Return of the Century

Four days after I broke my thumb in March 2019, I signed up for the Grizzly Peak Century being held in just 2 months. I was pretty sure that I’d be able to do it one way or another and if anything, this’ll help motivate me to be able to do that ride. I’d never broken a bone on my own before and in this case, I didn’t know that I had broken anything until I went to the ER at St. Francis Memorial Hospital because my hand had swelled up to be a paw! On Friday, 1 March, I had been riding from work back to the club when I had to go around a double-parked FedEx delivery truck on Hyde Street. My back wheel went into the track on my way back around the truck and I broke my left thumb against my handlebar (I was in my drops) as I fell onto my right side. I really thought that the pain was just from the cut on the thumb as the glove had ripped too right there. I learned that I’d actually broken the thumb when I did my follow-up appointment with Dr. Victor Prieto, orthopedic surgeon at the Center for Sports Medicine at St. Francis Memorial Hospital, who is also a cyclist. Oddly enough, he asked if he’d seen me before and I told him briefly during one of my appointments with Dr. Stephen Van Pelt (my sports physician) 8 years ago when I started having my hip dysplasia issues. Good memory!

First non-surgically broken bone. Radiologist’s yellow arrow pointing to the clean break in the bone.

Dr. Prieto prescribed me a wrist brace to mostly provide 4 tourniquets to the thumb to primarily minimize the swelling and secondarily to immobilize and protect the thumb while the bone healed. The ligament holding my thumb in place was torn, but not completely ripped so no surgery was required. Luckily there was no offset either so it was as clean a break as you could get. He said the bone would take 4 – 6 weeks to heal and asked what I was taking for painkillers. Surprising to many, I was only taking a couple of ibuprofen every so often since I didn’t feel any pain as long as the thumb didn’t move.

True to form, I asked him what I could do while the bone was healing. He said I could swim, but to bandage the thumb to the rest of my hand so it would stay protected and not get dragged by the water. I continued with my spinning classes with Enrique and Rob because hey, the legs still worked. I could also do modified TRX workouts with the brace on and limited it to ones that didn’t really involve my thumb being needed at all to grip. Duncan’s Row HIIT workouts were completely out of the question though. Spinning would help keep my legs in shape for cycling though with the added challenge of the thumb starting to swell during the workouts as fluid rushed to protect the fragmented bone.

Left photo is 3 days after the accident when I decided I should probably go to a doctor. Right photo is much closer to what my hand usually looks like!

Dr. Prieto confirmed that the bone had finished healing during my follow-up appointment 5 weeks later. The torn ligament would still take several more months to heal though. I got his blessing to get back on the bike again and he gave me some tips on how to adjust my riding style as he’s a cyclist also. He gave me some physical therapy exercises to help regain mobility and strength in my thumb and I also found a hand therapist’s methods for massaging the thumb to help soften the scar tissue. Needless to say, it’s been very frustrating still almost 4 months later that I can’t bend my thumb all the way and the ligament is definitely still healing. The ligament is slowly getting better though and at least I can do simple things like unscrew most bottles or lids though with my hand.

4-point tourniquet and reminder that I’ve got a broken bone / torn ligament.

I was eager to get back on the bike, yet terrified as I wasn’t sure what it was like. On 9 April I got on a bike for the first time to ride the 5 miles from the club to work to see how my thumb would hold up. Legs still worked fine like nothing ever happened, but I did notice that it took me longer to get into my drops as I had to focus on stretching out my left thumb to get into position. The reduced flexibility also meant that I had to shift with the tip of my left middle finger as the rest of my fingers couldn’t really reach my shifter. I had to use more of my core to support my upper body since I couldn’t put too much weight on my left hand. I also couldn’t wrap my thumb around the top of my handlebar for too long as the ligament would start hurting. Regardless though, I was back in the saddle! πŸ™‚

The next day I rode to and from the club and work with a detour of Hawk Hill (to work) and Twin Peaks (from work) to make it about 16 miles each way. My thumb continued holding up well and I kept up with my daily physical therapy exercises. I went to my sister’s in Delaware that weekend for my nieces’ birthdays and learned that I could finally touch my thumb and pinky together. I’m not sure if the cycling helped with anything physical, but it was certainly helping me with mental and emotional recovery.

