It’s like falling off a bike

I’d been on my bike so little in the last couple of years that I wasn’t even sure if I could still be considered a cyclist. I stopped wearing my “Ride On” bracelet that my favorite riding partner, Liz, had given me because I felt odd wearing it when the most either of my bikes had traveled in months had been between the living room and kitchen when I was cleaning my floors. It wasn’t that I got distracted by a shiny new toy or loss interest in cycling. Cycling has always been really social for me and I never liked riding alone. Everyone I rode with just got busy with other things or like in Liz’s case, moved.

Back in 2015, Liz was getting burned out from her job and would spend time staring at Google Maps during the day to create routes. Basically every week she’d text me asking if I was up for riding some route she wants to try (in the 50 – 80 mile range) and I said “Sure!”. I was doing my Catalina training swims on Wednesdays so I could ride with her on the weekends. I actually don’t remember the day I met her and she was just in my life one day. She lived close to a guy I was dating at the time (another cyclist although we only rode together like 3 times. He didn’t like to ride that long and one time said “I don’t want to go for a 3 hour ride” so we did one in 2:58. Ha! He did it purely for exercise though which should have been a red flag for me.). We were in close proximity or one early BART ride away for me to get to the East Bay.

Liz and me on one of our many Turkey Tuesday / Oakland Hills rides.

To put some stats in perspective, with Liz around, I rode some 2100 miles (216,263′ climbing) in 2015 which was in addition to my training and successful completion of my Catalina Channel marathon swim. My Catalina crew chief, Peter, wasn’t exactly happy when he found out I was doing things like the 107-mile Marin Century 2 weeks before my Catalina swim (“tapering”? What’s that?). Marathon swimmers typically gain weight on purpose for these swims for insulation and/or extra fuel source. I probably actually lost fat weight back then because I was cycling so much in addition to my long training swims in the Bay. Compare that to the fact that I only rode some 1500 miles combined in the 2 years after she moved away.

Liz eventually quit her job and took off to Ireland then the Pacific Northwest then Montana (did she make it there even? I forget…she’s in New Mexico now though). Erika, the leader of our SheSpoke cycling club, was busy nesting with her now-wife Terrie so there were less club rides getting organized. Needless to say, I stopped dating Mr. No Passion for Cycling (or much else in his life really) as that got really boring quickly.

My two favorite goofballs to ride with! Arianna, Liz, and me on I think a 4th of July with the Oakland Hills all to ourselves while everyone else squatted in SF to watch fireworks later.

I didn’t do any marathon swims in 2016 and 2017 aside from one RT Angel Island Figure-8 pattern attempt last September. I’d only spent a few weeks “training” for that swim though and the rest of the year was just bumming along. Arianna, our other cycling partner in crime, was off cycling around Europe with her husband so that basically left me by myself. Oh, and then Arianna got pregnant right after they got back from Europe. I was expecting that I’d be cycling a lot more without having any swims to train for and that just didn’t happen. I’m a bit particular (haha) on who I’ll ride with and any kind organized ride tends to make me skeptical that it’ll be a ride full of too many stops and/or each stop being way too long. Arianna and I look like a pit crew at breaks where we try to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. I don’t really eat much on rides either so my lunch can be timed to how long it takes to eat a banana.

I then met another cyclist Brian this past April who got me interested in cycling again. He was training for a multi-day 250 mile / 40,000′ climbing event on the Eastside of the Sierras. I started thinking about why I wasn’t really riding much these days. Liz was in New Mexico and Arianna was watching her belly grow bigger (and not just from her insane cravings for “white carbs” 24/7) but why was that really stopping me? They really are two of my favorite people to ride with and we’re good friends. I knew I was too attached to them in terms of riding but if I really wanted to ride, I’d have to overcome that and find new people to ride with on a regular basis. My friend and fellow South Ender Baerbel had been pestering, I mean “kept asking”, me about when we were going to go riding for awhile. I finally took her up on her offer in April in conjunction with us going from the club to my friend Rob’s art studio open house in at the Hunter’s Point Shipyard Artists. It was the first time in over 8 months that I’d been on a bike. Even with just 8 miles each way, it felt good to be back in the saddle.

Baerbel and me on my first time in the saddle after 8+ months.

