Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The longest ride of my life: 124 miles

Pat, Lee, me and David at the top of the Geysers at mile 60

The date: Monday, September 3, 2007

The plan:
Me, David, Pat and Lee were to meet in Windsor, CA at 6:15 a.m. and leave around 6:30 a.m. to ride 124 miles. The ride included heading north to Cloverdale, riding up through the Geysers, down the other side to Geyserville, into Healdsburg via Old Redwood Hwy and back to Windsor, then out Eastside Road to Sebastopol, into Graton, up Graton Rd. to Occidental, out Bohemian Hwy to Monte Rio, then catching Hwy 116/River Rd. back through Guerneville and all the way back to Windsor.

The report:
It's difficult to describe what was easily one of the most memorable and best rides of my life. Again, my deepest thanks to Anna for being there with that awesome lunch. She's a lifesaver!

I called my mom to let her know we finished and came out okay and then I said, without any hesitation:

"I can say that I have never loved any athletic activity so much in all my life. I fall more in love with this sport every time I ride."

It's really true. Yesterday's epic ride, in spite of the tough moments, was no different and it also makes me appreciate the fantastic group that we are. I'm being all sentimental and everything but it really heartens me to see the way we watch out for each other, help each other when we need it, and motivate each other with insults and props alike. Not only that, in spite of being occasional whiners, this group is NOT A BUNCH OF WIMPS! We challenge each other and ourselves with long rides, tough hills and great pace lines. Then we get better and do it some more. The common bond is a love of the sport and through that bond we've shared many laughs and good times that make the sport that much more fun.

So...now that I'm done waxing poetic about how cool we all are...let's talk about the ride!

I don't think this will be my typical long-winded race/ride report. I would like it to be, but there's just so much you can say about what happened in 7 hours and 40 minutes that it would go on forever. Instead, I've touched on some of the highlights, elaborating specifically on the Geysers:

-We meet at 6:15. The guys are all layered up like it's 40 degrees outside. It's really a balmy 58. What a bunch of wimps! Pat is convinced to lose his vest. I've got shorts, sleeveless jersey and arm warmers. David is still bundled up, then asks me "Is that all you're wearing?" "Yeah!" I answer back, in a tone that implies the idea that wearing anything more is just ridiculous. "Awwww man!" David responds. David is then convinced to "man up" and lose some clothing. The term "man up" was used multiple times throughout the day. :)

-First 40 miles somewhat uneventful. Beautiful morning, we ride through much of the Vineman course, Lee threatens to turn left onto Sweetwater and we say "go ahead!" We did them in exactly 2 hours - just what Pat predicted.

-The Geysers begins: starts off very smoothly and gentle with some up, flat and down and we ride together as a group, reveling in the sunshine, the beauty of the canyon alongside us, the serenity of the car-less road and just how happy we are to be spending our Monday like this.

Next section: We begin to split apart as the terrain has changed to sweeping uphill. Still gentle, but no flats or downhill - it just continues up. I maintain a steady cadence and just focus on using as little energy as possible and keeping a steady rhythm. With no iPod, it's me left to imagining I'm in spin class and just focused on my breathing and my pedal stroke. Rather meditative, actually! Between my focus and the beauty around me, I really feel fantastic and am so happy to be there, in that moment, taking in so much around me. The sun is bright but there are lots of shade spots that I go in and out of.

The #$&^*# Section: I'm lifted out of my happy, meditation state when I look up ahead and see the road get steeper. There's a house on my left with some folks out front. I wave to them and smile. Just past their house, the road splits: Geysers to the left, and who knows what to the right. I hear Pat say "take a right, Sarah." Pat and David are waiting at the turn. As I ride up to them, I notice I'm feeling parched and I only have one water bottle left. I could use more. Lee is fairly close behind me and as he rides up, I said "you know...not sure how you guys are on water but I think before we climb more (we had 10 more miles of STEEP climbing to go) I'm going to ask those folks if we can get some water. Everybody decided it was a good idea and the locals were happy to oblige. Water bottles full, we were ready to begin the ascent.

