Saturday, May 4, 2013

First week of Double-Century Training: The Solo Century

I went to bed last night with a lot of questions-- mainly: was I really going to do a double-century? One supported by Planet Ultra, no less? Well, luckily one of my ride-mates gave me another, much more sane option: another ride in the Eastern Sierra that's held in September called the White Mountain Double. The hardest climb begins at mile 17 and results in riding through the sort of high country that sports bristlecone pines. SOLD.

Oh yeah: but you have to ride the rest of the 180 miles for it to count as a Double-Century. Hence, today's ride.

The lovely club I usually ride with decided-- long ago back when registration was still open-- to ride the Wine Country Century. I, alas, did not make the cut-off before all slots were filled and so this week left me with two options: ride alone or putter around the house, doing things like laundry. So, I thought: well, if I'm going to be able to ride 200 miles in September, there's a good chance I'll have to do those miles-- most of them-- alone. And what a way to kick off the training than by riding the distance of a century-- 100 miles-- all on my own.

You see, it's kind of a big deal for me since I've never ridden that far by myself. I've done 80-mile rides. And I've done 120-mile rides with the Diablo Cyclists. But neither one is quite like riding 100 miles all on your own-- or, that's the lesson of the day. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

6:00 AM: THE CAT WENT OFF.  (who needs an alarm clock when you have a CAT? Or, if you have my cat who absolutely will not stand for me to be in bed once the clock's display changes from 5:59 to 6:00 am.) Trill-chirp-eow and then a catapulting-jump-to-the-stomach and I'm up.  While the water boiler does it's thing I start to think: what if I started today's ride by climbing to the summit of Mt. Diablo?

I questioned my sanity while I poured the water over the coffee: Mt. Diablo? Really?  I sort of hate that ride.  Or, I tell myself I hate that ride because I remember hill sprints I did on that mountain and tempo rides and rides after full swim workouts and the junction is about enough if you're going as hard as you can... and, usually, the summit, for me, is out of the question. But there was something in the air today; or, some new focus I have that said, gently: you don't have to go fast. You just have to do it. 

From there, I decided I'd just tack on a club ride-- what we call the "Peets Coffee Ride" which includes the following climbs: The Pig Farm, The (3) Bears, Wildcat Canyon, Grizzly Peak, Tunnel Road, Redwood/Pinehurst and for fun I added Glorietta (not really much of a climb, but a fun downhill) at the end.

The best decision of the day came moments before I rushed out the door, hopped on my bike and began this solo journey: I made myself an almond butter and jam (Mom's homemade plum jam) sandwich. Little did I know: it would be the thing that would save me.

1. MT. DIABLO. I got to the gate around 8:00 am and already it was warm.... and windy. DAMN. I think my teammates might be right: I'm a jinx when it comes to wind. If you've never climbed Mt. Diablo, let me describe it for you: this sort of sucks, sort of sucks, then the road levels (funny, it feels downhill) before the climb to the 1,000 foot elevation mark when "this sucks" turns into whatever word would describe what it would feel like to throw up a lung because it's steep. I passed a guy there who had stopped-- he was the first one I saw at all today, which was so odd. There are usually a lot of cyclists on Diablo on the weekend; but starting out, I had the impression I was the only one.

I soon caught up with another: this one, wearing white bike shorts (the kind with suspenders) OVER a thermal blue shirt. What people think is OK to wear in public.... I didn't see him again (thank heavens.)

Up the switchbacks, I passed one other (male) cyclist but hardly saw anyone on the road. I kept telling myself to drink all the water I had--- I nearly did-- before reaching the junction (about 6 miles up.) Once there, I did see a group of cyclists but they seemed to have no intention of moving (to say nothing of cycling) so I quickly refilled my bottles and headed up for the final 4.5 miles.

You know, it wasn't as awful as I remembered it: I just kept a steady cadence and heart rate-- nothing outrageous, nothing too low, either.  I would pass another guy maybe two miles later before the expansive lookout, before the 3,000' foot marker. But otherwise, the road was mine. I worried about the wind: would it be in my face for that final climb to the top?

From the Summit of Mt. Diablo looking toward the bay, the Pacific Ocean and beyond. Hard to see much from all the fire-smoke.

This would be the first day I didn't stop en route to the summit. I just kept up that steady pedal stroke, a steady heart rate, feeling slow (seeing visions of the guys I ride with passing me and shaking their heads) but just going.  Sooner than expected, there was the last push to the summit--and it wasn't so bad. It was windy as F*** but not so bad.

I tried to refill my water bottles at the top, but the wind kept the water from coming out of the water fountain the way it was supposed to. I tried holding my bottle on the opposite side, but I would only catch stray droplets.  I decided to refill at the junction after taking a few quick snapshots of the incredible view, obscured in the distance by fire-smoke.

My trusty steed at the summit; lucky she didn't blow over from all the wind. I couldn't even refill my bottles since the wind made the water from the fountain spray in the opposite direction.

2. THE PIG FARM & THE BEARS: There's probably nothing more fun than riding down Mt. Diablo. Wow. I wish I had a video-thingy on my helmet. But you'd probably still not "get" it: the wind, the road, the swerve: it's a roller coaster you control.  Back down to civilization: I had a dingle-berry (another rider on my wheel) the entire way down. Why-- I have no idea. I'm pretty slow on downhills, in part, due to falling hard in 2010.