After I got back home the following week, I went out for my typical midweek ride that includes Hawk Hill, a dash up to Larkspur, and Twin Peaks for a total of about 53 miles. That ride was one of the best rides of my life and restored my faith that I could definitely still ride at all and get back into my normal routine.

I signed up for the Wildflower Century’s 75-mile route as I wasn’t sure if I could handle the full century. I had the Grizzly Peak Century the following week and this would help asses my readiness for both my thumb and the rest of my body. Truthfully, I was a little worried about GPC since it was at least 1000′ more climbing in 100 miles than I’d ever done. This ride was actually a lot of fun and I rode about half of it with a guy from Salinas who was doing the 60-mile route (as he had to go back to Salinas to chaperone his daughter’s prom that night). He was a great cycling buddy that day since neither of us needed to stop at any of the rest stops. I’m always amazed that cyclists can just start talking to each other during rides like we know each other well even though we’ve never met and don’t even know each other’s names. It felt a little odd to me to be telling other riders that yeah I broke my thumb about 8 weeks ago and yes I’m doing the 75-mile (4200′ climbing) route. Like I said though, the legs still worked! I managed to finish that ride in 5 hours and was feeling pretty good.

Wildflower Century’s 75-mile route with 4200′ climbing just 2 months after the accident.

The next week was the Grizzly Peak Century that I was doing with my friends Ken and Baerbel (who said she was bailing on me after 70 miles and I had to do the rest on my own). Baerbel had texted me asking how my training was going and I responded with “What training?” While I was doing Wildflower, Ken was busy riding 600K to Santa Monica on a *fixed gear* bike. Shortly after Baerbel met Ken, she asked me where did I meet this guy and I said “Mount Hamilton. He was on a fixie then too.” (true story) I’m slower than both Ken and Baerbel, but at least they wait for me every now and then..especially Baerbel at rest stops. I got to the rest stop in Port Costa and told Baerbel to get going since she already had plenty of time there while waiting for me. πŸ˜‰ She decided that she loved the food at the rest stops and wanted to do the century route to see what the food at that rest stop was like. Ken was too tired still from his 600K ride the weekend before and wanted to cut it to the 76-mile route. I was a bit disappointed as I really wanted to do the century route, but I knew that Ken would do the same for me if the roles were reversed and the route would be there for another day. Ken was also my ride home too!

Me, Baerbel, and Ken before the GPC 76-mile ride.

I was still a little frustrated about not getting a century done as it was something I really wanted for myself in my thumb recovery. I had a brilliant idea though given that somehow I’d unconsciously taken on Ken’s characteristic of becoming a virtual camel on rides with not really eating or drinking much on rides. I didn’t drink or eat anything on Wildflower until about 60 miles in and didn’t eat anything during GPC. I didn’t finish an entire water bottle on either of those rides. I knew that I wouldn’t actually need a rest stop for doing the full GPC century route.

Century #1 – Grizzly Peak Century route
My friend Dan wasn’t really working full-time and said that he was up for riding with me even during the week. Dan is a very fast and strong cyclist who like Ken, does a lot of real long distance riding. Before I’d met him in person, I’d asked him over email during my Wildflower weekend if he was riding that weekend and then saw that he’d done a (self-supported) double century that day. We’re the Bay Area contingents of the NorCal Velo cycling club based in Santa Rosa. He was leading another Diablo ride and opened it up to NCV so I’d accepted the invitation.

