Go Dad Go!

A self-important blog about riding bikes, raising kids and the all-too-rare nexus of these two pursuits.

Monday, June 29, 2009

102 at 102

I meant to post something about the Dick Houston Memorial Woodminster Trail Race, a running event Karen and I competed in (even hiring a babysitter to able to do so). We chose it because it's incredibly convenient, the start about a mile from our house, and because its particularly gnarly profile lends itself to a cyclist's legs. My post was to be about spending the hour-and-a-quarter of the run coming up with reasons running is better than cycling, and never getting beyond "It's simple." Even "You don't crash" gave way to "This sucks so much that I wish I could crash so it would be over." But I came away feeling good about the effort, and the kids got to see their parents out exercising and competing in a beautiful environment.

But that meant I went a weekend without riding, so this week I was determined to make up for it. Karen's parents hosted their annual family reunion in Modesto, and I was going to ride out to Livermore after hooking up with the House of Pain group ride, for a solid 55-60 miles. But the evening before the ride, about an hour before our annual Tour de France kickoff party began, a change in family plans dictated that I'd need to ride to Livermore...and then to Modesto. Yahoo! weather told me that I was in for a doosie, with the Far East Bay reaching 100 degrees.

That's the ride I did last year -- home to Danville, to Livermore with House of Pain, and on to Modesto -- and it nearly killed me as the temperature hit 104 with ten miles to go, only to be saved by a seemingly divinely generated cloud that blocked the sun and granted a merciful drizzle. The difference was that this year I could feel after about ten pedal strokes, still within sight of home, that my legs were stale; I didn't really feel like riding at all, let alone churning out 100 miles on the hottest day of the year.

Things remained tolerably temperate until Danville, but by the time I hooked up with the ride I'd unzipped my jersey a third of the way down. I felt er...warmed up, and my legs a bit fresher, but every surge in the group's clip left me struggling to close a gap; clearly I didn't have my best legs. On a brief climbing section, just beyond Collier Canyon, where I typically try to take some time at the front and push the group's pace, all of about five seconds in the wind left me sapped, and soon I fell off the pace. I looked at my odometer: 48 miles down. Ugh.

As the group turned right in Livermore, I took a left and headed towards and then up Patterson Pass. I still had a full water bottle and plenty of food, and as I settled into a steady rhythm instead of the group's intermittent, surge-y clip, I started to feel stronger. Patterson Pass was a grind, but I topped out after the very steep final section feeling like I would up to the rest of the ride -- after I clipped off 8 kilometers at 70KPH down the back side.

On a ride like this one, my annual Penance Ride -- surely I'm making up for some wrong I did sometime -- a convenience store is an oasis, and the one I always stop at in Mountain Home did me right. For the first time in my cycling career I indulged in the pro rider's favorite, Coca-Cola, which with a caffienated Clif Bar gave me a boost that I felt for a solid 20 kilometers. Good thing, too, because east of the wind farms over Patterson/Altamont things get very warm, and there's very little to provide an emotional boost as the body wears down. The windmills were still, every one of the hundreds or so up there, so I had no tailwind to prod me along. The roads from Tracy to Modesto are straight and flat as the mercury in a doctor's thermometer -- and my guess was that the temperature was nearing 98.6 degrees.

But I've done this ride probably ten times now, typically not in such heat, but always with some kind of adversity -- an atypical headwind, a hangover, or a lack of training miles in my legs. Now I know the roads well, and I can segment the ride from Tracy: the miles-long, dead-straight run along Schulte south of Tracy, and the turn south on Kasson to the relative humidity of the San Joaquin River delta; the Copperopolis-style patchwork surface before the turn onto Airport Road, and the dairy smell that runs the full length of the ride from the last cul-de-sac of a Tracy neighborhood to the first one in Ripon; the gunshot cracks at the firing range, never failing to startle me into a swerve; the convenience store-cum-bar where John Deere cap-wearing truckers and farmers chase Jagermeister with Pabst at noon on a Saturday, eying this lycra-clad alien walking funny along the drink fridge, hip-hop -- not Hank Williams -- reverberating so strong it can be felt outside...It's all expected, even comfortable now, right up until the mercifully suburban familiarity with which West Ripon Road, the longest stretch of all, sends me into the last few kilometers before Karen's parents house.

So connecting one familiar landmark to the next, I was able to break off the last 30 kilometers much more comfortably than last year, even mustering a final few quarter-mile efforts over 21 mph. I rode into Karen's parents' driveway with a half-full water bottle and, it seemed, a modicum of energy left -- only nearly to succumb to nausea as soon as I stood up off the bike. For all the self-coercion along the way, most of it relating to the food and drink I'd consume after finishing, I found that all I could do for fifteen minutes was sit quietly in a dark, air-conditioned bedroom, feeling my heart rate come down and my stomach settle. Ultimately I emerged, and admittedly enjoyed the wonder in Karen's relatives' voices and eyes as I replied, "Yes, just got here; I rode from Oakland."

I looked at the thermometer in their backyard, read 102, and had a thought: I walked -- slowly -- to the garage where I'd parked my bike and looked at my computer. The odometer read 102. Perfect, I mused. Poetic.


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