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Adventures in Mastering Big, Gnarly Goals

This post is the first in The 11,500 Foot View, a series chronicling my attempt to accomplish an impossible goal -- while I try to remain in the good graces of my family, run a business, stay sane, and blog about it.

You know the sinking felling you get in the pit of your stomach when an idea initially sounds great and it's only later that the stark, cold, horrifying reality sets in?

I do.

Granted, my approach to setting goals and goal achievement in general is a little unconventional. I think everything we're told about setting goals is wrong. I think sometimes the best approach to achieving a goal is to sneak up on it. I think most of us find ways to hide our weaknesses from other people, and, worse, from ourselves.

Oh -- and while we're at it, I think the whole concept of a work-life balance is basically irrelevant.

So in a moment of weakness/hubris/lunacy (take your pick) I decided to prove I'm right. Since I figured the bigger the goal the more right I would therefore be, I made my first mistake:

I got advice from Jeremiah Bishop.

Jeremiah at his day job.
Jeremiah, a professional mountain bike rider for Cannondale Factory Racing, is one of the most versatile and accomplished racers in the world. He's won the Pan American Games, did the double in 2008 by winning the U.S. Short Track Cross Country and Marathon Mountain bike national championships, is a twelve-time member of the U.S. national team.... Jeremiah is to mountain bike racing what an NBA All-Star is to basketball.

I told him I was looking for a big, huge, almost impossible (for me at least) challenge: Possibly enter a mass participation event and finish in a certain time, or complete a route he devised for me in a certain time, or -- what else? I didn't know.

Aside from a challenge that involved road cycling, I didn't have any concrete ideas.

The Challenge
Jeremiah did: Ride the inaugural Jeremiah Bishop Alpine Loop Gran Fondo on September 24, 2011.

At face value, not so bad. One hundred and four miles is long but certainly manageable. Recreational riders complete century rides of 100 miles all the time.

Except his event is, for a recreational cyclist, savage. The Alpine Loop follows his favorite training route and includes paved climbs over several mountains as well as two massive dirt road climbs. Total climbing, 11,500 feet (hence the title of this series, The 11,500 Foot View.) The final climb follows a dirt/gravel access road that crests Reddish Knob, at nearly 4,400 feet one of the highest points in Virginia.

Here's the route map; keep in mind some of the dirt sections are not included in the altitude gain calculations.

The average climbing gradient is 7 to 8%, but in places the road is not just steep but more like a wall with grades up to 20%. (Since the typical interstate highway built through a mountain range averages an incline of 4-5%, even a 7% grade is pretty darned steep. 20% is legs-crushing.)

The route?  Steeper than this.  For miles.
Put it this way: The Alpine Loop should be the most challenging Gran Fondo in the U.S. and is akin to riding a mountain stage of the Tour de France.

Or, as Jeremiah told me, "Think of it like completing a marathon... as long as the marathon also involves running over a mountain."

Great. And I have three months to get ready.

That sinking feeling? Based on the amount of time it spends with me, that sinking feeling has become my new best friend.

The 11,500 Foot View

Here's what I'll do: I'll share my training, stories, photos and videos and everything else that happens along the way. If you enjoy living vicariously through the trials and tribulations of others, I'm your guy.

Here's what you can do: If you've dreamed of tackling an impossible goal while balancing career and family and everything else in your life, don't just follow along. Let's do it together. Tackle your own challenge and use the comments section of this and future posts to share how you're doing.

Or just feel free to chime in with advice or tips -- we can use all the help we can get.

Will I succeed? Honestly, I don't know. If I did then this wouldn't be a true challenge. After all, I'm 51 and have only recently been able to start riding after a number of months. As Jeremiah said when I asked about my chances, "It's possible -- but not probable."

So I can't promise I'll make it.

But I can promise I'll try. So follow along! (Speaking of which, here's the second installment.)

The Rest of the Series: