I'll admit, the first hill caught me a little off guard. I was expecting a few hills, of course. I'd trained on a few hills. But this first hill, less than half a mile into the course, was a significant hill.
No matter. I could do this. I would have liked a little more warm-up, but I'm a big girl. I downshifted and pretty much kept the pace to the top.
And I was feeling pretty good about myself, too, as I crested that first hill, and saw… another hill.
Okay. I coasted downhill for a bit, shifted a few times midway up, really powered through that last bit to the top.
And then. Another hill. A big one.
Um. Are you shitting me?
The gap in our team was widening, with Gary and the other alpha cyclists speeding up ahead and me and the rest doing whatever we could.
At the top of the fourth or fifth major hill, I stopped for a breather. There was a small cluster of people doing the same. Some were leaning over their bikes and wheezing. One fellow proclaimed that he was quitting and seemed ready to walk away and leave his bike lying by the side of the road.
High-Maintenance Jenny sped past me with her team of bright, shiny sorority girls in cute, little bike shorts. I sighed and very attractively wiped sweat out of my eye with the palm of my glove.
Still, it wasn't too bad. Gary stopped to wait for me at the top of most hills. Lots of riders began walking up, and I was proud of the fact that I was able to keep pedaling, even when standing in the pedals and forcing all my weight down with each stroke barely seemed to propel the bike onward by a few inches. My energy surged on the descents and rebounded quickly after most of the big efforts.
About ten miles in, we were stopped by a wreck up ahead. Rumor trickled back through the crowd that it was an asthma attack. Then someone else fell over while waiting for the ambulance to get through. (It wasn't me!)
As we maneuvered around the sag van parked on a particularly nasty incline, I caught a glimpse of unmistakable blonde pony-tail sitting in a ditch with her arm held by a medic who was saying to his colleague, "... fractured collarbone."
The whole route was hills. Not the "mostly flat with a few moderate, rolling hills" we'd been promised. These were seriously challenging climbs, one right after the other.
And apparently, the worst was yet to come.
Prior to the ride, we'd received an email full of safety do's and don'ts. Do wear your helmet. Do signal with turning. Do not ride more than two breast in the lanes. And ominously, in all caps, a dire warning: "DO NOT attempt to ride up Highpoint Hill unless you are well-trained and experienced!"
If you didn't see that foreshadowing from a mile away, I can't help you.
Up next: Dominos!