(Disclaimer: I have a lot to say about this day so this may be a long post. You've been warned.)
RIDE DAY (Sunday):
As I mentioned in my previous post, I woke up in a panic at 4:00am convinced I had overslept and was going to miss the ride. I tried to get back to sleep but gave up after about 10 minutes and decided to get up and start getting ready.
Getting dressed for a bike ride is always interesting for me. I decided to wear my Livestrong bibs, a mistake I will not be making again. Don't get me wrong, the bibs are comfy and all...but the design makes me look like I'm wearing a big yellow diaper. It is NOT flattering at all, and I need all the flattertude I can get (yes, I just made that word up. Deal with it.).
I had to wait until I had sufficiently un-steamed from the shower before I could attempt to get into the bibs. If you have ever tried to pull on a pair of bike shorts over squeaky clean but sticky skin, you know what I mean. There was also the small matter of remembering to apply Monkey Butt powder. I knew if I didn't use it I would pay dearly, so I sprinkled a generous amount in there and saddled up. I also decided to take a small amount of it with me in a ziploc bag so I could reapply at rest stops if necessary...but I had to rethink that because I realized the powder in the baggie looked very suspicious. I figured it might be better if other riders didn't see me heading for the porta-potty with what looked like a large amount of cocaine in a ziploc baggie....and then coming out of the porta-potty with a maniacal smile on my face. Probably not too good for the image.
After double checking that everything was packed and in order, we headed out for the event site at about 6:15am. It was still dark and a bit chilly - my kind of weather! The drive to Dripping Springs was pretty cool in that most of the other vehicles going our way were also carrying bikes. I can remember being incredibly intimidated when I did this ride in 2008, seeing cars and SUVs with multiple bikes and all kinds of team insignia attached. This year it was fun to see, not intimidating.
It took a while to get to the parking area for the ride because there were so many vehicles in line waiting to get in. I began to get a little jittery and my stomach started growling. I hadn't eaten anything for breakfast and the thought of downing the chocolate protein bar I'd bought at Academy made me want to hurl, so I ignored the growling as best I could.
We parked and unloaded, then headed toward the shuttle area. I thought I saw AM's Jeep pull in, so when we got to the shuttle area I sent her a text to see where she was. As it turned out, she was waiting in the very long porta-potty line while her husband parked the Jeep. I was tempted to go join her (in LINE, not in the porta-potty. Ew.) but I really wanted to get over to the starting area and get settled in.
Last time I did the ride, I had no idea there was a shuttle so Sig and I walked the couple of miles from the parking area to the event site. This time, we were on the lookout for a shuttle (buses graciously provided by the Dripping Springs ISD), but didn't see any school buses around. We had just decided to walk on over to the site when a bus pulled around the corner. We headed back to the shuttle site, where I was told bikes are not allowed in the shuttles. No problem, I told Sig to get on and I would ride over. No biggie, just a nice little warm-up, right?
Here's where I did dumbass thing #1 - I didn't get my bike shoes from Sig before I took off so I was riding in my Saucony running shoes. Ouch. I really don't know how people can ride in anything but bike shoes. I'm so used to clipping in and out that not having to felt really bizarre. Not fun.
A bunch of other people were walking/riding to the starting area so I just followed along, trying not to get hit or to run anyone over. I got to the tennis court area and waited for Sig, AM, and her hubby to arrive. It was still a bit chilly and I started eyeing the porta-pottys again, wondering if maybe a pit stop would be a good idea. I decided against it and eventually our little team got together and I got my bib number from AM and made some last-minute adjustments.
It's just flat out exciting. There are so many people there (over 3,000 riders + 800 or so volunteers, plus friends and family of the riders) that it can be a little overwhelming, but in a good way. I started to forget a little bit about being nervous and focused on the reason I was there - to honor Elianna and Joyce and their strength and courage in fighting and beating cancer. I can remember very clearly thinking, in 2008, that I was out riding my bike while Elianna was fighting for her life in a hospital bed. It helped put things into perspective and calm me down.
I stretched and made sure everything was looking good on my bike, then proceeded to do dumbass thing #2: I had nowhere to put my phone, so I clipped it to my bib shorts under my left arm. It seemed logical and was comfortable, so I didn't give it another thought. More on this dumbassery in the next post...
We got over to the staging area and Sig was busy taking pictures of everything. Lance and Levi and some other members of Team RadioShack, along with PATRICK DEMPSEY (yes, McDreamy himself!) were there making some announcements, so Sig ran over to the main stage to get some shots of them. They were riding the 90 mile route so I knew I wouldn't get to see them, which made me very happy Sig was there to take the photos.
After standing around waiting for the 90 and 65 mile folks to head out, it was finally our turn. I was feeling pretty good at this point. The weather was cloudy and a bit chilly, but it felt good. We walked our bikes down through the starting lane (it was way too crowded to try and ride) and I was once again overwhelmed by the number of people out cheering, rattling their cowbells, and making all kinds of noise. Dripping Springs HS (I think) even had their drill team and cheerleaders out there again. It was a great beginning, very festive and exciting.
