02
Oct
11

2011 Glen Rose Paluxy Pedal Bike Rally Review

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s been month since I last wrote. Honestly, though, I haven’t had much to say or think that was worth putting up. I had a once-a-year-or-so ocular migraine at the Goatneck that left my strong eye (left) seeing double, while my weak eye (right) lost focus. The eyesight issues alone left me a little shaken, even though I had done everything right in the 48 hours leading up to that point, about an hour and 15 minutes in to the rally, and when I got to Glen Rose, I pulled out and asked Amy to come get me. To add a cherry on my sh*t sandwich, I got a ticket in Keene on my way home, a town which ranks in the Top 10 in Texas for Speed Traps.

So, I basically shut it down. The Secret Drink Mix bought me about 7 weeks in a summer that I thought would leave desiccated cyclist corpses strewn all over the state, but after DNF’ing in “The World Rally Championships of North Texas”, I called it a season. I rode some in Washington State (See October’s Texas Racing Post for an article about that), but really didn’t do much in between then, and maybe 2 weeks ago, when I decided to, yet again, start training for the next season, and see if I could reach a new high in volume and Threshold Power. I tested myself in August and September, and was shocked to find that my threshold had dropped from 305w/20m to barely 267w/20m, and my weight had jumped from 152 to 157, with periods above 160. OH. MY. GOD. Let me tell you, folks, turning 40 is like dialing back a switch in your metabolism. The whiskers on your beard get grey, then stiffer, the skin starts to sag, the crow’s feet grow, shrinking the eyes, and the weight, no matter what you do, gets easier to keep and harder to lose. I thought for the longest time that it wasn’t going to be a problem, but when your summer inventory of bike shorts start to protrude with a baby belly, it’s embarrassing!

This week was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hoshannah, so I took advantage of the JCC being closed (and the CCD by default), and rode outside just about every day that we had available. Amy’s home now (selectively unemployed), so I went in to Saturday’s Paluxy Pedal bike rally feeling like I would be lucky to just hang on to the lead group, and I was resigned to a mostly tempo ride. But somewhere, maybe Thursday night, things started to look up, and I began to feel like this weekend might be special.

We drove down on Friday night, staying in Cleburne, roughly half an hour away from Glen Rose. All of the hotels in Glen Rose were booked in advance for the Paluxy Pedal, which ranks as probably one of the top 3 rallies of the year in most North Texans’ minds. We awoke to temps in the low 50’s, zero wind, and about 1000 registered riders, all lined up for the 8:30 start.  A TON of our friends were there, including neighbors Lila & Emmett, Michael & Brandy, and about half a dozen or more clients, past and present. Everyone remarked about what a great day was shaping up, and whether we were going to go 45, 60, or 80 miles. I assumed I would do the 80, and Amy agreed to do the 45.

Now, I need to sidetrack a bit. Amy’s been dealing with chronic back pain ever since November of 2008, and we’ve been through a LOT of ups and downs since then – basically, her ability to ride with any power has been destroyed, and it was not until maybe August of this year that she was able to string together anything close to 25 miles at 14-16 mph on flattish terrain. I’ll write about that ordeal some time later, but the good news is that August saw a breakthrough, and in September, things got even better, so her decision to put 3 hours on a bike with a few stops, was something that really lifted MY spirits, as much as hers. So she rode with friends, and I rode with the leaders, also friends, and we took off to the thunderous roar of the HAND CANNON that marks the start of this rally every year.

Paluxy Pedal "Hand Cannon"!

Immediately, once we rolled out of town, I began to look around to see who was who and what was what. There were about 20 of us, including veteran Michael Gacki, his fiance Shelby, Todd Lafleur, and several of the regular rally riders. However, it’s the presence of Camillo Borondy and Scott Simmons, both of whom are locals to Glen Rose, and both of whom are SERIOUS Cat 2 competitors, that left me feeling like I might be in for a tough day. Scott most recently won a State Championship, and in a brief conversation at the beginning of the ride, mentioned that he had gone FROM THE GUN at that race…. and then proceeded to do the exact same thing in this ride!

For a solid hour, we rode the rolling terrain of what should be called the North Hill Country, popping a few riders here and there, and letting some guys get maybe 10-15 seconds ahead, then reeling them in. The tempo was plenty hot, and we held around 23mph, climbing about 700 feet in total terrain. Michael, my Pirate teammate, came around and took some good pulls, and there were some people that did little but sit in (I’m talking to you, Mr. Cyclo-Core), but it was clear from the beginning that Scott was in a league of his own. He took longer, stronger pulls, his attacks were nothing severe, but were longer and just fast and hard enough that it was easy to lose contact, and he would return to the pack with no sign of fatigue. But the best part was that we never quite lost sight of him. For 90 minutes, give or take, there was a pack of about 12-15 riders, with two or three leaders, yet at the hill on the back side of Fossil Rim Game Preserve, about 28.7 miles in, that the lead peloton completely and utterly blew up.

This hill is about .8 miles long, averaging just 4.2%, but it’s the fact that it’s midway through the rally, and has a false-flat area of 2-3% sandwiched between a 6% segment and an 8-9% segment, capped by a false plateau, that just ripped the legs off of most everyone. Scott literally danced over it, as did Todd LaFleur, and I was eclipsed by some dude in a BrewMasters jersey, but that guy promptly throttled back at the top, and over the next two minutes, I caught up with Todd, and we closed in on Scott, until we came to the base of “The Wall.”

