm hole. A spot in the calendar where you are in one place, that is slightly closer than usual to another place, and the frequent flyer miles to get you to that place.

With the latest and greatest GFNY now planned for Santa Fe, New Mexico, I got in touch with Michael McCalla the race organizer. Mike happily offered to show me around the course if I could get there. Half-way around the world, in Bohol, The Philippines, GFNY Philippines was almost ready to start. I would watch the end live from my hotel in Albuquerque after we toured the course. GFNY 2019 was officially underway!

Mike was true to his word, and a great host. He had offered to get me a bike setup for a ride around the course, but the temps being in the high 20’s I decided to let the ride go and rent a car instead so that we could tour the course in civilized style with a cup of coffee, a breakfast burrito, heated seats and pleasant conversation.

(Read all about the GFNY Santa Fe Recce here: https://medium.com/@chris.geiser/westward-ho-with-gfny-the-santa-fe-special-edition-13642f1717c)

After the tour, Mike was off to Denver to promote the race, and I was off to the Canyon Road to take in the galleries, and then off to Albuquerque to be closer to the airport. Mission accomplished — I was looking forward to being back in Santa Fe for the GFNY Santa Fe race in June. If all went well it would be my third GFNY of the season.

Scenes from Santa Fe!

Il Secondo! Back to Italia!

I managed to expose another wormhole in March that got me to the California Desert for Minnesota Bike Week. A jamboree of cyclists converging in Palm Desert, home of my big brother and dear friend Tom Niccum. We were both just 3 weeks way from getting on our respective flights to Italy, with a plan to meet in Roma and drive to Toscana with our larger group. So we chatted all things Italia while enjoying the sunshine and connecting with the good people that were just starting to arrive from Minnesota. There was a ton of excitement surrounding Tom and the Scorcher team’s plans for Race Across America coming up in June. Tom would spend the better part of time between his return from Italia and early June planning logistics and figuring out how to get 8 riders and 16 crew, bikes, vans, gear, from one end of the USA to the other, mostly without sleeping much. Several of the Scorchers were there in the desert, and they provided further inspiration and motivation to make 2019 a cycling odyssey. Toscana was so close we could taste it. From Italia, I was getting photos of the white limestone dust on the legs of some of our friends we would be seeing soon who were racing in the Strade Bianche sportive around Siena. We couldn’t get on those planes soon enough!

(Read all about the pre-race jitters in Italia here: medium.com/@chris.geiser/il-secondo-giorno-della-gara-23fb35354887 and here https://medium.com/@chris.geiser/il-secondo-inizio-463398d5476f)

The camp had taught us well how to handle the Toscana terrain. So often now as I ride the rough patch roads here at home, and as recently as hitting some gravel in Argentina, I go straight to what I was taught at the GFNY Italia camp. How to stay loose, stay connected to the bike, approach the climbs more slowly so as not to blow up, how to float over the gravel, to stay in the drops on the sharp descents controlling the path of the bike and finally, taking the lane when I had to to keep myself and the traffic behind me safe. It was a true cycling education and I am a better bike handler because of it. Would I, could I use it all on race day?

Goofing off in Pienza on Day 1 of the camp. The Palio donkey race (no donkeys shown, as the one I bet on needed to be shot! Fattoria Pulcino with our favorite Nonas and their fabulous food!

Without rehashing too much of the trip, I can recount the race in one word. HARD. The entire camp week leading up to the race, I had been whispering in my own here “Respect the course, respect the course, respect the course”. By race day we had seen every inch. All three sectors of strade bianche, the brutal climbs, the white-knuckle descents, all of it. Tutti! By Sunday I was no longer concerned with food or arianciata or any creature comforts. My only thoughts were on the finish line.

We are ready to start!

We started quickly enough. As the race was underway, up a small roller to the first white knuckle descent of the day, down into the valley from Montepulciano. With the start at Montepulciano, we rode neutralized to Torrita di Siena the sister city of Montepulciano and co-host town. It was about 12KM from the line and we rode up a sharp grade into the corridors of the town, and through the ground where the Palio donkey race had raged on just a week before. From there the groups started to spread out. We had managed to keep a group together for quite a while out through the first sector of strade bianche. We passed through relatively uneventfully, with the exception of an imaginary flat tire that didn’t exist. Somewhere Harvey the Bunny was waiting for me with a tube and some CO2. We continued up hill and out over some of the ground we had covered during the week. We were climbing for some time, and the descents didn’t always offer the level of payback to match the climbs.

