Somewhere In the Middle
I love the excitement in the air at the start of Mountains of Misery. For me, it’s quite different than the feeling I get at any other group ride. MoM is the one that I take seriously. I spend months preparing and, at the start, I always wonder if I trained hard enough to make it through the day. This year was different. Distracted by thoughts of my teammates, I approached the start line with a calmness that I have not experienced before.
MoM is a special event that brings together my Misery Loves Company Team and my dearest cycling buddies from Virginia (where I lived and trained until 2009). The entire ride is like a rolling reunion party with some very tough climbs thrown in to make it interesting. Before rolling out, I chatted with Rod, Leslie, Bronie, Liz and many others. I was feeling very happy as I passed by Ann Jones, the Ride Director as she waved good-bye to 600+ riders. The weather was cool, but perfect and the trip down Route 42 was just as beautiful as I remembered.
Pretty soon, my mind was in my happy place as I spun along at a conservative pace. I was trying to fight my habit of starting out too hard so I did not jump into an early pace line. Instead I found myself riding alone for a bit before catching up to Liz Rucker. When I was new to the sport of cycling, Liz was one of my mentors. She was, and still is, very strong and she often pulled her daughter, Emmy, along in a trailer, and then a tag-a-long, and then Emmy left for Princeton. Liz and I chatted a bit about years and rides past before I rolled ahead. I remember a training ride in 2003 when I was dying on the John’s Creek climb as she paused to chat and then zoomed ahead. I hoped that I would one day be half as strong as Liz.
I kept leap-frogging a rider who would fall a little behind me on each climb and race to catch up in the flats and descents. After this pattern was repeated a number of times, I struck up a conversation with her. Danielle works in DC and lives in Maryland. She told me that this was her first century ride and that she was new to the sport. She rode like a beginner – mashing a big gear and wasting energy. She complimented my smooth pedaling and said “you seem like an old pro at this ride”. Yes, I can navigate the route with my eyes closed, I thought. She asked if she would need her easiest gear on the final climb. I told her that she would need her easiest gear and that she would hit the shifter again and again wishing that there was one more gear. I wondered if she would make it, but I loved her energy and enthusiasm and I hoped for the best for her. She attacked the descent into Newcastle, unfettered by the knowledge of past serious crashes on this section of the course – memories that demanded my respect.
Reflecting on these two experiences – connections representing the past and the future of this sport. Liz somewhere close behind and Danielle racing ahead. I found myself somewhere in the middle. Somewhere in the middle of life. Somewhere in the middle of this sport. Somewhere in the middle of rural southwest Virginia riding through countryside so beautiful I could have been inside a postcard. Life somewhere in the middle is sweeter than I have ever imagined.
Right in the middle of Maggie Valley, one of the most beautiful places on earth, I found David. Or maybe he found me. He was riding his motorcycle as EMT SAG and we stopped for a few brief moments to catch up on the status of the Misery Loves Company Team Members. David reported that all were doing well, but Wendy’s shifter broke very early in the ride and she was riding with one gear. She could shift, but only manually which required her to stop each time she wanted to change gears. Pattie and Kristy were sticking by her side.
Sometime before my arrival in the valley, Eric captured the essence of the countryside with his drone camera. At the time, I was not aware that he was waiting for me on the side of John’s Creek climb. What a treat it was to find him there with his friend Gesh.
In Clover Hollow, Jimmy Falkner found me. We rode together until we were in the shadow of the final climb and he pulled ahead. Jimmy and David met at Reed College many years ago. Although our time together was brief, I treasure our time together laughing and chatting about life. We see Jimmy and his wife, Kelly, far too infrequently.
Of the Misery Loves Company Team, Jimmy finished first with me not too far behind. We did not rest for long before we were joined by Billy, Leslie, Debbie, PJ, Susan and finally, the three amigos (Kristy, Wendy & Pattie)…still together until the very end.
How did I do? What was my time? My time was perfect for me and for this day. I finished somewhere in the middle…and just nine minutes behind Danielle. Nine minutes behind the future and miles ahead of where I began. Somewhere in the middle, exhausted and very happy.
Team Misery Loves Company
- Amy Janes, Personal Chef & Dirty Dancing Historian
- Paul Fetcho, Ham Radio Operator & Course Marshal (for real, this time)
- Larry Pierson, Photographer, EMT & Wine Buddy
- Bronie Reynolds – Self-Proclaimed Beer Wench
- Jimmy Falkner – Arlington VA
- Debbie Wilson – Waynesville NC
- Billy Norman – Waynesville NC
- Pattie Moore – Asheville NC
- Susan Casar – Asheville NC
- Wendy Coin – Asheville NC
- Kristy Carter – Asheville NC
- PJ Mears – Black Mountain NC
Too Many Years to Count:
- Leslie Houde – Blacksburg VA
My Mountains of Misery Results
2003 – 9:18:00 – In my first MoM, I rode with Beth Lohman along the route that started in Christiansburg instead of Newport. This was the final year using this route and, if my memory is correct, it was 106 miles long. Just a little more than a month after this ride, Beth, her husband, Jerry, and I left for Paris and my first cycling tour.
2007 – 7:54:43 – Leslie Houde and I rode together in my second MoM. And yes, she wore a Ben & Jerry’s jersey.
2012 – 8:40:50 – At this time, I was living in North Carolina and, for the first time, did not get to train on the MoM route. My time suffered a bit, but it was good to be riding in Virginia again.
2015 – 7:54:43 – Number 196 out of 404 – almost exactly in the middle.
Number of years as a MoM volunteer – too many to count. I have loved this ride since I supported my brother, Jimmy Caldwell, in his first attempt in 2001.