I was close to losing it at the end. I was near hysterical. Everything was blurry. The oh-so-pretty snow that I was admiring only a couple hours ago felt like icicles hitting my face. I could hear the ice from my tires crunching on the road as the wheels spun. I was wildly looking around for this neighborhood that we were supposed to seek refuge in. And I don’t have to mention that it was cold and windy. Very windy. The contact in my right eye had fallen out miles ago. The temperature had dropped to 19 degrees at that point. But I didn’t care. I was close to crazy. There’s no other sport in the world where I feel the edge of craziness quite like cycling (centuries come to mind in particular). But my friends were around me, and I had to keep it together for their sake. For everyone’s sake.
We began the ride from our usual meeting spot at Campus Hills. The snow hadn’t started falling yet. I was under the impression that it was a balmy 28 degrees at the start (it was actually 23 degrees), and that the snow would start falling around 7pm. No, one of the riders told me. It’s supposed to start falling at 3pm. Well even better, I thought! How exciting to be riding through some pretty snowflakes.
I knew it was going to be a hilly ride, and it was to be 50+ miles long. While waiting for our small group of 5 to join, I was chatting with one of the strongest riders in our club. He told me how strong I was, how he saw my QOMs on Strava, how he was shocked that I didn’t purposely go out and target these segments, but that they just happened on their own. He said how I would win many races in the upcoming season. I was floored. Flattered, but floored. I didn’t even think he’d taken notice of me. Our group was comprised of some of the strongest riders in the club. All A level. But I shrugged off the nervousness. Even though hills are not really my strong suit, I liked climbing them, and wanted to get a ride in before being cooped up all weekend due to the impending Jonas snow storm. I knew all the people and knew they’d regroup. Besides, the ride was posted at an easy winter pace of 15mph. And I had a very strong ride only 5 days ago. So I was confident enough. I mean, what could go wrong?
Pedaling out of the parking lot, my legs were sluggish. I knew this was the first red flag. This wasn’t to be one of my “strong” days. Heck, I was beginning to get worried that this wasn’t even going to be a “regular” day for me. Pace was 17-18mph for the first several miles. By mile 5 I was breathing hard and felt like I had done about 18 miles already. This was not good. Not a good sign at all. The route headed west toward Monkton. Then the hills really started. I fell to the back of the pack. I was breathing so hard. Standing, sitting, it didn’t matter. After cresting the hills, they soft-pedaled to allow me to catch up. I was grateful that they didn’t have to come to a hard stop…yet.
I enjoyed some trace of dignity until around mile 22. They did click-out and stop for me so I could catch-up. And this continued for basically the rest of the ride. They would climb a hill, wait for me at the top, and sometimes circle back to make sure I was coming. My god, so embarrassing. Especially after the flattering talk I’d been given before the ride. This was not exactly how I wanted to make my first riding impression with the strong rider. My god, I thought to myself. I wish he had been on the Sunday ride where I was actually worth something!
Sometimes 2 of the guys would hang back and offer me their wheel. I would take it, but then ultimately I would fall off the wheel probably less than a minute later. This was humiliating. And I knew they weren’t hammering up the hills like they could easily have done, instead they were taking it easy. Sigh. All that training so far, and I felt like I was no better than when I started a year ago. I kept going, but I was getting tired. I’d climb a hill, just to see another one. The downhills felt too short, and the trough of the hill didn’t even help me get up the next hill. Sometimes I’d be climbing a hill, turn a corner, and felt like I literally hit a wall. I was shocked when the thought flashed through my mind that I wish I could just walk up this hill. I rarely think or feel that way. I was in my lowest gear on my compact chain ring – congratulating myself the entire time that I had made a great decision to swap the mid for a compact. Because seriously, I could not imagine having anything other than a compact. This was not about speed at this point, or about closing that ever widening gap. This was about not falling off the damn bike! I glanced down…I was going 3.7mph. I knew below 3mph and I would fall off (lesson learned from a previous ride ha). I was in flashing red danger zone. I got up all the hills, just to see everyone waiting at the top. How long were they waiting? I didn’t know. I didn’t care.