The terrain raged and rolled. It was never flat, until it was flat. By that time, I had become disconnected from our group on either a climb or a hare raising descent. The descents, very steep, very technical were difficult to let myself go on. A combination of brakes and using some of the techniques I had learned in the camp provided more confidence, but not enough to stay on the wheels of the gang to carry me home. As I hit the only flat section and the winds, I rode right by my wife who was standing waiting for our group with our digital SLR camera. The blank look on her face as I went by indicated she had no idea it was me. Later verified that she thought I rolled by in a group with Tom, and Ari, and Adrienne earlier. Unbeknownst to me, Adrienne was behind me with another group. So I went it alone onto the second sector of strade bianche. This one 10km long, winding, and challenging as it had steep kickers, and sharp downhills, it was a test of everything learned during the camp. Finally I broke through to the end, with the knowledge that sector 3 was just down the road.

“Fret not” I thought as my wheels touched the limestone on sector 3. You are almost back to Montepulciano. All you have to do to get there is climb that 17% grade for 2KM before you climb the 22% grade inside the city walls and up to the Piazza to the finish. But first, back through Torrita di Siena. Couldn’t help but smile as I realized a small group was forming behind me. A large object on the road, I make a nice wind blocker for flats and downhills and we raged through Torrita on the way to the climb before the climb.

Finally we hit it and I was decoupled from my new friends who stood and rode the climb like it wasn’t there. (probably they were suffering but I couldn’t see it).

Where the hell was Massimo? With no stops for coffee, it was time to climb. Slow, slow the cadence. Slow, breathe, slow breathe, slow breathe. Don’t stop. Around me other riders were pulling off and taking breaks. But I had climbed this before. I knew I could make it. And suddenly, I was up, suddenly as it felt shorter than it had the first time. Now for the 8% drag to town, and the inevitable climb in the city walls. It was 500 meters to go to the top, around through the city the Tuscan landscape unfolding underneath me, if I looked left as I pivoted toward the city gate I felt like I could see all of Italy! In front of me a photographer at the steepest section of the gate entrance. Don’t fail now, stand get through. I pounded the pedals and turned to the right, and could see the top. But could I hit that grade. In a moment of weakness I stopped. Contemplated. Turned back down the hill and rushed back up. #MikeCarey was 50 meters from the top and running along side yelling my name “come on Chris, Come on come on!” and I was through. I could see my Bora wheels roll over the mat and I knew it was suddenly flat. Mirko, Uli, Tom, Ari, all standing at the finish and my medal thrown on. It was time for something special to happen as we waited for the others to come in.

I was now a GFNY 10xmer — Me at the finish, Tom and Nancy nearby!

I was now a GFNY 10x medal holder. How had I already done 10 of these races. How many more for 2019. Time to start clearing some space on the mantle. But now was a time to celebrate Italia with friends. Please forgive the gratuitous photo gallery of pre and post race goofing off. My doppelganger in a Siena museum, post race dinner with Lieven from Belgium, a night out in Roma with Mirko and Kate, and a day in Roma with Adrienne and #MikeCarey. Including me being a horse’s ass! #Liquorizia

Back to New York City

And so back to NYC to continue to train for the GFNY NYC Championship. There would be a few short weeks to get some additional distance into the legs and get ready for the beautifully orchestrated cruelty of the GFNY NYC Championship course. This would be my first time starting toward the front on the #ThirdSundayinMay and I wanted to be prepared.

On the day the A group did it’s full course practice run, I held on until half way through River Road. For those that know the course — that’s about 10km. At the top of the Alpine Climb, the group were waiting. Thomas announced, no stops until Bear. And so I was back. Or so I thought. Trying to recover hold the wheels, and stay in contact, I was quickly off the back again but determined to make a go of it. Disconnected but feeling fierce through Nyack, I passed the B group. They were rolling over 30 riders through a series of stop signs, so I had caught them in a moment of caution and went right on by. I was over Hook Mountain before I saw the text on my computer from Adrienne “please ride with us”. It was too late and I pressed on. Finally reaching and climbing Bear, at the top the A Group was there and waiting. Thomas threw up his hands and yelled “Chris is here”! I was thrilled that they waited — just give me a minute and we can get going again. “OK let’s go!” he yelled suddenly. I was chasing well down the mountain, as well as I thought I could, but I was no match for the speed of the group. These are not only fast riders, but confident bike handlers. They flew down, and I was disconnected by Dunderberg. I would be fending for myself.

