Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Best Friends

Celebrating 20 years of cycling with my best friend and husband on the Passo Pordoi in the Dolomites at 2,239 meters. Happy Anniversary!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Almost a Euro Pro

When our friends, Becky & Jeff, moved to Zurich, we knew a bike trip would have to be in order. By March, tickets were purchased and bags were packed in anticipation of our August departure. Leaving the cycling agenda to our Swiss hosts, the only planned ride on the calendar was for a Tour Becky had found taking place in Gruyere. Looking at the link she sent me, it seemed innocent enough.

The Gruyere Tour had 2 options, 85km and 125km routes that toured the lovely region with the towns like Gstaad and Chateau d’Oex. With the hefty $80 fee, a full clothing kit was included. That was enough to convince us. It would be a fun day riding with our friends through beautiful mountain passes, stopping every 2 feet for photo ops, and stuffing our faces with cheese.

We arrived in Rueschlikon on the outskirts of Zurich at their lovely home perched on the side of a hill with a stunning view of the lake.

Giddy from the smell of chocolate wafting up from the nearby Lindt factory, I did not think much about the upcoming Gruyere Tour. For our first 2 days on Swiss soil we did rides from their back door through fabulous tiny roads climbing up up up; the only direction these 2 friends know how to ride, up.

Jeff took us off on a climbing fiesta our 2nd ride, of which I thought would be a leisurely jaunt. I overheard Becky on the phone with Heather as we started our route. We were to meet Heather, Chris, and Daniel later that evening in Gruyere. “Hey, we’re just going out on an easy ride. We’ll meet ya’ll at 7:00 tonight. See you soon!”

Easy ride. It’s all relative I suppose. I didn’t consider 3,400’ of climbing in 43 miles to be easy and my legs were protesting the entire way. It slowly dawned on me that these were the same legs that would have to climb 6,500’ tomorrow. Oh dear. I pedaled as light as possible while taking photos from the rear. Becky, Jeff, and Raja were quick on their feet and did not seem phased by the effort. If we had been home, this would have been one of those rides with me off the back, pouting because everyone was dropping me. But instead, I enjoyed the luscious scenery and the delight of riding past cows with clanking bells and chalets with flowers galore while having no worries about passing cars or vicious dogs.

Our easy little ride turned into a 3 hr 15 minute tour of the countryside putting us slightly behind schedule for the day. After a quick shower and packed bags, we drove as fast as possible while dodging the Swiss autostrada speed cams. We made it to the registration in Bulle with 3 minutes to spare. Running past the bike race hoopla into the Espace Center, we frantically asked, “Where’s registration? Does anybody speak English?” By now, we only had 1 minute left to pick up our packets.

Finally, we found the place. In rapid French a woman told us what was in our packet, where exactly to place the transponders & each race number and exactly which colored zip ties to use. These were some strict rules and we did our best to follow along in sign language. Next, we tore off a tab from the race number in order to retrieve our jerseys and bibs from the clothing station. A make shift changing area was set up for us to try on our kits to see if the sizing was correct. My small was a bit too big, and I doubted xsmall jerseys would be an option. Astonished to learn there were xsmall, it was perfect for me. A full zip jersey that fits, now that’s worth the price of admission. Raja mixed and matched his sizes to get the perfect combo too.

“Do we wear this tomorrow for the Tour,” we asked? We were given a stern reply of "Yes, you wear jersey!" Riding out of uniform would be frowned upon and we were expected to be officially dressed, riding properly outfitted bikes, and ready to roll for an 8:30 start. I was beginning to wonder if we had accidently signed up for a Pro European race. This was not exactly how registration goes for us back in the States on Six Gap or Mt Mitchell. Everything was so official and well organized.

Once I learned that Fabian Cancellara would be in our peleton, I knew a fatal error had been made. Oops, somewhere along the way a slight shift in the universe was made, and I was no longer on the Tourist Bus. This little southern belle was joining the big leagues. Oh well, no time to worry about tomorrow, we had to rush to meet up with our friends.

Slightly late to our rendezvous with Heather, Chris, and Daniel, we found them hanging out in the center of the picture perfect postcard town of Gruyere. Slowly rambling our way up to the castle, the laughing and story telling took my mind off of tomorrow’s Pro race.
But the mood turned serious again at dinner. Unfolding a big map on the table, Chris called our rider’s meeting to order.

