Saturday was another long ride with the team. While technically a buddy ride, we had full course support and good attendance. Bree and I carpooled over to Fairfax, this time putting the bikes in my car. We arrived nicely on time, got ready, and headed off to face the hills.
Part of the route we had ridden before, both last week and a few weeks ago. I managed to not remember most of it from the last times so it was nicely all new to me again. I think I'm concentrating on riding and overall pictures of the route and not memorizing specifics of where we are, where we've been and where we're going. Which is kind of nice since I can't dread hills I don't remember.
The new seat and new lowest gear both worked like a charm. The first big hill was hard but I was able to spin at a decent rate for almost the entire thing. I took a very short breather at the top and headed on down. This was one of those nice downhills; straight and not too steep. I let it out, settled into my top gear and pedaled strongly and happily away. Then I noticed that cars going my direction on this 2 lane road were slowing and stopping, so I braked and slowed to see what was going on. At first I thought there was someone in the middle of the road and was afraid it might be a bike crash, but it was worse. It was a big frigging cow, wandering directly into the bike lane to graze on the fresh green grass growing there. Blocking my lane, as I'm barreling down at over 20 mph. Standing there, in my way. A cow.
Since traffic had slowed down from the 40-50 mph at which they were originally speeding along the road to about 25, I pulled directly between 2 of the cars, away from Miss Cow, as far away from her as I could get without crossing over to the other side of the street. My heart was speeding along as fast as traffic and I was happy to put her behind me. Far behind me. I slowed down to let my adrenaline ease back and about ten minutes later Bree caught up with me. She was cracking up, and told me she had expected to find me curled up in a ditch in a fetal position sucking my thumb in terror. Yeah, it was close.
After the encownter we merrily pedaled along toward the first rest stop in Nicasio. This was the opposite direction we had taken before and in fact was the part where I didn't ride at all because I was sick. Very pretty out; sunny, green, breezy, clear. The hills weren't quite as green without my amber lenses (no wonder they looked so pretty last week!) but it's definitely spring out there. Wildflowers and mustard are blooming, birds are soaring, roadkill is stinking (what's up with all those dead skunks??).
Bree and I joined up with two others in our group and the four of us headed toward Stinson Beach. There was one hill so steep that it became the first hill of the season where I came to a total and complete stop because I couldn't turn the pedals any longer - I had to hop off and trudge to the top. Even with the new gear I couldn't make it, very disappointing. But I wasn't the only one walking, two of the others were too. We got back on our bikes and continued on what the coaches insisted on calling rollers and I called flat out hills. Rollers are up and down and up and down. These were up up up up and then down down down down down down. We rode through a forested area where the road was downhill, twisty, steep, cracked, partially shadowed, dropoffs down cliffs to one side. Totally freaked me out. I have falling-down-cliff issues anyway, and going where I couldn't see well (my eyes were watering and the light changed quicker than my eyes could adjust), on a crappy road, with lots of other riders and cars and that darn cliff and I was most unhappy. After about 40 miles of this (ok, it was really just about 8 miles) I was in the middle of a melt-down.
I kept going and when the hills ended at the bay, and the others were waiting for me, I waved them on. They're just a bit faster than I am and beyond my ability to keep up in a pace line so I headed into the wind by myself. Melt-down proceeded until I made it to our next rest stop at Stinson Beach. I literally couldn't talk to anyone because I knew I'd burst into tears and I was trying to maintain some semblance of normality. I finally caught my breath, ground and centered and managed to get myself together. Luckily most of them hadn't noticed how freaked out I was.
At this point several of us decided to weenie out and get a ride back through those damn hills. I could have ridden the uphills, they weren't the problem, but I couldn't face the downhills again. Luckily we had enough sag vehicles that about a half dozen of us got lifts through the 10 mile stretch back. We didn't realize that we had the cars drop us off right at the bottom of another long uphill, but it wasn't horribly steep and we were all rested so we took it slow and easy and had no problem.
At the bottom of that hill we were to turn off onto a bike trail. After some difficulty we found it and headed that way. It was quiet, peaceful and beautiful in there, then a teammate got a flat tire. We all stopped for the change, then headed out. Although we had the coach who had designed this route with our group, we didn't really know where we were going. This was very apparent when we ended up on the bike path that was no longer paved. Yup, we were now riding on a muddy rocky dirt trail on our skinny-tire road bikes, having to slow down to just a couple of mph as we slogged along. It was pretty amusing, but annoying at the same time.
We found the real road and the faster group sped off while we slower riders headed back for the final 10 miles or so. I was starting to get tired and sore and wanted to just be finished. We stopped briefly at the top of a couple of hills and finally, finally got back to our parking lot (and I almost got lost because I was alone and with my lack of directional skills wasn't sure where to go). It ended up a total of 55+ miles for those of us who cheated on that one batch of hills, and was the toughest ride yet.
I think I've worked out the nutritional side of my riding. Last week in the grocery store I searched for a good food, since the gels just weren't cutting it. I wanted something easily digestible and easy on my stomach (since I'm having some of the same problems from last summer); it needed to be low fat, low fiber, easy to chew, tasty, calorie dense. Close to the opposite of what I'd normally want to eat in real life. I wanted the highest calorie bang-for-the-buck I could find so I could get away with eating very little. And I found: Pop Tarts! I can't believe people feed these to their children on a regular basis. A single Tart has 200 calories - that's per pop tart, not per foil package of two. They're just moist enough to go down easily, they crumble and don't need much chewing, they're surprisingly low fat and they have no fiber at all. The blueberry was very tasty and I ate the 2 I had with only minor stomach discomfort. I think I'll plan on 1 for every 2 hours or so and fill in with gels. For the first time I didn't bonk at all during the ride so I'm on to something.
And I love the new seat. If I was coming to it fresh, without an existing problem of bruised sit bones, I would have been able to go the entire ride without any issues. As it was, I made it about 50 miles before it became very hard to sit at all. The week before I was in pain as soon as we started riding so this is a good thing. Now I know I'll be able to do 100 miles without being in complete agony. I love my new low gear too. I was afraid I wouldn't notice the difference but it was exactly what I needed, just that little tiny bit of ease going up the worst hills.
The good part of the ride was the incredibly beautiful scenery. I got up close to the ocean, saw the sand and breakers. Wildflowers are blooming, grassy hills are green, wildlife is plentiful (and often squished on the road in front of us). The air quality wasn't great, especially when we passed through areas where people were burning wood smoke, but it looked clear and pretty. It was warm enough on the second half of the ride to toss our jackets in one of the cars and to take off our glove liners. Once again I'm grateful for living here, happy to get the opportunity to see such wonders, thrilled to be healthy enough to be able to spend all that time in an athletic pursuit. The fact that we're raising so much money for an important cause makes it all the more worthwhile.