Guest Blogger Holly Roark recaps her first century ride, starting off the New Year with a bang in Ocotillo, California. By turns serious, determined, humorous and (perhaps righteously) irked, we hope you laugh and enjoy this triple-digit journey by bicycle as much as we did.
Let me start by saying that I am sorry I did not get more pictures of the actual road that I traveled (it was a doozy) but I was too busy battling the elements, the terrain, my endurance, and a time constraint to stop and pull out my camera in places where I would have loved to get a shot.
The Stagecoach Century is held every January in Ocotillo, CA. It's an up and back 100 mile bicycle ride north on S2 from Imperial Highway. It's in the desert and winds are a constant challenge. The ride to the 50 mile mark is mostly up hill (with miles and miles of "false" flat road and several steep climbs), so you get the benefit of a faster return since you are going down hill for the most part. The kicker is that at about mile 12 there is a really fun descent, which of course means that on the way back, at about mile 88, you are in for a grueling climb just when you feel like you can't give any more!
I am not sure whether this Google Map photo does justice to the actual ride, but it should give you some idea of what I was dealing with out there.
Google Map of the Stagecoach Century Ride 2011 Here is the starting point and the ending coordinates if you want to play with this route on Google Maps: From 226 W. Imperial Highway, Ocotillo, CA to 33°09'06.39"N 116°32'45.67"W
Here is the course map:
All of the riders were encouraged to stay in San Diego the night before the ride since there are very few places to stay in Ocotillo and there were nearly 700 riders signed up to do this ride. The problem is that San Diego is about 85 miles west so it would mean a long drive before the bike ride. I wasn't too thrilled about that, but I did as the organizers advised and stayed at the Mission Valley Resort. There the organizers had set up shop where we could conveniently pick up our packets with final instructions and also purchase any last minute necessary items for the ride.
I was really excited about the ride (my first century ride ever) and it was difficult to get to sleep but I finally dozed off at about 11:00 p.m. My Saturday morning started before the sun came up. I was up at 4:00 a.m. and packing up my car at 4:41 a.m. to hit the road by 5:00 a.m.
Time to pack up the car and hit the road to Ocotillo!
Since it was a cold start, we were encouraged to layer our clothing, which I did.
It wasn't any colder than weather I'd ridden in recently (about 40 degrees F), and truthfully, I probably could have gone without the multiple layers. A base layer and maybe arm warmers would have been enough.
I arrived at the starting location at about 6:30. Lots of people were already there and the excitement was in the (somewhat cold) air!
People getting ready for the ride out.
The sun is starting to come up!
Bicycles in the desert!
My lovely bike all ready to go!
The teams who were there for time trials got to roll out first.
The rest of us rolled out at about 7:05 a.m.
It was a 1 - 4% grade to the first check point at mile 6. I had already warmed up so I stopped to take off my arm warmers.
The first feed stop, where we were allowed to strip off more layers and drop our gear for pick up later was at mile 11. I took off my leg warmers and balaclava here. (I picked them up at the end of the ride). I kept my windbreaker jacket and I kept my arm warmers in my back pocket just in case it got cold again. I also kept on my base layer, which I could have taken off at any time, but I just didn't. It did get up to about 75 degrees and I could feel the sun on my face at noon, but it wasn't sweltering.
The view from Stop No. 1
Stop No. 1 There were volunteer kids at the stop who offered to hold our bikes if there wasn't room at a rack.
Pulling out of Stop No. 1
I ate some goodies and hit the road.
Having a great ride.
After the first rest stop we got to descend Sweeney Pass. They said not to go more than 20 miles per hour but it was hard to keep it at that! It was a lot of fun. No cars on the road, just sunshine and wind in my face. What a beautiful day!
I tried not to let it cross my mind that on the way back this Sweeney Pass was going to be a bear! I didn't have time for negative thoughts - it would ruin my ride!
Sweeney Pass from the top (photo courtesy of someone else).
Stop NO. 2 - mile no. 25.49. Time to get some more electrolytes and a peanut butter sandwich. So far no tough climbs and I am feeling pretty confident about this whole thing. Up to that point it had been a slow and steady climb, a "false flat" road. It looked flat, but you were hard pressed to get above 10 miles per hour for some reason. In many patches I could not go above 8 or 9 miles per hour. We had a headwind that wasn't helping anything either, (and we had a cruel surprise on the way back when the wind hit us in the face in that direction as well!)
I met several people who were turning around at this point so they could complete 50 miles rather than the full 100.
Back at mile 25 I had no idea what was yet to come: Campbell Grade.
The pictures do not do it justice. You have to look really closely to see how the road winds up over the top of the hill.