The tone of his voice as he explained every turn and bump in the road let me know that this was not going to be a walk in the park. Impressed with his intimate knowledge of the course, I tried to visualize each section and climb as he spoke. He was giving out nuggets of gold that were greatly appreciated; where it would be important to be in a pack, when a climb would start, how long the climb was, a gravel section of a descent, when a climb got steep, and so on.

With bellies full of pasta, we said good night to our Canadian and English friends, and headed back to the hotel in Bulle. With a stroke of luck, our room had a bathtub instead of the usual 2x2 shower. Perfect. I could do a makeshift ice bath to help flush out my legs from our ride this morning. They felt like lead at the moment and I was terrified at the thought of suffering for 5 hours with bags of sand for appendages. Collapsing in the bed for a few winks of sleep, I was too ignorant to be worried for the next day’s challenge. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Our hotel host had firmly stated that breakfast would be ready at 6:30. As if we were kids obeying the camp counselors, we nodded and acknowledged we would be at the table bright and early. There were other guests doing the Tour as well, and another group following us preparing for a run. He was ready to feed the starving athletes. Stumbling out of bed at 6:00, I groggily made my way to the dining room. MMmmmm, yogurt, bread, and hot chocolate. The breakfast of champions. I don’t know what my body would run on, because this is not my usual choice of pre-race fuel. With no other option, we ate all the bread we could find, even snitching some from baskets on other tables.

Raja had already diligently placed our race numbers and transponders on the bikes, using the correct color coded zip ties. Out in the hotel parking lot, a rather intimidating female cyclist was getting ready with her domestique husband in tow. Without the proper kit or race number, I was suspicious she was outlawing the ride. I’ve outlawed a ride before, but I sure as heck wouldn’t try that trick here. She looked like she knew what she was doing, and we did not bother trying to make conversation. Besides, Raja was terribly antsy since the start time was 30 minutes away and we had yet to start rolling to town. He’s accustom to being 2 hours early to an event, so this was throwing his perfectly scheduled plan off kilter.

With only 2.5 miles to pedal, we finally headed towards our event in the town of Bulle. What a sight to behold as we rolled up to the start area! Thousands of cyclists, all decked out in the same kit were pressed together fighting for position, while official looking men walked around, marked cars sat in position, and an announcer blared out things in French over the loudspeaker.
This looked suspiciously like the Tour de France Stage starts I had seen on television, and even seen in person in 1995 in France. What have we done?! I don’t want to race a bunch of Euro Pros!

We walked with our bikes back, back, back till we could no longer see anymore matching kit wearing cyclists. This is the back of the line, and we’re it. I could see the steam coming out of Raja’s ears. Or was it just steam rising as we worked up a sweat against the cool morning air. Regardless, we had our work cut out for us to weave our way up through the masses once this thing got under way.

Fortunately we had happened upon Heather, and she joined us in the line up. Chris and Daniel were taking this thing seriously and had already jockeyed for a better position up front. As we stood in line with a sea of foreign faces, the conversations in French and German surrounded us. I amused myself by looking at the interesting names on each race number pinned on our backs. I guess my cover will be blown once someone sees my name; Phillips, Laurie. That’s not exactly a Euro sounding name. Maybe they’ll think I’m a visiting pro brought in from the States.

As we anxiously waited for the gun to go off, a voice began to sing over the loudspeaker. The Gruyere “anthem” was being sung, people were clapping, and important things were being announced with more clapping. Hopefully no crucial information was being revealed, because we had no idea what was being said. But the atmosphere was electric, and I knew this is must be what it’s like to be a Pro, a Euro Pro.

The only thing missing from our Pro Race was the official sign in, otherwise, it was like being in the movies. The peleton began to slowly move. Scoot, scoot, one foot on the pedal, the other dragging the ground. Then we moved faster, finally passing under the departure balloon banner. Our transponders were hopefully registering and our race had begun.

Policemen were at every roundabout and road obstacle, whistles screeching at ungodly decibels. The sound was deafening, but dodging cyclists while navigating the twisty road and roundabouts took all my mental energy. Heather immediately began her assault and started picking her way up quickly through the crowd. Jumping on her wheel, I took her cue. Raja and the rest would either have to follow me or get left behind. There was no time for head checks or conversation. I decided right there and then that this was going to be an individual effort. There’s too many people to be worrying about who is where and doing what.

