Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Racing the Coyote

I've written a lot about how I try to constantly push myself in my endurance sports.  I try to swim faster, bike for longer, and run harder than before in everything I do.

Every now and again it's important to slow down and enjoy the ride for its own sake, not always using it to push your physical limits.  It helps me to rediscover why I started riding in the first place.

Tuesday morning, my brigade commander (my boss's boss) hosted the first Bikin' with the Brigade Commander ride around Fort Bliss, TX.  He recently got into cycling and is starting a cycling group inside the brigade to train together.

The plan was to meet at 6 am and go for a relatively relaxed group ride together around the post.

I took off early, about 5:15 am, to go for a quick warm up on my own.  It was wonderful out, not too much wind, the sun just trying to peek from below the horizon.  I was pretty much on my own for the ~10 miles I rode around post.

I took a detour along a road I haven't ridden in over a year.  It's only a few miles along, but takes any rider far away from any traffic and into the edge of the desert.  Along the way, I watched as a lone coyote loped easily along side the road, keeping pace with me.  He wasn't running away, but glanced my way and kept a pace just close enough that it felt like we were racing each other down the lonely road.

I met the group a few minutes later, out of breath but relaxed; my muscles warmed up and ready to take off.
Ridin' with the Brigade Commander, ready to go!
We stayed in a close group, with a slow pace that would normally drive me insane.  But today, it was relaxing and left me able to socialize with the other riders as we rolled down the road.

After the intensity of the Death Ride Tour, it was nice to be able to carry on conversations without the overwhelming pressure of the long rides and intense pace.

And still I was looking for the pain, for the challenge.

At one point I suggested to a couple of the other riders that we could take off and ride a certain segment of the route fast, wait for everyone else to catch up at a point down the road.  They had to remind me that we weren't out to ride like that, we were on a cohesion ride, to slow down and enjoy it.  I can't believe I was the one suggesting we take off and push the pace.  But that's what I had to overcome, and I needed the other riders (thanks Joe and Jason) to remind me that it was ok to have fun.
Jason and Jason riding together.
And we did have fun, and there were sprints; fun spontaneous races inside the ride.

Charla started the first one.

We hit a mile long straightaway, cruising along without a concern, when, out of nowhere, Charla comes flying past me at a dead sprint.  Of course, I chased.

Then, we hit a favorite bridge/overpass that's always good for a sprint, and the front riders took off, pushing each other to climb over the top.

The last bridge, someone (way to go Jason) took off way too early, and we tore off after him for a mad dash over the top.

It was a great ride.  We rode casually, relaxed, and spontaneously burst into mad sprints as we felt the need.  I could finally enjoy the ride for the sake of the ride, not worrying about time or pace or place.

As much as I want to always push myself and seek out the limits of my own body's potential, sometimes it's ok to race the coyotes.

 Just make sure no one has a camera handy when you fall over while standing perfectly still after the ride.  Lying underneath your bike is just not cool at all.


I'm an aquathlete!

Everyone knows that I'm not a strong swimmer.  I have struggled so much in the last year to improve my dismal performance in the triathlon last year.  This time a year ago, I couldn't even finish a 400m swim without stopping to breathe or switching to a sidestroke.

The decision to participate in the Fort Bliss Team Aquathlon was easy, but that was when I was pretty sure that I could find someone else to do the swim portion.

What's an aquathlon?  It's just like a duathlon, but with the bike portion replaced by a swim event.

What's a duathlon?  It's a relay or individual event consisting of a run event, bike event, and concluding with a final run event.

Any other questions?

Turns out, that even as bad as I am, I was the best choice for the swimmer on our team.  Great.  Really.

So, not even a full week after I finished the Death Ride Tour, I'm in the pool prepping for 400m of pure suffering.
Here's a sight that used to terrify me.
My first couple training sessions had me exhausted and not feeling at all confident about being able to complete all 400m without stopping for breaks.  It had been almost a month since I was in the pool and I wasn't sure if I could regain the confidence and ability I'd developed over the last six months in such a short amount of time.  At first I could only swim a single strong lap before heaving and choking along the side of the pool with a death grip on the edge.

Not a good sign at all.

My final training session in the pool changed all that.  I jumped in, started my stopwatch and took off for a warm up lap.  I was finally feeling very relaxed and took my time.  At the end, I checked my watch, 2:45, and realized that I was feeling quite strong.  I made the decision to keep going and see if I couldn't go ahead and finish up a 400m right then.  I ended up with a 12:26, a decent time for me, and knocked out a few more laps to round out a 1000m workout.