Michael Gacki earns his patch for climbing "The Wall!"

“The Wall” is a rather short climb that has grown in infamy ever since this rally began nine years ago, and conquering “The Wall” usually earns you a patch, distributed by the local Boy Scout Troop, at the top. The patch is complete with “19%” stitched on the base. It’s maybe a 1/4 mile long, has poor sight-lines and a railing on the side, thus adding to the mystique. Overall, the thing really isn’t THAT BAD, averaging maybe 12%, and it’s nothing compared to the final climb up to the observatory at Ft. Davis, but it’s still kind of tough. Scott practically danced up the wall, making it look easy, finishing in what must have been about a minute and 40 seconds. Todd was next, at about 1:55, and I came in a hair over 2 minutes. But if you’ve read any reports of my experiences at “The Wall” before, you know that it’s not THE WALL that counts, but it’s the next half mile to 1.5 miles that makes the split complete. Once again, I reeled in Todd, and the two of us pacelined it to try and catch Scott, who held back just enough that we were able to make a strong threesome, all the way out to about mile 50.

The conversation those next 15 miles, from the regroup to the last pitstop and turn off for the extra miles of the ’80’, were all about bikes, bike parts, family, Todd’s wife’s recovery from a serious accident, his own fears and fatigue, training, deciding whether to do those extra miles and deal with the chipseal, and the perpetual, renewing hope of success in the new year. This part of the rally is probably my favorite. The roads are rolling, the farms have a more dense set of trees and shrubs, and there are a few homesteads and churches dotted throughout. It’s really pastoral, and the climbs are in the 1-3% range, each lasting maybe a minute or so.  Todd was out of fluids at mile 50, so Scott and I just ghost-pedaled until he was able to fill up, when, lo & behold… we got caught by 5 stragglers that we thought we would not be seeing again until the pizza party at the finish line!

Camillo and three or four others joined in, and we used the last 10 miles to roll in pretty quickly. There were a few attacks, but nothing stuck. Then, with no more than five miles to go, Scott, who had been really praiseworthy and just, well, nice, whispered as he passed in the paceline – “At the bottom of the next hill, we go, okay?” I nodded in agreement, knowing that this would be the final act of a REALLY fun, REALLY successful rally. Unfortunately, as I approached the hill, I was the leader of the rotation, and got stuck there, unable to mask my own efforts or intentions. I waited until my speed began to bleed off, ever so slightly, and then PUNCHED IT, throwing out 620w/20sec, but it was Scott who once again danced away, gapping me over the course of the entire hill by about 30 seconds, and then holding us off all the way to the finish. My own effort on the climb totaled 1:10 at 412w, so his must have been in the 450-470w range. It was a thing of beauty to behold, and whereas in the past I would have been bitter about it, muttering under my breath about my own inabilities, in this case, I just watched in wonder and enjoyed the spectacle of seeing someone just a few years younger, who had once been a contemporary Cat 3, combine his passion, his talent, and an empirical sense of developed skill, pedal away from me by at least 1.5 mph. I soloed all the way to about a mile from the highway crossing, but was caught by three others, including Camillo, and we all declared a neutral finish in the final half mile. Holding the hand of a contemporary named Chris, who wore a Wake Forest Cycling jersey, I was gifted a 2nd place finish, and we all rode up to Scott, already off his bike and leaning against it, happily munching on a slice of pizza.

It took another hour for my wife to roll in, but it was time well spent, sitting on the steps of the school, eating slices of pizza, drinking water and juice, and catching up with friends as they rolled in and dismounted. The day continued its’ perfect weather, but the best feeling I got all day was the elation emitted from the smile on Amy’s face as she made her final turn, which I saw clear as crystal from a hundred feet away. I was in mid-conversation with the Phillippi’s when she rolled in, and they’ll attest to my own glee at seeing the joy on my wife’s face as she completed her first 45 mile ride in roughly a full year.

The Paluxy Pedal is one of those rallies that is a complete Can’t Miss. It has the advantage of climate, seasonal colors, fantastic organization and support, and terrain. The group at the front is always lively, and everyone returns with a complete sense of accomplishment that the hot summer rallies just can’t duplicate. Next year is their 10th anniversary, and I fully intend to return and ride with the front-runners yet again, only this time, I hope I’m not as shocked by my own success.

*** One quick note: There was a group of riders from Keene, TX, all wearing some neat jerseys, and really enjoying themselves. Guys, I do hope that you continue riding, but I would REALLY like to ask that you convince your police department and City Council to get TXDOT to put up larger signs on Hwy 67 announcing the change in speed limits from 65 to 50. I think the town’s reputation as a speed trap is valid, and I wouldn’t want your town to suffer from a boycott because Officer “F” was so intent on playing Sharks and Minnows with our Insurance Policies. In fact, driving AT the speed limit this weekend, reconfirmed my opinion that the many semi’s and fifth wheels hauling gas, oil, and water for the sand fracking process, are MUCH more dangerous and worthy of your speed sensors, than two cyclists returning from a rally in Cleburne who were, in fact, DECELERATING when they realized simultaneously that the speed limit had abruptly dropped, and also that they’d been tagged at the apex of the hill. Ask Officer “F” if his city coffers are that low, ask him if he sleeps well at night in his selective enforcement (out-of-towners over locals), and ask him if he’s ever been to one of the rallies just south of his town, and seen the love and joy these events bring to their communities, as well as the funds raised and commerce generated. Then ask him what’s best for the city. I hope he gets it.

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