On July 18, I drove to Roanoke to do the Virginia
Commonwealth Games, again. As in the previous two years, I did the difficult
40 mile race through the Blue Ridge mountains, the same one I nearly died on two years earlier.
Then there was the 847 foot Mill Mountain Climb, an average grade of 9% for 1.9 miles (pictured top/left/below). It was short, steep, and picturesque. At the summit was the largest Illuminated, free-standing, man-made star in in the world (88.5 feet), lit every night until midnight.
This climb was short but very tough. I didn't see myself being in very
good shape because I'd missed so many races from
cancellations, and constant stress from the marriage had me doing
very little training. I loved Roanoke and I
wished Miimii could come with me but she would not. She promised when I got back from
Korea in 1999 she'd come. So with a heavy heart, once again, I drove to my race. I had to keep some normalcy in my life and racing was the best way to keep sane.
On the 40 mile race I was way off the pace of 1996. It took me
2:10:33, 6 1/2 minutes off my fastest time. It was very hot that
day though, and I managed to snag a cheesy bronze medal. I just remember that I drank way too much water.
That night I was in the "Parade of Athletes" which was
Roanoke's attempt to pretend their Commonwealth games were the Olympics. I shot the long-range photo of Mill Mountain as I was marching in with the parade.
There were over 4000 athletes in the Commonwealth Games, in all different kinds of
sports. The huge ceremony was broadcast live on television, but only in Roanoke because they never promoted this thing. One of the most difficult things about the Games was the fact that public relations were so pathetic, (and still they drew 4000!). These were the most poorly organized USCF cycling events I'd ever attended.
At first it sounded like fun, but after things got underway, I saw the ceremony
was pretty silly. Lots of flash and no substance. There were people in spandex, dancing as if they were in "Fame", and playing "Everybody Dance Now" by C & C Music, naming different sports. A sport was called, and the dancer, dressed in that gear, would do a little dance move. During most of the ceremony I was trying to find a way to politely leave.
Their Commonwealth Games torch-lighting ceremony was so bad, I began laughing. They fired a flaming arrow at the Commonwealth Games torch, and the torch didn't light! Apparently they had no real back-up, because at that moment, the entire stadium went pitch-black and the crowd grew quiet. They shut down the lights. About 30 seconds later, a tiny figure of a man came from one of the double doors and lit it himself. This was all caught live on TV. I left the ceremony early, too embarrassed to brag about being in the 'ceremony'. Miimii later purchased a video of this to surprise me, but it was even worse. I saw my face once but most of the $10 video was just the newscasters in their booth, chatting about what was going on behind them (but not showing it). The botched torch-lighting brought a big laugh. We threw the tape out.
The next morning was the Mill Mountain race. This climb started steep and stayed that way, and on this particular race, I took off a little too fast, my bicycle holder didn't quite let go of me in time, and I popped my front wheel off the ground for a few seconds, nearly crashing. I slugged it up the climb, knowing
I was heavy and slow, and on the last 1/2 mile I saw another rider way, way
up the road who'd started before me (this was a time trial--riders
start at time intervals and the winner is the rider who completes the course in the fastest time). I mustered up everything I could to catch him. I
never did, but my all-out, tongue-wagging surge at the end helped me post my best time on that
hill, by 17 seconds. I was happy, and I got a silver medal (paperweight)
for that. Then I dropped my head and drove home.