The morning of the Aquathlon arrived and I did my best to stay calm.
Warming up before the safety brief.
I waited near the transition area, watching for a sign of the lead runner coming in.  Our lead runner was admittedly out of shape and very slow, so there was no pressure to win anything or place anywhere near the top.  We were just competing against ourselves and to show our unit pride.  After 29 minutes he came stumbling into the transition area trying to unpin his bib.  We slapped hands and I trotted into the pool to begin.
Here comes the lead runner for our team.

Tagged, now time to swim.
I had expected the rush of cool water to cause me to seize up and panic.  Instead, I slid into the water, kicked off the wall and immediately relaxed into a steady stroke.

That is, until I swam headlong into someone going the wrong way.  I pushed around her, coughed a little, then kept on.

And swam into another person going the wrong way.

Ok, so you're supposed to swim in a serpentine pattern.  You swim to the end of the 50 meter lane, duck under the lane line, and come back down the opposite direction.  Do this eight times and you've swam 400 meters.

Halfway through my second length I ran into another swimmer going the wrong direction.  Now I was fighting mad, ready to pop the next one in the face, until I heard the lifeguard blowing on a whistle.  Someone was finally paying attention and getting these dangerous and incompetent knuckleheads moving in the right direction.

As I finished the second length, one race coordinator even tried to stop me to explain how to swim in the right direction, even though I was obviously not the one swimming badly.

I continued on, after a slow restart, and although I continued to get more tired and out of breath as I swam, I was able to keep plodding along.  I even passed another swimmer!  (this one was swimming in the right direction, just slowly)

Last fall, in the Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon, I had trouble passing anyone slower than myself.  I couldn't maintain a steady freestyle stroke and had to switch to a sidestroke which was slower and more awkward when negotiating around other swimmers.
Slowly gaining, very slowly.
This time, when my hands brushed against feet, I just swam off to the left and kept my steady pace.
Past the halfway point.
When I hit the turn of the final lap, I was ready to start celebrating and almost did a quick fist pump before kicking off the wall to sprint (sort of) to the finish.  I could hear people screaming and was sure some of it was for me.
Just the final stretch to go.
When I hit the finish and climbed onto the steps to clap hands with the anchor runner, I can honestly say I had given it all I had.  My head was throbbing, I was dizzy, my chest heaving.  Much more and I would have been vomiting into the pool.

Just tagged the anchor runner, and trying not to throw up.
 Our team finished somewhere in the bottom half of all teams that day.  Together, we clocked in at 1:00:44.  Most importantly, we each faced a challenge that day to overcome and did our best to push ourselves past our limits.
The Cobra Strike Aquathlon Team
And that's what it's all really about anyways.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Just A Little Road Rash

A little while back I started taking more notice of a couple local bicycling clubs and found one that really interested me.  The Team Army Fort Bliss club does quite a few weekend rides on the local post, where Char and I live.  I've been wanting to do more group rides, and get Char into them as well, but they mostly start way over on the west side of El Paso, and I don't always feel like driving so far just to ride my bike.

I've also been wanting to get Char into a group ride somewhere.  She's never ridden in a peloton or paceline before and it's a whole different experience.  I needed a group that she could try out and where I could help her out if needed.  She's not very fast yet, and get's very nervous when she's too close to other bikes.

Sunday, I grabbed Char and dragged her to our first ride with the Team Army guys.  They had promised a decent pace, about 16-18mph, and all on post so we were already comfortable with the neighborhood we'd be riding in.  I had hoped for a more divers crowd, there were no female riders this time, but they were all friendly and open to letting a couple newbies join their group.  They were very patient and accepting of Char's skill level.

We took off, and I was impressed with how Char kept up with our pace for most of the first 15 miles.  Once or twice she needed a push to catch up to the group (an actual push from a really strong rider, also named Jason) but otherwise she held her own.

We ran into a decent headwind after about 15 miles, and I stayed back with her to help her draft when possible.  It also didn't help that we had also ridden the day before so her legs were already pretty much toast.

Only one hiccup during the ride.

