Yesterday was a monumental day for our small team. Sometimes the stats speak for themselves:
This has been a challenging year for many people for many different reasons. We decided to set ourselves a challenge that was within our own control, focused and singular, as a contrast to the confusion that is so present in the worldwide picture. We are very lucky to be in this position on this isolated little island, and we made use of our freedom to push some personal boundaries, supporting each other through a major struggle.
We chose the beautiful green valley of Guayadeque as our adversary for the day. Its steep gradients and straightforward and fast descent providing a good opportunity to gain altitude with little distraction from the task at hand. Those of you who have conquered it, on our tours or otherwise, know it as a good test for a fresh pair of legs. Yet today we would be getting intimately acquainted with it in progressive levels of fatigue, both mental and physical.
We arrived slightly behind schedule, but nevertheless turned our first pedal stroke at 07:10am. Martin and I would be riding together, our similar power to weight meaning this challenge should be one we could combine our efforts on. Anja would be riding her own rhythm, aiming for 5000m elevation gain, and Ewa was along as support, but planning to hop on the bike herself in breaks between feeding us, but no fixed target.
Martin and I were off to a flying start, churning up the climb between 0,5-2,5 minutes faster than our planned schedule on each the first 5 efforts. I was cautious of a rising heart rate and the power figures, but let my seemingly fresher colleague ride the windy parts, and made sure to keep the calories topped up every time possible. Not long after we had our first visitor of the day, a new friend from Poland who heard about our attempt and discovered the valley for the first time. Nice to meet you Lukasz and thanks for coming by!
We were in a wonderful rhythm on each of the descents. The road a tarmac joy that undoes all your hard work on the way up in a cruelly rapid fashion.. ! However, unfortunately near the end of our eight ascent, Martin's challenge came to a sickening end: his stomach churning in agony and ending any hope of riding the bike at all, let alone keeping our pace. Insult was added to injury when a bee flew into his helmet at 70km/h, and in its panic stung him in the forehead! I knew he was in a bad way when he insisted I continue and not to give him the recovery he might need, but so it was that I would continue and seal the challenge for the team. The responsibility now weighing as extra motivation and resolve.
The wind was picking up in the valley, the midday heat was starting to build, and I knew this was the hardest part of the day. The long void in the middle of any endurance ride - deep in enough that you are dramatically fatigued, far away enough from the finish that the task towers above you still; pacing, nutrition, mind games. It’s a melting pot that must run its course, and every micro milestone you set helps you navigate and dodge this painful maze.
Seeing Anja's beaming smile as we passed each other in opposite directions over and over again was one such injection of fight. As of course was my wonderful wife Ewa's marvelous array of delicious prepared food, and the fleeting short moment when our time on the road coincided at last! Anja's challenge had gotten off to quite a rocky start, when barely 1.5 km into her ride, her rear tubeless tyre exploded in a spray of tubeless milk, making her walk back down to the start for the spare bike that we had fortunately brought along for her!
After 13 times up the full climb, the wind had picked up dramatically in the lower part of the valley. The buffeting crosswinds were making the descent no longer enjoyable or even safe- least of all for fatiguing riders. Additionally, the first 3.3 km allowed only 200m elevation gain (compared to the 385 of the latter 3.3km), and the flatter gradient was proving mentally much more taxing at this late stage. Thus, we made the decision to shorten our route to only the final 3.3 steep kilometers. Avoiding the traffic at the restaurant half way, while gaining maximum meters per kilometer and saving our spirits and potential disaster in a high speed crash with the unpredictable wind.
Not long after, Anja completed her 5000 metres of elevation gain, having surpassed her previous best by a margin of some 2000 metres, and enviably throwing her legs up, satisfied, relieved, tired, a job well done!
Martin had by now managed to settle his stomach and was feeling much better, so he jumped back on the bike to accompany me for 4 of the 6 final 'short' ascents that I would have to do. It was great to have some company and distraction again, a wheel to shelter on when the wind roared, and the ideal lines to try and follow down the descent. Light faded, food was piled in bite by bite, and suddenly there I was, facing just one more climb to reach 5 digits of vertical ascent metres!
The plan was that the car would follow me to light the road, and provide moral support; and so it proved as the final lap was the highest power interval of the day, squeezing every last drop out in the elated prospect of the approaching end.
A huge thank you to all involved: Ewa, who tirelessly fed us and looked after every need (while casually riding 4500m herself..), Martin for the idea, inspiration and organisation, Anja for the positivity and team spirit. There are many things we would do differently on hindsight, but it was a rich and testing learning experience for all, and this irreplaceable experience is what makes these challenges life enriching.
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