Bike Noob is pleased to present a guest post from John T. Cash. John T rides with the Noob occasionally, and he also comments here under the name “johnt.” He just took up biking last year. Over the weekend, he did an organized ride that he’d ridden in last year, and was looking forward to again. But this time, it didn’t turn out so well.
This year’s Atlas ride ( the first leg of the Texas 4000, which is a group of 50 University of Texas students who ride to Alaska to raise money for cancer), the 2nd I have participated in, started just like last year’s. But this year was a little more important to me as I had helped lead the initial training ride for the group back in September. I was riding the 54 mile route. I drove to the start at Cedar Park with my friend Hugo, who usually leads the Jack and Adams bike shop weekly no drop ride. We hung out and made the usual small talk with those we knew and those we just met until the ride started. Hugo dropped me quickly as I am slow to warm up and usually struggle the first 10 miles until everything falls into place.
This ride though was different. Ten miles passed and the clouds burned off. By the first rest stop it was well over 90 degrees and I was drenched in sweat and still laboring. Lingering longer than I normally do at the rest stop I ate a lot of fruit and dropped a Nuun into my water bottle and drained it. Assured that the fruit and the Nuun would do the trick, I took off and waited for the lift that would renew my energy. At mile 20 and still struggling I had an epiphany. Although I had been riding regularly and had completed 59 miles at the Red Poppy ride six weeks before, I had ridden very little in the heat this year and I was in over my head.
Riding into the second rest stop again just drenched in sweat and feeling very depleted, I wolfed down an energy bar and grabbed several slices of watermelon and oranges and sat on the bridge to contemplate whether to SAG in right then and there. I must have looked pretty bad because a couple of Texas 4000 riders recognized me and asked if I was OK. “Yes, I’m fine,” I muttered — not too convincingly.
As I pondered whether to hang it up I realized I knew most of the SAG volunteers because of my relationship to Hugo. Ugh, how embarrassing. At age 53, the last thing I wanted to do is be another old man bonking in the heat, especially in front of folks I know. With my precious ego in jeopardy I chugged down another bottle of Nuun water, grabbed a couple of energy bars and decided to soldier on. As I slogged along with the sun beating down and the temperature well above 95 I made my plan. I had my heart rate monitor and tried to make sure it stayed around 120-125. I would drink water every two miles and nibble on my energy bars. While not terribly hilly, the route is not flat and I stayed in the lowest gear on any incline and coasted as much as I could. Each pedal stroke had a purpose, each shift a way to save energy. Each sip of water or bite of energy bar was the fuel to pedal up another long roller. A nice lady in her 40s rode up and tried to make small talk but I could only grunt or nod and she pedaled off probably thinking what an assh—. A sag driver driving the opposite way probably noticed how slow and wobbly I was yelled at me as he passed, “You OK?” I weakly waved and plowed on.
At mile 38 I started to really lose it and more than a little dizzy stopped and got off the bike. With only a few miles to the next rest stop I decided to pour the remainder of one of my water bottles over my head and soak my bandana. I dropped another Nuun in my other bottle and chugged the tepid mixture dry. “You OK?” sang the chorus as a peloton of 20 somethings zipped past. After a few more minutes, the dizziness passed and I wobbled to the last rest stop. Inhaling a bunch of watermelon and oranges, I lingered for at least 20 minutes and then took off a bit refreshed. A young couple fell in with me and I chatted with them. They were thinking about having a baby (amazing what people confide to strangers on a bike) and I started to perk up a bit as the terrain ran downhill. Once we hit a couple of long rollers I let them go and went back to struggling.
Somehow the miles went by and as luck would have it the last 4 miles were uphill in a headwind but I somehow made it to the finish at 1:30 p.m., 5 1/2 hours and a full hour over my time the year before. I saw Hugo right off the bat and he quickly pointed out the time, how bad I looked and how he had been worried about me. I brushed past, muttered an obscenity and downed a couple of cold water bottles and demolished a bbq plate with all the fixings.
In the shade my head quit pounding, the dizziness left and I realized that I had just completed my most successful and fulfilling ride. It took all of what little I know about the bike, my body and what I didn’t know about what I was made of to complete this ride. Whether it was some misguided attempt at protecting my ego or a stubbornness or tenacity I didn’t know I had, I don’t know. I do know now why I decided to start riding a bike at age 52.
Before you ask — John T. tells me he was well fueled: “I had a pasta dinner, I had a good breakfast, and ate a big free bagel at the school before the start,” he said. But he’s been riding only 40-50 miles a week, and that at times of day when the heat isn’t so intense. “In hindsight, maybe not such a good idea,” he told me.