End of summer? Bike-venture!

As I alluded to in my last post, my legs are suffering the effects of an unusually epic end-of-summer bike adventure earlier this week. I’ve been meaning to write about said adventure earlier, but to be perfectly honest my legs aren’t the only things that are tired and I’ve been spending my usual evening blogging time writing very short, picture filled posts rather than tackling a re-living of what was a fulfilling but extremely long day in the saddle. But now I’m stuck at my desk with a large coffee periodically waiting for Matlab to chug through some code before sending it the next dataset, which allows for some perfect 2-minute writing intervals to get the details of my exhausting adventure written down.

It started with an email inviting me to join my cycling group for a nice ride up to Aspen on Tuesday. A nice 40-mile ride up to Aspen. And another 40 to get back. Somehow I convinced myself that two back-to-back long rides and a total distance of 30 miles longer than my longest ever ride would be ‘not that bad’ and signed on for the full ride. I started getting a bit nervous as Tuesday approached, but showed up not-quite-bright and early out at the starting location Tuesday morning with 2 water bottles, a bag full of snacks, and what I hoped was an unnecessary rain jacket.

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The ride started off unusually cold and I was grateful for my last-minute decision to bring my coat, and was actually wishing for tights and toe covers for the first 10 miles. The first part of the ride passed happily enough, with the smaller packs within the group playing leapfrog and plenty of newly-met riding buddies to chat with to pass the time. We spotted a few cottontails off the side of the bike path and rolled quietly through the morning shadows, taking in the views of grazing horses scattered about the quiet, chilly pastures through breaks in the willows lining the path. Around 20 miles I stopped with a group at a restroom and ended up getting separated from the main group. The two gals that I was with started chatting behind me and I ended up zoning out a bit and rolling away in the front until I realized they were no longer close behind me and I was suddenly riding alone.

I figured I might be able to catch up to the main group if I picked up the pace, but underestimated the toll of riding alone into the slight headwind and gradual uphill grade on my pace. I ended up riding alone for the next 10 miles, which resulted in a bit of extra distance as I missed the main trail detour that the group had taken. I started getting nervous about the distance as my legs grew heavy on the rolling hills with 10 miles to the turnaround and 50 left on the ride. What had I gotten myself into?!? I finally caught up with a couple riders from the group who were dealing with a slow tube leak and stuck with them for a bit, extremely pleased to have some company to distract me from my fatigue and slight panic. Unfortunately we ended up missing the main group at the turnaround point and spent a few frantic miles searching Aspen for our group (and, more importantly, our delicious and desperately needed sandwich orders!). I may have briefly considered collapsing on the side of the trail and crying myself to a sad, cycling and hunger induced death instead of facing the horrible fact that I still had 40+ miles to ride on already dragging legs. Luckily I persevered, and we finally found the group as they were getting ready to roll out again and, thank heavens, found our sandwiches safely sitting on the group picnic table.

In my slightly hangry, anxious state I was terrified of getting left by the group again and having to ride the 40 miles back alone, so I consumed my sandwich (delicious, heavenly pulled pork, mmm) in the same style that I once watched my parents’ black lab gulp down a whole dead quail that she found on a walk, and then hopped back on my bike, praying I’d be able to digest the sudden influx of food on the ride.

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Hanging on…

Fortunately the slight trail grade was much more helpful heading down than I’d expected, and I got to spend the first 10 miles rolling with the group, focusing only on coasting tightly behind the rider in front of me and converting my sandwich into something my muscles could hopefully use to carry me home. My hunger-induced brain fog cleared a bit and my legs regained a little pep from the brief lunch stop, and I actually forgot about the distance for a bit and enjoyed the next 20 miles of beautiful downhill riding. We had a perfect paceline going on the downhill and, although I didn’t feel strong enough to take any turns at the lead, I did start to think that I just might make it home if I stuck with the group.

I started fading again around 10 miles to go, but motivated myself with the thought that I’d just ridden 20 miles further than my longest-ever ride and with some chocolate GU. Chocolate is magic and I needed a little at that point. The last 10 passed in a bit of a fuzz and missed mile markers – 6 to go, 3.5 to go, 2 to go….done!!!

And then there was cold beer. And glorious, glorious stretching. And no more pedaling or bike seats or neck-cricking, or having to support my torso with my arms. It was AMAZING.

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I ended up riding 86 miles due to the detours, or about 30 miles over my longest summer ride. Overall it was a good, if exhausting and occasionally panic-inducing, experience and I got to feel extremely accomplished for the remainder of my day. Once I’d made it home I mostly felt accomplished from the sitting-and-stuffing-my-face and lying down on the floor unable to move positions. Good times!

I’m still a bit tired, but my arms/shoulder/neck are no longer sore and my legs have gone from sore and tired to just tired. I rode into work yesterday and only noted a few aches, which is encouraging, and I actually started thinking about weekend rides today without instantly being overcome by dread. Most encouraging, I somehow managed to nearly bonk at halfway, and then come back for another 40 miles, while only ever really feeling as poorly as I did during the last 5 miles of my first 25-mile ‘long’ ride this summer! So glad I decided to push my limits and see what I could get out of my legs over the course of 6 hours. Doing a full century next summer no longer seems like an impossible task – just a very tough, training-motivating adventure!

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