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Ride report: Hills, dogs and rain

It was a day for adventure. At least that's the tactic for framing a challenging day that seems to produce the best results.

The combination of distance and climbing would be a challenge -- around 54 miles with about 3,500 feet of climbing around the Southern Tier. The weather could be challenging, too, as the forecast called for about a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms.

But, it would be an adventure, right?

In more ways than one.

The group bike ride of the Niagara Frontier Bicycle Club was unfortunately not well attended. This, from experience, is unusual. There were four of us and the ride leader was on a tandem bike so my friend and I were on our own with cue sheets, hydration and nutrition for the long ride.

And the adventure began immediately.

To paraphrase a line from Ghostbusters, where does this hill go? It goes up.

And up and up and up.

The accompanying photo is the very beginning of the ride. Forget a chance to warmup. On the bike and on to a 500 foot climb followed by a series of similar climbs.P8230063

Ah, but the plan worked well. Easy gear. Spin up the hill. Take your time. It's was a day planned for bike riding, a day planned for training. There was no hurry.

A difficult way to start the journey, for sure, but it instilled a sense of accomplishment and confidence at the top.

Not a bad way to cruise along some rolling hills toward Franklinville, the first scheduled store stop about 20 miles into the ride to replenish water.

And while some of the hills were obviously steep and difficult, others were rather deceptive, including a gradual climb with a incline at the end that was much more challenging than it looked upon approach.

"That last hill," our ride leader said at the store stop, "it didn't look like much but boy it hurt."

It is always somewhat comforting to know you are not the only one suffering through optical deception.

The ride continued and the route reached another challenging portion, beginning with a very short, very steep climb. The thought process was simple -- deep breath, relax, gear down, pedal in complete circles. At one point it became a great opportunity to practice "cutting the road" -- basically zig-zagging across the steep part to cut the incline a bit. For some reason, this seemed liked a good thing to do out of the saddle. The thought of having to walk the bike came through loud and clear but was quickly followed by its antonym "you can do this."

Once over the steepest grade, self-congratulations was put on hold as the road continued to climb. Another crest, another turn and another climb.

It seemed endless.

But one pedal stroke at a time kept the bike moving forward. It wasn't quite the high cadence that Chris Carmichael suggests, but that was the goal -- easy gear, keep turning the pedals, keep making complete circles.

And the climb was done. Slowly, yes, but consistently.

And the feeling was good.

Reliving and comparing notes about the climb as the route turned to gentle downhills came the next opportunity for adventure/challenge.

Charging dogs.

Two of them came out and rushed the bikes.

And one of them grabbed my left calf with his mouth.

We kept pedaling (and I'm pretty sure I let out some rather unproductive, but completely reactionary, screams) and got past the dogs.

However, I was bit. Not badly, but the skin was broken.

Pulling off to the side of the road, my friend had a small first-aid kit with him to clean up the bite. He went back to the owner and exchanged information. She was very apologetic and helpful.

Looking for an experience? First time bit by a dog.

There still was half the ride to finish. And while the calf was a bit sore, it didn't hurt. The antiseptic cleaned out the small amount of blood and the ride soldiered on.

The route flattened out as it stretch to Great Valley and Humphrey allowing for a nice break from the hills and a chance to gain a bit of speed.

Ellicottville offered the final store stop and a quick bathroom break before finishing off the final 13 miles of the ride.

Which is when the rain came.

The rain provides its own set of challenges. Climbing is more difficult because of the wet roads. Descending is scarier because of the wet roads and wet brakes. Seeing the road becomes difficult because sunglasses get sprayed with water, however taking them off poses the challenge of flying dust and gravel in your eyes.

And then there's just the fact of being wet and cold.

The pace slowed down over those last few miles as safety was obviously of more importance than heart rate zones or average speed.

Just when there are only a few miles left in the ride, the route takes its final climb on Snake Run Road -- long and painful.

In a way, it was perfect training both physically and mentally for the 70.3 race in Muskoka. That bike course, it's been reported, has its toughest hills in the last five miles. No time to shut the mind down and coast in to the transition area. You have to work the entire time. This was excellent preparation for a similar scenario.

Pretty it wasn't, but it certainly was entertaining. 

Because rides like this aren't just about the physical aspect of duration and elevation, although that plays a huge part in it.

Rides like this are about the adventure, about the challenge. It's about surviving charging dogs and rain. It's about sharing the moment with a dear, sweat friend and making a few new ones along the way.

It's about realizing that no matter what the universe may throw at you, you indeed are stronger than you believe.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz.

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