This was fun, weaving, darting and zooming my way through the endless stream of cyclists. I have done my share of large rides like Mt Mitchell and Bridge to Bridge, but this was nothing like them. There was no accordion affect and most every rider rode with experience and skill. The sun was popping up over the top of the mountains creating a dramatic scene as I looked ahead through the sea of racers all dressed in blue and white.

We had police escorts and owned the road. There was no concern for cars or which way to turn, because our peleton was being led by official motorcycles. No matter how far I moved up, there was always an eternal line of bikes before me. Small groups of bystanders cheered us on from the side of the road. That settles it, we are definitely in a Pro Race.

I heard a familiar “cough” behind me. Oh good, it must be Raja, and indeed it was. We continued to play our game of move up through the masses. From positions 1,999 and 1,998, we must be up to 999 and 998 by now.

“Hey ya’ll,” a perky Southern voice came from behind. It was Frau Buggy and Herr Gustav.

Funny how it worked out with everyone falling in pace together. We rode together while Becky and I took photos on the fly. That always got a rise out of the surrounding cyclists, but I never knew what the response was exactly. Hopefully they weren’t saying, “put that stupid camera up you American and hold your line. This isn’t a Tour, it’s a race. Act like a Euro Pro.”

The winding road ahead revealed an upcoming gallery, or tunnel. We all said the same thing to each other, “Chris said something about a gallery at the riders meeting last night, but what did he say about it?” We laughed amongst ourselves at our lack of memory retention from the course review. Obviously none of us took notes, but we would be finding out soon enough what thing of note was to greet us after passing through the gallery.

The climb! That’s what Chris said would follow the tunnel. Oh yes, a long long climb. And I do remember he said it got steep somewhere. But where? Guess I will find that part out later as well.

The long line of cyclists stretched out before me as we began the laborious process of climbing some unnamed ascent. This would be a new challenge for me. Having no knowledge whatsoever of this climb, and no heart rate monitor to keep me abreast of my effort, I would have to play this game of poker with sheer luck. Normally I would ride conservatively and pick a moderate pace, but the power of the race number on my bike and my jersey was taking over my sense of self control and preservation. Picking off riders one by one, I set a pace a bit harder than usual while Jeff motored away without breaking a sweat.

This was fun and addictive. I felt like a real racer, so I might as well ride like one. Knowing full well that my heart rate was much higher than it should be, I continued to ride a couple clicks higher than I should. Trying to close a gap between the last group of guys to the next, I became aware of someone’s presence. It was Becky sliding up beside me. Feeling slightly deflated at the ease of her arrival, I heard her whisper something. “You’re towing a train of guys behind you,” she said as she steadily rode by me. Well, dang it. That’s just like me. Do all the work and let everyone else benefit while I wear myself out. I tried to focus on her pace and keep chase.

Becky has a distinctive riding style. She always appears to be grinding a gear that is just a bit too hard for her, and you think she’s going to crack at any moment. But she never does. She just methodically pedals away, turning over a gear just 1 or 2 teeth smaller than yours. Her upper body never shows signs of labor, and does not look as though she’s trying to drop you. No heavy dramatic breathing belts out from her lungs, but she will slowly pull away from you forcing you to kick it up a notch in order to stay on her wheel.

Always just a bike length ahead of me, I tried to keep our strides equal in order to stay with her. I was not competing with her per se, but rather wanted to join forces to display our domination in this sea of males, Euro males.

The pitch in the road got steeper as the road turned into a serpentine of switchbacks. The long line of riders could still be seen no matter how far up the course I looked. I am used to riders dropping off on a climb and little clumps and gaps forming. But no gaps were to be had on this climb, just a long uninterrupted string of Euro racers all dressed in blue and white. Is this for real? Am I in a dream?

How long could I keep up this effort, I wondered? Surely I will pay for it later and will have completely spent my wad. Oh heck, I did not care and continued to push as hard as I could without going 100%. Hold it back at least to 95% and maybe you can make it last. How long is this course? I had heard 125km, but in my anaerobic state could not do the math to figure out what in the world that meant. How many hours would it take? We had not gotten that vital information at the rider’s meeting last night. Talk about being unprepared, I was giving new meaning to the phrase, “jumping off the deep end.”

