Saturday, June 14, 2014

America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride (ever?)

I've said it before: I haven't been on all the bike rides in America to know whether the ride around Lake Tahoe really is the most beautiful, but it is easier to imagine uglier ones. This year's event was not a disappointment. Early in the week leading up to the ride, the forecast called for cold temperatures in the morning, which is typical, but also a decent chance of rain. There had also been snow in Stateline, NV, so we packed clothing for two days' of riding for literally all weather types: two pairs of tights, two pairs of arm warmers, a winter jacket, a rain jacket, a wind jacket, knee warmers, two wool base layers, etc.... When we arrived to the team hotel on Friday just before bike pickup (after several days in the Bay Area), another teammate informed us that the forecast had done a 180: sun was predicted for the entire weekend, with highs in the low 70s and lows in the mid 30s. In short: perfect.

The team's bikes all arrived on time, even if all of the team didn't (coordinating travel among 30+ people and their respective families is a hassle), and there weren't any mechanical issues. The new transportation company was professional and had us in and out relatively quickly. Team in Training's packet pickup wasn't crowded Friday afternoon, either, so we were able to move through with some ease. I even bought my first "bazaar" fundraising item: a TNT buff, and I couldn't be happier. Perfect.

The Georgia Chapter has a long and storied history of renting a catamaran for a champagne cruise on the lake on Friday evening to kick off the weekend's festivities, and this year was no different. It was a windy evening, making keeping birthday candles on Curtis' birthday doughnuts lit a challenge (more easily managed below deck). We had two birthdays to celebrate, which we did in style. The clear, cloudless sky made for a beautiful backdrop for the first of many team pictures over the weekend. Perfect

Photo courtesy Kathy Empen

Saturday mornings in Tahoe usually call for a team breakfast and then a shakedown ride out to Inspiration Point (overlooking Emerald Bay) and back. This year, we had a team BIRTHDAY breakfast, courtesy of Curtis and in honor of Clarice, and then.... quite a bit of downtime. Our shakedown rides are usually in the morning, but this time we left closer to noon. The advantage: warmth. The disadvantage: traffic and thinner air (but breakfast had settled). We rolled out in our little groups, I riding with Team Tripod (Kathy and Al), and scouted the first 13 miles of the century we would ride the next day. The climb up to Inspiration Point is a sneaky devil: I thought I'd remembered what it looked like from when I was there in 2012, but we started ascending and I felt great. I figured my memory must have been off. Then we got to where we started climbing in earnest, which looked exactly like I'd remembered it, and realized that I was really just an idiot instead. These things happen. Got to the top, had pictures taken, and it was, of course, beautiful. 

Photo courtesy Kathy Empen
The ride back down was dicey as usual, because of the tight, technical turns and traffic, but once at the bottom we zipped right back into town, splitting up depending on where everyone planned on eating. I represented Strava well in my kit, and received a "hey! nice Strava kit!" in the lobby of the hotel for my efforts. As a good ambassador, I thanked the man and entered the elevator. Perfect.

At the inspiration dinner, the Georgia Chapter sat at its 3.5 tables and ate an inordinate amount of food and stole an inordinate amount of bananas in preparation for the next morning. The national Team coordinator for the event told us that the 700+ participants at the ride that year raised $3.3 million for LLS. One man, in the course of his time with Team, has raised over $500,000. I can't even imagine. The coordinator then introduced the top 10 individual fundraisers. When she got to the top two, she called a man named Lance Shaw and Georgia's own Don Schaet to the stage. Lance's son, Brian, had been helping hand out hats to the top fundraisers, so we knew this was a special fellow. 

Photo courtesy Curtis Hertwig
  • Lance, a first-time participant, had had a goal to raise $37,454.13 (the average cost of a single chemo injection for his son). He ultimately raised $55,850, and in doing so he had his name linked to a research portfolio of his choosing (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) and was an incredibly inspiring, humorous, and moving keynote speaker. Lance was "only" the number 2 fundraiser for the event. He told us about his son's diagnosis, how he'd explained why a shaved head made him a badass, detailed his progress from a bike novice to a soon-to-be century cyclist and how he found Team in Training.
  • Don, for at least the second time in his illustrious fundraising career, was the number 1 fundraiser, having raised (as of this writing) $60,029.03. Don chose as his portfolio pediatric research, and in his short time at the microphone told us his reason for raising so much this year. I'll paraphrase, but believe you will still get the main idea. This winter, Don realized he had raised $200,000 in his 20 or so years with TNT. At the age of 82, he knew this was going to be his last event. He also knew that, by making a goal of $50,000 this season he could not only reach a quarter million dollars raised for LLS, but he could create a legacy, to inspire us to set high goals and to continue to raise money for LLS in amazing ways. Don is an incredible, selfless man. 
Photo courtesy Curtis Hertwig
All together, the evening's dinner was--of course--perfect.

Sunday morning started early: we were expected to start the ride at around sunrise, which mean several layers of clothes as it was still about 31°F. I planned on carrying most of the food I would eat over the course of the day, as well as not dropping any of my clothing at any of the stops. This meant strategy, and I pulled it off brilliantly. The picture below of Team Tripod shows the progression of clothing removal over the course of the ride, and the clever viewer can infer the change in the height of the sun.

Photos courtesy Kathy Empen
The ride itself was fairly uneventful. I started off a bit cranky, and my legs weren't super cooperative (perhaps because of the lie of the climb the day before), but after about 20 miles (the middle picture above) I found myself and things were right with the world. The ride to and from Truckee was as nice as I remembered, though the headwind into Truckee remained a headwind coming out (explain that). We rode with another group of Peaches that was struggling for a little bit (one of them had a broken spoke), meaning I got to take my time, crawl into my head, and compose a song for Al (in the middle of all the pictures above and for whom Team Tripod is dubbed). I also got to look around and enjoy the splendor of the scenery around us. 

Aside: anyone who says the ride out to Truckee is ugly is only saying that because they are comparing it to the rest of the ride around the lake. Compared to anywhere else, it is beautiful, with the river and woods all along one side of the road. It is a little slice of heaven. 

The rest of the ride was marked, for our little group, only by the addition of Graham (who got a flat on the way out of Truckee, giving us time to enjoy the river that much more) and Dennis. 

Photo courtesy Kathy Empen
More people means less time spent pulling, so we had a nice paceline headed into Tahoe City, and into lunch. As with last time, mile 60 approached in no time, because this ride flies by at "Fred Woohoohoo! Speed", sometimes even literally. Whizzing down the backside of Inspiration Point and then again down the long descent off Spooner (40.3 mph max, because I ran out of gears and there was wind coming off the water) was amazing, and my voice was rough from calling out to everyone as I passed them "On your left!". We rode in, about 13 of us (nearly half the Georgia team), together, and waited for the rest of our teammates to finish. Perfect.

Photo courtesy Kathy Empen
Here's the ride on Strava. You should do it next year, it may not always be pretty, but I bet it'll be pretty close to perfect.

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