There were 1000+ riders getting ready to go out for this Big Ride. We were being grouped together in waves and there were numerous countdowns as each group got released.
It was loud, crazy & I loved every minute of it! I could literally feel the anticipation of all the other riders washing over me adding to my own.
While waiting for our wave of riders to get released onto the course, Avni snapped shots & Braden filmed while I double checked I had everything for the ride and scarfed down some of Henry's food. Normally, I fast until noon or later but I figured I better have something in my stomach for the long journey ahead.
The starting gun went off and our group started the course. Henry & I rolled out with some celebratory hoots, hollers & goodbyes to our crew (and of course some expressions of love to the ever supportive fiancé).
As we started out I checked in with myself. I felt good on the bike and mentally told myself "I can do this!" During the first 10 minutes of the ride Henry proceeded to share stories about David Goggins--a navy seal & ultra endurance athlete who has an insane story of how he got into endurance sports. I was both inspired & intimidated by these stories. Henry said Goggin’s story reminded me of him in how he didn't train for his first foray into endurance sports.
The first part of the cycling event went fairly well until we hit our first major intersection with cars and a stop light. We were on a hill in a group of about 60 riders and when the light turned green I panicked getting clipped in, my foot slipped, and I slammed my knee into the pedal. Mild bleeding & pain ensued. We were only 20 minutes into the hours long course. Not the best start, but at least I was still able to continue on.
One thing that really hit me right within those first 10-20 minutes of the ride was how friendly and awesome the community of riders were. RBC Gran Fondo definitely built a special culture with their cycling events. We all chatted as we road together getting to know one another. Funny enough, people could hardly believe this was my first cycling event saying that I "looked like professional cyclist." Nothing like a sweet bike & cycling outfit to help me fake it. Being in fairly good shape from my numerous weekly fitness activities didn't hurt either.
Next up was my first major hill climb--something which I had no practice or training with. Fortunately, I spent some of those first 30 minutes chatting through hill climbing strategy with Henry so at least conceptually I had an understanding of how to use the gears and my body together to climb hardcore inclines. It wasn't long until I had to put theory into practice on the infamous Kings Mountain.
Other riders had shared Henry's climbing philosophy saying things like "don't try to be a hero and blast up the mountain, just get into your lowest gear and put in steady & constant work."
Kings Mountain was a total beast. Miles of climbing through lush Redwood forests. It was epically beautiful with ever increasing stunning views as we continued the ascent.
Honestly, just looking up at the radical grades gave me shivers, but when I focused on just putting in the work for a few grueling miles I realized, "Holy fuck! I can do this! I can climb massive hills on a bike!"
My strategy to get up this beautiful mountain quickly evolved into just picking a rider or two in front of me and keeping pace with them. I didn't try to pass them up. I just followed along as best I could. I really had no idea how to pace myself so I figured it was better to model other riders who were surely more experienced than me.
When things got really hard, and they did, I would chant to myself, "I am strong. I am worthy." Over and over again I would say these empowering words and magically it seemed to draw forth inner strength I didn't know I had. Up the hill I climbed. And climbed.
Ultimately, I conquered Kings Mountain and made it to the first rest stop. And this is where I made my first major mistake.
Normally, I am a super healthy eater. Massive amounts of vegetables and lean proteins make up the majority of my food consumption. Very little processed junky food. However, at the first rest stop there were some not so healthy options (along with some good healthy options) that included M&M's, cookies, and other sweets chalk full of refined sugar and other manmade ingredients I can't even pronounce, much less have any understanding of what they are or where they came from. Most of the time I avoid stuff like this, but after spending a couple hours climbing a ridiculous hill I figured my body could use all the fuel it could get. "Heck, I still got a few more hours in the saddle and I'll be burning massive calories all day long. I can afford to eat some junk," I thought to myself. I proceeded to gobble down a few handfuls of M&M's and other sugary treats. Within minutes I was sky-high on one of the most addictive drugs ever known to mankind--refined sugar.
This first rest stop was also the beginning of my 2nd major mistake. They were handing out gel packs, the ones endurance athletes use to quickly get sodium and calories into their bodies during long grueling races. These ones also happened to contain a 20mg hit of caffeine. I grabbed about 5 of them and put them into my pocket to help me get through the rest of the ride.
During the climb of Kings Mountain Henry had went ahead at his own pace. As a regular cyclist my beginner pace was a bit slow for him, plus he wanted to see what he had so he pushed on ahead. He waited for me at first rest stop so we could start the next leg of the journey together.
After fueling up our bodies, using the restrooms and doing a little bit of stretching we hit the road again. This is where my 3rd major mistake began.
At least half of the next leg was downhill. Similar to climbing massive hills on bikes, I haven't ever gone down miles long stretches of downhill road on a bike.
Irregardless of my inexperience, I bombed down the hills on my bike with Henry. We took turns leading. It was goddamn exhilarating! And despite it being fairly scary as a beginner, my adrenaline was pumping so high that it wasn't too hard to overcome the fear and just hyper-focus on scanning the road ahead for upcoming turns and objects on the road that could end my ride (or my life).
