Let me start by admitting that I am not a deeply motivated cyclist. By which I mean, if you give me two weeks off the bike, my immediate first reaction is not “Wow! I’m glad to be back in the saddle again,” but more along the lines of “Do I HAVE to??” It takes a couple days to get me back in the saddle. I think it’s at least partially physiological – my body thinks differently when it’s been inactive for awhile.
Anyway, I got to the starting line a little bit late despite getting up at 4:30am – the drive from my hotel took longer than I’d expected. I didn’t actually ride out until 6:22am, which was bad, since I only had eleven hours to complete a very tough century and every minute was crucial. I was also not in the best of moods – getting up at 4:30am will do that to you.
The ride started out with a 20 minute climb at 4-8% grade, which wasn’t too bad. I was still stressed over time and not particularly happy to be on the bike, but I was doing OK until, half an hour into it, we hit a wall. 1.6 miles at 14-18% grade. Jesus Fucking H. Christ!! I had not been expecting anything like that – 14-18% grade is about the max grade you’ll find anywhere except a San Francisco street, and while it is ridable, it takes concentrated effort and a nearly all-out push by the muscles to keep going. (At least for me. If it’s easy for you, I don’t wanna hear about it, OK?) At that rate, a mile and a half is about 25 minutes of hard, brutal climbing. I had to stop a couple times along the way to rest, steep as it was.
The climb did not help my mood. I was cursing and wondering why on earth I was doing this and generally thinking a lot of grumpy, negative thoughts through most of the ride, which made the ride even tougher than it was. Around the time I decided I hated cycling and was going to give it up completely and just weave full-time (forget the Death Ride!), I realized two things: first, my blood sugar was low and I needed to take an energy gel to get it back up there (grumpy thoughts are usually a sign of low blood sugar for me), and second, I should seriously reconsider whether I wanted to ride the full century. If the rest of the climbing was going to be at 14-18% grade, it wasn’t going to be a fun ride, and it wasn’t going to be a good training ride for the Death Ride either – the Death Ride doesn’t have many grades like that, from what people tell me.
Anyway, I rolled into the first rest stop around 7:45am, 10.3 miles into the ride. A big sign on a posted map read: “You have climbed 2,000 feet…10,000 feet ahead of you. Want to talk about it??” I went up and said to the guy standing next to the map, “Is the rest of the climbing like what we just did?” He said, “A lot of it is pretty steep, and there’s a 2.2 mile section at 14-18% grade at mile 55.” I said, “Thank you. I think I’m doing the half-century.”
A couple factors went into my decision here: first, I would have to average 11-12 mph (while on the bike) in order to finish the full century in 11 hours. I had thus far averaged only 8.2 mph, and while I figured the first segment was steeper than average, it was unlikely I’d be able to bring my average speed up to 11 mph. The roads were so bad that it was impossible to make up time on the way down (steep grades + potholes + lots of rough pavement), and the uphills were so steep that they were extremely slow. There was very little chance that I’d be able to finish the full century.
Second, I wasn’t having any fun. The steep grades took a lot of effort to climb, the downhills were worrisome, and in general it had been a miserable ride so far. If I kept going, I was going to want to throw the bike off a cliff once I’d finished, and that’s no fun at all. Certainly no way to get back into the saddle.
Third (and possibly most important), there was the Sequoia Century tomorrow. If I kept going, odds were I’d run out of time and get swept, AND be too exhausted for Sequoia.
Keeping all that in mind, I decided to do the half-century. At mile 18, I turned onto the half-century route, feeling good about my decision.
The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful – a few more of those miserably steep grades, but mostly rolling hills with beautiful scenery.Â And without the time pressure of having to complete the full century, I finished easily around noon.Â It had been an extremely hilly half-century (more climbing than Mt. Hamilton!), but enjoyable, minus the first part.Â I finished feeling good, drove the 2.5 hours home, and decided perhaps I’d continue cycling after all. 🙂
The Sierra Half-Century: 45.14 miles, 4:22:09, 5309 feet of climbing. Avg speed: 10.3 mph.