About two miles from the finish we pulled up to a stop sign.  The lead rider had come back to make sure we didn't take a wrong turn.  There were no cars coming at all in any direction and we were ready to slowly roll through the intersection (Sunday morning, no traffic to be seen anywhere).  The other rider and I saw the police car at the same time and immediately stopped at the stop sign.  Char was a little slower, hit her brakes, slipped while unclipping from her pedals, and went straight to the ground.  All I heard was her shouting "J" before I turned to see her underneath her bike.

So, brand new bike on it's second maiden voyage and Char's lying underneath it swearing.

Char was fine apart from a little road rash on her knee.  Luckily the bike (brand new carbon rig) got a little scratch on the brake/shifter handle and that was all.
A few hours later and you can't hardly see the road rash.
Nothing that a little white enamel paint can't take care of.
She picked herself up and we rode straight to Starbuck's without any more surprises.
Team ArmyFort Bliss at Starbuck's for a well deserved coffee break.
Overall, not a bad 25 mile ride at all.  Char got to try her first group ride, laid her bike down without too much pain or damage, and we both tried something new together.

Guess you gotta start somewhere.

Now we'll see how she's feeling by September for the Oryx Challenge.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What's Next?

So, the Death Ride Tour is over. Now what?

I thought I would feel empty after the Death Ride. I thought I would have to start looking for challenges right away, to find something to work towards. I expected to find something missing in my life after devoting so much time to one event.

After all, I do have my masochistic tendencies to satisfy.  Not to mention, an innate desire to drive my wife, Charla, completely insane with my constant self abuse through rigorous and slightly psychotic training.

Then I remembered, there are so many other things that I’d already planned on doing. Now, I just have the added confidence and experience of the Death Ride to add to them.

So, as early as this week, I have the Fort Bliss Team Aquathlon. It’s actually a duathlon (with a 5k run, 400m swim, and 5k run), but they give it a funky name to be different. It’s a team event, with three members, each completing a different event consecutively as a relay team. Since there were no real swimmers in my group I volunteered and am spending the rest of the week in the pool to get ready. And I am not a strong swimmer, so we’ll just have to see how this goes.

In July there’s the Fort Bliss Individual Aquathlon. That’ll be my preview for the sprint triathlon later on.  Plus, it’s a great way to torture myself in the pool and prove just how much I do not float.  (hint, I sink straight to the bottom when I stop kicking)

Next, the Oryx Challenge Bike Ride in September. I rode it the last two years with my cycling mentor, Alanna, and hope to really crush it this year. Not looking for an amazing time, but I want to feel stronger and less exhausted at the end of the ride.  It would also help if we could avoid the destructive headwind (in both directions) of two years ago.

Then there’s the Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon in late September. That was my first triathlon last fall. I felt pretty strong on both the bike and the run, but my swim was the third slowest time for everyone competing. It took me over 15 minutes to clear 400m and I was 222 out of 224 swimmers. Yeah, need to work on that.

Because I’m such a masochist, I also want to do the Chili Pepper Challenge this year. It’s the day after the triathlon. But I really want that jersey when I leave El Paso, and want to say I did the whole Challenge, all 100 miles of it.

Finally, for the fall at least, I want to ride the Tour de Tolerance with Char.  That was our first major ride together two years ago, and we’ve both come a long ways since then. 

Some of my biggest challenges will be less personal and more about sharing and patience. Charla has been running for a few years now, started cycling with me and will also be joining me for some of the events. But, my big task will be helping her prepare for her first marathon.

Yeah, you heard that one right. Char is going to run a marathon.  (that’s 26.2 miles for the uninitiated, please stop asking)

She told me a while back that she wanted to do a marathon before the end of the year. We started looking around at different marathons with a list of criteria. Which would be the most fun and entertaining to make up for the suffering and pain of running 26.2 miles? It would have to have amazing scenery (sorry DukeCity/Albuquerque, I can only run along the ditch and interstate for so long). It would have to be reasonably accessible and occur within certain windows that coincided with my ability to take time off from work (sorry Marine CorpsMarathon, DC, I just can’t make it this year). It would also have to make for a great vacation, so we could also enjoy time before and after the marathon in the area.

We finally have tentatively settled on the Maui Oceanfront Marathon

Just imagine 26.2 solid miles of Hawaiian coastline while you run. And the time you spend before and after the race? Awesome.

There’s prime whale watching, trails to hike, beaches, snorkeling, various excursions in the water and the Haleakala Volcano to cycle up. Yeah, don’t think I won’t try it.