There is something about having to be so focused on the task at hand that pushes you into a state of flow. One where time ceases to exist, your Spirit comes alive, and life just feels so grand. Flying down a road on a human-powered mechanical machine at speeds up to 50+ mph definitely did that for me.
I ended up surviving & thriving through my first major downhill traverse on the bike, but when it was time to climb the next hill I hit my first massive roadblock. Within 10-15 seconds of beginning the next hill climb both my quads completely cramped up and my knees locked out. In other words, both my legs were stuck completely straight and I couldn't even bend my knees.
Somehow I managed to get myself to the side of the road without crashing and I laid down. Without having to worry about not crashing my bike I put all my mental energy into attempting to bed my knees. I couldn't do it. My legs were stuck straight. Henry hadn’t even noticed I had fallen behind and was already out of sight.
Amazingly, I didn't panic. Instead I told myself I would be patient and think this through & evaluate my options.
Within moments of analysis I realized why my legs had cramped up so bad. The entire 20-30 minute downhill ride I had ridden in a crouched position with my pedals parallel to one another and both my legs holding up my entire body weight. Essentially, I had held a staggered squat for close to half an hour. Pumped full of adrenaline & overly focused on making it down the hill safely I had managed to do this, but now that the adrenaline had left me and it was time to get back to the slow & steady work of climbing a hill my legs were completely toast.
I later learned that when you are bombing down hills you have to keep your legs moving and take time sitting down on the seat to allow your legs to recover. Otherwise if you hold a sustained staggered squat you will ruin yourself for the next climb.
As I laid there on the side of the road weighing my options I crushed all the water I had on me. I figured at least part of the cramping was due to dehydration.
Other cyclists who passed me asked if I was okay and if I needed water. This concern & looking out for other cyclists is something that I soon learned is very common among the cycling community.
I explained to them that I had cramped up and was just taking a break waiting for my legs to un-cramp. They half-jokingly said that at least I looked really good lying down on the side of the road--thank you again Oh My Green for the Pedal Mafia uniform! We all laughed as they proceeded on.
As I laid there on the side of the road I thought through things. I definitely wanted to continue the journey so the only thing I could do was to see if my legs would actually un-cramp so that I could actually physically continue on. I told myself I would be patient and focus my mind on encouraging my quads to release. Shortly after making this decision one of the first responders who roam around the cycling course was driving by and saw me. He stopped to see if I was okay. Pat was his name and he was part of the RBC Gran Fondo crew. I told him what had happened and he offered me a ride home or some water. I chose the water and told him I really wanted to continue on.
As we were chatting my legs finally let go. My ability to bend my knees returned! I wasn't done yet! I told Pat I was good to go and asked for an additional bottle of water to refill my own.
Then I got back on the saddle and started climbing again.
Gratefully, my legs stayed unstuck. I got back to putting in the diligent work of grinding the mountain out. My will against the hill. Eventually, I caught up to another rider and just used him to set my pace against until I reached the next rest stop. By this time I was just trying survive the journey, all thoughts of being a hero were gone.
At the next rest stop I continued to double down on my previous mistakes--junk food & caffeinated gels. Nonetheless, I was extremely happy with my progress. I had made it over the Santa Cruz Mountains’ punishing 7,000 feet of elevation gain and road down the other side at breakneck speeds and lived to tell the story. Again, this was done with almost no training so the fact that I made it the Ocean from Palo Alto on a bike was a massive personal win already. I truly was surprised that I actually made it this far, especially after almost having to tap out with my legs locking up.
Henry had waited at this rest stop for me. It was at this halfway point that we decided it was best for him to continue on at his own pace and for me to continue on at my own. I was okay with this and definitely wanted to Henry to finish.
After a brief respite which included scarfing down delicious cookies and using the restroom I was back on the horse and headed back to Kings Mountain for another test of my body & willpower.
The next leg of the journey took me through rolling hills out near the Ocean. It was magical cycling through the fields, a tunnel of trees & other serenely beautiful open landscapes. It was a long way to the next rest stop but the number of intense hills was minimal and it was more about cruising along at a good clip. After probably the most peaceful portion of my ride I made it to the next rest stop.
I crushed more food, healthy & junk, refilled my water bottles, grabbed some more caffeinated gel packs, used the restroom and got back on the road yet again.
It was shortly after the third rest stop while I was diligently working my way up yet another hill that I hit a new level in the Quest. As I was methodically pedaling away in the never-ending circular motion of cycling I felt decades long held emotions deep in the wells of my body break open & release. It was raw unprocessed emotions that I had failed to work through and instead stored in my body. As I cycled through these long-forgotten & mysterious emotions I felt waves of energy cascading out from my lower chakras to the edges of all points of my body--head, hands & feet. Tears burst from my eyes while I was wracked by deep sighs & sobs, yet at the same time I was experiencing massive euphoria.