My ride around Lake Tahoe was one of those.
I've thought about writing this since I came down that home stretch to Stateline yesterday, all afternoon and some of the way home on the drive today.
My challenge has always been brevity; I love words just like my mother does (and my grandfather...), and constantly fight in my speaking and my writing to say what I want to say with half the words I would like to use if it were up to me.
There were so many amazing things about yesterday's ride that I'd like to express in full detail, but that would take forever, not to mention go on for pages. So I'll try my best.
This was our 3rd year as a group doing the ride around Lake Tahoe, an organized ride produced by a group called Bike The West. The 1st year we did it in September as the "Tour de Tahoe." The last 2 years we've done the one in June called "America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride." Indeed, I think it could certainly be nominated as ONE OF America's Most Beautiful Bike Rides.
Lake Tahoe is blue like no other blue you've seen in real life. And there are different types of blues as you make your way around the Lake. From South Lake Tahoe, the water close to the shore is a green-blue. When you approach Emerald Bay the Lake is a deep royal blue that looks so clean and pure it's nearly unreal. Coming off the hill from Emerald Bay and closer to the North Shore, it begins to take on a deeper shade from the royal blue; almost navy but not quite that dark. As you make your way toward Incline Village past the north point of the lake and to the east side, the lake takes on a sea green again, but this time so clear you can see right down to the rocks and sand below. Coming down Spooner Grade with the wind in my face and taking a quick glance over to my right I spied a big piece of the middle of the lake: a deep dark blue, but still just a hint lighter than navy. It was so piercing and so pure-looking, it was difficult not to keep staring. But my eyes had to stay on the road ahead of me.
That was the story of much of the day; quick peaks to my right to take in the deep blue lake and the snow-capped mountains above it.
Guys and the FJ Mobile...I was a little late for this picture...:(
We left promptly at 7:30 a.m. from the Horizon Hotel parking lot behind the hotel. 72 miles to go and 8 riders all in Fitness Journal jerseys, committed to staying together through the morning and enjoying the ride.
I wasn't sure what was going to happen to me. I felt like I was in good cycling shape, but I've been slightly disappointed by my race performances on the bike this year. I went into this ride feeling cautious but ready to work hard.
First rest stop was in Emerald Bay, about 45 minutes in. My chest was hurting but otherwise I felt great. Quick sip of coffee, fixed a couple loose screws, and we were all off. I lamented not taking a picture there but it just wasn't long enough.
(Me at the top of the climb at Emerald Bay - photo courtesy Pat!)
The group reconnected at the top of the hill and we stayed together the whole way down the long descent. At one point I hit 50 mph as I remembered to tuck in my elbows and get a little further down into a crouch; I was gaining on Tim and Jim VERY quickly, yet they were close to the yellow line because they were passing other riders. I made a quick decision to brake instead of attempt to pass; it just wasn't worth it.
By the time we got to lunch in King's Beach at the other side of where we had started from (north side of the lake), I was beginning to really feel better in terms of the altitude. My chest still hurt, but I didn't necessarily still feel like the oxygen tank from which I was breathing had been half-capped.
(Group photo at King's Beach)
One thing the guys had been preaching was salt. At this stop, we refilled our water bottles and I sprinkled some salt into my drink, along with eating a few salt-sprinkled potatoes. A little stretch, group photo, pee break and off we went. We couldn't have stopped longer than 10 minutes or so.
One of my favorite parts of the ride is from King's Beach onward. I love the views from the road, and I love the climbing and rollers. This is a picture Pat took from Incline Village - love it!
As I gazed across this expansive lake, I couldn't believe that just a couple hours before we had been on the complete opposite side. Incredible!
At this point I realized I felt pretty damn good. The only times I'd been in the big ring were descending. I was keeping pace very well in my small ring and spinning at a nice high cadence. My legs felt fresh. I felt strong. YES!
Then the real climbing began. Spooner Grade.
