Greg Gibson has been leading many of the training rides to get folks ready for the infamous Mountains of Misery. I asked Greg to be our featured ride leader this time because the "MoM" ride had just completed, as you'll see below.
Greg started riding when he was a kid. He grew up in rural North Carolina so if he wanted to see friends, it was often a matter of a 3 mile bike ride each way to the little town he lived near. Back then it seemed like a long way. He says he had other friends who lived further out and they also used to bike 10-15 miles each way to come into town. He used to marvel at how they could ride that far, play basketball, baseball or football all day, and then ride home.
Greg says he didn't ride as much after high school started, which sounds familiar.
Greg occasionally rides with family; he says his wife humors him sometimes. He says "sometimes we will drive to Point of Rocks and ride the C&O Canal to Harper's Ferry and back. It's an easy route suitable for beginners that's also beautiful and scenic. Typically we ride up, have lunch and ride back." Also, "Years ago we tried a tandem ride together and learned pretty quickly that separate bikes were healthier for our marriage!"
Greg's oldest son is a student at VCU and there is a healthy cycling community in Richmond. He does some occasional riding with him but he's a fixie snob!
Greg first joined the club back in 1989 when he initially moved to the DC area. He says one of the first things he did after moving to the area was buy the old Chuck and Gail's Favorite Bike Rides books. He still has all of them. As many of us agree, Greg says, "These were a great reference in getting to know the area and where to cycle."
A year later with his first child now in his life, his cycling time dwindled. He says his available time was spent on soccer fields, basketball courts, baseball fields, lacrosse fields and football fields. He says he was in and out of the club a few times from 1989-2010 as his cycling opportunities ebbed and flowed.
When his oldest went to college 3 years ago it started to dawn on him that his kids didn't really need him around as much as they used to. He got back into cycling in mid-2010 and has been an active member consistently since then.
Greg says he led his first ride in the spring of 2011. When asked what got him started to lead he says, "To be honest, my motivation for becoming a ride leader was simply to allow myself the opportunity to ride routes that I liked at a pace that suited me with the hope that others would join. Initially I wanted to ride longer rides, but the problem was all the long rides were A pace and I was a B rider. Being a ride leader let me determine the route and pace and also share those ride experiences with other cyclists who were perhaps looking for the same thing."
"Now after having progressed to an A rider the last couple of years I lean more towards finding fairly tough rides that offer a challenge. I have been training for the Assault on Mt. Mitchell and Mountains of Misery this spring so most of the riding I have done has involved significant climbing and distance.
Last year I climbed almost 70,000 ft. a month for March, April and May and rode 8200 miles. This year I have already put in 4,300 miles as of the end of May.
"I asked Greg his favorite ride, "This is a really tough question. Perhaps my favorite route of all time is the Levi's Gran Fondo Route, which starts in Santa Rosa, CA, traverses Kings Ridge, descends down to the Pacific Coast Highway and returns to Santa Rosa over the mountains. This is a beautiful and somewhat remote route despite being just north of the bay area."
"Locally I am partial to any route that includes Skyline Drive. A simple out and back down Skyline is a great ride. I also love SkyMass with the tough climb over Massanutten followed by the beautiful fast run up Fort Valley Road. I like doing the Blue Ridger and sometimes I do that route backwards, stop in Bluemont and return to Marshall by going back over Mt. Weather and Naked Mountain."
"A couple of years ago I started a century ride from Marshall called SkyMarsh. From Marshall we go to Front Royal down beautiful Hume Road, we cross Chester Gap and have the great descent into Front Royal. Then we climb up Skyline and ride the drive to Panorama where we have another great descent down 211 to Sperryville. From Sperryville we head to Little Washington via Gid Brown Hollow and then back to Marshall via Crest Hill Rd, Ada and Free State Roads. It's a tough, challenging ride but quite scenic and a lot of fun with the right group."
"Another favorite is the Coffee and Quiche ride I've led a couple of times that goes from Marshall to Little Washington. We usually stop at the new coffee shop in Washington, Tula's Off Main, which caters to cyclists."
"We are pretty lucky in this area with a great variety of routes to choose from. If we want lots of steep climbs we can head to the Catoctins, for more gentle climbing we can hit Skyline, and if we don't feel like climbing there are any number of routes out of Riley's Lock or Warrenton that are flat and fast. For gently rolling terrain it's hard to beat any of the routes around Middleburg and The Plains."
I asked "Do have any "epic" rides you'd like to tell us about?"
Greg came up with this one, "Well, perhaps the most "epic" ride I did was the Murder's Row ride last year. I had ridden the route with a small group of friends the week before the actual club ride so I was somewhat familiar with the roads. This route included a very steep and sketchy descent down Coxey Brown Road. It had been raining a bit overnight and it was foggy so the roads were damp. As the ride leaders were going over the route with the group I piped up and mentioned that I had ridden the route the week before. I gave everyone a very strong warning that the Coxey Brown descent was tricky, difficult and not the place to make up time on the ride, especially on wet roads. How ironic (or moronic) it was that shortly thereafter, I managed to run off the road and crash on steep, sharp turn on the very stretch of road I had warned everyone about! Fortunately I didn't get hurt, although I did trash a nice set of wheels and lost an expensive pair of Oakley glasses. My ride was over that day but thanks to Joyce Gearhart I was able to hitch a ride back to the MMS ride start. Why is it that drivers will stop for a woman in spandex but not a man??? I'm told that my minor misfortune was the highlight of rest stop discussion for the rest of the ride! I guess if I can give people something to laugh about on that ride it's okay.
