A few weeks ago I missed a crucial turn on my bike as I flew down highway 88 in Northern California into the late afternoon sun. Not realizing my mistake for a mile or so, I continued hammering down the shallow grade, doing, most likely, completely incorrect ETA calculations in my head to figure out if I’d be back by dinner. When your ride time is over seven hours, a one or two mile detour doesn’t mean anything. I still cursed at myself pretty loudly as I realized my error and turned around, thinking of the extra 400 feet of climbing I’d have to do because of the screw up. I take it back. When your ride time is over seven hours, every second and every foot of elevation matters quite a bit.
Earlier that morning I’d set out on a monster of a ride from my family’s cabin, which is about a dozen or so miles from Lake Tahoe in the Sierras. Adelaide and I had spent the previous five days doing big hikes with my mom and cousin, swimming in lakes, and lounging on hot rocks by the river to soak up the heat after dipping in the frigid, clear water. I wouldn’t say that I was out of shape necessarily, but I hadn’t really been riding for over a week and my legs were tired from a 14 mile hike we’d done the day before. With that in mind, I decided that six hours would be the limit. Nothing more, and hopefully nothing less.
Pack Saddle Pass went by quickly. It’s a medium length, medium steep climb about a mile and a half from the cabin and tops out at a little over 7,000 feet (the average elevation of the ride was well over 7,000 feet). I descended, climbed, descended, and climbed some more for a long time on a single-lane, chip seal road with no traffic. The only worry in the back of my head being mountain lions, since my dad had a stand-off with a 200 pound cat in the middle of that exact road 10 years before and the story has always stuck with me.
I popped out on highway 88, which had cars and semis, so the peaceful part of my ride was over. The shoulder was good though, and the traffic wasn’t heavy. I passed lakes, campsites, ski areas, a few mountain passes, stopped for water once, and before I knew it I was three hours into the ride (my cue to turn around). But since my current elevation was quite a bit higher than the starting elevation at 5,600 feet, I knew that if I turned around at three hours I’d be home in less than three. I’d just summited the largest pass of the day and was descending pretty fast, so if I could hold off turning around for 10 minutes that would be a lot of climbing I’d force myself to do on the way back. I’m a fan of out and backs sometimes for that very reason.
My two main worries for the first half of the ride were that I’d turn around too soon and wouldn’t get in six hours, and that Maybellene would run off from the cabin and wander onto the busy road next to it since neither I nor Adelaide were there to watch her.
My first worry disappeared a few minutes into the descent. My goal of getting six hours now turned into getting over 12,000 feet of climbing. I continued the 15 mile descent, realizing that my third goal should be to get at least 120 miles also. I continued worrying about Maybellene running into the road, but there was nothing I could do at this point so I continued riding.
I finally turned around somewhere after Woodfords (near Markleeville if that means anything to you), two or three miles from the Nevada border. I looped around and stopped in at a country store and bought two Snickers ice cream bars and a large gatorade. Then I filled my bottles in the bathroom and took my feast out to the front porch to eat in the 90 degree afternoon sun.
Back on the bike, heading up the 15 mile climb to Kit Carson Pass, the heat picked up to 97 or 98, perfect Kennett temperature. Unfortunately, my damn mind was obsessed with thoughts of Maybellene running into the road back at the cabin and getting hit. I cursed myself for not brining a phone to check in with my mom and ask if she was still hanging around the cabin or not. Also, by that point I was four and a half hours into the ride, which would normally be nearing the end of most rides I do. I had another fifty miles and six thousand or more feet to climb.
I topped out at just under 8,500 feet on Kit Carson Pass and it was all downhill from there, for the most part. Just 4,000 feet more climbing to go! I took a detour up to a ski resort and spent the rest of my money on more food, this time opting for a rice crispy treat and a regular Snickers since they didn’t have ice cream. I continued worrying about Maybellene.
One of the worst things you can have going on during a long ride is a negative thought about something that you have no control over. It seems like most people treat training as a stress reliever or therapy of sorts, while for me it brings out all the bad emotions and thoughts I have going on and amplifies them until I get home. Typically, I have to be in a fairly good mood to get any training accomplished without just turning around early.
Turning around early wasn’t an option at this point in the ride. By now we’ve passed the point in the story where we began when I missed that turn. I climbed back up the highway, made the turn, and cruised downhill on Silver Fork–the chip seal, single-lane road near the beginning of the ride, and thought about food. Something other than sweet food, as my stomach was getting a bit turned off from sugar at that point.
The heat seemed to pick up again on the final climb of the day, heading back up the other side of Pack Saddle, which is longer and steeper than the front side and takes about 40 minutes. The bottom section hits the double digits in gradient, though my legs were still holding up decently well and handled it easily. I wasn’t so much as tired but just ready to be off the bike. I topped Pack Saddle Pass and descended, avoiding wheel-eating potholes throughout. I saw my dad’s car heading towards me at the bottom and smiled. I thought of all the long rides that I would do back home in Oregon where he’d worry that it was taking me too long and come looking for me. Even though I was only a mile and a half from the cabin, I was happy to throw the bike on the back and take the ride. I chugged two bottles of sour pink lemonade he’d made–finally something not sweet.
I got home and Maybellene was fine. I took a short shower, ate, and laid in my sleeping bag outside, feeling ill for an hour or so before eating more. It’s a good sign to feel somewhat sick after a big ride. It means you went hard enough. 125 miles and 13,600 feet of climbing in under seven and a half hours meant that I went long enough at least. The ride was just a prelude to the next few weeks of training back at home, which would each be over 30 hours.
While my running shape has gone to shit and I’ve had to cancel another race (Timberman) because of my hip injury, my swimming and riding are coming right along. And thankfully the season is still somewhat young in terms of triathlon. I hope to be racing through November if everything goes to plan, which is:
Santa Cruz 70.3
Los Cabos 70.3
Cozumel full (big question mark)
Nothing ever goes to plan though. I’m fine with that. As long as I get to go out on big training days, not get harassed by drivers too much, and eat a lot of food, I have no serious complaints.