I stopped at the Orchards for a Coke before heading down South Mountain Road toward the finish. The B’s had finished and I trying to use Siri to update Adrienne and Nairo who were waiting for me. I got a call from Paul with an offer of a pickup, but again, I was determined. (I would take my good friend up on this offer later in the Summer).

TEXT ADRIENNE CAREY

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SAY TO ADRIENNE CAREY

RAIL TRAIL

YOUR TEXT TO ADRIENNE CAREY SAYS RAIL TRAIL SHALL I SEND IT?

YES

And so it went.

SPARKILL

STATE LINE

KIKU

FUCK IT SKIPPING ALPINE — and back along 9W. It was getting late, but it was getting done. It was almost race day.

(Let’s not rehash — If you want to read about GFNY NYC Championship — it’s here: https://medium.com/@chris.geiser/third-sunday-in-may-2019-gfny-76a07bb54c43)

This kind of sums it up, doesn’t it?

Once Upon a Time in the West

Not five weeks later it was on to GFNY Santa Fe. A hectic five weeks at work, back and forth from East to West at least 3–4 times in that short time span, and a flight from Seattle down to Santa Fe for the race. I would be meeting Nairo in the morning. It was Thursday, and I landed in ABQ (Albequerque) around 9PM. I proceeded to the rental car counter, and found a coffee vending machine. I would need a little for the 90 minute drive ahead. I had the GFNY anti-doping podcast to listen to in preparation for an article I was putting together surrounding the concept of doping/cheating in granfondo.

The cycling brain never stops thinking about cycling. I drove into Santa Fe to find my home for the next 3 days. Nairo and I would be splitting a small AirBnB within walking distance of the town center. The topic here in Santa Fe for most of the “sea level” crowd wast the altitude. But before I made my way to the accommodations, I felt a trip up the climb to Ski Santa Fe — the final climb of the race was in order. I don’t know why I was feeling that but I was, and who TF am I to argue with an impulse like that. So up we went, me and my giant SUV that I had rented dirt cheap from what seemed to be a 13 year old kid who asked me “are you here for the senior games Mister Geiser?”.

Up the climb I went. It was all familiar from the recce trip in January. A mile or so in I saw a sign letting drivers know about the race. I tried to get a photo but — hey I was driving — and up I went. As I continued to climb the magnitude of doing this on a bike was starting to sink in. Whiteface, Ventoux, they were all in the neighborhood. Legbreakers. Climbs that made you question whether you should own a bike let alone ride it on something like that. The difficulty of the climb didn’t seem readily apparent in every spot on the way up. You sort of don’t realize what it’s like until on the way down the car you rented tells you that it’s applying the special automatic “steep as fuck” slowdown system that it has. Then you know. You keep telling yourself it’s just a couple of hours, but in the back of your mind — you know.



The incomparable Nelson Vails before the group ride

The ginormous bike shop espresso machine, home on the range, Doctor Mark in New Mexico

I picked up Nairo at the airport the next morning. We got our bikes together and got out on the road. Let’s see if we can climb it. We got about half way up the climb and felt like we had a good grasp on it. HA! Back down we went, a shower, and a shave, and let’s find dinner — that’s important too. Folks were starting to file in from out of town and Nelson Vails led a great group ride on Saturday morning. We met some of the locals, and got out to see some of the course including the beautiful town of Tesuque which I had seen back in January for a flash as we drove through it. Tesuque was the gateway back to Santa Fe, with a few beautiful little climbs that led back to town. This would be the last bit of the course before you headed to the medio finish line, or made the big left up the climb on Sunday.

Somewhere on Saturday, and across the country, the Scorcher’s finished their legendary RAAM effort in Maryland. I had been helping out with the social posts and some of the writing, so it was a relief to see them make it to the finish line. It was amazing to follow their effort — a challenge that I don’t think many could do.

