Sunday, June 5, 2011

America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride


Recovery continues.

Last year I set some cycling goals for my recovery. Well, not so much goals as trips. Return to Mount Washington. Go to France.

One of those was America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride, which it may be even while sounding a bit pretentious. It circumvents Lake Tahoe with a diversion out and back to Truckee, California to make it a century. I could not make it last year so I simply slid it forward to this year.

The excitement of doing this ride faded as time got closer. An unfavorable weather forecast and the feeling that I wasn't quite ready to pack everything I needed contributed. My bike was being repaired and this was to be my dry run of tearing it down and flying with it before I flew to France next month. I became apprehensive.

Ultimately, it all came together and I flew into Reno yesterday then drove to South Lake Tahoe for check in. It was cold and rainy. I hoped for better for the ride although the forecast was a high of 52 and showers.

Check in

Out of the hotel by 5:00 a.m., I crossed the mountain to Stateline, Nevada where the ride would begin. It was cold and raining, hard at times. I grabbed my jacket but at 5:55 a.m. the rain stopped. I decided not to wear my cold weather shoe covers. Nor did I wear a base layer under my jersey. And I simply forgot my hat to go under my helmet. I would regret those decisions.

Cyclists rolling up to the start at 5:50 a.m.

I was in line at 6:00 a.m., the earliest departure group from the Horizon Casino. I wasn't that close to the front but think that in addition to the 15 minute interval start times they may have been sending us off in 5 minute groups as well. It was wheels down at 6:07 a.m. Then it started raining. On the roll out, and it was an easy ride, we passed a bank which displayed the temperature -- 38 degrees.

There was something about today that I never experienced before on a ride. In the first 10 miles it was effortless and that was due to more than just a basic flat profile. I felt I could ride forever. 

There were 3,300 registered participants but I wonder how many Californians simply bagged it because of the bad weather. This is Team in Traning's (TNT) premier century event and 1,500 slots were taken by the TNT riders. Their bib numbers were purple whereas everyone else wore red. Throughout much of the day I felt like we were crashing their party although we had them outnumbered. It just didn't seem that way. So I joined them. I "low fived" TNT supporters at many places along the course. I yelled "Team" when I saw them and I encouraged the hundreds of TNT riders I passed on the road.

I would have liked to have been a TNT rider but was told by one of my ref crews a few weeks ago that the fundraising goal was "too high" to go to Tahoe. I asked a DC rider and was told $3900. Having raised $10,000 for LIVESTRONG, I didn't think I could go to the well again for a free trip to ride. Also, I was not committed to the training aspect, listed as 4-5 months, to get riders ready for their first century ride. I've done plenty at that distance and while it would have been fun helping train or coach others, I didn't have the time available for such a commitment.

I talked to a lot of people along the way. Almost everyone I passed I said "Morning" to (an abbreviated form of Good Morning) and for many I asked where they were from. Many of the TNT folks had jerseys with their locations so I made it a point to talk to National Capital Area and Western Pa. riders. Go Stillers!

Around mile 7 or 8 one rider was beside me and we must have been going the same speed.

"Where are you from?"


Nice. We struck up a conversation and Rodrigo Garcia Brito would be my ride partner the rest of the way. It started like most conversations but we soon were riding the same speed and we just stuck together.

Facing a long day in the saddle, cold and wet, one could complain or simply go have fun. I went to have fun.

On the Climb to Emerald Point
The climb up Emerald Bay was nice and we passed many riders. I checked my heart rate. It was in the 130s. Rodrigo said his was in the 160s. It was effortless going up the 9-10% grade. I knew then it would be a good day. While I froze.

I told Rodrigo that I remembered being here 15 years ago and there was a scenic view stop on the right. We had been on spring break vacation. We came to Tahoe and there was lots of snow in the mountains. Bethany was 15, Ashley 10, and Andrew 7. In town we had seen some guy and it was almost that he was stalking us. Every where we went he was right behind. Creepy.

We drove up to Emerald Point and admired the view and the snow. As we were leaving this stalker drove up. He got out of his car and promptly fell on his ass. It was one of those moments that you shouldn't laugh but the kids about busted a gut laughing so hard. And we did too. We never saw him after that.

I knew that I would have to stop for a photo op. And we found it. It was the first rest area too although we did not stop to rest or take on any food. Just a picture. In the rain.

For the Kids...
We continued in the rain with a brief stop on a descent when Rodrigo's sunglasses fell off. I stopped and eventually went back. By then a number of people had gathered. First, a car came by and just crushed his glasses. Second, by stopping, one rider crashed. Oops.

We made it to our first rest stop, used the porta-johns, took on some food, made a seat adjustment, then took off. We were both near hypothermic. I was shivering, shaking, and just couldn't warm up. Riding in the cold was fine but that 10-15 minute break cooled us down. It would take about 10 minutes to warm up once we were back on the road.