So, there you have it.  My summer pretty much tied up into one long session of pain and misery while I prepare myself and Charla for the fall.  I suppose that at least I won’t be bored.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Death Ride Tour Stage 3

Death Ride Tour V
Stage Three – Durango to Silverton (48 miles)

Today was the final day, the day we were to ride the IronHorse Bicycle Classic route in to Silverton.  Two incredible climbs to passes over the mountains followed by a 7-mile descent to town.

After almost 200 miles I was feeling much better than I had expected.  Sure, every muscle in my body was fatigued and sore, my legs were already rubbery and I had trouble walking out of the hotel room, I couldn’t laugh too loud for fear of a wracking cough I was getting, my ribs ached and were sore to touch, my Man-Bike-Interface was raw and I had some pretty good sunburns developing from the long miles in the sun. 

But really, I felt just fine and ready for the final ride of the Death Ride Tour.
Getting warmed up and settled in before the start.
Everything started outside the historic Strater Hotel in downtown Durango.  We waited for the first train of the day to roll by before taking off through town.  Our route would take us along highway 250 to Bakers Bridge (same ride Char and I had done the previous week).  From there we’d jump on highway 550 for a solid 20 mile climb to Coal Bank Pass.
Here comes the first Durango to Silverton train of the day.

The passing of the train.

Time to go.

I thought I should take it easy and took off with a slower group of riders today.  Big mistake.  They were just too slow for me and I spent the 16 mile ride to Bakers Bridge hopping from one group to another, before finally pulling a small group the last 3 miles in to the bridge.  I wasn’t even breaking a sweat and felt really confident about the upcoming climb.

After a decent break to load up on water, Gatorade and snacks, I tried jumping in with a more serious group as they left the bridge.  Soon they all fell apart and I was left climbing alone.  This was becoming very familiar territory.

Apparently, everyone else was just as fatigued as me, as all I did for the next 20 miles was leave a trail of broken hearts and tears as I slowly pulled in one rider after another.  I know it wasn’t a race, and most of the really good riders had taken off with faster groups right from the start, but it still felt great.
Another group falling off behind me.
 The climb up to Coal Bank Pass was just as intense as I’d thought it would be.  I passed two riders, both of which had passed me earlier while they were trying to speed down some light descents, that were trying to figure out just how far it was to the top.
Not exactly smiling right now.
 I began to experience a sensation that had become familiar over that previous two days.  I thought I would be more afraid of climbing so far, or facing such steep grades and worried that the pain and fatigue in my legs and lungs would overwhelm me and cause me to fail.  I had planned for and expected to face those moments of doubt when you’re just not sure you can make it or keep going.  But something else happens in those moments.  Just when you should be afraid of failure, of feeling like you can’t quite keep going, instead, there is a moment when a door opens inside your mind.  Through that door is another world, another paradigm of thinking.  It’s a world of pain and suffering unlike and quite beyond what you are currently used to feeling.  And in that moment there is a choice, to go through the door, to step into a world of intensified agony and keep climbing, or to shy away and falter just long enough to fail.  There is no fear, only a choice between agony and relief.

It’s the moment when you learn that your body is capable of taking more than you ever thought possible of dishing out upon it.

Char calls me a masochist.  Oh well.
Totally faking that smile.
Rolling in to the water point.
I topped out at Coal Bank Pass with Charla waiting for me.  The view was nice, but the real joy was in knowing that the hardest and longest climb of the whole Death Ride was behind me.
Peanut butter on oatmeal cookies?  Don't mind if I do.  Watermelon slices, too?  Why not?
I wolfed down some more carbs, reloaded my fluids and booked for the short descent and climb up to Molas Pass.  Charla actually followed me in the Jeep for part of the descent, watching as I got stuck behind a slow moving RV that waited until almost at the bottom of the valley before pulling over and letting me blow past.
Description of the San Juan Skyway, of which we were almost finished biking the entirety.
The climb up to Molas was challenging, but less emotional.  The views at the top breath-taking.  Most of the riders rode right past the water point, but I felt the need to stop and appreciate both the scenery and the fact that all my climbing was done.
View from Molas Pass.
Gorgeous weather for a nice ride through the mountains.
The ride down into Silverton was a welcome reward for all my efforts over the previous three days.  
Yes, I actually stopped and took this photo with my phone before continuing into town.
My Strava App may not have recorded the final few miles of the descent, but I will never forget flying downhill into town and the final ride up main street to the Death Ride finish.
Finally finished!
Exhausted, but still goofy.
Barry Sopinsky, the Death Ride event organizer, and Charla were waiting for me at the finish. 
Toasting the finish with a nice beer!
And the weirdest thing was…

After over 232 miles of some of the hardest riding the state of Colorado and the San Juan mountains could offer, I felt like I wanted to keep going.
Just a little cool down after 232 miles.
Yup, still smiling.
I had learned some important things about myself during the Death Ride.  Most are intangibles and hard to explain, but I could feel the sense of accomplishment and confidence that I had achieved.