Pre race dinner (the chef is a rider), and getting ready. Fog and mist at the start — but a beautiful day!

Maybe you saw it on the Facebook Live but it was a heck of a day race day morning. The field, as I have grown accustomed to, rolled out fast. There was a climb straight out of town, not difficult but tough enough that it would get you thinking. I got to the top and pulled over to wait to make sure our group was together. As we proceeded it seemed like there were a mechanical or two, and so I went on ahead. It was time to chase on. This would be the fastest part of the course. 40km down hill and with a bit of a tailwind. But to catch on to the other groups, it was still work. In turning finally catching up to some folks the first big turn came that would go through some of the rolling foothills of the mountains, and then across the river bed to make the return back toward Santa Fe. I ran into a PhD from MIT who was riding the medio, and we worked together for a bit. I made a quick water refill stop prior to the river bed and was able to get on to a pretty lively group. I was sitting on at about the fifth or sixth position and was able to make up some time staying in the safe-shelter of that group until the river bed.

The crisis of the week was that the river had started flowing pretty well through that area. As Mike and I had scouted in January, the bed was dry, and we drove straight across. But not today. But not to worry. The day before Maciej, #thehardestworkingmaninshowbiz was able to build a foot bridge. The group were getting their Belgian union cards by practicing their CX skills getting over the river and back on the bike for the steep kick back up to the service road. It was now 40km false flat into the wind back to Tesuque. I latched back onto the group but it had come to a grinding slow down. Honey in the gears so to speak so I went to the front to pay them back. I set a pace and was watching my computer to make sure I wasn’t surging but holding the pace we had with the wind at our sides before the river. I turned to see how I was doing. They were gone. I was away. But worse, I was on my own. As I passed another rider who had gotten away from that group she looked over and said “Hey I don’t actually know those guys, is it cool that I drafted off them so long?”

“I don’t know them either I said — but it’ IS a RACE — so that is completely fair play what you did.” She smiled and jumped on my wheel for a minute. She didn’t like my pace much and dropped me not too long after. This piece was tough. Every race has a section that is the doldrums. The place you have to keep yourself motivated and focused on the finish. This was only one of those places on this race. The other was coming soon.

At the 80km mark, I grabbed more water and ate something. Took another gel and got going. From here a screaming descent into Tesuque and then the kickers, and then the climb. Just like yesterday now. The hardest part of the easy part was now over. (Did Yogi Berra say that?)

I won’t lie. As I passed through Tesuque and then the medio finish line turn, I did consider bailing. “I did half this climb isn’t that enough” I thought. Fortunately, I had the right answer “no — it’s not enough”. And so I made the left turn and started to grind it out. 27km to the top, and I got through the first 7km as quickly as I thought I would. Not as challenging as the rest of the climb it was a gentle and steady ramp up to where you start to approach what the locals call “the wall”. Through an area called Hyde Park you are approaching the 6km or so section that is the major part of the work that you will do on this climb. This is also where you are gaining the altitude that can be your undoing. I had been told that your tolerance to altitude is genetic. You have a limit and there is nothing you can do about it. Throughout the trip I hadn’t felt anything really unusual or that I would have characterized as being brought on by altitude. By the top of the wall that had changed. At around 2,900 meters, or 8,800 feet, I was starting to cramp and get nauseous. This could, of course, be my own physical limitation to doing something hard. I was convinced I would puke. But not now. I would hold it. Once past the wall there is about 8km to go. 5 miles to the top, but it started to get easier, and even pitched down in a couple of spots for a short time. As I got within 2km of the top the cramping got intolerable. I had to stop several times and shake it out, and hold back the vomit. I was definitely going to be sick when I finished. I was starting to see friendly faces coming down. I was close.

The town of Tesuque. Familiar signs on the climb. The view from the top while making my way down.

Finally I crested the top and was at the finish. I grabbed a Coke and suddenly felt fine. I don’t remember now if I got my medal at the top or at the bottom, but I was also a GFNY 3xer for the 2nd year in a row. And all before the 4th of July. I grabbed the back pack that I had sent up and pulled out my wind jacket. It was time to make the 45 minute ride down to the finish line party.
Big doings at the finish as I ran into Maciej, Nairo, and Nelson. I saw several more New Yorkers still climbing as I made my way to the bottom. I headed outside to watch the podium presentations. Dave Lettieri was there and I took a seat next to him. The day before at the expo he and I had been joking that if there was only one guy in my age group, I just might win it. He was overjoyed that he had won his.