MILE 36. This is where doubt first set in. It was a big climb over Campbell Grade and the hill after that to get to mile 36, and I wondered if whether I should turn around at this point. I was hurting. "You're pushing yourself too hard. Turn around and go back. It would be good enough to do 73 miles; there's no shame in that," the WEAK PANSY IN MY HEAD SAID.
Mile 36 (turn around for the 73 mile route for those who are doing that) Rest stop for water and grub.
I stretched my legs and drank some water and some electrolytes, wolfed down some fig newtons and a peanut butter sandwich, and pushed onward.
It was about 10:45 a.m. I had to make better time if I wanted to make sure I finished before the course was closed at 5:00 p.m. I shifted into the big chain ring and spun as fast as I could to mile 50.
THE FIFTY MILE MARK
I was so happy to make it to this point! A real accomplishment for this novice!
An important maxim in cycling is "drink before you're thirsty and eat before you're hungry". I tried to do both the whole ride but I simply couldn't drink enough. The desert dries you out before you know it, and I was sweating salt and not feeling my best at a few different points on this journey. I knew that was a bad sign and I kept hydrating as often as possible. At this stop I drank a couple bottles of water to replenish myself and I rested a bit. I was so tired of eating, I just couldn't eat much more but I made myself eat half a peanut butter bar and I put the rest in a back pocket of my jersey. I learned on this ride why it is that some people prefer their calories in gels or drinks - it's just really hard to get all those necessary calories in you by using only solid foods. You need to keep eating to keep fueled up for the miles, but that's hard to do because at some point you just feel too full. I might try drinking my calories on my next long ride and see how that goes.
I didn't want to delay too long so I stretched my legs and it was on to mile 57.
Mile 57 - LUNCH
Hadn't I been eating lunch all day?? I couldn't bear to eat lunch but I did stop for half a grape soda and to stretch my legs. (At the end of the ride - mile 100- the ladies at the dinner counter saw that I hadn't used my lunch ticket so they gave me my sandwich to go. That came in handy back at the hotel when I became famished suddenly!)
My leg muscles were shouting at this point and exhaustion was setting in. I was starting to get that "out of it" feeling.
From mile 50 to mile 100 I was pretty much on my own on the road, though I did run into a few people here and there. The field had started with 693 riders, with roughly 250 doing the full 100 miles. From mile 57 on, we were scattered all over the course. One of the last places I saw people before mile 75 was on some tricky descents that I quickly surmised I was not experienced enough to execute properly, so I begrudgingly rode on my brakes down these glorious passes while the few people that were still nearby soared past me. It looked like so much fun, but I didn't dare try taking these hairpin turns without understanding the mechanics of it all. I can't wait to master descending so I can come back and do these descents the right way.
After that, aside from the stop at mile 75, I rarely saw anyone else all the way to the finish line, and nary a car passed by. Fifty miles by yourself on a bike is a lot of thinking time. I am usually good company for myself, but growing weary in the desert heat, I went a little bonkers in a few spots.
They had told us that usually there is a nice tail wind all the way back to mile 100, but this year, it was not to be. We had headwinds beating us about the whole way home.
I yelled out loud and punched the air a few times. "You're not going to get ME, desert and wind! F*** ME? F*** YOU!"
Because that's how I roll.
Giving mother nature the finger is probably ignorant. But you have to humor yourself sometimes, you know, especially when you are trying to survive.
Desert hallucinations are funny. I thought I saw some people waving at me, but it was just a cactus.
I started thinking of Jure Robic, five time winner of the Race Across America, who crossed the entire United States on a bicycle in about 8 days, traveling more than 350 miles per day and sleeping a mere 8 hours the whole ride. He tragically died on September 24, 2010, in his native Slovenia, while training. September 25th, 2010 is the day I bought my mountain bike and started this journey of my own. I consider that day to be the real beginning of my life. At the time, I had never heard of the Race Across America, or of Jure Robic. I just missed the freedom of my childhood bike rides, and I wanted to ride again. I needed to ride again or I was going to die. That's how I felt.
I only learned about Jure after watching the film, "Bicycle Dreams". He was so impressive, I wanted to know more. When I Googled him, I saw that he had recently died. That upset me greatly for several days. Jure seemed to pull strength from deep within him. He probably had depths we will never know. He seemed to be proving something to himself over and over again. I'm not sure what it was, or what the need was, but he just seemed to have to do this.
As I was feeling sorry for myself out there on the last half of this century ride, I wondered, what would Jure do? I laughed: there's aerobic, anaerobic, and Jure Robic. If my heart rate monitor says I am in the Jure Robic zone, then I am really kicking ass! I started digging for inspiration to get me through it. I talked to myself out loud as the lonely miles passed by. I don't think I want to share the things I said. Those thoughts are between me and the wind, and the cacti, and the sun. What kind of stuff am I made of? I guess time and more rides will tell, but I know more about my "stuff" now than I did before this ride.