A week later I met him to do the GPC route so I could finally get this out of my system. Black Ruby was in the shop so I was doing this on Sapphire, which has a smaller drivetrain and a composite frame (vs Black Ruby’s larger drivertrain and carbon frame). Doing my first post-break century on GPC was significant since it was the roads that I used to ride weekly with Liz when she lived in Berkeley. I haven’t gotten to ride there much since she left and hadn’t rode some of them in years. Given my history with many of these roads, I really wanted GPC to be my first post-break century. I was also wearing my 2015 Marin Century kit which (aside from one of my favorite kids) was the first century that I ever did.

I met Dan bright and early to roll out at 6:30 a.m.. It was foggy most of the morning and he stayed next to me the entire time even though he could have finished the ride on his own at least a couple of hours faster. Most of the roads were empty or very light traffic. The climb out of Port Costa was noticeably harder though on Sapphire than Black Ruby which I understood why people were whining about it during GPC. I did have to stop towards the top for a short break, but it still isn’t that horrible. We made a slight detour in Martinez for a very quick lunch break at Safeway (which he told me that Safeway sushi was the common Randoneeurs’ lunch of choice). I’m pretty sure it took us longer to figure out what to eat than to actually eat it. I actually ate a veggie burrito plus the Naked bar I munched on while waiting in line. Dan and I rolled off again. We had stopped just long enough that my quad muscles were crying that they thought we were done for good already. That was the hardest part during the ride as they took several miles to get warmed up again. I had to make a couple of short stops to take off my leg warmers and arm warmers though and then again during Three Bears to put on sunscreen as the sun was finally out. BTW Dan runs cold so he’s still bundled up like it’s January. We make our way back to Redwood Road, which Dan knows intimately as it’s his way home from a lot of his rides. We end up doing a few laps up and down a flat part of it by where my car is to get the last few KM that I need to make it a full century. Once my watch hit 162 KM, I knew I definitely had it and we made our way back to my car.

Sometimes you just gotta get it out of your system!

GPC century route done in 7:55 moving time with 8200′ climbing (total time 8:38). First century of the year, first century completed 11 weeks after breaking my thumb, and also the most climbing I’d ever done in a century ride by over 1000′.

Century #2 – America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride / Lake Tahoe Century
Two weeks later I did American’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, a Tahoe century I’d done before while raising money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. LLS is the largest charity I support since my Uncle Bill died of leukemia. This year I raised over $3600 for LLS. Unlike 2 years ago, I did this ride by myself and never even met my TNT (Team In Training) team. I didn’t need the training schedule or the high school style cheerleading that they do in well, everything. TNT stops at every single rest stop including the one hour break at the lunch stop. Give the minimal food that I eat on rides, this adds up to a lost of wasted time for me. I wanted to just get the ride done and since I was solo, I’d have to drive myself afterwards. I was highly motivated to get an early start and get done quickly!

I was not alone that morning as there were several others who also started early to avoid the official 6:00 a.m. start with some 3000 other cyclists. It was a very brisk 40F air temperature! Most of the road between South Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay was closed which was very nice to know that there wouldn’t be car traffic either way and, of course, a lot less noise between less riders and less cars. Most of the time I’m physically alone and I’m thinking that it’s just me and Uncle Bill’s spirit on that road. I’m imagining what it felt like for him to ride a bike with every pedal stroke. The last time I’d seen him, he told me that he enjoyed cycling as it was the only time his feet didn’t feel like they were on pins and needles. It would have been awesome to have been able to do this ride with him with him wearing a “Survivor” jersey, but that wasn’t meant to be. Instead it’s just me on this road solo and his remains are in a plot in Peoria, Illinois. My goal was to get through this century as quickly as possible so I didn’t take a lot of photos during it. I only stopped 3 times too: 1 rest stop for a bio break, once to strip layers / apply sunblock, and once at the top of the East climb to have a quick waffle snack and drink. I was done by about 12:30 p.m. and at Cold Water Brewery (a favorite stop on name alone) by 1:00 p.m.

