Monday, September 17, 2007

Day 1, part IV: In which I learn to love the small chain ring

At 25 miles, I was feeling fantastic. At 35, my energy was flagging, and I really started to wish for a sandwich. The food offered at most rest stops was hit or miss, and Gatorade that tasted like turpentine was a real pleasure.

At about 45 miles, I called up to Gary, "Okay, hold on a minute. I need to stop and gnaw on my own arm."

He laughed.

"You think I'm joking."

I kept promising myself that lunch had to be just over this hill. Okay, maybe this one. Or not.

Finally, after 50 miles, the rest stop that was serving lunch drew into view. It was a thing of beauty. Huge tents of tables. Shady grass laid with blankets. Volunteers handing out roast beef and turkey sandwiches, chips, and cookies. Hundreds of tired people relaxing, laughing, chatting, and listening to music.

I gladly accepted a bagged lunch from a volunteer and sat down with my team. "Good thing it's lunchtime, I'm starving!" I said.

Only suddenly, I wasn't. I stared down at my perfectly appetizing sandwich and chips, and it stared back at me. For some reason, the thought of putting food anywhere near my stomach made me want to hurl.

But this was my only decent chance to eat. Blaming the queasiness on low blood sugar, I started with the cookies. Because cookies can't hurt you.

I did feel slightly better as I moved on to the turkey, but nothing even vaguely resembling hunger ever resurfaced. Not then, and not later. That would turn out to be a problem.

I choked down as much as I could and then stretched for a while as we waited for the rest of our team to finish up. With only 25 miles left to go, it was easy to feel like we had the day beat. This was officially my longest ride ever, and by far the most challenging.

Gary spent the next several miles flying up (yes, up) hills at breakneck speed as I chugged along at a steady but conservative pace.

"Too bad you got taken out on that hill," he commented, soft-pedaling alongside me. "You've seemed a lot more sluggish since then."

As soon as he said it, it occurred to me why. I hadn't shifted out of my small chain ring in over 30 miles. No wonder I always seemed to have fewer gears than I thought on the tough climbs.

Okay, it was time to get serious. Time to start acting like I knew what I was doing.

Mile 63 was where something seemed to switch. I was no longer riding along as part of a team. It was me, just me, against this evil, hilly bastard of a road.

My awareness closed in like a funnel, almost to a pinprick of intensity, where my breathing sounded loud in my own ears and my sight was always focused on the point just beyond the crest of the next hill.

Remember the killer hills at the start of the course? Yeah, now we were going back up the other side of every last one of them.

I pedaled. I breathed. I bargained with my legs to give a little more. That was all I needed, just a bit, just something, anything. Anything at all! And they argued back that I'd already taken them for all they were worth. So... sorry, but I was on my own.

We stopped off at the last rest area before the finish. I would have rather done anything but eat, which was unfortunately the one thing I needed to do most. And they had ice cream sandwiches! But I couldn’t do it. I managed to get down Cliff Shot and some Disney Princess fruit snacks.

Running on fumes, but still under my own power, the finish line appeared up ahead. Gary motioned me ahead so I could cross first, and then he pulled in alongside me.

Crowds were cheering. Riders were celebrating. 75 miles? Done! And now, free beer.

Up next: Well, it’s not like we HAVE to kill ourselves...

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