On Sunday, I did my first organized ride. I signed up for the full century, but knowing my longest ride EVER was only 20, wisely made the decision to aim for the 62-miler…after all, that is a metric century!
How’d it go? Well, I’m here to tell about it, which I think is an accomplishment on its own. It all started with wheeling our bikes to the start. I clip in, oops – time to clip out…but my left foot just wouldn’t unclip and over I go. Pretty little scrape on my knee and a sharp jab to my ego. How embarrassing. I hadn’t even ridden 10 feet. Why couldn’t I have crashed into someone or something in a much more impressive maneuver? Well, I know the answer as to why…and soon you will too.
I am relatively strong on a bike…uphill. But the same fears that make Splash Mountain an anxiety-producing experience plague me on any downhill – it can be a 2 percent grade (okay, maybe it takes a 3 percent grade) and my heart beats out of my chest and my hands won’t stop clutching the brakes.
At the Elephant Rock Century Ride this past Sunday, I wasn’t able to overcome these fears. The whole first half of the ride was into the wind. Probably 20 mph suckers – about as pleasant as driving straight into a fan. At the 17 mile rest stop, I was hating life. I ate my banana, took a drink and got back on the bike. My lady parts hurt, my hands hurt and that @$&$ wind. When another rider tried to befriend me, I growled my annoyance. He said that a friend told him that when the wind comes, you should sing a song til it goes away. “That’s one long song,” I thought. I hit a sign that said “Caution, Steep Descent” – the first big one of the ride. I contemplated getting off and walking my bike down the hill. No shame in that, right? I realized that was akin to complete defeat and would brandish me cycling loser for the rest of my life. My brake squeaked all the way down – calls of “on your left” came fast and often. It was a call I’d have to get used to.
We eventually turned and the wind was no longer at my face, but low and behold – we were on the dreaded road with the telling name: “Rollercoaster.” I avoid rollercoasters at Disney World and here I was, about to ride one with just a slim frame of carbon underneath me. Have you seen how darned skinny those road bike wheels are? This was my lowest moment of the ride. My hands went numb, my knuckles locked out. People cheered as they vroomed down the hill. I wanted to close my eyes. The whoosh of riders hitting 40+ mph made me want to throw up.
Deep down though, I was jealous. I wish I didn’t have this fear of dying on my bike. I kept telling myself that if I just let up on the brakes, I’d get through the downhills faster and of course, up the hills faster too with the momentum. But the shuddering of my legs – I was literally shaking – wouldn’t let up.
After multiple up downs up downs that never seemed to end, we reached the second rest stop. I seriously contemplated parking and never getting up – well not until someone came and saved me. I wasn’t hurt, nor especially tired – I was just a ball of pure stress. After a few bananas, electrolyte drink and a bunch of grapes, I had a change of heart. I had said I was going to do this ride – so I set about doing it. I was more afraid of the shame than the actual ride.
So, I jumped back on and to everyone, but my, joy – it was time for a long downhill stretch. Not a steep downhill, but remember – I get antsy at a 2 percent grade. “When is this damn downhill going to end,” said the voices in my head. Surely, it can’t be all downhill back to the start? Could it be? At one point, I was sure I’d lose the use of my fingers forever. I wondered if I could actually burn out the brakes on my bike…probably, at the rate I was going.
At the 50-mile mark I was ever so grateful for my decision to do 62 miles. At this point, I was (as one of our friends put it) like a horse who knew where the stable was – the service road was mostly flat and I road for dear life. I just wanted this to be over with. The rest of the ride was essentially uneventful but crossing the start/finish line was so relieving. I overheard people, “45 mph, “”47 mph” top speeds. I looked at my Garmin. “23 mph.” I’m such a wimp.
I waited for the crew that rode the 100 miles, not at all regretting my shorter ride. My husband had hoped the ride would be such a great experience for me that all my fears and irrational anxiety would go. Boy, was he disappointed. But, I guess I am making progress — I recognize that I am crazy and need confidence building. I’m not done with cycling, but I’m not rushing into anything…well, until the Boulder 70.3 in August. A 56-mile bike leg awaits me – and it is less than 60 days away.
Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone…I’m definitely uncomfortable.