Total moving time was 6:45 and total elapsed time was 6:55. This is really how I prefer to do long rides with minimal stopping. It’s really hard to get my muscles moving again if they have a chance to cool down so it’s optimal to just keep them warm. I saw one of my TNT team members on Strava did the ride in 6:05 BUT the total time was about 8:30. That’s almost 2.5 HOURS of standing around. I just can’t do that! I’ve set what I’ve come out to do though of finishing this ride and fulfilling my request to my generous donors that I’ll ride 100 miles if they donate to LLS.

America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride aka Lake Tahoe Century in memory of my Uncle Bill.

Century #3 – Sonoma County Backroads Challenge Route
I was supposed to do the Sonoma County Backroads Challenge’s Century on 25 May, but the pouring rain weather led my friend Annie and me to stay safely inside drinking wine instead. I reasoned that we can ride the route another day and need to given that I’ve already got the pint glass and t-shirt from the ride. My friend Pat had been giving me s*** that I’ve been riding with Dan and not him so we had worked out Friday, 7 June to ride together and I invited Dan. Pat had to work and I may have had to work so this got postponed to Friday, 21 June with just Dan and myself. I think Dan is a sucker for punishment for riding with me given that I average about 3 mph slower than him.

I let Dan dictate the start time of 8 a.m. which is also about 3 hours after most of my rides start. After a bit of heckling about how I’d have been almost halfway done by the time he showed up, we take off from a car park in Penngrove. We both know a lot of the roads but our memories are kinda fuzzy. Somehow we ended up with different routes too and decide to follow the one on my Garmin. This proves to be one of the greatest errors in human judgment.

Everything is going fine with the usual riding camadarie and even the East-West climb up Marshall Wall. I joking ask Dan if he can at least pretend that he’s putting some effort into this climb and he starts mockingly grunting. There’s a trio of guys who past us on the climb and then we pass them on the top as they’re taking photos. Were we supposed to stop and enjoy the view? Both of us have been up Marshal Wall enough that it’s a “been there, done that” scenario and we do the long semi-boring ride to Valley Ford.

We do a quick stop in Valley Ford for water and a snack at the Valley Ford Market. Dan’s a cyclist after my own heart with the mentality of “I’m done drinking / eating / peeing…can we go now?” I think I ate 2 bananas, a Naked bar, and a Stinger waffle along with a bottle of water for my “lunch.” Another slap of sunblock and we’re off again.

I had considered Bodega Bay for the lunch stop which I decide is cute enough as we roll through it that I’d like to go back and actually see it sometime (mental note: nieces visit in August). My muscles are still semi-warm so moving them isn’t a problem until we get to (No) Joy Road. I’m feeling very pathetic as I am having a helluva time cranking my way up a climb that isn’t that steep. I do the walk of shame for a few minutes until the road flattens out a bit. I then rightfully declare myself an idiot as I notice that my front gear is in the biggest ring so I was making this climb almost as hard as possible. ARG! I shift into the gear that I should have been on and magically everything is easier. However, I’ve also expended much more energy in my legs than I needed to so somewhere up the road I see a parked truck and tell Dan that I need to pull over there. He suggests adjusting my seat post then as the “Not Mike” mechanic who put the new cables on my bike obviously had adjusted the seat post and put it back WAY too low for me (my usual mechanic Mike would have never done this to me but he wasn’t at work when I dropped Black Ruby off).

I start climbing again with my seat post closer to where it should be and that made a HUGE difference. I can finally use my entire leg to ride with! I forgot to do this when we stopped for “lunch” and am very grateful that Dan suggested to do it now. We’re on an about 5 mile / 1000′ climb that he recognizes from some of his Rando rides and I’d never been on before. I seem to remember this was the second and last of the steep climbs on this route.

I was wrong.