Now...I've mentioned climbing Sweetwater. Couple sections that are weave-worthy. Well...as we made the left-turn, I looked up and heard David say exactly what went through my mind: "uh oh." This grade was nothing to laugh at. While everybody was being vocal about it, I decided I just had to hunker down and focus. Use my breath. Use my strength. I can make it. This is steep but I KNOW I can spin this. Silently I pass by David and Pat and just continue to breathe and pedal. It's working! I'm almost there! AWESOME!

Awesome until...I get to 'the top' and turn right and see...there's more. Of the same. "Sh**" I think to myself. So much for spinning to the top. I couldn't hold that type of cadence if this would continue. David and Pat pass me. Soon after, Lee passes me. I just have to focus on getting through this as best I possibly can. I pedal more...the hill keeps going. Slow cadence, slow speed and it takes everything I have to just keep moving up this hill. "YOU CAN DO IT, SARAH!" Lee and I remain close together but somehow David and Pat are, as Lee put it, mountain goats. I weave a few times to give my legs a break. This is harder than anything I've ever done! Wishing I had that triple ring but grateful I have a 27 at least on my compact crank.

On it goes...Lee later called it "relentless" and I think that is the most apt term that describes the "*@#$*^ Section" of the Geysers.

Finally, we hit some flat. "THANK GOD!" I yell. We ride along the ridge of the mountain and as I turn around, my breath gets taken away. It is one of the most beautiful sights I've EVER seen in my LIFE. THIS is why it was worth it (and the descent). Northern Sonoma County, all there before me. I felt like I was on top of the world. "Look, Lee! Behind you!! WOW!!" I felt like a giddy kid who just can't stop being excited. It was gorgeous.

On we rode, then we had a SUPER SWEET descent that Lee almost crashed on. Thankfully, he didn't. I wished I had a computer on my new bike so I could see how fast I was going. It was fast enough to catch David and Pat. :)

We regrouped and did a bit more climbing, but nothing so bad as what was now behind us. This time, we had something besides a great view to look forward to: Anna and her picnic! I looked up the short hill ahead of me and there was their car, trunk open, food waiting. We all sped up and shouts of joy could be heard from everybody. "WOW!" "AWESOME!" Again - giddy like little schoolchildren. David remembered to put his camera in the car so courtesy of David, we had a couple good pics from the top of the Geysers!

We stopped for about 30 minutes to savor the company, food and views from on top of the world. It was a perfect resting stop at 4 hours into our epic ride. After that, we packed our snacks and headed down, down down the Geysers on what is one of the most beautiful descents I've ever been on. It ranks with the perfect day we rode down Oakville Grade and the entire Napa Valley was spread before me with no clouds or fog. Just...spectacular. Makes you appreciate where you live and having the ability to enjoy something so special.

Miles 60-80: Geyserville->Healdsburg->Windsor
Pat is a real cruel person to have had us go back into Windsor at mile 80. I have to admit, I was getting tired. However, it wasn't so much my desire to stop cycling as I noticed I was beginning to feel very dehydrated. My Accelerade was warm and I had no water. I had no desire to eat anything. My body just felt tired and my legs didn't seem to have a lot of power. I could feel my body getting close to overheating and I was caked in salt from all the sweat.

I mentioned I might consider ending the ride early, but as Lee mentioned, we have great cycling partners. Partners that won't let you quit!!! I know if somebody was really sick, we'd react differently. But they knew I had it in me and I later appreciated them for not letting me give in. No DNF!

We turned right onto Eastside Rd. in Windsor and it was there that I said "okay this is fine, but I'm really going to need some water." I knew I was dehydrated.

Miles 80-95: Windsor -> Graton -> Occidental
Windsor to Graton was tough but I got my 2nd (or was it 3rd, or 4th) wind. We had a couple hills that I just decided to power over because I just wanted to get them done. My legs burned as I did so but I was just happy to get through them. As we crossed 116 on Graton Rd., we noticed Lee was way behind us. What happened?

He rejoined us and we kept riding to Graton. Once at the Graton store, Lee then said "my seat rail broke." However, being the stud he is, he decided to just live with it. I must admit, I was impressed. I chugged down as much water as I could in Graton and refilled my bottles with water. Onward!