There was a sign on the side of the road of endless switchbacks. Feed zone 1km ahead. I know 1 km is less than 1 mile, and a ray of hope surged fresh energy through my veins. As we crested the top, I saw Jeff sitting on the side waiting for us. “Should we wait for Raja,” Becky asked? “He’ll just catch us on the downhill.”

“You’re exactly right,” I replied, “we should keep going.” I rolled past them through the thick sea of cyclists standing in the road, thinking that they were following right behind me. Getting to the other side of the mess of riders regrouping, I found myself alone with no Becky or Jeff in sight. Stretching for a few minutes, waiting from them to pop out from the mass of people, I decided this was futile. Why am I waiting? This is silly. I’m going on ahead. They will figure out that I went on without them. This is a race!

Chris had told us of some tricky spots on this descent, and I was impressed with how many marshals dotted the road to give us a heads up and monitor the dangerous spots. Ends of railings were wrapped in thick cushion for those unlucky enough to come into the turn with too much speed. Safety was #1 priority here.

The road was tight and the turns were tighter, but I was in a groove and had my descending skills in full force. Riding aggressively, I passed any rider not going fast enough and picked my way up to the savvy descenders to feed off their energy. Uh oh, there was a cyclist on the side of the road. Further down, there was an ambulance on the side gathering up another unfortunate rider. Yikes. I tried hard not to let this distract me. I saw another cyclist on the side, but I think he was fixing a flat.

This descent would have tried the best of riders in Georgia, but I was a Euro racer today and had to ride as such. My neck was tiring from being in the drops, yet this was the safer position in which to be so I could not waver. Finally we reached the valley, and I had a small pack of riders to chase.

As we flew through little villages, bystanders cheered us on with more, “Hopp, hopp, hopp!” The sound of an accordion rang through the air as we zoomed by a man playing for us on his balcony. The hairs on my neck stood on in end at the surreal setting. Surely I am still asleep and dreaming.

This was so exhilarating! I could not believe I was riding as hard as I was in a totally foreign place with completely unfamiliar people. Having hitched onto the back of a reasonable size pack, I could not have communicated with them even if I had wanted to do so. If we did a paceline, I would not be able to pull my “back door” trick. How do you say “open” or “clear” in French? This was going to be interesting.

Things became a blur as we zipped along. Any town or turn we came to was staffed by a course marshal and we would fly through with wild abandon. There was no slowing down to discuss which way to go. There was a girl that had joined our group, and this irritated me. But then I noticed her number plate was green, which meant she was doing the 85km option. I did not have to be concerned with her after all.

Sure enough, we came swooping down a hill where signs marked the turn off points for the 85k and the 125k. My option was turning left, and half our group peeled off to the right. I caught up to a small group of riders, and some more cyclists quickly joined us from behind. One rider in particular had a terribly aggressive style about her. I could tell this female was not one to be tangled with, and she could have me for lunch if she wanted too. She was #1886, out of uniform in a pink jersey, riding like a mad demon. I quivered in my Shimanos.

We formed a paceline. I wanted to cry, but didn’t have the time to muster up the tears. Making note of the pace, I would hold the speed and do an obligatory 1-2 minute pull. No words were spoken and we clipped away as if we had been practicing all season. My turn came and went and no one yelled at me. Shew, I must have done it right.

With my turn over, I pulled off to the left and stayed as close to the line of cyclists as I could while slipping back to take my position on the back of the train. Signs for the town of Gstaad appeared. Beautiful Gstaad. The last time I was in Gstaad was January 1987, the coldest winter Switzerland had had in 30 years. Thick snow turns this lush greenscape into an enchanted winter wonderland, and the rich and famous fill the strasses and ski slopes. I did not recognize a thing this time through, but we passed by so quickly that it was impossible to make note of anything.

The next climb came quickly, or maybe it was because I was so intensely concentrating on the task at hand. #1886 wasted no time in splitting our pack apart as she set a blistering but steady pace. Having summed her up quickly, I did not waste any effort trying to stay hooked to her train. She was a monster, and I was a pawn in her game. Bye bye #1886. See you in another lifetime.