I looked him square in the eye, and said “Dave, I don’t think I won my age group.”
He flashed me a huge grin and shook his head “no…no, I don’t think you did”. Tell it to me straight Dave — don’t sugar coat it!

Dave pulling on his winners jersey. Mike awarding me with my 3x medal. (Thanks Maciej!)

So it was me and the Cheetah back to Albuquerque bright and early the next morning. Little did I know I was in for an 8 hour wait and an alternate plan to get back to Seattle by nightfall, rather than being in Seattle by 10AM as I had planned. (if you ever want to hear how to hack making the best of an airplane mechanical delay let me know — I will let you know what all the do’s and don’ts are).

…and So We Took the Summer Off?

No, we actually didn’t. With GFNY Portugal on the horizon, we had a group of people finding stuff to do to keep our training and motivation going. I was determined that I would be getting to Argentina, as I had promised the race organizers I would get there in NYC in May. So that meant keeping the training, and competition going until November at a minimum. I was already signed up to be the bike leg of a triathlon relay, and so we set out to start doing longer and longer rides as the summer wore on. Long days in Harriman climbing for hours, a trip from Piermont to Beacon and back, and several other events to keep getting ready. Adrienne and I even did the Catskills thing just to keep our momentum knowing that we had to keep riding to be ready for the fall. There was no rest for the wicked so we kept piling it on and getting it all in as we could. Looking back it was probably the most complete training summer I have ever done.

The training and racing continued! GFNY Style!

Making Portugal Happen

If you’ve been following along — and we know you have been, you probably know what happened in Portugal. One of those things that happens to other people far away that sounds bad and you don’t know what to make of it, but you’re not there, so really not a thing. But what if you had just landed in Portugal, got through immigration, got to the house, met the friends, had a coffee and put your bike together, and then got the call. The race has been cancelled. Due to unforeseen circumstances with wildfires the GFNY Portugal race had been cancelled. There was nothing that could be done about the race, but it occurred to a number of us on the ground in Estoril, that we were the race. The riders make the race — that’s one of the mottos of GFNY. And so it wouldn’t be a race. We would get out every day with those that were there for the race, and we would ride parts of the course, and we would get on with it.

Much like the Grinch that Stole Christmas learned that — if you are going to steal Christmas you should probably let the Who’s down in Whoville know you stole it. And so the group rides were on. We were making new friends, and getting around the areas surrounding Sintra, Cascais, Estoril, and even Lisboa. It came without timing chips. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags! It came all the same! Somehow GFNY Portugal was there all the same.

Arrival in Lisboa, building the bike, rallying for the group rides.

We had met with a number of the folks we knew were coming and made new friends from seemingly every continent. We did our best to help out with the registrations and getting packets assembled and making sure that all riders got their jerseys and medals, and goodie bags. We were watching it become a a great event and effort to roll on in spite of the lack of a start line or finish line. And on Sunday at 08:00 we would set out to ride a good section of the course.

Friends old and new — this became a living icon of what GFNY brings to cycling and to life.

And so on Sunday there would be 3 groups going out. One went and ran the whole course — a small group of about 6 riders. Another rode a short/medio type course out through Cascais. I rolled out with the third group. This was Americo Silva the former pro and Director Sportif of several pro teams, he is the primary ambassador for GFNY Portugal. We set out along the beach from Estoril and headed toward Lisboa. The group had seasoned locals, experienced racers and ex-pros like GFNY Ambassadores Matthias Van Aken and Cedric Haas, and one or two people like me. Hanging on so to speak.

We turned left at some point and headed up the familiar climb to Sintra. It was looking as though we were following the 2018 course map for a bit, and were moving at a pretty cracking pace. I was in the back of the group and several of the locals that knew me from the group rides were taking good care of me.

Fanatically they kept pointing out sewer caps /manhole covers. “Feh” I thought. “someday I will invite these guys to Staten Island and they can see what shitty roads really feel like”. Finally, I went over one. (That was the last one I allowed myself to go over). To this day I think you can still read “MFG IN LISBOA” on my “undercarriage” from the welts I got going over these monster things. As one of the riders laughed, he looked at me and said “do you like pig?”