This was a journey that I had begun last November, while downrange and looking for anything to take my mind off my situation.  Between the fundraising and training, I had definitely been pushed beyond my comfort zone, which I consider necessary for personal growth.

I enjoyed pushing my body beyond my perceived physical limits through depths of pain heretofore unknown to me.  The immediate sense of accomplishment that comes with reaching a summit or finishing a ride, provides rewards that are worth any effort in training or struggle.

I am no longer the same person that I was before I began this whole enterprise, but look forward to the challenges that the new me will find.

Lessons learned from Stage Three:

1.     Don’t be afraid to start a little faster than you think you should, you can always back off right away if it’s too much.  If you don’t dare greatly from the beginning, it will be too late in the end.
2.     Don’t spend all your energy flying downhill, if you’re going to be too exhausted to keep me from passing you on the climb.
3.     A fancy kit or jersey doesn’t mean you’re elite or pro, it just means you go shopping.  When I drop you on the climb, or in a wicked descent, you won’t look nearly as cool.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Death Ride Tour Stage 2

Death Ride Tour V
Stage Two - Telluride To Durango (111 miles)

Well, I survived the first day, so what could go wrong on the second?

Time to find out.

I’ve never ridden more than 74 miles in a single day before.  On Stage One, I had ridden exactly 75 miles before stopping for the day.  To say I was intimidated by today’s ride would be an understatement.

But, surviving the first day had given me some confidence to push forward, especially knowing that there was so much descending to do.  In 2012, during the USA Pro Cycling Tour, Tyler Farrar rode this route backwards, uphill, in 4 hours and 42 minutes.  Yeah, I had no intention of beating that time, even downhill.

The morning began with my feeble attempt to stand up and drag myself to breakfast at the B&B Char had booked for our one night stay in Telluride.  There were several other riders there, also completely kitted out like I was.  Today we were to leave Telluride along with the Ride the Rockies riders, so we were all sporting our Death Ride Jerseys.
Bundled up for the cold.
In order to avoid as much traffic as possible, most of us were taking off at 6:30am to beat the opening ceremony of the Ride the Rockies.
Hoping to beat the crowds from the Ride the Rockies.
Apparently, the RTR folks had the same idea.  There were literally about 2,000 other riders already out on the road and the highway out of Telluride and up to Lizard Head Pass was full of them.

Let’s just say that they made things interesting.

There were riders with toys (dinosaurs, little orange cones, etc) glued to their helmets, riders on tandem bikes, riders on mountain bikes and old road bikes wearing tennis shoes (no clips).  Some of them rode like semi-pro racers, some rode like this was the first bike they had ridden in 10 years.  Somehow, all 3,000 of these riders were going to be with us all the way to Dolores before turning off the highway to Cortez. 

Yeah, they definitely made the ride interesting.

I saw one woman on the climb up the mountain, standing on the side of the road, covered in dirt, getting the once over from a paramedic.  Along the descent, there was one gentlemen carrying his bike up a short hill.  Apparently, he’d dropped a chain and didn’t know how to get it back onto his front chainring (hint, use your finger and pull it back on).  I actually watched another rider get a flat right in front of me.  We were descending down a steeper slope, about 27 mph, when he hit a rock (or something).  I heard the pop, then the loud hiss of escaping air, and started yelling over to him that he had a flat.  He looked at me like I was crazy.
The climb up to Lizard Head Pass was a combination of steep climbs and occasional downhill segments just long enough to recover the legs.  The scenery was beautiful, with tall pines, green valleys, little lakes of mountain run-off and old log cabins.  I found a solid group of riders (mostly other Death Riders) and stuck onto their wheels to keep a solid pace.  I was determined to take my time and save as much energy as possible for the 96 miles still to go.

Elevation on the pass, 10,222 feet.