The sympathetic glances came my way. They asked if I was okay. I mean, there must be a problem, because where was the strong rider of 5 days ago? Where was the the Queen of the Mountains? They told me that it must be because I was hungry. Well, I was. I only had breakfast before this ride – a bowl of cereal, almond milk, and blueberries. And my “lunch” consisted of snacking on Triscuits and cottage cheese on the drive down. What they didn’t know was that I had breakfast at 11am. I just graciously accepted the Cliff Bar someone handed to me. And I tried to take a sip of water. I was able to take sporadic sips for about half the ride. Then the water bottles completely froze up and I could not even unscrew the lid. My god. I looked around at everyone else’s water bottles. They were all the insulated kind. Mine wasn’t. Wow, what a rookie move. Well I still had too much pride to ask them if I could drink their water! But the Cliff Bar helped. For about the next couple miles.
Then it started all over again. The constant glances over their shoulder to make sure I was still there. One of the riders consistently fell back to give me his wheel, and then he told me to tell him to slow down if he was going too fast. I didn’t the first time. Then he told me to shove my pride in a drawer and do it. So I did. I told him to slow down (usually going up a hill), and then told him to speed up (usually on flatter surfaces). This was completely mortifying. Again, more sympathetic looks. And the analyses. They told me I was bonking and made me eat another Cliff Bar. I did. I had no more water at that point, but the Cliff Bar tasted just fantastic. Nevermind that it was frozen solid and my jaw worked hard to chew the thing. It was a veritable feast!
They said that it must be because I did a hard workout the night before. Well, I did. I didn’t kill myself, but I did take a spin class. The same spin class that another rider in the group was in! So it wasn’t a totally great excuse since she was fresh and strong as A riders always seem to be. The strong rider was gliding up the hills so fast and beautifully. I was dying. One day, I wish to write a ride report to tell you what it feels like to be an A rider. But that day was not to be today. Heck, I don’t even think I could consider myself to be a B rider at this point.
I reflected back on the week. I had exercised non-stop since Monday. Monday night was lifting for an hour, 30 mins speed work on the treadmill, and swimming half a mile. Tues and Thurs was spin. Wed was running 4.7 miles outside. But that’s not an excuse, not when that is what everyone else is doing. I started making wild promises to myself. I promise to eat better! I promise to eat more vegetables! I will work really hard to shed weight. Just please get me through this ride – please let me not hold everyone else up. And, I ashamedly admitted, clearly I was not cut out for this “winter pace” with the A train. Memories flashed back to my hilly rides with MAF – I think I was in the 13 range and that was a B ride. I thought about that hilly 200km ride I did back in December. I think that was in the 13 range too. What was I thinking? How am I supposed to race, and hang with my crew back home in NJ like this? I have a new bike, too. These thoughts flashed through my mind. Despair, I think that’s what it was called. But I also had determination. And drive. And desire. And that kept me going.
The weather was gradually worsening. The flurries started after 30 minutes into the ride. The group conferred at various points as to what to do, but always, it was push forward and keep going. We can always stop at the ride leader’s house for a lift back, or call his wife to get picked up. The wind picked up, and the temperature dropped. I never actually felt warm on the ride. My fingers were icicles, and I know the other riders were quietly suffering as far as comfort goes. The wind was so bad that the contact in my right eye fell out. The drivers got nastier as the storm worsened. The honking, the yelling. I mean, we are just trying to get home at this point!
At one of the regroups, the ride leader finally announced that we’d stop at his house and get a lift back. I knew it was bad if he was calling it quits, and that’s when the hysteria started. I could literally see the the snow accumulating on my gloves. And then I heard the crunch crunch sound of my wheels turning. I glanced down and saw ice crystals on my tires. Not good. Not good at all.