The group split as we do on climbs. Pat, the king of all mountains in our group, quickly passed me. I passed a couple of other guys. I was simply content to stay within myself yet push just enough to know I was working for it. I kept it in my 25 for as long as I could and then thought "Sarah...you've got a 27...USE IT." Once I knocked it down to the 27, I began to gain on Pat just a tad, which surprised me. He is typically long-gone from my sight on climbs.
Up, up up we went. And I could still see Pat. He began to get a little further from me, but I knew I was still holding a pretty good pace. I just tried to use him as a guide, but not my motivator. I had my motivation inside me.
Later, after the ride, Brian told me this story from Spooner Grade, which pretty much made my day:
"So I was about 50 yards behind you on the climb. You passed this group of people. This one guy in the group looks at you. Then he looks again. THEN HE LOOKS AGAIN and decides to jump out of his group, gets out of his saddle and pushes hard to get on your wheel. He stayed with you for about 2 minutes and then you began to just ride away from him. It was SO AWESOME."
One of the great things of riding with a group is that they can tell you what goes on behind you. I had no idea that guy was ever there. I was simply in my own world, climbing MY climb, and just happy to be where I was.
We reconnected at the top of Spooner - the last rest stop of the day. I looked at my watch and I simply couldn't believe our time. About 3:20 in and only 12 miles to go - and I was still feeling so...fresh. I really couldn't explain it. I didn't feel tired. My legs weren't burning. Admittedly I hadn't done a lot of pulling through the day, but I had still worked hard.
Was it the salt? Stopping for brief moments? Spinning in my small ring?
I didn't know. But I was ready to head down the hill.
Jim, Matt and I pulled out ahead as we began the descent. Then I just saw Jim in front of me, along with some guy. Pretty soon it was the three of us side by side down this HUGE mountain, the wind blowing HARD. I spied the lake quickly and smiled as I took in a huge gulp of air.
THIS IS IT!!
I pulled out ahead as I tucked a little further, pedaled a couple strokes and pulled my elbows in. Ripping down a mountain at full speed with the wind in my face and a beautiful lake sitting beneath me is simply one of my most favorite things in cycling. It was such a pure moment, I felt like I was in church.
Finally it began to flatten and I was riding fast. I decided to keep going. I felt so strong and so great. I looked back quickly to see that Jim was further back but I had the other dude on my wheel.
After another few minutes, I heard the guy say "NICE PULL!" and he backed off. What happened? I didn't know if he just didn't want to hang on or what, but I kept going for a little further before I decided to stop and let the rest of the group catch up so we could regroup.
Once we were all eight in, we held together for the last 8 miles or so. Up and down the short kind-of-steep rollers, I continued to feel strong. I was leading the pack for much of this last stretch and recalled how I'd felt in previous years at this point; typically those last 8 miles were so tough because my legs were so tired.
We rolled through the finish line at the Horizon in 3:54 - I think our best time ever, but I'm not certain.
In any case, it was certainly the best year for me. We were truly a team. When we got scattered after a hill or a few rollers, the front folks would slow up a bit and once the back rejoined, they would yell "ALL IN!" and the front would confirm "All in" and pick up the pace again. We supported each other on climbs. We were all there to have a good time and enjoy the beautiful ride.
Not only were we a real team and had real team energy, but I truly enjoyed myself. Every ounce of me was so happy to be there to experience this.
Finally - I can easily say this was the best ride I've had all year. I feel strong. I feel confident. I still have work to do, but who doesn't? It was such a rewarding ride. My only lament is that it went by WAY TOO FAST!! I simply couldn't believe it when it was over. The time flew by and the whole time I was marveling at how quickly the minutes were passing.
I've also decided salt is my new best friend. I've always known I'm a salty sweater but never fully took into account how that affected me. I always just assumed I was SUPPOSED to feel tired after 3 hours of riding. Sure, I was tired yesterday, don't get me wrong. But I still had energy when we finished and I felt somewhat fresh. I really think the salt had something to do with this.
Another year of Tahoe under my belt...and it just keeps getting better.
Me and a nice cold beer at the finish...one of life's finest moments. :)