This weekend was a milestone for my AIDS/LifeCycle training. As I’ve been preaching to my trainees, Jon Walker, Matthew Bokach, and I rode two challenging, back-to-back rides. On Saturday, we rode on the 65 mile 2013 Day on the Ride — a practice day for the ALC. Then on Sunday, we rode in the Chico Velo Wildflower Century, specifically on a new route: the Wildcat 100, combining the toughest hills from both the regular Wildflower and the Wildcat 125.
A. Wherein we Seek Out the Dragons.
Saturday’s Day on the Ride included 65 miles, 3360 feet of climbing, and burning about 4003 calories. Sunday’s Wildcat 100 included 109.4 miles, 7531 feet of climbing, and burning about 6902 calories. For a total of 173.4 miles, 10,891 feet of climbing, and 10,905 calories burned! We all rode every mile of both rides, and deserve to be proud of our achievement.
The weekend was fraught with challenges. The goal itself was hard enough: Stay with my friend John Hollwedel in San Francisco Friday night. Complete Saturday’s ride in San Francisco. Repack everything in the Sports Basement parking lot. Drive from San Franciso to the Chico area (about a 3 hour drive). Complete Sunday’s ride in Chico. Drive back to Sacramento
by a reasonable hour. By and large that is how it went. But, as every cyclist knows, the dragons can come out to have their way with you.
B. Wherein the Dragons Finally Show Themselves.
This weekend the dragons came out in two ways. The first was, because of our hurried packing in the parking lot, one of us lost his wallet — discovered only after we had driven over the Golden Gate Bridge back north on the road to Chico. That required a drive back over the bridge for a search, which turned up nothing, sadly.
Despite the loss, we persevered and drove to pick up Matthew (who had driven separately) in Davis. Showering made us all feel better for the remaining drive and the fretting over the lost wallet was lost in the joy of what we were doing.
Then to Chico. Our hotel in Oroville was definitely sketchy. Peeling wallpaper over a large hole in the wall, an impromptu barbecue at 10:30 p.m. in the parking lot attended by what appeared to be drunken flunkies. But none of that bothered us. We got into bed early and slept until 5.
The real test of our mettle came on the Wildcat 100. The ride started out as a typical one. Registration, a hurried breakfast, and out on the road by 6:30. But, as a portent of things to come, the organizers had run out of the “blue” route sheets describing the ride we were about to go on. “100 miles,” we thought, “we won’t need a route sheet!” At that point, I really didn’t know how much climbing there would be or how hot it can get during a Chico April.
Perhaps I should have been better prepared, but on most organized rides, the organizers provide most of what you need: food, water, electrolyte drink, and directions. The food may not always be good, but it is usually plentiful.
But, apparently, the Wildcat 100 was a new route for this group. Thus, they had no idea how long it would take for the participants to make it to rest stops.
The first 48 miles were epic. Cool and shady, the climb to 3300 feet was stunning and challenging. The rest stop at the top was shared with riders doing the Wildcat 125 route (which, though longer, appears to have been an easier route). By that point we were relaxed and confident and relatively well fed — oddly, the first rest stop only had cookies and fruit as snacks, while the second had the same plus some bars. Neither stop had electrolyte drink.
Though that was not enough food for me, I ate what I could and even stashed a couple bars in my pocket. We went on, feeling good and ready for lunch. The time was only about 11:30, so we weren’t worried about finishing.
C. Wherein I Confront my Dragon.
I can still remember the moment when I started to worry.
At about mile 66 after a sustained 10 mile descent, our route rejoined the regular century. There was confusing route markings, so I stopped to wait for Jon and Matthew. I waited nearly 15 minutes, believing they were right behind me and lunch was right in front of me (I understood that there would be a lunch stop at mile 78 — strangely far into the ride, but not as strange as reality).
I waited and waited and many many riders passed me. It got hot and my hunger made me realize it was time to continue without them. I rode on, and on, and on in the hot sun with my lukewarm water and nothing to eat. The road was beautiful, green fields turning California gold on both side, and no one anywhere near me.
This is where I met my dragon.