Graton Rd. into Occidental was where I cracked. That hill was a major BI**CH!!!! I don't think I've ever taken that road into Occidental or if I have, it's been awhile. I think I've come up the other way FROM Occidental...of course, never remembered what this climb would be like. I can summarize it by saying that every time I would think/hope it would flatten out, it would curve and then keep going up. Every ounce of energy I had was being used in climbing up this hill, and as I would get to a corner I would think "PLEASE, PLEASE be done." Nope.

Finally, as I rounded a corner and saw the hill continue to go upward, I nearly lost it. Nearing tears, I yelled at the top of my lungs, "GOD DAM**T!!!" I couldn't do it. Just done. I had nothing left. My legs were spent and I couldn't climb. I just couldn't. But...I had to.

I made a circle and David, who was initially behind me, rode past and said "are you okay?" "I will be" I said. As I made my circle I regrouped, took a deep breath, and kept climbing.

Miles 95->124 Occidental -> Monte Rio -> Guerneville -> Windsor
We regrouped at the bottom of Graton Rd. Turned right onto Bohemian Hwy and I decided I'd worked my @$ off for this descent and I was going to take it. Stupid wind slowed me down, but I stayed in my tuck and made it my mission to get down this hill as fast as I could. I rode to Monte Rio by myself so that I could collect my thoughts and be ready for the last 20 miles. I knew I was emotional because of the dehydration and the exhaustion from the heat (it had been in the low 90s all afternoon). I didn't want to just 'suffer' the last 20. I really wanted to enjoy them and continue to be happy to be doing what I was doing.

We regrouped in Monte Rio and rode a paceline that Pat pulled the whole way back to the hill on River Road. Nice job, Pat! I brought up the rear and ensured Lee was sticking with us. It was rather nice to finish on River Road that way, as a group. I was in a happy place again, and tried to think about all the emotions I'd been through and what I liked and disliked about the ride. I enjoyed being in our paceline, riding past all the tourists and drivers, proud of what we'd done together.

We had one last hill to tackle and that would be it. It was on River Road, and once we got over it, we'd be home free! Slusser Rd. would be coming up on the left and that was our home stretch. The hill was tough but I managed. We regrouped on the other side and turned left onto Slusser together.

The rest of the way back, we discussed the ride. We looked out across the valley and saw the Geysers - they looked so far away and so high! "We were up THERE THIS MORNING!!!" I said. It was quite a feat and I was so proud of us! David and I talked about how the prospect of even DRIVING 120 miles doesn't seem fun...but yet...to have ridden it...was fantastic.

The next day: final thoughts
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Would I go for 150? Heck yes!
HOWEVER: I don't want to plan another one for a weekend where there's a heat wave. I'm SO happy we did it and I have no regrets. But if we do our own long-@$$ ride without refueling stations, we can't do it on a day when your own water begins to taste nasty because it's HOT water in your water bottle. My other advice is to have real food packed as well. Clif bars and Clif shot blocks begin to really get old after about 80 miles. And they mess your stomach up after awhile, too.

THANK YOU PAT, DAVID AND LEE!!! I had a great time and it really is one of the best rides ever.



alisa said...

What a way to spend your day off! It sounds beautiful and difficult, which I guess is a good combination. Congratulations on the 124!

Sarah said...

hi Sarah,

I'm another Sara with an h who lives in Berkeley. I stumbled across your blog from a friend of mine's blog. You sound like a lot of fun to ride and run with! Awesome job at your recent races-- imagine what you'll do when you get the kinks worked out of your new bike! I'd love to work out with you sometime if you are interested. I am a trail runner and road cyclist. I mostly run with LUNA Chix and bike with Cal Cycling, but do a lot on my own also. I lead a friday morning run with a couple of friends called the Nickel and Dime run at 5:30AM from central berkeley up strawberry canyon trail. If you'd like to be in touch, I'm at ssyed *at* sonic.net (I don't blog).


Ethan said...

Congrats, Sarah. I love how your boys were telling each other to "man up." Very nice.


Cristi said...

124... you are super fit chic!
Road 75 on Saturday & really felt it on the last 10 miles. All the plyos I've been doing trash my legs.