Last summer while driving down GA 400 — one of the busiest highways in metro Atlanta — a flashing traffic sign caught my eye along the side of the road. The black and orange sign was promoting the first annual GA 400 Century bike ride. At the time, I didn’t even know what a “century” was. I have since learned that it’s just a short little 100-mile bike ride. This particular century is staged to help raise funds and awareness for the Georgia Transplant Foundation.
Since getting back into cycling a few months ago, I targeted the 2nd annual GA 400 Century as my first big ride. Although my longest ride prior to the Century was a short little 29-mile jaunt through the hilly roads of my town, I figured I would go for it. What did I have to lose? Other than my ability to walk for a few days, that is. For $40, I could have signed up for a variety of rides ranging from 8 miles to 61 miles to 100 miles. I decided to get my money’s worth… and then some.
In the days leading up to the race, I chatted with a few local riders on BeginnerTriathlete.com to get a feel for what to expect. From what I could gather, this was not going to be an easy little ride. There were some serious hills I would need to be ready for. Eh, big deal, I figured. I agreed to meet up with two guys who did the race last year — they go by the names “Coldfire” and “Phat” online. That’s all I knew about them.
As it turns out, Phat was riding to honor his father, who was at the top of the organ donor list a few months ago waiting for a lung when he passed. Needless to say, Phat was on a mission to honor his dad as only he knew how — FLAT OUT. Lucky me…
We meet up at the front of the group a few minutes before the start. There appears to be more than 500 riders in the group, but Phat was easy to spot. His bright yellow cycling jersey had the words “BE AN ORGAN DONOR” written on the back in red letters.
Before the ride, I boldly proclaimed that I would be able to “hang” with them on the road and wanted to join them at the front. Clearly, I didn’t quite know what I was signing up for. Phat, it turns out, has a sinister go-for-broke-take-no-prisoners attitude when he saddles up. As an escort of police motorcycles led us all down the highway at the start, there were Phat and Coldfire out front hammering away on the pedals.
They were driving the train down a road also known as “Hospitality Highway.” However, there was nothing hospitable in Phat’s riding style. He wanted to punish people who dared to get on his wheel. I later learn that Phat also likes to call himself the ‘Slayer.” This can’t be happening, I thought This is really going to hurt! Phat’s powerful pedaling was not new to Coldfire, it appeared. He was hammering away right along with him.
Quickly, the dynamic duo had sped off down the road, opening a large gap between me and all the other riders, including Coldfire’s brother, who had no intentions of punishing himself alongside his brother and his brother’s keeper — SLAYER! If only I had been so smart. Instead, I shift up a couple gears, leaving Coldfire’s brother behind and join them near the front of the pack. For better or worse, I’m now committed.
On the flat roads and downhills, I “hang” with them without much of a problem. However, on each significant uphill section, they quickly leave me behind. They are riding much more expensive bikes than mine, are more efficient at shifting, have faster wheels and have ridden more than 29 miles at one time on hundreds of occasions, it seems. Add all of that together, and I might as well have been on a tricycle. This was going to be hard work!
As a personal challenge, I dig hard each time that they open a gap and have to hammer as hard as I can to catch up. This earns me some “serious street cred,” Phat proclaims. However, on more than one occasion, they have to slow down slightly and allow me to rejoin them. Turns out, these guys are “hospitable” after all. Phat’s kindness doesn’t last long though.
As we were cruising along side-by-side (there’s no drafting allowed in triathlons), we get swallowed up by a large peloton. This clearly annoys Phat. “That’s like cheating,” he says. “That doesn’t impress me. Let’s blow these guys up,” he laughs.
“Oh no,” I thought, this isn’t going to be pretty. Just like me when I run, this guy doesn’t like being passed on the bike. When the group all comes back together a few miles up the road, Phat decides to take the lead. Coldfire and I settle in behind him (The guy is a horse on wheels! Drafting off of him is the ONLY way we stand a chance.) For the next 5 miles or so, Phat drives the peloton into submission. Coldfire and I (well, ok, mostly me) hang on for dear life. When we finally slow down, we realize two things: 1.) We’re lost 2.) the peloton has been DESTROYED. This makes Phat a happy camper. Me… not so much. At this point, there’s only about 50 more miles to go.
Slowly but surely, I finally lose my battle to “hang” with them. They go off into the distance as I settle into a more comfortable pace. I ride with this guy for awhile.
At mile 80, I hit Mountain Park. Holy crap! There’s one major hill after another. It was like the Slayer himself had taken the form of asphalt and had come back to haunt me. I had heard stories of riders having to unclip and do the “walk of shame” up some of the Mountain Park hills. I was determined not to let it happen to me. I’m happy to say I succeeded.
When I finally reached the finish line after about 5 hours and 40 minutes, I spot Phat and Coldfire running laps around the parking lot. Before the ride began, I had agreed to run a few miles with them after we were done. What kind of an IDIOT am I? After a few minutes, I managed to slip on my running shoes and stumbled through a couple miles with them. Truth be told, I was afraid of what Slayer might do to me if I failed to hold up my end of the bargain.
I’ve run two marathons, several half marathons and done an Olympic-distance triathlon, but this day goes down as the single hardest workout I have experienced so far.
Oddly, I can’t wait to do it again. Bring it on Slayer! You don’t scare me. (Shhh… don’t tell him I said that.)