Harpeth River Ride: back from the “dark place”

I learned a lesson on Saturday; several of them. The first is that you simply can not “fake” your way through a century ride and not pay for it dearly. That was my plan heading into the 12th annual Harpeth River Ride. My long ride beforehand was just 50 miles. My thinking was that I had ridden 106 miles through the North Carolina mountains last November having only ridden 70 miles in preparation. Of course, I had also done several 50 plus mile rides in addition to that. My training for Harpeth consisted of a few 35 mile rides with that single 50 miler. I could ride 100 through the hills of middle Tennessee after having ridden 106 through the mountains. Right? Wrong. I underestimated the course and worst of all … my conditioning.

David Boatman arrived on Friday afternoon from Charlotte,NC to ride with us. Big Wave Dave brought a $50 bottle of bourbon and $40 worth of good beer with him too. David and Daniel Tardy spent the night at my house in Spring Hill since I live only a few miles from the ride starting point. We grilled out on Friday and drank…and drank…and drank…and threw horseshoes. It was a blast. Tardy mentioned more than once that it might be fun just to skip the ride altogether and continue enjoying the night before festivities.

We awoke Saturday morning at 6:00 am and loaded up the cars. Marshall Walker arrive right on time at 6:45. We drove to Thompson Station church where the ride began at 7:30. As usual, there were a handful of crashes right out of the gate. It always happens when you have 1000 bicycles all packed onto a narrow roads. 20 minutes into the ride the 22/42 mile riders split off form those of us who were going 62/100 miles. That opened the roads up considerably. Daniel and David took off at some point and Marshall and I stayed back knowing that we’d see them on the climb into Theta in just a few miles anyway.

Once we hit the bottom of the B. Dobson road climb you could see the carnage of hurting cyclists all over the hill. I got a kick out of it, since that particular hill is one of my regular roads when training for climbing. I passed a ton of people on that short hill and came alongside Tardy about half way up as expected. Marshall fell off of my pace a bit, but passed most of the people on the hill himself. Boatman was on ahead. The first rest stop was atop the climb in Theta. They had tons of food. They had a new treat I’d never had before – cooked new potatoes with a salt. Perfect!

We descened the dangerous descent on Snow Creek out of Theta and turned off towards Leipers Fork. Most of this riding was easy with the exception of one easy, but very long climb on Leipers Creek. Our reward was a “Margartitaville” rest stop once we arrive in Leipers Fork. I enjoyed a virgin margarita along with more food. Marshall warned us that there was a big climb only a few miles ahead as we headed north.

The 4 of us all hit that climb together. Tardy took the jump off the front, but it was short lived. I climbed past everyone on the hill and was soon joined by David. He had gotten hung up behind some slower climbers down the hill otherwise he would have led the way to the top of the climb. He did The Assault on Mt. Mitchell just two weeks ago, so he brought his climbing legs with him. He dropped me on the climbs the rest of the day.

Shortly after this climb we stopped to say farewell to Tardy who was splitting off on the 62 mile route. The remaining 3 of us made the fateful decision to hang a left and continue on with the 100 mile route despite a word of warning from a couple of guys in Pabst Blue Ribbon jerseys.

It was sometime shortly after making the split that I found myself in “the dark place” where endurance atheletes never want to go, but all to often do anyway. Cramps were setting in on hamstrings, I couldn’t satiate my hunger, my head was beginning to ache, my voice was getting hoarse. I’m not sure I could have told you my name. That’s the “dark place” when  you want to give up. Unfortunately, the climbing didn’t relent. I hadn’t considered that we would climb into Fernvale and Fairview on the route. The surroundings were beautiful – we didn’t pass through a single town or city street. It’s amazing the countryside that rests so close to the large towns of Franklin and Brentwood. As we came through Fernvale Marshall pointed out the destruction of a tornado that passed through in the spring. It was a perfect back drop for how I was feeling, and how Marshall was feeling as well. I broke down and asked David for some enduralites. These are pills that replenish your sodium. I had only taken these once before and that experience ended in severe stomach cramping. I was desperate though because I knew the hamstring and now quad issues were going to only get worse. I couldn’t get enough fluid in me, so I took the chance with the pills. 20 minutes later the cramps were gone and my stomach had weathered the storm as well. I wasn’t feeling great still – or even good – but I had survived “the dark place”.

We climbed another long hill that seemed to last for a couple of miles at least. I had my jersey completely unzipped and wide open. I was laboring up the climb. It was humbling for me, as climbing is sort of my specialty on the bike. If I were talented enough to be a tour rider I’d be considered a “climbing specialist” meaning I’d win a stage or two in the mountains, but eventually finish somewhere in the middle of the pack when all was said and done due to my inability to time trial and descend.

At a “60’s” themed rest stop Marshall started talking about dropping out. We were only a few miles from his house at this point. I did my best to talk him out of it and even blocked his way when we passed roads that went towards his house. We were finishing this thing together. I advised David to ride on without us and let us limp to the finish. To his credit, he continued to wait on us.

Up ahead lay the final big climb up Stillhouse Hollow Rd. David rode ahead while Marshall and I drafted together just to get to the bottom of it. The climb wasn’t that painful as I think I was numb at that point. I do know it was a big climb though because I passed several guys who seemed to be standing still or mere seconds from just falling over on their bikes. Finally at the top we were treated to another rest stop. More taters and gatorade!

With just 25 miles to go David encouraged Marshall and I to catch a second wind. Amazingly enough, we did although we both knew it wouldn’t last. We rode strong over a handful of additional climbs until we found ourselves only 12 miles from the finish. We were on the outskirts of the “dark place” again. I told David to stretch his legs and finish strong. Marshall and I would make it on our own terms. We rode slowly and completely isolated from any other riders at this point. Those 12 miles felt like 50, but we eventually found ourselves at the finish line.

All in all it was a great day. I think it was harder for me than The Nantahala Nightmare because I didn’t prepare for it properly. The course is far from easy as I had hoped it would be. If you ride Harpeth be prepared to climb more than you’re expecting to. There was ample SAG support. Actual ride time was right around 6:00 hours / clock time around 7:00 hours.

I’ll be back next year. Next up…6 Gap Century in the north Georgia mountains on September 28th.


4 responses to “Harpeth River Ride: back from the “dark place”

  1. and i thought i had a rough Saturday b/c i had to clean and paint a condo! congrats on having the tenacity to finish…hope you’re able to walk today at work!

  2. It was a blast to come to Nashville and do this ride with my friends! The beer and shoes we very relaxing, and Chad and Karen are consummate hosts!! I felt like I was at home. Thank you for the fun, food and beer….oh yeah and for the beautiful ride! Thanks to Chad, Marshall, and Daniel for the great time and friendship. See you all in Georgia for the 6-Gap ride.

  3. You’re such a great descriptive writer! I truly felt like I could picture every mile along with you! Sounds like a great ride and I know you were a pacesetter! Congrats!

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