Baerbel is always up for riding if she’s available so I started arranging some rides with her. First up was a couple of my favorites in Woodside: Kings Mountain and Old La Honda (36 miles / 4800′ climbing). I invited fellow South Ender and compatriota Alex Honor to join us. Alex and I chatted all the way up both since we’re slower than Baerbel and we discovered that we went to the same grade school, but didn’t overlap at all as he’s 10 years older than me (I just realized that makes him 50!). I’d wanted to do a repeat of either of them after we finished OLH but was overruled on hitting up a bakery instead. For someone who hasn’t been in the saddle in months and picked that route as the first real ride, I was surprised that my legs weren’t sore at all the next day. Hm. Next up was Diablo since Baerbel basically lives on that mountain. We planned it out with Kevin for 27th May as the day that all of us could make with a 6:30 a.m. roll out time. This was ideal for me since I’m scared of cars on Diablo so the earlier the start time, the better! There was something really nice too about having Diablo more or less all to yourself. I still wanted to do longer and harder rides though like I used to do when I felt more like I was an actual cyclist. There was something different this time around too where even though I wasn’t much faster, all of this climbing was a lot easier on my legs. I wasn’t having a difficult time on these climbs like I had experienced on previous rides there.

Having done Diablo in Baerbel’s backyard, next up was the obvious of Tam as that’s Kevin’s front yard. We settled on a date (14 July) as that was the next date that all 3 of us could meet up (and we were joined by Ann at the last minute). In the meantime, I went out for the first time in months with my friend Jaime to do Three Bears in the East Bay. She was still tired from doing Tam and Seven Sisters the day before so she did one pass of Three Bears and told me to do another pass of them by myself. She’ll just ride the flats of Camino Pablo back and forth for the 75+ minutes it’ll take me to do another loop. It wasn’t our intended ride, but I rolled with it since at least I was back on the bike and I appreciated Jaime coming down from Sacto to ride with me. Like many things in my life, I paid zero attention to details about Kevin’s Tam ride plans beyond the date and time to meet. I noticed something the day before where he had said “45 miles, 6600′ climbing” for this ride. WTF? I’d completely missed the plans to go to Tam via Alpine Dam and Seven Sisters to the East Peak then dropping to Stinson Beach and climbing back up and over via Alpine Dam back to Fairfax. It ended up not being too bad actually except the climb from Shoreline Highway to Ridgecrest. I was surprised when we got to the end of Seven Sisters as I was expecting them to be way worse since their nickname is “Seven Bitches.” I was just like “That was it? That’s all of them?” Kevin asked me after we got back to the Ridgecrest Road junction if I wanted to go do the East Peak again. I immediately said “F*** no.” Ann, who hadn’t wanted to do it the first time around said “NOW you say that.” My glutes didn’t start feeling it until the very last climb before we descended to Fairfax. Even though this was a lot of climbing, I still didn’t quite feel like a cyclist again since it was “only” 45 miles. I didn’t think of it as already being a stronger cyclist than I was before or being well on my road to re-defining myself as a cyclist.

Baerbel, Alex, and myself at the top of Old La Honda.

I had needed something though and the Marin Century was coming up. I was confident that my legs could handle the distance and climbing but I didn’t know if my back and neck could handle it. It’s not a natural position and no real way to train for that off the bike. I needed a longer ride in the saddle though and to start pushing my body’s limits again since for some reason I seem to enjoy seeing how many pain I can put myself through. Double Metric Century with Joanne? Maybe, but she just got back from riding in the Pyrenees and I’m not sure if I’m ready for a ride that long. Mt Tam Century? Maybe, but not sure if my back could handle it and would rather do it with someone. Traditional Century? Sure, I did that 3 years ago and it wasn’t that bad, just perhaps what I was looking for.

So I looked at my Google calendar and with no swims to train for, I started making more time again for riding, including riding to/from home and work once a week again. I even improved it with stashing clothes and food at work the day before so I could do the ride without a backpack trapping a bunch of heat! Kat, a fellow SheSpoker, was going to Tahoe for her first ride around the lake and invited me to join her. I needed the longer ride and love riding around the lake (and just being in Tahoe in general as I’ve gone there my entire life). I ended up getting way more out of those two days than I could have imagined.