The top of the pass was quite the party, with music, pancake and smoothie booths, and tons of people everywhere.  I filled up on snacks and water, hit the johns, and took off.
The view of Lizard Head Peak from the water point.
The descent off Lizard Head was not nearly as steep as I had hoped, and I was glad to have taken my time climbing as the descent took a lot of work.  I watched as fast pacelines of riders raced past me, but I took my time and soon ended up in the town of Dolores where most of those other riders were recovering from their efforts.  This was where we would split off from the Ride The Rockies group and continue on the next 50 miles to Durango.  I loaded up on snacks, water, gatorade and pulled off my arm warmers and vest (learned my lesson from yesterday).  A couple Death Riders were putting together a small paceline group to leave town and I jumped in with them.

It was a lot of fun, riding out of town in a paceline with everyone in full Death Ride kit.  I felt, briefly, like I was one of those team riders in the Tour de France, or Giro d’Italia.  We were moving along, too.  After the climb out of Dolores, we averaged about 22+ mph for almost 10 miles until everything fell apart.

First, the guy that had pulled us out of Dolores fell off the back end when he rotated out of the lead.  We hadn’t sped up, but he just couldn’t keep up with a pace he’d started.  Then, the kid that had put this train together and bragged about his skill level, bonked out and joined another group that we had just passed.  Pretty soon I was alone trying to keep a 20+ mph pace after already having rode for 70+ miles. 

That’s when the two guys from yesterday (the tall and short pair) came spinning along.  I wasn’t about to pass up this opportunity, so I jumped on the short guy’s wheel as they passed.

These two guys saved my day and my legs.  They pulled me along for over 20 miles until we reached the last water point at mile 95.  They kept me motivated with conversation and a fast pace (averaging around 20+).  They were really surprised that I had chosen the middle of the Death Ride for my first century ride.  Coming from Denver, they said that the San Juan Mountains were some of the hardest riding in Colorado.  Definitely made me feel better about struggling so much.

I let them take off from the water point after thanking them for the pull, took my time rehydrating and filling up on snacks.

At this point I was faced with a poignant reminder of something very important that I had forgotten to take care of before leaving Telluride.

A rider came in to the water point, completely decked out in a purple and yellow kit with the Chamois Butt’r advertisement.  There were small samples of Chamois Butt’r in our race packets that I had meant to use before taking off.  By now, I had ridden over 170 miles in less than two days and had to admit  that my Man-Bike-Interface was suffering.  For more info on just what that means, here’s a link to a favorite blogger of mine and her friend’s lesson learned
Never leave home without it.
Sore and sad, but without much choice, I took off for the last 5 mile climb and the descent into Durango.

Of course, once I hit the Wildcat Canyon area, there was a headwind and I had to fight to ride downhill.  My luck, there’s always a headwind when you need it most.

I was surprised to find how much strength remained in my legs.  I had hit the 100 mile mark just before starting the descent but hadn’t expected to be able to fight the headwind, or to speed into Durango as fast as I did.  Coming around the last turn and over the railroad tracks, I almost missed Char waiting with the camera.
111 miles done, rolling into downtown Durango.

Fist pumping at the finish.

I felt much better after finishing today than I had yesterday, even after riding for a solid 111 miles.  I even had enough energy to walk around downtown Durango and watch other riders finish by the Strater Hotel.  We celebrated with an awesome hot dog feast followed by a trip to the Irish Embassy.

The Tasmanian Devilish Dog from the Original Durango Dawg House.
The Irishman's Cure: rashers, sausage, grilled tomato, eggs, potatoes in cream sauce and black & white pudding at the Irish Embassy.
So, there you go, 111 miles completed and one seriously chafed and sore butt.
Stick a fork in me, I'm done.
Lessons learned from Stage Two:

1.     When someone tells you that you’re tire is flat, you should probably stop and look yourself before your rear tire bottoms out and starts fish tailing behind you.
2.     Not all amateur riders are dangerous, and not all “pro” riders are safe or dependable.  Use your best judgment and don’t be the one other riders are watching out for.
3.     Chamois Butt’r is not just a suggestion.  Do Not leave it at home.
4.     If you can’t handle the pace, don’t set it.  Likewise, don’t brag about having mad skills if you can’t keep up with your own paceline.
5.     Never underestimate the benefits of having a good paceline/group to ride with.  Sometimes it’s not about drafting, but about having someone else to keep you motivated when you’re beyond tired and sore.