MILE 75. I am hurting. It is taking everything I've got to make it that last 25 miles.
Not smiling very big at mile 75.
I made up a rule at mile 75. Every three miles, take a big drink of water and some electrolytes. That gave me something to look forward to and it broke up the ride into more manageable chunks. Mile 78. Chug some water and some electrolyte drink. Mile 81. Chug some water and some electrolyte drink. Mile 84. Chug some water and some electrolyte drink. Mile 87. Oh sh*t, here comes that Sweeney Pass. Chug some water and some electrolyte drink.
Sweeney Pass. I kept singing to myself, "put one foot in front of the other and soon you'll be walking out the door; put one foot in front of the other...." It helped. I had caught up to some guys that I had met at mile 50. I hope they didn't hear my singing. It helped me get over Sweeney Pass without having to stop and walk my bike. (I didn't have to walk any of the climbs.)
Sweeney Pass - the climb back over it and on to the finish line.
MILE 97 had a patch of road that couldn't be ridden! They warned us about this and advised we try to ride on the white line. I wish I had taken a picture of that road. This is the only time I had to get off my bike and walk for a bit, and it was flat! I was pissed! So close to the end and there is this rough road with grooves in it for about a mile. Mountain bike tires could have ridden this, but the skinny road tires could have easily gotten stuck in the grooves in the road.
I contemplated my options as I walked my bike. Do I ride on the left side of the road which was perfectly smooth? There were no cars out there and as far as I could see, I was the only bike out there. I quickly dismissed that option. If it had been early in the day when I was fresh, I may have done that. But I knew that in my condition that it could have been a fatal decision since I was not thinking clearly, was exhausted, and would probably not be able to react quickly if I had to move out of the way.
I fumed for a little bit. I don't know how far I walked my bike but I finally decided to try to ride on the white line (though it was rough too!) and I slowly (bumpity bump) made my way to mile 98. This patch really slowed me down. I had been riding 17 - 24 miles per hour up until then.
MILE 98 - almost home! I scanned the road in front of me and I saw a pot hole in the road ahead. Before I swerved to the left to go around it, I took a look over my left shoulder to make sure no was coming (even though I had been all alone out there for some time). I didn't think anyone would be there but I know enough to look before I move over - you never know. Wouldn't you know it, just as I looked to my left, some jerk in skater dude shorts appeared out of nowhere and swooshed past me on my left (about an inch away from me) and didn't say "on your left" or anything at all to let me know he was coming. I shrieked! This guy nearly took me out! At mile 98! Then he looks back and goes, "hey great job, all riiiight!" I glare at him. Oh but it's not over. He then proceeds to zig zag all over the road in front of me in some kind of celebratory, "I'm almost there" dance. WHAT A D**K. I am exhausted. I have come a long way. I am in pain, and seriously hurting in every way. I am tired and seeing things. I am in no mood for levity. All I am trying to do is hold a straight line and get to the finish while this jerkoff is doing the Macarena down the road in front of me. "You almost took me out at mile friggin 98! Ride in a straight line, a**hole!"
MILE 100. I crossed the finish line. They gave me a medal and my bag of gear that I had dropped at the first stop, and a photographer took my picture. I was so out of it I forgot to have someone take my picture with my own camera, but I did snap one of my odometer and one of the lady at the finish line.
As I was approaching the finish line, about 50 feet before it, I could see Macarena Man packing up his bike. He waved at me as I passed him and all I could do not to shout "YOU D**K" was to just keep my hands on the handle bars and my eyes on the road. I did not want to let him take me out at 50 feet from the finish line. He probably thought I was really rude.
Upon further reflection, I later realized I should not begrudge Macarena Man his happiness. He was young enough not to be able to envision the things that could have gone wrong for him in those last 2 miles (much less the entire ride). I am sure there was a time in my life when I couldn't see the parade of horribles either. I am reminded of that line by Bob Seger, from, appropriately "Against the Wind". He said, sometimes "I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then...." Although I can appreciate that sentiment, on the other hand, knowing what CAN happen is what will keep you safe out there when you come across someone like Macarena Man who isn't playing by the rules.
I am thankful for having had the opportunity to do this ride. It was challenging, and the scenery was magnificent. I didn't have any injuries or mechanical failures, and I finished the course and was not last! It was a pretty perfect day.
Proof I did it!!
Calorie counter/timer says 12:06:06 hours because I forgot to turn it off at the end of the ride, and only remembered when I got back to the hotel, which was about 2 hours later. So deduct a couple hundred calories.
5,745 calories burned.