“Did he just ask me if I like pig?” I thought? He did. For some reason, I answered in French. “Oui”.

“Oh vous etes Francais?”

“No je suis American” I answered.

“Why did you answer me in French then, let’s speak in English. Do you like pig or pork?”

“Oh yeah, I like pork”

He then went on to explain that this was the epicenter of the delicious pork dishes we had been enjoying the past couple of days. We pressed on. At about 40km into the ride, I had to catch back onto the group on a turn. I did so, but at around that point, Americo had ridden back and started to yell something to the back of the group.
My new friend turned to me and said “Do you have the course loaded?” pointing to my computer.

“Yes I do.”

“Ok” he said. “We are gonna get on some gas now, ok. So I hope we see you when we take a break ok?”

“OK -see you then”

And they were gone. But as they left I realized I had two new friends. The motos. The motos that had been hired for the race for Sportograf where there guiding me as if I was leading the Tour de France on the third Saturday over the queen stage. If you check Sportograf now, or so I am told, 80% of the photos are of me struggling to catch the group. Behind me the guide moto was keeping a safe distance and had some music on. As we got to one of the first climbs I heard a familiar sound.

It was Megadeth! Peace Sells but Who’s Buying. As I heard it start to go I raised my hand to tell him to turn it up. He did. I stood up, and every time the lyric “if there’s a new way, I’ll be the first in line” I raised my index finger to indicate I was right there! I kept standing, and working up the climb as the crunching guitar sound that was so familiar to me, made me feel like a champion and a rock star at the same time.

Lest we forget I WAS OFF THE FUCKING BACK WITH THE TWO PITY MOTOS!

As I looked down at my computer I started to see names pop up. There were others on the public network associated with my computer. I thought they might be the Americo group just ahead. Unfortunately, I saw an unrelated group pass me and wave on the other side of the road. As I went up a kicker and around a bend, I could see the photo moto had stopped. All of the group was standing there in the street. They had just started to order coffee from the cafe there. Americo was in the middle of the road with his arms out. He yelled “CHRIS!” I got off the bike and he gave me a big hug before pointing the way to the cafe.

I refilled my bottles and got an amazing soda that you can only get in Portugal and Brazil (apparently). It was time to get back on the bike and press on. There would be, all in all, around 6,500 feet of climbing on the day, around 80 miles.

My local caretakers did their best to stay with me when they could. The motos provided music, and the guide to the course, as it went off of my course map several times. By the last 40km I was riding with a French rider that was about the same speed as me. Not that we were slouches, far from it, but we were certainly not in the league of the riders that were in the group. By Sintra, the motos stopped for directions and informed me that most of the field was back in Estoril. It was time to get over the hill in Sintra, and back down to Estoril to the finish line — no problem. My nouveau ami and I made our way and before long, we were back at the casino.

Tom, Clarence, Phil, Vic, several others were still out on the full course. I went and grabbed a Coke for Tom before settling in to eat something. I found out from Ana, the organizer, that Americo had nothing but good things to say about my riding, and that just made the week for me. For each of the stops the group had made, they were only waiting 5–10 minutes in each case for me each time, so I was not as far behind as I had imagined.

I was grateful to be able to spend some time with Americo and Ana along with the rest of the group at our house in Estoril at dinner that night. It was a fast trip in and out of Portugal, over too soon as I was on my way to the airport the next morning, and back in the USA by the time the group from our house sat down for Piri Piri chicken that night. But it was worth it — the friendships made and the friends seen while there were priceless. The race may not have happened, but GFNY certainly happened in Portugal.

Americo and some of the gang, Sonny Rapozo (a GFNY Original), Noel from #TeamPiriPiri, the gang after doing the full course.

Closing Out in South America

My first trip to South America was on the horizon. By the time September was over, the chill had started to set in in NYC. To keep busy, I signed up for a duathlon so that I could stay motivated and maintain a fitness level for what would surely be a unique experience at GFNY Argentina. Adrienne was going to be racing with me, and so we made plans on LATAM to fly through Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina, rent a car, and drive to San Juan. The pros had raced there in January, and now we would each be racing there in November.

