A Note from Fatty: You may remember that Paul Guyot guest-posted for me while I was in France; you may also remember that mostly people were interested in having me take my time in getting back. Well, I’ve asked Paul back, to give me a report on his (and Team Fatty’s) Austin LiveStrong Challenge experience. Tomorrow, we get back to the “I’ve Never Suffered So Much” posts.
The weekend before last, my wife and I traveled to Austin, Texas for the 2011 LIVESTRONG Challenge event. I was to ride in the 90-mile ride Sunday and my wife – at the last minute – decided she would participate in Saturday’s 5K run/walk. It was the first Livestrong event for either of us.
While I had registered for this ride early in the spring, the event took on much greater significance this summer when we lost my wife’s mother to cancer. After being a caregiver to her husband who was diagnosed with liver cancer two years ago (and given 6 months to live), my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer in April and by July she was gone. Meanwhile, my father-in-law’s cancer is in full remission.
On Saturday morning my wife was feeling a bit nervous since she had done zero training, and despite the fact it was only 5k, my wife hadn’t run any farther than across the kitchen floor after a toddler since high school. She was planning on walking the whole thing, which was fine, but when we got there and became part of this giant sea of people wearing yellow.
Photo by Tim Elliot
Over two thousand people were there, because they had either beaten cancer themselves or else had gone through exactly what we went through – it was emotionally overwhelming, and as the race was led out by pedicabs carrying children suffering with cancer my wife turned to me and said, “I’m going to run.”
And run she did.
A woman who is self-described as “not a fan of exercise” took off with 2200 participants and ran. Holding a necklace in her hand that her mother had given her, she ran the 5k in just over 30 minutes, finishing so fast that I wasn’t even at the line to get a shot of her… something I will regret until my dying day.
Afterward my wife was inspired and invigorated, saying she felt her mother with her the whole time. Again, we’re aware this was barely over 3 miles, but the significance of the accomplishment was huge on many levels. It was a fantastic way to start the weekend.
We celebrated with some Austin-based family friends by having a wonderful brunch where I decided to try Duck Gumbo. As in, classic cajun gumbo with seared duck in it among other things. I’ve rarely had duck in my life, and never had anything like duck gumbo.*
* = foreshadowing
We then traveled to Mellow Johnny’s and the Livestrong Village to spend money and see cool stuff. LIVESTRONG gave me a very cool swag bag because of the fundraising I had accomplished. Let me pause here to THANK ALL OF YOU who donated and supported me.
Then we met Levi Leipheimer. He signed a calendar to my son Bucky and he confirmed that he does read Fatty’s blog, and will work hard to try and get back to #1 on my son’s list of favorite cyclists. In trying to think how to describe Levi in the short time I spent with him, all I can do is quote my wife who simply said, “What a really great guy.”
Though, I did see him later putting the valet in a headlock when his car wasn’t brought around quick enough, but we all have our idiosyncrasies.
Saturday night we attended a dinner at the uber-cool LIVESTRONG HQ. We got to hear Lance and Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman talk about the amazing things Livestrong is doing. One of the best moments was when Doug announced that will not be public for a couple of weeks – but rest assured, it is VERY COOL and awesome for Livestrong.
MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO HORROR
With all this happening I was surprised that, despite the wonderful atmosphere and even despite the fact that David Blaine did some closeup magic for me (and signed the 7 of Hearts he pulled out of my…), I wasn’t feeling so good. I did not eat anything at the dinner because my stomach was starting to feel like an episode of DEADLIEST CATCH. As we drove back to our hotel I started to feel worse and worse.
Was it nerves? Did I have some sort of anxiety about my ride? I had recon’d part of the course during the day and was not pleased by what bad shape the roads were in and all the cattle guards, but come on, that couldn’t be it… what was it?
I discovered what it was over the next several hours – most of which were spent driving the porcelain bus… worshiping at the porcelain alter… bobbing for apples in the porcelain well.
I love and respect all of you too much to go into any detail rather than to just say there was duck gumbo involved and two exits with no waiting. When the carnage finally stopped around 2am, I crawled into bed thinking the last thing I want to do is ride my bike. Ever again.