As we left the starting area and turned onto 290 to get to the ride turnoff, things started getting disjointed. I knew AM and her husband would drop me pretty quickly, but I tried my best to keep them in sight as long as I could. It was just too crowded though, and I'm not experienced enough in a big group to maneuver safely through all those people, so I just settled back and rode as safely as I could.
Things got better once people spread out and there was more room on the road. Everything was fine for me until the first small hill, and I immediately started regretting my lack of training in the month before the ride. Yeah, I know. Boo hoo. Serves me right.
About 5 or so miles in, I discovered dumbass thing #3 - my bike computer was still in transport mode and hadn't even turned on. CRAP!
I don't remember every detail of the ride, but one thing I remember very clearly was the low water crossing that brought everyone to a halt. Apparently there had already been two bad accidents there by the time I arrived, so the course marshals were making everyone stop and walk through it. There was water flowing across the small bridge, and everyone was crossing in single file. As I was in the middle of the bridge, the guy in front of me slipped and startled me, causing me to slip. My right ankle turned and I nearly went over the side, but someone behind me managed to grab the back of my shirt and keep me from falling.
The good news is, I didn't go over. The bad news is, I twisted my ankle pretty good. To make matters worse, there was a pretty steep uphill climb coming up out of that low crossing so I had no momentum and ended up walking up the hill (along with many others, I might add). My ankle was pretty much screaming at me by the time I got to the top of the hill so I took a moment to rest and try to stretch it out.
It was at this moment I discovered dumbass thing #4: I had completely forgotten to start my HRM. I didn't even bother with it at that point. Quite honestly, I didn't really want to know what my heart rate was. I figured as long as I was still alive and breathing it was all good.
I have to say, although this ride was as tough as I remembered it being, having my new bike sure did help. I still had to walk up some hills, but not nearly as many as last time. Even better, I was able to ride at least halfway up the hills I ended up walking. I'm SO glad I got a triple - I used those granny gears like nobody's business.
I did have some really bad moments, though. I sent Sig a text at the 15 mile pit stop and let her know about my ankle, not sure how much more I could ride with it hurting like it did. I was standing in line waiting to get into a porta-potty (sans suspicious powder in a baggie) when I got her return text, a little sympathy mixed with encouragement. I figured I could at least get another five miles in, so I refilled my water bottles and set out again.
Somewhere along here, as I was pedaling slowly up a hill, I heard a big noise coming from in front of me. I had my head down trying to get up the hill but looked up just as a large group of cyclists blew past me, headed the other way. They were followed by a support vehicle and two motorcycle cops with full lights on, and it dawned on me too late that it was Lance and his group. Someone behind me said, "HEY! That was Lance!" and I kicked myself for not getting my camera out in time to get a shot. It probably wouldn't have done much good anyway - they were going too dang fast!
At about 20 or so miles in, I was done. I wanted to quit. Even looking at the water bottle Elianna had signed for me didn't help. I couldn't think of one thing to inspire me. My ankle was throbbing, my feet were killing me, my body ached, and I was so tired I could hardly turn my legs over. In fact, I heard one of the SAG vehicles coming from behind me and actually stopped to flag it down, but the driver seemed in a hurry and didn't see me. A rider going past me said, "He'll come get you on the way back." I just nodded tiredly and got back on the bike, figuring I could at least keep going until another SAG dude came along. It must have been a sign, telling me not to quit.
It was around this time I got my second wind. There was a series of downhills that were a ton of fun and I found myself zipping along at 20 mph, feeling pretty good. Then something weird happened. It's amazing how one's mind can completely bifurcate in moments of great stress. Part of me was saying "Yes! I can do this!", but once I had to start going uphill again my mind insisted "No, no I can't!" I spent a good 15 miles or so battling back and forth with my mind, trying to convince myself I could finish even if I had to walk for miles.
I met a lot of very cool people along the way. I kept playing tag with this lady:
She was really cool and we would exchange pleasantries every time we passed or caught up to each other. At one point, as I was coming up behind her to pass her again, I got a good look at the sign on her back and was jolted to see she was an 11-year survivor. WOW. I was humbled so much by the thought of what she must have gone through that I could hardly bring myself to speak to her. I finally swallowed the lump in my throat and congratulated her on her victory, and she very modestly accepted my kudos then proceeded to leave me in the dust as we started up a hill. Talk about strength!
By mile 37 I was so tired I couldn't think straight. Those last 6 miles or so are some pretty tough climbs, but the last couple of miles are downhill and FUN heading into the finish line. I was in tears as I finally got to the home stretch and there were people lined up all along the way, cheering and clapping...then as I headed into the finishing chute I heard the announcer call my name and saw Sig sitting on the ground along the side of the chute, her camera lens aimed right at me. I tried to smile as I went by, but all I could think about was getting off my bike and drinking some cold water.
Overall, the ride was more difficult than I remembered, but I feel like I did a much better job of fighting through it this time. Having a better bike definitely helped, and the training I did in the summer helped as well. I do regret letting my training go as I got more busy with school, but I'm going to take that as a lesson learned and NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. I know I would've done better had I not been so foolish. I'm just going to have to plan better next time.
More on my post-ride thoughts in the next post....