Dan and I start doing a lot of snaking around the suburban backroads just West of 101 which is obviously just to add distance to make this route a century ride. We do one gnarly descent of tight hairpin turns with no shoulders. I realize one reason why I really like riding with Dan is that it’s helping me get over my crash trauma. I crashed 4 years ago on a descent so I’ve been apprehensive about fast descents since then. I trust Dan though and with some slight pressure to at least stay closer to him on the route combined with trusting that if he can do this descent as fast as he can then it must be safe, I’m slowly starting to get my descending confidence back. Slowly.

We’re stopping every now and then to check out the route map since we’re both feeling slightly lost and wondering when is this back and forth going to end and..where are we??? Then something horrible happens at about mile 80 as we turn from Barnett Valley Road onto Burnside Road…a 1 mile / 500′ climb this far into a ride. WTF? It hits about 17.5% at one point in this climb. Dan makes it up without a problem but I just mentally lose it about halfway up and walk the rest of the way. I was not expecting any more steep climbs like this! I’m feeling a bit defeated and Dan reassures me that I wasn’t mentally prepared for that climb as opposed to how I felt that I’m just a really weak cyclist. He gives me an out to cut the ride short and I decide to just continue on and see what the rest of this now hellish route provides.

Heaven really was just around the corner though as we FINALLY descend down Burnside Road! It’s about a 6 mile straight shot descent. The road is crappy with unevenly filled potholes left and right. I’m actually watching Dan’s movements and adjusting my line based on his adjustments. I hear the sound of my rim scraping on one of the filled potholes at once point, but I don’t slow down. I feel a huge sigh of relief that I’ve managed to get through the overwhelming desire to just somehow cut straight across the 101 line to get back to the cars and quit this ride.

We are finally done with any steep climbing on the ride as we start recognizing roads and know that we’re less than 4 turns from the finish. Seeing 101 in the distance is kind of like a mirage. Dan recognizes that I’m feeling better as he said that I looked pretty cooked back on Burnside Road. I was and am very grateful that he stuck with me through it and let me sort out whatever was going on in my head. He could have decided for me that the ride would end back then and I’m glad that he left it up to me since as he always said, it was my ride.

We get closer to Old Redwood Highway and start comparing our distances. Dan does his in imperial and mine is in metric. We have this unspoken agreement that we’re not going back to the cars until both of us have hit 100 miles in our respective units. I’m a bit short so we go past the cars until I’ve got 161 KM on my watch a short distance away. We turn around then to go back to the cars and end the ride.

In all we ended up doing 8000′ of climbing on a route that his version had 6000′ and mine had 7000′. We still don’t know how RWGPS had either route’s climbing amount wrong. This was probably the hardest century I’ve done as I was not expecting 8000′ of climbing, especially that last steep climb!

Sonoma Backroads Century route

I didn’t realize until a few days later that I’d done 3 centuries in 4 weeks. That wasn’t intentional, but I’m very proud of the accomplishment. Similar to when I’d had my pelvic surgeries to correct my hip dysplasia, it’s almost like my thumb breakage has reminded me of how lucky I am to be able to physically move and helped reinvigorate my love for cycling. Having friends who are always up for riding like Dan help also as if anything, the camadarie is a bonus. I may not have Liz or SheSpoke in my regular daily (cycling) life anymore but it’s evolved yet again. After a couple of years of not really riding much let alone centuries, I was back and starting to push my distance and climbing limits again.

Next up: my first double metric century (eek!) and my first ride with the Randonneurs.

Note: Working on this blog has been bittersweet as my close friend John died a few weeks ago and he’d read every single one of my previous blogs. This became a small challenge for me to write knowing that this would be my first entry that he’d never read. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders, unconditional supporters, and always there for me through thick and thin. He left the world too soon 19 days after being diagnosed with a rare form of mylemona, a blood cancer. I find comfort in knowing that he didn’t suffer for months or years. The world needs more people like him and I’m blessed to have had him in my life for 16 years.

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