I had taken an entire week off of biking, and so I was itching to ride when I showed up at the Tuesday night gravel group ride earlier this week. I went out beforehand on my own and rode for just over an hour, even managing a few Strava segment PRs with my fresh legs, and then rolled up to the meeting point. I pulled a Little Debbie snack cake out of my jersey and started eating it, explaining to another one of the riders that I’m still testing various gas station “solid foods” so I know what my stomach can tolerate during the Alexander. The group assembled and we rolled out.
We had massive headwind on the way out, by design. I tucked in behind the train and enjoyed the draft. I’m really short (5’1.5″, to be exact) and can tuck into almost any air stream! I decided I should work a little and pulled for a bit, but DAMN it was hard. I tucked back into the draft and started intermittently getting dropped…! And then, things got worse.
I was thirsty so I drank some water, but by now my stomach was PISSED. I felt nauseous and soon the dry heaving began. The only thing I could think is “what fresh new hell is this?!” I asked to be dropped as I could find my way back and was CLEARLY slowing the group down; however, they wouldn’t have it. They made sure to keep me attached and we rolled back into town. I thanked the group for waiting for me and felt duly embarrassed by how badly I had imploded.
Wednesday brought no riding as I spent time putting my house back together after the rough week before. Thursday night was spin class and my favorite instructor wasn’t there. I’m sure it annoys the heck out of the instructors when I don’t follow along with what I’m supposed to be doing, but when spin class turns into exercise bike calisthenics I just won’t participate!
Friday morning I woke up and met a friend for coffee to talk about his experiences with the Alexander. I was right next to one of my favorite donut shops so I couldn’t resist picking up a box for the office. I am always amazed at how much joy a $10 box of donuts can bring to my coworkers!
I tried to settle into a rhythm at work but couldn’t. I was obsessively checking the weather and race information for Lakeville-Milltown-Lakeville which was scheduled for Saturday. It’s a race for the hard core riders; however, too many impassable roads in the area pushed the race director to postpone it further into April**. Dammit. I was really looking forward to 85 miles of suffering and racing, trying to defend my first place finish from last year. This year a few more fast ladies were on the roster so I knew it was going to be TOUGH.
I felt more hyper at work (full caffeine coffee will do that to a girl..) and I felt slightly angry at the world. I had snapped at a coworker the day before and I knew I couldn’t afford to do that again … so I fled. I told one of my bosses that I was taking an impromptu half day of vacation, and out the door I went.
I loaded up a route on my Garmin that I had created before but never ridden. What the heck, let’s go explore! My impulsiveness is a little ill advised, but I DID make the smart choice to start the ride a few miles down the road from my house to cut out some of the most monotonous highway miles, the same ones that would likely be loaded with traffic on my return.
I knew it windy again that day but I didn’t realize how bad. I had a wicked cross wind on the roll out, and then I turned south and straight into the wind. I was cycling next to the barren farm fields, which really allowed the wind to whip me around. I began to doubt my decision to do a long ride – I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, I had worked a half day, and THEN I wanted to hit up 6 hours in the saddle. Whoops.
I kept riding on, telling myself I could turn around at any point, but I knew those miles were the least fun of the whole route. I kept pushing, trying not to look at my Garmin stats and instead focused on perceived effort.* The route turned east onto a road I hadn’t ridden before — suddenly, the landscape began to change. There were a few more trees, and a slight undulation to the land. Soon, the roads weren’t straight; they began to curve and wind.
I turned a corner and started a large descent – I thought, ok, no turning back now — if I go down this big hill I am NOT immediately biking back up to start my bail out. The descent was gorgeous, heading into a beautiful river flood plain. I wound through the valley on a few low traveled roads. I came upon an oak savanna and smiled – damn I love trees. And then, I spotted a herd of buffalo among the oaks! I grinned and decided that it would be a good spot to pull over, eat something, and take a picture.
At that point I realized I was running out of water… shit. My impulsivity had gotten me in trouble – I had a route and I wasn’t lost; however, I failed to think about where the refuel points were and if needed a third bottle. Yep, I did.. Dammit. I climbed out of the valley on a slow, rambling backroads highway. I popped out on a major highway, having thought I could use that as a bailout option; however, it was jam packed with cars and didn’t have a decent shoulder. Whoops.
I took the next scheduled turn and again found myself on a more deserted highway. I could pedal hard even while descending due to the headwind and still not feel fast. I continued cycling and I passed the same recreational “rails to trails” paved trail from the last long ride I had done. I decided I wasn’t going to bail just yet as I still hadn’t hit the majority of the scenic roads. Next I hit a large gradual uphill. I was sheltered from the wind, again saw barely any cars, and the scenery was beautiful. I hit the top of the hill and was once again blasted with wind. I was about 45 miles into my ride and officially out of water now.
I sat outside the church contemplating my options. The hilliest part of the ride was yet to come and I was out of water… Ugh. I decided to cut it short – I took the other major highway back into town. I couldn’t get the thought of a nice cold Coke out of my head..! I time trialed the 10 miles back to town, braving the narrow shoulder and passing herds of cars. I hit the gas station, hydrated, and felt much better. I headed back out, this time with a strong tailwind at my back. I could fly along at 20 mph with barely any effort!*
I got back to my car with about 5 hours of moving time under my belt for the day. Not bad for a day I thought would include zero riding. My impulsivity also meant that there was no good food at home, so I rolled through a fast food drive-thru and scarfed down food.
This upcoming week I am scheming taking my boyfriend up on the offer of a one-way trip to northern Iowa (he’d drive up and pick me up), biking hills all day on Friday when he’s at work, and then biking home on Saturday (or, part way home) for about 130 miles of gravel on Saturday. Fingers crossed the weather and road conditions will allow this to happen!
* One of my challenges lately has been to rely less on the numbers that my Garmin shows me. I’m an engineer by training, I have had it beaten into my head that if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count. However, this results in many demoralizing rides. This year I’m riding more gravel, more offroad, more solo miles, choosing to take the heavier bike(s) sometimes to really make rides hurt, and choosing to ride on days when the road conditions really slow me down, and the effects are showing in my distance and speed data. I am focusing more on how I feel, perceived exertion, and hours in the saddle. Hopefully this focus will pay off during the Alexander 380!
** I suspect one of the reasons that the race this weekend got postponed was that the race director wanted a good turn out. The race is also a fundraiser for a local guy that has cancer. His brother and nephew are big into the cycling scene around here (his brother has taken the best picture of me on a bike, ever, a few weeks ago at the Fat Bike Frozen Forty). I’ve never met his brother Jason but the family is full of pretty cool people. If you’re feeling generous, go check out the fundraiser.