But there was one good thing. Everyone slowed down a lot. We were all careful watching our speed while trying to find this neighborhood. I knew there was a climb up to his house, but didn’t care. I’d climb anything at this point, I was just numb. Numb from the cold and numb from the ride. The female rider slowed down and told me to stay on her wheel. The other rider was behind me. I was basically being escorted along. It was embarrassing all the while because I could tell they slowed down to my pace. Or maybe the slowdown was due to the slippery roads and icy tires, I hoped. The icicles were hitting my face hard. I actually used my balaclava for the first time and yanked it up over my mouth. Usually I just leave it wrapped around my chin. That helped. Until the steam from my breath fogged up my glasses. I was already blind in the right eye – I didn’t need more vision impediments.
The funny thing was, I think I was actually able to recover a bit due to the slower pace. I started standing on one of the hills and the leader told me to sit back down. You lose a lot of traction by standing up. Oh. I sat back down. Another rookie move. But that move brought me to the front of the pack. Bad timing, because finally, there it was! The entrance to his neighborhood. We started the last climb. I was going so slow and was freaked out by all the ice on my wheels. Everyone was behind me. They started yelling at me to climb. But I was already climbing! I moved my legs. Climb, they said! But that’s what I’m doing, don’t you see? I pedaled faster. The ride leader said he was about to clip-out. I spun a fraction faster. We friggin made it. OMG. He said we should walk our bikes down the driveway, but first, let’s take a pic!
It wasn’t all fun and games after that, but it was over. We loaded up the car, put the bikes on the roof, threw on the bicycle rack and put a bike on there. I didn’t help with anything as I was in the house staying warm. I was shivering. Dogs were jumping on me, I didn’t care. I knew I was being inconsiderate by not helping out, and felt guilty, but every time I stuck my head out of the door, I got blasted with cold air, so I continued my shameful huddle inside. I got dropped off at the parking lot. We hastily said our goodbyes. The one rider gave me one last sympathetic look and told me that he knew I was suffering today. I just smiled. What was there to say? Um, I’m okay on the flats but not that great on hills? I’ll do better next time? Hahaha. I thanked him for looking out for me the entire ride.
I got in my car. While he drove off, I put a new contact lens in my right eye. You know, typical post-ride routine. Time to hit the road. It was bad conditions all the way back home. I saw multiple accidents on the side of the road, and one car in my lane was turned all the way around. I took both expensive tolls on the way home, which I never do, which speaks to how questionable the conditions were. I was starving, but I had to run errands. Got gas, got groceries, got hair ties, and most important of all, got 3 bottles of wine at the liquor store. I deserve this, I told myself. Running errands was hard – especially with my home so close. I scarfed down a yogurt and the rest of one of the Cliff Bars. This workout is not ever yet, I told myself. It was absolutely freezing out. I found myself lingering in one of the stores because of how bad it was out there. And I was still in all my riding gear. I had not even thought to bring an actual winter jacket with me.
Got home, and craving soup, I threw on a pot of water to boil, dumped pasta in it, and proceeded to shower. I finished toweling off and smelled the air – uh oh. Hastily scrambling downstairs, the water had boiled itself down and now the pasta (and my pot) was burnt. I salvaged what I could and looked for a can of soup. There was none. Not a single can. And now I recall my family eating my canned soup last time they were visiting. I was not about to go back to Acme again. I just ate the pasta with room temperature chicken broth. And I ate refrigerated leftover Chinese meats. Everything was cold, but I was hungry. I just ate. I didn’t want to wash any dishes, I didn’t want to wait for anything to heat up. But I did make myself some hot tea. And had a Chinese pastry.
I looked at the time and I was shocked by how late it was. Literally an entire day passed me by. I reflected on my ride. It was alright, I told myself. All things considered. Probably ranks in the top 10 if not top 5 hardest rides I’ve ever done. It was alright. Fun, memorable, crazy experience. Hard, hilly, cold. I’ll still ride though. But first, I will make another cup of hot tea, send this ride report out, and bask in the first winter snow storm, and an entire day of rest and recovery tomorrow.