Race to train — a duathlon in Central Park to keep my competitive juices flowing.

Closing Out in South America

My first trip to South America was on the horizon. By the time September was over, the chill had started to set in in NYC. To keep busy, I signed up for a duathlon so that I could stay motivated and maintain a fitness level for what would surely be a unique experience at GFNY Argentina. Adrienne was going to be racing with me, and so we made plans on LATAM to fly through Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza, Argentina, rent a car, and drive to San Juan. The pros had raced there in January, and now we would each be racing there in November.

 

A long trek to Chile and beyond — hey is that a Dunkin’? Seeing the Andes for the first time.

We were thrilled to finally be in San Juan. We got to the hotel and got sorted out. Put bikes together, and realized that the author of the GFNY Travel Checklist — forgot to bring one of his water bottles — DOH! The requisite social media ridicule began to flow in but I let it slide for the most part. I deserved it after all. As we got on with the business of living, we had the mandatory Argentinian steak and empanada dinner, and were ready for a ride with the Fabulous Fluhme’s the next morning.

With a 10AM start we were actually early. I figured in South America everything is in reverse, so I was early for a change. We got out on the road and started to head out along the course, and took the road to the Punta Negra Dam in reverse. The Punta Negra Dam, aside from being one of the most beautiful places on Earth, is also where the reservoir that holds most of San Juan’s potable drinking water is. The mid-point (ish) of the course, it is where the majority of the climbing would take place in the form of a gradual ramp up to the Dam approach and then a steep 1KM kicker to the top of the dam, where there was a 1.5KM road over to a descent. On this first ride, we were taking it in reverse, and climbing a section that we would descend twice during the race.
Fun conversations, and we picked up some new friends along the way and got to experience the beautiful, dry, desert climate of San Juan in what was the cusp of Spring into Summer or maybe more the equivalent of late April. (Although it got hot on a couple of the days we were there, including race day).

#noshowsocks are trending in Argentina, the top of Punta Negra dam, the water stop on day 1, our new friend from San Luis. Would someone please buy this guy an SK!

The Friday ride, a little shorter, took us to one of the other San Juan River dams, and over one of the climbs that was originally scheduled to be part of the race course. Eventually we got to the construction area that showed us why it was logistically difficult to use that road, but there was no shortage of amazing scenery as we climbed up and over and started the steep descent back towards the town of San Juan.

During our down time we made it out to the damn and up some of the rock face (my fear of heights not withstanding), to enjoy some of the spectacular sunset views. All the while cyclists were everywhere. Road bikes, mountain bikes, commuter bikes. Bikes are a thing in San Juan. They are everywhere. There is even a Monumento Ciclista that celebrates cycling out toward the town of Zonda (which I am pretty sure the wind and the Campagnolo wheel are named after).

By Saturday, it was a short ride out to Zonda to the river bed, and back into San Juan. I felt very lucky to be able to ride with two that know so much about cycling in Luis Lemus and Uli, as we made our way out to the double round abouts that are just outside of Zonda. Funny, but each time I approached those roundabouts, whether by bike or by car, I was convinced there would be a beach there. By Sunday the cracked river bed looked like what I imagined the inside of my mouth looked like as we sped by into the wind on the second lap.

It was almost expo time. Almost race time. Time for a fast bite, and then on our way to pick up our jerseys, find a nice lunch, and mentally prepare ourselves for a big day tomorrow. By Sunday night we would be packing for our long journey home but we had to put that out of our minds and focus on the task at hand — the race!

Expo life and the chicken sammy that got me in trouble.

Saturday night was all prep, early dinner, and early to bed. We were up before the sun to get out onto the road. I had gone to the supermarket to try and get us a few things that would help us get through the morning eating wise. This included the fabled bunch of bananas that you will hear about later. With an 8AM start, and a 7AM corral time, I had us on the road to the 10 minute away start line by 6AM. Fun. We saw the start line, and headed back toward the hotel so that we could find more coffee. I took a full cup with me back down to the start line. It was about 55 degrees Fahrenheit — not exactly warm, but we knew that it would be warming up pretty quickly once the sun was high. The usual start line festivities over with, we were on our way and watching as the fast local riders piled out of the corral and onto the city streets that would lead us to the course. This was a GFNY race all the way, with police at every intersection and the race with the right of way.