Being a bit hard headed and stubborn, I regrouped that afternoon and returned to Frederick the following morning at 5am. I completed Murderer's Row on my own that next day.
When I went out and rode the Levi's Gran Fondo route I didn't ride it as part of the actual event. I was out there at a later time, rented a bike and rode the route on my own. I wasn't quite prepared for how remote the area along King's Ridge was. It was gorgeous scenery but there wasn't a store around there to be found. It was mostly cattle ranches. The ridge is a free-range area so there are no fences for the cattle. There were several places I had to pick my way through a herd of cattle stopped on the road. I also ran out of water on the ridge and could not find a store anywhere. I finally found a volunteer fire department and was able to fill my water bottles from an outdoor hose there.
The descent down to the Pacific Coast Highway is just stunningly beautiful. I found a great coffee shop there and sat on the dock sipping a cappuccino and having a great sandwich filled with organic delicacies.
I was in Rio de Janeiro just this past April and was offered the opportunity to bike up to the Corcovado statue. This is the big statue of Christ that sits on a mountaintop overlooking the city of Rio. The bike I was given was a 35lb mountain bike (the road is paved) that had a balky rear derailleur. It would only shift the bottom half of the cassette so I couldn't access the easiest gears. It's a pretty strenuous ride to get up there and it was even tougher not being able to use the largest cogs on the cassette! I have absolutely no complaints about this ride though as I was thrilled to be invited and have this opportunity. It's a great ride up there with stunning views of Rio from the statue. Needless to say but this 15 mile ride was the highlight of my trip to Rio and maybe the highlight of my cycling year."
I ended by asking Greg if he had any advice for anyone thinking about leading for the first time?
He answered instead with a warning to riders that is very good advice, and some tips for the leaders. "Heh, well I may not be the best person to offer advice about leading rides. Due to the length and difficulty of some of the rides I lead I often have to advertise that I am not riding from the rear and not sweeping the route. In doing so, I want to warn potential riders that in joining these tougher rides that you may at some point be on your own, or separated from the main group in a smaller group. Therefore, riders interested in joining need to be prepared. In addition to picking up a cue sheet, they need to make sure they are physically capable of completing the ride and that their equipment is well maintained. They need to have the tools and capability to change a flat tire on their own if necessary or perhaps perform other minor bike repairs. They also need to bring enough food and water to make it through to the planned rest stops.
What I do advise for anyone considering leading a ride is to be organized and thorough. I always check and recheck my cue sheets for errors. I provide links to my routes on RideWithGPS so that anyone with a Garmin can download the route into their bike computer. I always have a pre-ride rap with the group to go over the route, point out any tricky turns, sketchy descents, where the rest stops are, where we might encounter any dirt or gravel stretches, where the tough climbs are and potential regrouping opportunities.
Often if the group gets strung out we do try to regroup at the major turns to prevent anyone from getting lost. I've also learned that on climbing rides the best place to regroup is after the descent following the climb rather than at the top of the climb. Descending in a group can be a little dangerous. Groups typically get strung out during a climb as each rider finds their own rhythm and it's best to let those gaps remain on the descent to better ensure safety on the way down.
Greg ends by telling us how he moved from a low B paced rider to the A paced rider he is today. "As I mentioned I started riding seriously again in mid-2010. What a lot of people don't know about me is that in early 2010 I weighed about 270lbs. I just recently completed my second Assault on Mt Mitchell and Mountains of Misery double-header weighing around 185lbs. I've lost around 85lbs over a three year period."
"When I started cycling again in July 2010 I had already lost about 35lbs by doing another exercise program (P90X). When I started back I was a low B rider. I pretty much expected to remain a B rider and when I had my bike setup, I chose a very relaxed position that allowed me to ride more comfortably than competitively."
"I found that the more I rode, the more weight I lost. The more weight I lost the faster I could ride, particularly up hill. I used to show up at a lot of the "A/BB" rides, realizing that I was not an A/BB rider. My thought was that hopefully the route and distance would appeal to some other riders of similar capability and a few would show or perhaps someone would get dropped. Then I'd have someone to ride with. What happened was I got dropped on quite a lot of these rides. I would always tell the ride leader in advance not to wait for me, then I would valiantly try to keep up only to watch the group eventually fade away into the distance ahead."
"I suppose it would be easy to get discouraged in these situations but I used it as motivation to keep losing weight and get faster. About a year later, in August of 2011 I started finding that I could keep up on the low paced A rides that didn't involve a lot of climbing. Being a 210lb rider, I still got dropped on the climbs. I learned to hate those skinny 140lbers. Most of the people I enjoyed riding with were all faster than me and it was this riding with stronger cyclists that really helped me advance in my conditioning."
"This year I set very high goals for myself in completing AoMM and MoM. I followed a very specific training plan and lost 15lbs since January. I was able to get under 185lbs for the first time since I moved to Washington in 1989. AoMM didn't go quite as well as I had hoped for finishing 5 minutes better than last year at 6:14. However at MoM I finished 18th in a time of 5:46. Unfortunately I had a flat tire that cost me 7 minutes to change. If not for that I would have completed Misery under 5:40 and would have placed top 10."
"Not bad progress I suppose for a guy who was 270lbs just over 3 years ago and could barely hang onto the tail end of a B ride."