It is steep, I've been in my 27T cog for as long as I can remember, we're almost 2 hours in and have already gained something like 3,000 ft in elevation. There is a pretty serious headwind, I do not like it. I'm tucked in behind Matt, who's tucked in behind Joe. I can't really tell if the draft is helping matters any, the wind seems to be coming from every direction at once. Ahead, Joe's pedalstroke is like magic, constant, smooth. I glance down and can only compare the stilted, squarish motion of my own legs to chopping broccoli. We cross an intersection and the road tilts up further, I try to shift into an easier gear before I remember that I don't have one. Joe doesn't pedal faster, he doesn't slow down, I'm pretty sure he's not even breathing heavy. Matt stands up, hammers out a few pedal strokes and regains Joe's wheel. I do none of those things. As the gap widens I am, however, pretty sure that I can see Jesus over the next rise. He looks disappointed.
Later, in an unusual move for us, we decide to pretend like we we're friends who are just out for a good time on bikes instead of dudes who are out training for something and correspondingly, stop for coffee and pastries before heading back up the mountain and home on the final leg. The pastries are tasty and the respite has a reviving effect, if not for my lungs, then certainly for my soul.
On the final climb back home, I crack. Hard. Joe and Matt circle back for me and begin making excuses so I don't have to. That's what friends are for. After I've eaten something and am no longer dizzy, some light hearted ribbing will follow, that's what friends are for, too. Note: apparently, even during an "easy" ride, it is wise to consume more water than coffee. Also, one should eat stuff and apparently, 1/3 of a scone--no matter how delicious--doesn't replace 1,500 calories. Good tip.