The first day in Tahoe I did the longest solo ride I’ve ever done (41 miles, 2700′ climbing). I never looked at the ride profile so didn’t know what hell awaited me. This ride was actually one of the most challenging ones I’ve done since it was 90F outside at 1:00 p.m. and I decided to go anyway as “how bad could it be?” UGH. I was doing the North Tahoe Loop from Truckee to Tahoe City to Kings Beach back to Truckee in heat starting at 6000′ above sea level. I seriously considered calling a Lyft from Kings Beach as I wasn’t sure if I could make it back to Truckee. The 2.7 mile / 900′ climb to the top of Brockway Summit was extremely painful but dreams came true at the top when I saw the sign that said 9% downhill for 5 miles! Knowing Truckee was about 6 miles and my friend Mick’s was just a few miles of flat-ish beyond that, I only had to really pedal for 4 more miles and nothing like what I just dragged my sorry ass up. I was slightly dehydrated and getting hot spots in my feet. At least I knew the worst was definitely over. I rolled up Mick’s driveway later just happy to have survived the last 3 hours. This was the first ride in a long time that I really had to push myself to just keep going because of the heat and lack of support when riding solo. Come to think of it, every cyclist I saw was going up Brockway from the other direction so obviously they were smarter than me to do the more gradual climb.

Double lap of Three Bears with Jaime.

The next day Kat and I were rolling out at 6:00 a.m. from Squaw Valley. If it wasn’t for her, I would have been tempted to skip the ride though given that I was still a little sore from the day before but at least my brain had recovered from the dehydration. Any tiny amount of muscle soreness went away after the first few miles. I don’t think many people would do a 83 mile ride the day after a 41 mile one (especially that ride I’d suffered through) but I’ve usually made questionable choices in just about every area of my life. Side note: My dad told me once that he’s always thought “I can’t believe I’m saying this but..” when telling his friends about me but it was for my juvenile antics when I was a kid and now it’s because of things like swimming up to 21 miles across ocean channels or in the Bay or other swimming/cycling shenanigans I’m up to somewhere on the planet.) We had a beautiful sunrise to watch as I thought to the sun for it to try its worst because I was going to be done with this ride before the time I started the prior day’s ride. This ride was WAY easier than the day before with the cooler temperatures. The biggest climb (1000′) is on the East side which I didn’t realize we were on until we got to the top and I recognized the downhill portion. Oops. Those 83 miles were awesome though as it gave me 7.5 hours in the saddle and like riding with Liz, I waited for Kat at the top of all the bigger climbs as then we don’t get too far separated and you still have the feeling that you’re riding with someone (works both ways!). 🙂 I finally felt like a cyclist again after having finished my first 80+ mile ride in over a year and was now feeling stronger in rides with lots of climbing.

Am I a “climber” now? How’d that happen? What does this mean for the future of my cycling challenges that I take on?

I’ve gone from not being on the bike at all for several months to being back slightly obsessed about riding again. Although it’s different this time since I don’t have Liz around to look like bike bums with. I have to put more of an effort into reaching out to other people to ride with which isn’t something I’m used to. Like when I moved back after living in Pasadena for 15 months, my life is like an alternate version of how it was before. I look at my calendar though and try to figure out where I can stuff rides into it and looking up possible routes on RideWithGPS for wherever I’m going to be. The most important one will have to be scheduled sometime to re-do the route that I crashed on 3 years ago in Paso Robles.

I’m curious too on what this means with having an easier time climbing up hills without having spent time actually riding. My legs feel stronger now and I feel like I’m capable of longer and harder rides now. There’s the bonus also that my sense of what is steep has changed which is making me more comfortable on the descents again. I’ve still had a hard time with any 20 mph blind descending hairpin turns which is now only starting to dissipate. While it may seem like all of this riding again is because I’m in training mode, I’m really just doing it because it’s fun and feels good. I feel healthier and stronger with a sense of accomplishment after rides that I don’t even get after swimming. There’s just something different about it. I didn’t think that I’d ever have an easy time with climbing on a bike and now I’m curious to see what I can do with it combined with my endurance. So begins a new chapter in my cycling career and I’m excited to find out where it takes me. 🙂

Emerald Bay on my 83-miles around Lake Tahoe (start/end Squaw Valley) with Kat B.

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