But I awoke four hours later and while I could tell I was dehydrated, my stomach pain was mostly gone, my headache was mostly gone, and I knew I had to at least try. I drank two bottles of water and ate two Honey Stinger waffles and headed to the starting line.
Over 3300 riders were lined up with Lance, Chris Horner and Ben King leading the pack. The weather was perfect and we rolled off promptly at 8am. I had no idea how far I would go, but I wanted to at least do something. Even if I only rode the 45-mile ride, or managed the 65, it was better than not riding at all. I still had a headache and my stomach was sloshing back and forth from feeling okay to feeling completely nauseous. And I was sweating. A lot. But that’s good, right? Sweat it out and all that?
Um… I love Livestrong. I love Lance (I even have a rant about him and all the controversy/investigation, etc. that I’m happy to share with anyone over a beer, or if Twitter allowed 1400 characters). I love Doug Ulman. I love fighting cancer. I love charity rides.
But seriously, cattle guards? This ride not only included more chip seal than Erik Estrada’s tummy tuck, but we were forced to ride over cattle guards. Bottle-ejecting, cleat-unclipping, hand-numbing, teeth-jarring cattle guards. Like 15… or 50.
Thankfully, my Fat Cyclist water bottles by Specialized/Twin Six stayed secure, though I did have to pick a few teeth up along the way.
MUSIC IS THE BEST MEDICINE
I have never ridden in a group ride with an iPod. I’ve only used one when riding alone on car-free dedicated bike trails. But I will tell you right now the best decision I made all weekend was putting my iPod in my jersey pocket. I love Twin Six, but guys, PLEASE add an iPod option on your next Fat Cyclist jersey!
Only eight or nine miles in I was in that “There’s way too many miles left — I can’t do it” mode, and I was blaming it all on my duck gumbo fiasco. Then I remembered my iPod was in my jersey. I plugged in one ear and turned it on. Isn’t music a great thing? Before long I was feeling so much better. I rolled past the next rest stop – excuse me, “Power Station” – and was starting to really enjoy myself. The weather was great, I was on my bike, I was with thousands of others riding for those that can’t, and I was not feeling nauseous… what’s not to feel good about?
I was cruising along, eating every half hour, drinking every 10-15 minutes, and I started passing people. Wow! I can do this! At least the 65-mile route for sure. Yes, I’m sweating like Michael jackson in a Toys-R-Us, but I’m happy. I rode on.
POINT OF NO RETURN
Then decision time came. I rolled up to the turn off for the 65. If I turned right I would do 65 miles – not bad considering the night I had, and better than I thought I’d be able to do. If I went straight I was committing to the full 90. And right then I had one of those threw-up-in-my-mouth-a-little-bit moments. My body obviously telling me which way it wanted to go.
And I have no idea why, but at that moment… I went straight.
Riders who’ve done this ride will tell you that one of the tougher stretches is between 40 and 55 miles – when you are way, way out from civilization, there’s no one cheering you on, and you’re riding mostly uphill. At one point I dropped my chain at the base of a climb. I got back on and was struggling up the hill when a rider came by and asked how I was doing.
Let me pause here to say that I love cyclists. You are all so kind and the community has such an all-for-one-one-for-all attitude.
I told the guy I was okay and he smiled and said, “This part’s tough, but once you make it to Blanco, you’re home free.”
Then he dropped me. I wondered what Blanco was as I watched him disappear over the horizon. I was suddenly very alone. No riders in front or behind me. Just me and The Goat and a lot of wide open spaces… and a stomach that every 10 minutes or so spoke to me like Linda Blair did to the priest in that one movie.
At 52 miles I stopped at a Power Station run by some folks in jerseys that said TEXAS 4000. I am officially declaring the Texas 4000 people as the nicest humans on the planet. And they make the greatest peanut butter and jelly sandwiches you will ever eat.
They gave me a cold wet towel, they told me I was doing great and actually sounded like they meant it. They told me the hard part was over (okay, they lied about that) and they were just so positive and supportive I didn’t want to leave their station. Thank you Texas 4000 Power Station!
THE BLACK HOLE
I’ve heard it called The Black Hole… heard it called The Wall and Death Valley… what do you call it? You know what I’m talking about – that point in a ride where you think you’ve given all you’ve got. You’ve done your suffering, and now you just want to go home and sleep, but you still a lot of riding left.
