Well, I had a fascinating and highly enjoyable day, but I must say right up front that I bailed on the ride at the mile 27 aid station! I was agonizing beforehand about whether to switch from the long course to the short course, but on balance I thought it worth trying for the long course (79.6 vs. 37, with - I know, I know, why did I think I could ride so much? - almost 2000 meters of climbing for the long ride); the particular incentive was to see whether it might be a ride I could go back and do on my own as a training ride. (It started right at the Metro-North station in Cold Spring, i.e. place I can get to with bicycle on public transportation.) In fact NOT - course was safe because of lots of sheriffs at intersections, but there are lots of turns across traffic on main roads, lots of stretches with no shoulder, and worst of all VERY STEEP HILLS!
So my cycling anxiety has been significantly relieved over the past six months, mostly just because my general anxiety levels have been so much more manageable. I consider it a minor triumph that I rode my bike this morning to the train at 125th and Lexington - it is true, light traffic only on a Sunday morning at 7:30am, but in prior years I would have taken subway to Grand Central so as to avoid that ride, even if it meant getting up a whole hour earlier. (I didn't ride home, as late-afternoon traffic is too wacky for me and there's no good route - nice livery car driver let me take bike in back seat with me when it wouldn't fit in the trunk, even after I took the front wheel off.)
I had some spikes of anxiety the other week riding hills around Nyack, but I attributed it (I now see erroneously) to the fact of riding next to PRECIPICES - I always complain about this, why couldn't they build all roads (as it were) clockwise around mountains so that when you are riding uphill you are riding with your right-hand-side to the WALL rather than to the PRECIPICE? I was very happy that the Putnam ride turned out not to be precipicey - it is a more domestic enclosed landscape - but clearly it's not the precipice as such, it's just the combination of feelings you get riding up a hill. HR is very high on a long steep hill, even in granny gear (someone said there were 4 12% gradient hills on the course, no idea if this is right but it is MASSIVELY hilly), and the feeling of breathing hard just seems to trigger an anxiety that only partly subsides thereafter. The immediate bad consequence of this is that anxiety is unpleasant and affects the entire body, and the other medium-term consequence is that anxiety triggers asthma - my lungs were increasingly tender and I felt very overwhelmed with the whole experience. Not in the "this is physically strenuous, just keep plugging on through it" way, nor in the "I am having low morale but it will rise in a while" way, more in the "what is the best choice to salvage this ride?"
I rolled into the 27-mile aid station as pretty much the last rider on the long route (I really should have done short, of course that's also what the slower riders will gravitate to and it was disheartening when I split off and lost the 5-6 riders I'd been in front of, then toiled alone up a MASSIVE hill!), and proclaiming, sincerely, "I should have done the short course, this is too much!" It was my good fortune that this station wasn't being run by random volunteers, but rather by an experienced cyclist who had driven the course to mark it the day before and who could see that I was not being irrational! I think there is a tendency in these situations for well-meaning people to say "you can do it!," but he made a split-second assessment and agreed with me, informing me that they were wrapping up the feed zone right then and that I would be welcome to ride with them as they patrolled the course.
This was so clearly the sensible thing to do that I gave it not a moment's thought before accepting the offer. I am hoping lungs are not going to have been so wrecked that I'll come down with something, but they are certainly quite sore still, and it was good to bring the stress to a halt. In fact he was a cycling buccaneer, and it was fascinating driving the course with him - I have never been in the SAG vehicle on a cycling course - it was interesting seeing what sorts of trouble different cyclists get into, but we also helped another guy finish - it was an extraordinary day! - this fellow had ill-advisedly raced a criterium early this morning and then set out on this ride too, and his legs were cramping terribly. He held on to the passenger-side car window with his left arm and we pulled him up all the hills! He must have had nerves of steel, that is what I would never be able to do - and the looks on the faces of the other cyclists toiling up these huge and endless hills was really one of the most memorable things I have ever seen (really when we see strange things in a race we should give them the benefit of the doubt rather than getting angry). This guy really needed to get back to the finish and there was simply no other obvious way for it to happen. (It was just a Volvo station wagon, with 2 people in front, me in the back and a huge table and two bicycles and all the other aid station stuff - I thought we probably could have crammed in one more person, but one more bicycle was perhaps a trickier matter.)
I met some great folks on the train up there and rode home with them as well, the team from Transportation Alternatives. Finally, it was the most absolutely gorgeous weather imaginable, perfect cycling weather (high 40s but very sunny and clear first thing in the morning, and then rising to mid-50s), and there were quite a few stretches in the first hour where I thought "Gosh, I really do see why people like cycling so much, this is great!"
Anyway, 27mi, 2:14, 12.1mph, and lessons learned for future experimentation. It is frustrating to be hampered in this way, and there is really only so much I can do about it, but what I think I can do when I am back in NYC at the end of May is have 2 rides a week in NY/NJ. Wednesday: take bus to Lamont campus for a long ride of 3-4 hours (plus whatever additional time I need on a spin bike at Chelsea Piers - there is a route I can do that I think I am comfortable enough with, but I know from past experience riding with Lauren that some of the precipices past Haverstraw and near Bear Mountain make me feel very unpleasantly panicky - the training plan I'm loosely following builds to a 6-hour ride, but as a slow cyclist I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to shoot for 6:30 instead, and this is I think the best way for me to do it). And another weekday to ride hill repeats in Alpine - it is a very steep longish hill, I should be able at least to desensitize to some of the unpleasantness. I still haven't recently ridden back over the GWB, but whereas I think the approach from this side is truly not something I will surmount, the other side is much more manageable - straight ride onto the bridge, none of this nonsense with ramps and hairpin bends, and of course it is always easier riding HOME than riding AWAY....