The road is long. “Am I on the right road? I followed the blue markers and this is where they led. I know I’m in the right place, I just wish that Jon and Matthew had caught up with me. Had I missed something? Was one of the injured or plagued by mechanical problems?” The questions kept coming, but with no way to answer them (and no cell signal), I had no choice but to continue on.
I finally got to the rest stop at mile 78, only to learn that all the food was gone and the roadies were packing up. Hot. Dry. Confused and irritated. I ate the bars I had brought and drank half a bottle of juice left over from the food that had been there — fortunately it was very cold — and refilled my water bottles. I waited there for another 15 minutes for Jon and Matthew, but they never appeared. So, still very hungry, I got back on the road.
But a little intuition told me to wait at the entrance to the rest stop for Jon and Matthew. I did and only about 5 minutes later they appeared. I was very relieved and — with only 22 miles left to go, ready for the challenge. The time was about 2:30 p.m., so I figured we could complete those miles in only a little over an hour. Wrong!
The climb up Table Mountain took at least an hour, and the descent (despite the sign which said “its all down hill from here” and some killer down hills) was gentle rollers and some tiring flat stretches which took over an hour.
It took two and a half hours to complete the ride from where I rejoined Jon and Matthew in part because the distance was not 22 miles, but was 31 miles — a distance which typically takes me under 2 hours, but with the very steep ascent and the heat dragged on.
D. Wherein I Slay my Dragon.
That is where I slew the dragon.
I made it to the top of Table Mountain without stopping and running on empty. I was very pleased with that effort and it seemed my frustration and mental suffering internalized and turned into a Zen-like peace. I felt comfortable with the heat and my now painful butt. I felt like I was invincible.
The dragon had me in its jaws, but I didn’t care. I just smiled at it, holding it at arms length. “I’m here. I’m nowhere near any permanent physical ailment. I’ve trained for this and I can do this.” So, though I didn’t have much more than that — and still hadn’t eaten enough food — I knew I could finish. It was that feeling which carried me though.
We continued on along the amazingly beautiful top of Table Mountain — reminiscent of the Shire — chatting and with renewed confidence. We descended down past the now-closed mile 90 ersatz lunch stop (really? mile 90?). We continued on and on and on. In the sun, the flats which led back to the start point were far more difficult than they should have been.
Finally, we hit mile 100. Mile 100 occurred just above Highway 70 near a town called Durham. Its a great spot, because it is surrounded by fields and you can see in all directions for at least 5 miles. And one thing I could see is that there was no buidlings for at least 5 miles in the direction we were traveling. No buildings means no end point. No end point means that the ride was longer than 100 miles. And at 100 miles, your brain starts to count each tenth.
100.1. 100.2 … 101.3…. 102… The count went on and with each passing 10th, I had to force myself not to freak out. I fantasized about it, though. I fantasized about telling off the ride organizers for planning a route with no useful rest stops. I fantasized about a Big Mac (which I never got). I fantasized about laying in the road weeping. I fantasized about a truck hitting me and running me into the gutter, never to be found again.
What helped? Only one thing: riding. I kept pedaling. I sipped my water slowly so as not to use it all up. I at the last morsel from my pocket (a pack of Honey Stingers — thanks Matthew). And I kept riding. A few riders passed me, and as I inquired about how much further we had to go, they could only give me helpless looks.
Then, finally, at mile 109.4 I arrived at the end point. The time was 5:04 p.m. and I was going to eat if I had to force one of the organizers to drive me to a restaurant. Jon and Matthew arrived a few minutes later and observed that dinner must not have ended because Bear wasn’t screaming. They were right, of course, I probably would have been banned for life from the event if there had been no more food.
Fortunately, there was and it was good. I was the sort of hungry you get when you’re beyond hungry. So I could only eat a small amount compared to the number of calories I had just burned. Pulled pork, tofu, noodles, and salad. It was so good, I can barely describe it. I sat alone and shoveled the food in until the plate was nearly clean.
When Jon and Matthew sat down, we bonded over the experience, compared out dragons, and laughed.
It was one of the best rides of my life. Thanks dragons.