I climbed in a small little pack of 3 guys, each lost in our own little world. Either my pace was steady, or theirs slacked off, because I began to pull away. Making my way up to another cluster of guys, I was still climbing strong. Rather shocked that my legs had some power left, the top of the ascent came quickly. There was a large balloon arch with a sign in French before it. Best I could tell, the sign said that it was mandatory for me to pass through the arch to the feed station on the side. I quickly deduced that the transponder would register as a time split to make sure I was on course. Hearing the “beep” as I passed through, I breathed a sigh of relief. Wow, a timing system that actually worked. After all, this is Switzerland.

The rest stop was manned with busy little workers behind counters opening bottled water for us and restocking boxes of sundry food items.

Little packets of Gruyere cheese beckoned me more for their novelty than for consumption. I grabbed a cut up banana and choked it down while refilling my bottles quickly. Snagging a few pictures of the stop in the stunning setting of a mountain top, I jumped back on the bike to catch up with a group of guys just riding off.

We began yet another long downhill with fabulous views. Trying to jerk the camera out from my jersey pocket while in flight, I realized how incredibly dangerous picture taking would be on this descent. The memories would have to be captured in my mind.

Down in the valley, I found myself in a small pack of guys once again. We rode along in silence with amazingly steady consistent speed picking up one or two more guys here and there. The pack grew in size enabling me to quietly hide in their midst. Still feeling good and strong, I wondered what the next climb had in store. What had Chris said about this one at our rider’s meeting?

Our pack took a right turn where the course policeman was standing stopping traffic for us. It looked suspiciously like the start of a climb to me. There was a sign that appeared to be announcing the ascent with something about 6%. Yes, this must be it. I remembered now that Chris had said it was a tame grade.

Staying with the bulk of the pack as we began climbing, a few guys rode off the front. Almost falling off my bike from trying to take in the scenery, I could not help from turning my head over my right shoulder to enjoy the view below as the switchbacks quickly raised us high above the valley floor.

Slowly, but surely, I dropped the pack and made my way up to stragglers ahead. Knowing this was the last climb, I was not afraid to put some effort into it. I caught up to a group of 4 riders that appeared to be friends, and they were riding strong. They would be the perfect train for me to hook up with and finish the climb. Slightly amused with a female, they smiled at me and allowed me to play their game. The switchbacks gave way to long straight stretches of road with beautiful views. I wondered how I would ever be able to do a road ride in Paulding County, Georgia again.

Still not knowing how long this “race” was going to take me, I had looked at my time at one point earlier in the day. Facts are blurry now, but I think it was around 40 miles and almost 3 hrs had passed. My heart sank as I surmised that this was probably going to be a 6 hr day. I told myself that it is what it is, and I will do what it takes. This was my first Euro race, so I better give it my best shot! It is not every day a Southern Peach gets to ride with the best of the Swiss cheese.

I survived the ascent with my small pack, and the descent began. Like a snowball growing in size as it rolls down the hill, we picked up riders on our way down. Some were able to keep pace while others would quickly drift to the back getting dropped on a tight turn. Impressing even myself, I hung onto the tail end of the group while trying to keep my mouth closed as I gaped at the scenery. Emotions began to run high, as the effect of 4 hours of adrenaline pulsing through my veins took affect. I felt invincible as we ripped and roared our way down the pass towards the valley floor. All I could think was, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. This is the coolest ride I’ve ever done!”

Slowly I realized we were riding along the valley floor. Wow, we must be closer to the end than I thought. Chris told us yesterday that this was the crucial bit where you must be in a pack, otherwise, you will be working yourself hard all alone. “Well done little racer,” I told myself. I had a pack of 12 riders that were good and strong. My only challenge was how to avoid having to take a pull. I could not remember how many zillion miles this stretch would be, and wanted to conserve every ounce of energy. Besides, these guys did not look like the kind I wanted to be messing with today.

Halfway down the previous descent, a guy and girl jumped onto the back of our pack out of nowhere. Surprised at the finesse of this slight little girl, #1601 Veronique Stern, I knew she would be another cyclist I would have to fend off.