Start line — bright and early. #hardestworkingmaninshowbiz — top right.

This was a fast as hell course. We spent the first 5km trying to latch onto any group that we could, and eventually, Adrienne had better luck than I did. I was able to stay with the group, but the constant jockeying within the group started to make me nervous, and as we hit the first small climb, I decided to get out ahead. I was already pushing too hard, but Adrienne was racing smart staying within the pack. I shot out ahead for a couple of the straightaways, and by the time we hit the desert roads, I was surrounded again, and now back into the group. This time I fared a little better for being able to maintain safe bike handling within what was turning into a really large pack as we made our way around the bends and out toward the dam. As the road started to kick up myself and two others steered left of the group, and started to break out ahead. We managed to stay away until we got to the next downhill and were swallowed up again.

Adrienne rode along side me and asked me what the hell I was thinking working so hard when I could be conserving in the group.

As we hit the short sharp climb up to the dam, the whole pack fell apart. Adrienne and I soldiered up, knowing how short the climb was we were able t measure it out effectively, and get up relatively quickly. I did a rolling stop for a slice of orange and we moved on. We would be alone now into the turn, and out to the finish. As we passed through Zonda on the first lap, we saw the front groups coming the other way, and then Uli and Lidia in the third or fourth group. Adrienne mentioned she had seen Luis’ helmet in one of the front packs, and so we both thought — Go Luis!
As we approached the turn for the second lap, I was burning as much as I could knowing we were going to run into more and more wind as we went. We kept rolling through as quickly as possible and were finally out of the wind for a small bit when we got to the dam for the second time. Some riders were off and walking but we kept heading up. When we got to the top I had to stop for water as I was out, and it was getting incredibly hot. I drank a whole apple juice flavored gatorade and dumped another in my front bottle. At the end of the dam Adrienne pulled me over and forced me to take a gel on.

We took a relaxed roll down the descent, but it was very quickly back to work as we reversed through Zonda. Now we had mountain bikers drafting and leap-frogging us, as well as some riders that I expected were competitors in Adrienne’s age group — so we turned it on. As we worked our way back toward San Juan and past where the turnaround was we started to see more competition popping up. The traffic was thickening some around us although the police were still moving us through. We decided that we needed to put a burn on our new friends and so we took off. Taking each of them by maybe a minute at the finish line, we were able to relax and breathe. As it turned out it didn’t mean as much as we thought but it was good to put that effort in.
We reveled at the finish line. Five GFNY’s in the bag! The VIP tent, a coke, and the podium celebration. It was getting hotter even than it was on the course and so we headed back to have a relaxed dinner before getting ready to hit the road the next morning.

#Satisfaction

The journey home was a long and involved one. Returning the car in Mendoza by 3 meant breakfast at 8, checkout at 11, on the road 11:30, 2 hours to Mendoza, return the car, check in for the flight, and wait. And wait, and wait.

Not understanding the guileless and gullible part of my nature, Adrienne was moved to hysterics by my almost gaffe of telling the Mendoza border patrol that we had 2 bananas (remember those), from San Juan. Apparently transporting fruit more than 32 feet in Argentina is illegal. Who knew? Anyway, I was reminded to keep my mouth shut, and was summarily told that I was going to be left out of any upcoming bank robbery planning.

I will be honest. I could have planned the trip back better, but we were going through Santiago again, and after hours of waiting in Mendoza, we had only about 20 minutes to get to the next gate in Santiago. We made it without issue and boarded for home. It would be an 11 hour flight back. We were thoroughly worn out, so sleep would not be an issue. It was the last place to sit and wait for the next thing to happen. And so I could feel all of the adrenaline drain out. We would hit JFK at 7AM New York time. Both of us needed to be back at work that day. Ouch. But we wouldn’t trade it in for a thing!


Says it all! Our Storm Trooper plane parked at JFK.

Epilogue

So — like I said. F8 and be there. Smart phone and be there. No camera and be there. Note the detail in the race descriptions, but the lack of photos. If you can’t take photos take memories. Be there.

So very grateful for the family and friends that made 2019 the special year of cycling that it was. I would never have imagined the places I would go, the people I would meet, and the friendships that I would make and reconnect with.

F8 and be there.

#gratitude #GFNYHighFive