I haven't written much about biking for awhile. I've still been riding lots and mostly loving it, but I also had a couple particularly challenging rides that left me feeling pretty down and wondering why on earth I ever thought I could do it, and it took me awhile to crawl out of the hole and to feel okay talking about it. I had about a month of nonstop bike anxiety dreams: getting hopelessly lost without a map, phone, or friend; my tires disintegrating or splitting open, my wheels falling off, my brakes failing; and worst of all, waking up on the morning of a big important ride to discover that my bike had been replaced with something I had no idea how to ride.
And yet somewhere in there I signed up for the October 1 Levi's GranFondo
, a popular event in the Sonoma Valley that byronium
had done last year and sounded like a fun challenge. I'd been thinking about it for awhile and had actually decided not to do it for various reasons, the main one being that the moral support I knew I'd need wasn't going to be available to me. But then Valerie decided to go, and knowing that I'd have a friend of similar skill and fitness level to leapfrog up the hills with made it pretty easy for her to talk me into it, too. We both signed up for the shortest route, the 31mi/50km Piccolo Fondo, but it was still going to be the longest ride I'd ever done, and with a pretty significant climb, so I was both really nervous and really excited about it (but mostly really nervous).******************************
We all went up for a practice ride the last weekend in August, and it kicked my ass, hard. Struggling-not-to-pass-out, this-close-to-sitting-on-the-side-of-
the-road-crying hard. This did not help my confidence level. On one hand it was nice to know that I could at least complete the route, even if it took me 6+ hours and made me feel like ass, but on the other, I wasn't sure I actually wanted to if it was going to feel that bad, or if I'd be able train enough before the real thing to make it easier on my body and a less unpleasant experience overall.
I didn't get in nearly as much training as I wanted to or should have, of course. I did a few short, intense bursts of hill training in my neighborhood, and I got in a few longer, easier rides to try to help build my confidence back up, but I still felt woefully unprepared and like I'd bitten off way more than I could bike. It wasn't until the weekend just before the 'Fondo, when I did an amazingly beautiful and exhilarating solo ride in the Berkeley/Oakland hills
, that I really got my confidence back and fell back in love with being on the bike.
It's a good thing, too, because Valerie had been sick for a couple weeks, and the week before the GranFondo she let me know that she was neither well enough to ride nor well enough to come along to hang out and cheer us all on. I understood completely, but it left me on my own for both logistics and moral support, and if I'd still been as freaked out about the ride as I was just a couple weeks earlier, I'd have backed out of going. Instead I allowed myself a brief period of freaking out and feeling sorry for myself and then put on my big-girl panties and made the necessary arrangements to get me and my bike to and from Santa Rosa. Thank goodness for Paul, who immediately stepped up to offer whatever logistical support I needed. I ended up deciding to go up on my own Friday, but he picked me up on Saturday so I didn't have to deal with 4 hours of public transit after a 31-mile ride. ******************************
The bike+BART+bus trip to Santa Rosa was fairly pleasant, especially once I'd stopped worrying about my bike falling off the front of the bus (fucking bike racks, how do they work??). I got in a little later than I'd originally planned but still in time to meet Byron and Gayathri for a carbolicious dinner at a cute little Italian place with dishes named after famous cyclists. Afterward they were kind enough to take me to registration and drop me back at the hotel, where it finally sank in that holy shit this is happening tomorrow, and I started feeling really anxious again. I asked Byron if he had time to come by for a hug, which helped, gave my bike some last-minute love, and then went for a swim to try to calm my nerves and wear myself out enough to sleep. I had the pool entirely to myself and it was wonderful, but it didn't work. Well after I should have gone to bed, I tweeted "Can't sleep, hills will eat me."
But I did eventually sleep, and I woke up in time, and survived a really dumb no-lights ride in the morning darkness over to the start (thank goodness for all the other really dumb lightless cyclists doing the same thing--we made lots of noise for each other). By the time I got there my anxiety had turned mostly into excitement, though seeing the sea
of 7,499 other riders
was really intimidating. I gulped down a chocolate milk, wished Byron and Gayathri a good ride once they arrived, and took my place way, way behind them with the rest of the "Intermediate Beginners."
The ride itself was challenging. And awesome. Once I actually got moving (a mass start with that many other cyclists takes forever and is a hell of a thing to navigate) the first 13 miles or so were pure zoomy bliss. And there were tons of people lining the course with cowbells and signs and balloons cheering us all on! The first difficult bit was the long climb up Graton Road; it was tough and slow-going, but I'd made a friend of one of the other Intermediate Beginners and we kept each other company during rest breaks. Which were many and frequent and often involved most unladylike language (sorry, dude with the 10-year-old). Even so it was much easier for me than it had been on the practice run, and I made it to the rest stop at the turnaround point feeling pretty great. Flying back down Graton Road was lots of fun, and I did okay for the next few miles after that, but then I really started to lose steam and just like on the practice ride, the last 5 miles were the absolute worst. My body was Done. Cytomax and energy chews weren't helping. I wanted to pull over and fall over, but I knew that if I stopped I might not start again, so I didn't. I didn't think it was ever going to end, and when I finally crossed the finish line just 4.5 hours after I started the only thing that kept me from bursting into tears of relief and exhaustion was the fact that people were talking to me and congratulating me, and crying seemed like it might be rude. I had just enough energy left to park my bike and collect my complimentary plate of paella, and then I kind of collapsed onto the nearest empty bit of field, inhaled the paella, and just chilled and reveled in the fact that I fucking did it. And I totally wanna do it again next year. :D