Sure enough, she was still present and accounted for alongside her husband, Jacques, #1600, as we raced along the valley floor towards the finish. I loved having names on the race numbers. Being able to attach a name with a body added yet another exciting element to this Euro game. This would not be as affective in Georgia with names like Bubba, Earl, or Gethel. Jean-Francois was much more impressive and inspiring for today’s race.

Veronique and Jacques, like me, were spending their time hiding in the back. From what I could observe, Jacques was on the verge of cramping and was telling his wife something to that effect. After a while, I mustered up my guts and decided to offer him some of my electrolytes. Riding up beside Jacques with my pack in hand, I asked him in my best Italian if he wanted some “salt tablets”. Expecting him to shrug me off, he must have gotten my drift. I was stunned when he eagerly nodded his head responding in French, “oui, oui!”

It is amazing how quickly time passes when all your energies are consumed and senses engaged. Photo opportunities, assessing the riders, and focusing on the paceline kept me completely distracted from the ticking clock and passing kilometers. The lead guys were setting a brisk pace which added to the quickly passing miles. Our pack was big enough for me to pull my “back door” trick, and I was able to shirk my duties of taking a pull up front taking full advantage of the express train.

All of sudden, I was aware of a couple motorcycles riding oddly close to us. Why wouldn’t they just pass us instead of riding alongside? What are these vests they are wearing? Wait a minute! These must be our “lead” cycles that Chris told us about last night. This means we’re getting close to the finish line in Bulle! Looking at my computer, we were closing in on 5 hours.

One of the motorcycles took his place in the front of our pack, while the other roared off to an upcoming roundabout. He would then stop traffic in the roundabout, while the other motorcycle led us through. The motorcycle tag team brought us in the last few miles with precision. I felt so important and safe!

Enthralled with our motorcycle escorts, I almost lost focus of the dynamics of our little pack, which had now thinned out. The lead riders were forcing the pace and some of the cyclists were no longer interested in keeping chase. My senses were heightened as I realized this was the vital juncture of setting up for the final sprint. Never having actually competed in a road race of significance, I gathered notes in my head from races I have seen and accounts from my friend, Alexis.

Watching and waiting, I marked each rider and did not hesitate to jump in a gap. One second’s hesitation would mean getting derailed from the train. Where was my nemesis, Veronique? It did not matter. The pace was getting faster and faster, and the juice surging through my body was more than I needed. Feeling as fresh as the moment we started 75 miles ago, I stood up in my 53x13.

Coming through a roundabout with a fountain, I recognized this as the final stretch to the finish. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw Veronique coming up on my left. “Not today, honey, you ain’t taking me down.” I clicked down in the rear and gave it all I had pulling away from her. People were cheering on at the finish line and photographers were taking pictures. Hoping I was pulling this off and Veronique wasn’t going to magically shoot by, I carried it through with all my might. Whoohoo! I did it! I took that Swiss French girl and most of the guys! What a feeling!!!

As we rolled beyond the finish, there were officials up ahead. Motioning to dismount, we could see there was someone taking the transponders off the bikes before you could exit. As I swung my leg over the top tube, I turned around to see Veronique. With exuberant smiles, we acknowledged each other’s work for the day. We gave each other a universal high five. If I wasn’t so excited, I would have cried.

Hoards of cyclists were roaming about. We exited immediately at a water stand set up for the finishers to guzzle down a cold refreshing drink. The air was electric and conversations of jumbled languages could be heard among the clusters of people and hollered across the way. I heard my name, “Laurie!” It was Heather greeting me all perky and fresh. She had completed the 85 km and reported that Chris and Daniel had slaughtered the 125k course in 4 hrs. Impressive! Chris had ridden alongside Cancellara at one point during the ride, and they even beat his time, hehehe.

The 4 of us stood at the barriers at the Finish line waiting for the rest of our crew to come in while we talked with giddy excitement about our experiences. Whoohoo! Here’s Becky!

We watched for Raja and then Jeff! (who missed Raja at a rest stop & waited for a ghost)

Pictures were taken, water chugged, and home baked treats from Heather were stuffed in our mouths. The excitement in the air was far from dying down, and we stood around at the finish line laughing and taking pictures.

I ran inside the registration building to wash off the layer of salt encrusted on my face, and worked my way through a wall of people as an announcer spit out words in French like a machine gun. What is all this fuss about, I wondered? Are they giving out free gelato and chocolate? I found the focal point where everyone’s faces were turned. Someone of importance was behind the counter. Oh! It’s Fabian Cancellara, and he’s signing autographs.