To get to the Pig Farm-- and to the Bears-- you have to ride through Walnut Creek and through part of Pleasant Hill. I hate city-riding: and I was the only cyclist on those sections of roads today. Looking back: I wonder if I ought to have stopped at one of the gas stations for more water. The sun was higher in the sky and it was, already, HOT.   But these are the details which become important in retrospect.

It would a 30-mile stretch between the junction on Mt. Diablo and the next water stop. I decided I would ride it was quickly as I could and refill at the top of Wildcat Canyon. It wasn't the smartest decision I've ever made; but I made it. And, once Pleasant Hill faded into farm and ranch land, there wasn't anything I could do but ride.

The climb to the Pig Farm (I guess it was a pig farm at one point, though I've never seen any pigs here. Goats. Some Cows. No pigs.) It's an undulating up with trees until you get to the climb and then, it's all sun and UP. The downhill's fun, but it killed a guy last year when he ran into a wild turkey who was hidden by the shadows.

From there, you continue to "The Bears"-- a series of long, steady climbs in full-sun.  IT WAS HOT OUT and I hated every drop of sweat that fell from my helmet knowing my water was limited until I could refill at the top of Wildcat.

Once again: I was alone. Hardly another person on the road. Even the cars were scarce and I started to worry that the world had ended an no one had bothered to tell me. I saw one guy after the climb on Mama Bear-- I caught him, passed him-- but he passed me again at the top of Papa Bear and he turned toward Orinda when I would head up Wildcat.

I FELT AWFUL. My knees ached and it was an effort just to MOVE. (I think I was dehydrated.) So, climbing Wildcat was awful, which is unfortunate because usually I love this climb. It's not steep, but steady: I love shifting into the absolute hardest gear I can handle and really passing others on the up. But today:  no one else was on the road and I had nothing in my legs. I kept telling myself to get to the water stop. If nothing else: drink all the water I could and then I could quit.

But you know, the funny thing is: I didn't want to quit.

3. WILDCAT TO GRIZZLY PEAK: I drank an entire bottle of water and more when I stopped at the "top" of Wildcat-- at a restroom which was populated by Porche enthusiasts and not a single cyclist but me. I ate the first half of my impromptu sandwich and felt-- almost immediately-- better. I drank another bottle of water and refilled everything to the brim.

The Porche convention from my spot in the shade. About 25 cars all lined up; and a group of people, below with chips and salsa. I was giddy enough with water and the half of the sandwich I didn't think I'd need.

Up Shasta to Golf Course and then Grizzly Peak: it was strange, these empty roads. The fact that my cell phone offered me no coverage made me even more wary: what on earth was going on? But I chose to ride, because, I guess, that was my only option. Up Grizzly Peak and down into Berkeley to the Peets across from the Claremont Hotel. There, I'd guzzle a coconut water and eat the other half of my sandwich, knowing I was not yet done with this ride.
The bike outside the Berkeley Peet's. I'm the only cyclist there; so odd for a Saturday. The coconut water was delish.

4. TUNNEL ROAD TO SKYLINE TO REDWOOD: There was not another body on the road: hardly any cars, either. So strange. The first few miles up Tunnel Road--taking me out of Berkeley and back into the Oakland hills-- hurt. My heart rate was rather low, but it was as though I had nothing left in my legs.

I stopped and tried to take a photo: the bay was clear and you could see out, even to the ocean, but I re-saddled quickly since I was hardly feeling 100%. I wanted to finish: I wanted to ride this stupid 100 miles on my own.

I had originally planned to take Pinehurst home-- a windy descent that would lead me into Moraga, but I was worried I'd come in under 100 miles, so I decided to extend the ride and do Redwood Road before Pinehurst. That meant another (2) climbs; nothing too crazy; but my legs were tired.

Yet: I really wanted to ride a century on my own and that goal was enough-- even at mile 75-- to keep me from turning back early. Why? I still have no idea. but yes: I made the decision to go the long way home. To climb more. To hurt more. Alone.
Once again, my trusty bike, this time in Sidley Park after the climb up Tunnel Road. 

5. PINEHURST, GLORIETTA, HOME.  Have you ever had a moment when your body supersedes your mind? Like: your mind says: there's no way I can do this! And your body simply, efficiently, well, does. That would be the best way to describe my final miles. Half of my brain was ready to be done. The part that kept me going was the body-part: the part that said, again and again: you can do this. One more mile. Just one more. And then, another. 

Down Redwood and then up again: that would get me to Pinehurst, to Moraga Road. I decided to head back toward Orinda; I was afraid I wouldn't even come close to 100 miles if I just rode by Saint Mary's College.

Wind in my face; nothing in my legs. Moving, them, though. Riding. Alone. Down the boulevard. Turning onto Glorietta. The slight climb. The descent. Riding by the reservoir. Riding through town.  My lovely driveway. The disappointment that I only rode 93.7 miles. Event though I felt worse than a used wash rag.

BUT WHAT A DAY! I climbed to the summit of Mt. Diablo: and rode nearly 100 miles without any help or any one. I hope I can finish a 200-mile ride in September.
HOME! HOME!  The most amazing bike EVER on my deck at HOME. I am so happy to have made it, considering the wind & the heat: my two greatest foes.

For now: dinner and bed. I've got to get up and run and then another 40-50 miles to make this solo weekend adventure worthwhile.

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