Bike stand

Rodrigo is a big guy. He appears very strong and this was evident when we turned on Route 89 at Tahoe City to head to Truckee. With all the rain it was not a time to follow someone's wheel like we normally ride. All you got was a mouthful of road spray.  Rodrigo gapped me and kept going, at times was about 100 yards out in front. I couldn't match his pace on this downhill portion. But we came back together.

Snacks in Truckee

On the way back from Truckee to Tahoe City along the Truckee River it was uphill and we stayed together. More than 50 miles had passed quickly and we stopped briefly at the Squaw Valley entrance - this the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Squaw Valley

Although we saw some dark clouds ahead, we rolled into King's Beach just as the sun was coming out and it warmed up to 50, which seemed like 80. Nice. We were greeted at the rest stop by Rodrigo's family. His wife brought him new glasses. Very nice. And she warned of heavy rains ahead. And she would be right.

King's Beach Rest Stop

We spent a lot of time at this stop. It was the lunch stop and I had a turkey sub. And lots of snacks. The food here was great. Rodrigo spent time with his family. We ate.

Rodrigo's family

On the day I spent two hours off the bike. That is very unusual for me as I like to stop at 2-3 stops for a natural break, refill the bottles, then grab some food and eat while on the bike.

A Wall of Food

With Rodrigo's wife and kids here, plenty of good food, and the warmth of the sun even though it was only in the low 50s, we probably stayed close to one hour at this stop.

Rodrigo and Barry

As we rolled out, Rodrigo, a one-time veteran of this ride, warned me about Incline Village. A number of the rich and famous have second homes here and I have been told that includes Brad Pitt and Bruce Jenner and the Kardashians. Maybe/maybe not. But Mike Love (Beach Boys) and Michael Milken do live here. (Read it on Wikipedia so it must be true.)

There's a fake eagle suspended
by wires above this house
If there was a place that I lost speed compared to the normal terrain it was here. Although there was a three mile stretch of straight road along Crystal Bay, there were plenty of stop signs each with a volunteer or policeman to make sure bikes stayed in single file and each one stopped completely at the stop sign. A bit ridiculous that four bikes with no traffic following couldn't roll up side by side, slow down to 2-3 mph, then take off. But those are their rules and we played by them.

We turned back onto Rte 28 for the ride up Spooner Summit. Here a real break occurred in the riders. Riding casually, we had been passed by two women of the DC Chapter of TNT. We soon caught them and they had joined a group of six or seven, all riding single file on Rte 28. We stayed together until the road turned up. One of the women dropped. So did Rodrigo. The woman I was following passed everyone until there was just the two of us.

It started raining again. Heavy this time. The rain turned to sleet. There was just the two of us until she dropped. Then it was just me on the climb. 

I passed one woman who asked how many miles we had ridden. I looked down and told her 82. She didn't believe me and then I said "if you're riding 100." She said wasn't. There were 72 (no trip to Truckee) and 35 mile (boat across the lake) options too.

Minutes before this rest stop was
covered by hail stones

One week ago I sucked. It hurt going up Skyline Drive and it hurt more going up Massanutten. I thought Father Time finally caught up to me. And I was ready to quit. Visions of leading C and D rides danced through my head.

View from rest stop on Spooner Grade

And now at Mile 80, my legs felt as fresh as the first thing in the morning. Never have I ridden 80 miles and my legs felt like this. I wish I knew the secret. No, it's not EPO or Clenbutural.

Going up to Spooner Junction

What was different about the three or four days prior to this ride that was different about SkyMass? Too much riding? Too little riding? Nutrition? Altitude?

Not only did I climb well, the entire ride was from 6,000 feet to 7,100 feet except for the dip to Truckee which was 5,900 feet. I thought less O2 in the air meant less blood cells and less recovery. More soreness. I don't know.

Tunnel on U.S. Rte 50 back to South Lake Tahoe, Ca.

From Spooner Summit it was about a 14 mile descent with a few rollers at the end. I had been warned that the route was not quite 100 miles so I passed the finish line and circled back to make it 100.

Finish Line

I've never been dirtier from a ride than this one. Just lots of sand along the road made worse by the rain. We rode 32 miles in steady or heavy rain but 68 miles without it. Of course when we weren't being rained on we were still soaked. My white cycling socks will never be white again and I wonder if they will ever dry out.

Brand new bike never been ridden. Filthy.

But I've never felt fresher after a ride than this one. No soreness. It wasn't my best time on the bike but I wasn't going for time. I just never felt better during or after a ride of this length. In addition, the weather conditions made it a test of willpower.

Logistically, I wanted to do this as a test trip before I go to France. That passed. I built and tore down the bike and am comfortable with those minor repairs.

This was a day reserved for appreciating beauty and celebrating being cancer free. Not only was this one of my recovery goals it was also National Cancer Survivors Day. I never thought I'd do a six hour century (riding time) here and I didn't try. With the slow down and stops in Incline Village, the most stop lights I have encountered on a century ride, and a slow roll out at the beginning, I had no dreams of anything less than seven hours on the bike.

Post Ride Meal - Reno, Nevada

Just one week after suffering on SkyMass, I felt great on the bike. Father Time, I guess it's not my time. Yet.

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