I am not one for autographs or superstars, usually running the other way. But I was caught up in the moment and it seemed like the thing to do. Being little has it’s advantage, and I wormed my way quickly through the throng and thrust my shoulder in his face. Zip, zip, he was signing away on my jersey! Hehehehehe, the others will be so jealous when they find out. As if playing a child’s game, I raced outside to find my buddies.

“Look, look! Look what I got!” I exclaimed to the others. Wasting no time, we all rushed back inside. I looked beside me, and there was Daniel half naked with his jersey on the counter for Fabian to sign. This was better than going to Vegas. I stuck my other shoulder in Fabian’s face. If one signature is good, then two would be better. How about matching shoulder autographs! Bursting back out the doors laughing, we all posed for the camera showing off our signed jerseys.

What an incredible day! I went into it with no real expectations at all other than it would be a nice long ride through some pretty scenery. Instead I came out with more memories than money can buy or my imagination could ever concoct. My first “racing with the Euro Pros” experience was more fun that I dreamed possible. Perhaps I should consider leaving the States and going Pro. The hardest part will be coming up with a good name.

Introducing Euro Pros, Signore Raja and La Ciocolatta Ragazza, ready to race for all the chocolate in Europe!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Back in the USA

All good camps must come to an end, and ours has finally come to a close.
We're back on Southern Georgia soil with bleary eyes and fuzzy minds. But the thrill and excitement of our most wonderful and epic adventure is still fresh and pulsing through our veins. In fact, that adrenaline is what will keep us going as we re-enter the real world.

Ah, memories of our big graduation and badge ceremony! We did it, Raja! We earned our coveted Hillseeker badges, and have moved up to the next level.

It seems like it was just yesterday that we landed and our feet hit the ground running.

Ten days later we completed 7 rides accumulating 354 miles, 40,000' of climbing, and 29.25 hrs riding.

We're definitely going to miss the amazing scenery, epic climbs, and most of all our wonderful friends, Buggy & Gustav. But I will find consolation in sorting through the 3,000+ photos and trying to get some web albums posted on my blog.

I hope you have been inspired to do some Hillseeking of your own as you've followed along our journey. Thanks for sharing in the memories. Now, go find your mountain and start climbing!!!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Last Day of Camp

Wow! It has been quite the time at Camp Hillseeker!!!!

This isn't even the final tally! We had one more day left.

It's midnight and we head to the airport in just 6 hrs, so I better finish packing and get a few hrs of sleep. Here's a few pics.

Today was the last day, so we had to get in one last ride.
Absolutely perfect day!

Starting from home base, we did the local "gaps". It was an easy day of 34 miles, 3,400' climbing, and 2 hrs 45 min. That's nuthin'!

As always, we saw plenty of other hillseekers out today.

Frau Buggy found every hill she could for us to climb. This one was 17%. Ouch.

You have to smile when you climb at Camp Hillseeker!

Cool, check out the giant skateboard that the giant marshmallows were trying to ride before they fell off!

What you lookin' at?

If we passed one neatly stacked pile of wood, we passed a million.

Nice views of Lake Zurich.

All climbs come with a nice descent!

Um, Frau Buggy, can we skip this climb today?

It was a spectacular day today with clear blue skies. What a great day for a ride. Beats sitting inside at an office working.

We did it! We survived our last ride!

I love ending our local rides coming down this hill to their house.

A little insert here from yesterday; you gotta love coming into a rest stop like this one on our drive back from Italy.

We had to peel Raja and Gustav away so we could carry on with the journey.

For those that are following along, I have been diligent to stick to my push ups routine. Today was brutal. I had to do 126 total, and it wasn't pretty, well, at least the view I had was pretty.

And today is Raja's birthday! Just as we did last year, we celebrated with Jeff and Becky. This is turning out to be a great tradition! Happy Birthday, Raja!

Thanks for coming along the journey.

We send out get well wishes to Racey Tracey for a quick recovery. We're thinking of you and can't wait to get back home to check in on you. Hugs and kisses.

So long from beautiful Switzerland. Until next time, so long Alpine Glow.