This ride recap is not about how far we went (80 miles by the way), nor is it about how fast we went (on the way there pretty darn fast). It is not about how Fed-Ex attacked (yes on every hill). This recap is about what I saw at on the return trip. This story begins, appropriately, at the end...
There were 5 of us left on the return from the entire group: Cap’t, Scott M, Cuong, Andy, and I. The rest of the group had either turn around or had started back earlier. Andy had somehow missed the meeting point in San Clemente, and had continued on pass us for another 5 miles or so. The group had already started rolling back when Andy called. Cap’t, Scott, Coung, and I decided to wait for Andy, with the intention of catching up to the remaining group later when Andy is in our draft.
As a cyclist, have you ever bonked, or rode to the point of exhaustion? When your legs feels like a 25 pound dead weight as you turn the crank? Or when mentally you just want to give up and just want to lay down the sidewalk? Well, this was Andy's condition when he finally showed up... and we still had 40 miles to travel back. Andy had been sick for a while, and was trying desperately to prepare for the Palm Springs century next weekend. The lack of saddle time, along with the accidental extra miles, and the head wind finally got to him. We let Andy catch his breath and then started back.
We knew right away that this was not going to be an easy return. Right out of the turn-around point was an extremely steep hill. As if this was not enough, toss in a strong head wind to provide some extra suffering.
The wind howled in anger as if we stole something precious from her. She first tries to push us from the front to stop our forward progress. As this did not work, she then throw in some side winds to try to knock us off from the bike. We gripped our steering wheel hard to stay upright and moving forward. I was in my 25 cog, had my aero wheels, and I struggled to move up the hill in a straight line. The others did not fare any better.
The trip back was full of rolling hills, the kinds that sapped your energy with the constant up and down effort. On top of that, I was too naïve (still had that rookie mentality) and was chasing Fed-Ex on the way out to San Clemente. Note to self, do not chase one of the fastest Vietnamese cyclist in Southern California in an 80-mile ride! You may be able to keep up with him on the first 5 or so hills, but he will finally spit you out from his slipstream on that sixth hill!
So I was basically cross-eyed and breathing heavy, but... I was better off than Andy. Andy was struggling mightily, and was slowly dropping away from us. We slowed and drifted back to Andy. You can see in his eyes that he was extremely close to the breaking point. His pedaling was no longer a fluid motion, and his face was flush red. We talk to Andy. Physically he was exhausted, and was running mainly on heart and determination. He did not want to stop as he thought he may not be able to start again. This is extremely bad... and we still had 35 miles to go!
What I saw in these next miles justified why I ride and why I joined the VeloViets. It was Cap’t who started it first. He started pushing Andy up the hill! Holding his steering wheel with his left hand, Cap’t placed his right hand on Andy’s back and started pushing him up the hill while pedaling. Cuong noted this and went to the front to create a draft for both of them. I was in the back and could not believe what I am seeing with my eyes. I thought this stuff only happed on TV with professional riders, who were paid to shelter the leader. It would have been easier to leave Andy behind to call his wife to come and pick him up, but here we are helping Andy as a team! This extra help must have put some adrenaline into Andy’s legs as they, Cap't and Andy, started to move faster uphill!
We then went down the hill and started up the next hill. Now it was Cuong’s turn to push with Scott creating the draft. Cap’t was riding right behind talking to Andy as if to take his mind off of the pedaling and to make him forget about the pain. In that moment, something clicked and I understood that the VeloViet bike group is not just another club for the weekend warriors, but closely resembled more like an extended family unit. When one family member needs help, the others cover for him, or her, and becomes stronger for that member.
In the end, we had to stop 2 or 3 times on the way back, but we made it back together. It was about 2:30 PM when we got back, and we started at 8 AM this morning. We probably were on the saddle for close to 6 hours. In the end, Andy was not the only one in pain. All 5 guys suffered on this trip back. But by suffering together, we lessened Andy’s pain.
I received a lesson in camaraderie today. These four guys, strangers to me a little over a year ago, are like brothers to me on the bike. I know that I can rely on them in times of need, and I hope that they feel that they can rely on me. There are others in our group too that had this same unspoken bond. I think back now and remember when Billy P and Billy D pulled me, a complete stranger to them at that time, when I got a severe cramp and could not make it back alone.
The Orange County VeloViet is like a family. We play together, we gossip with each other, and occasionally we even talk smack about one other, just like a real family unit. But you know what, when the times come and we see our brother or sister suffered, we put aside our differences and help each other out. It’s like we created a blood bond when that VeloViet jersey is first put on. If you want to mess with me on the bike, you know you have to mess with my other 30 brothers and sisters, who are right behind me. It’s the VeloViet Brotherhood...