Around the 70-mile mark I entered the black hole. Weakened from my duck gumbo fiasco I was barely hanging on, my average speed was down and I was being passed by all those riders I had passed earlier.
I was being passed by everyone. Like, everyone. Riders from next year’s 2012 LIVESTRONG Challenge were passing me. I would see these SAG wagons go by and they all looked so comfy and air-conditioned. One of them could just pick me up and take me back. No shame in that. I rode over 70 miles. I was sick the night before. I did my fundraising. Time to go have my family say “Good try, Daddy. You did your best.”
Then I thought about Ken Chlouber and his incredibly inspiring words to the Leadville participants each year:
You are better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.
I can’t do Leadville. Not yet. But I knew right then and there that I damn well was going to finish this Livestrong ride, sick or not. People fighting cancer don’t have the option of a SAG wagon. They have to keep going. No matter how bad the pain is.
I kept pedaling. And after a bit that most glorious of cycling phenomenons happened – the suffering began to feel good. It feels good because you know the reason you are suffering is because you are not quitting. Suffering = not quitting.
The more I rode, the harder I pushed. The harder I pushed the more I hurt, but I began to get faster.
I got to the final power station and refilled my bottles and asked the woman there how much farther, figuring it had to be between 10 and 12 miles.
“Six miles,” she said. Six miles? Can’t be. “Yes, six miles.”
She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my entire life.
I did the math and realized we weren’t going to be riding 90 miles. It was going to be more like 83 or so. But it didn’t matter if it was 83 or 153. I had six miles to go. I was doing it. I jumped back on The Goat and rode those last six miles as fast and as hard as I’ve ever ridden anything.
I came up over that last hill and saw the giant LIVESTRONG Finish line and all these people cheering. I raised my hands in the air, blew a kiss to my mother-in-law and grabbed a yellow rose as I crossed the line!
Only then did I realize I had ridden across the “Survivor” side of the finish line and taken an unearned rose.
But I finished. And it felt great. I felt great. My stomach and head felt great.
My wife and I honored the memory of her mother and joined with thousands of others who refuse to give in to this horrid disease. We will all continue to Fight Like Susan – for her and for my mother-in-law Joan and for Dustin’s wife Michelle, and for all the others we’ve lost and all those that we are going to SAVE.
We are all better than we think we are. We can all do more than we think we can.
Never quit. Never give up the fight.
Thank you to Fatty and Team Fatty for leading the charge, and I can’t wait to see you all next year at Davis or Philly or Austin or wherever we all decide to fight.
PS from Fatty: If you’ve enjoyed reading Paul’s guest posts (and I know you have), you’ll be interested to know that Paul’s got a selection of short stories for sale over at amazon.com, in Kindle format. I bought them, and planned to read one story a day over the course of four days. Instead, I wound up reading all four stories in one sitting. His stories kinda grab you like that. So, check them out here. (They’re also available for the Nook.)
A Note from Fatty: Thanks to the $21,000+ Team Fatty raised for Young Survival Coalition — and because I couldn’t go myself — I got to assign a person to represent Team Fatty at the Tour de Pink last weekend. Heather S seemed like the perfect choice, and after reading her ride report, I feel that way even more strongly (plus I want to participate in the ride next year). Enjoy!
I have never written a ride report before. I am not even sure where to start.
Before being offered the honor to ride for Team Fatty and Weiser’s Army, I had planned to ride the one day option in Tour de Pink. No problem – 62 miles in a day. I trained for that.
It was in January of this year I decided I was not going to let cancer take my dreams. Matter of fact, those things I was afraid to put on my bucket list were not only going on my bucket list now, but I was going to start planning their completion.
First on my list: Disneyland 1/2 Marathon. Although I was in the middle of chemo I signed up; I think my friends thought I was crazy because no one would sign up with me. I had several months to work toward that run since it wasn’t until September. Chemo finished, and some complications (an extra surgery) pushed my radiation treatment completion date to June. I trained as much as I could through treatment because there was no way I was backing out.
I think it was about then that I heard about Tour de Pink. I decided to add the one day century ride to my list of things to complete this year. It was an entire month after the Disneyland 1/2. Plenty of time to train, right? I ran and ran and felt pretty good going into my 1/2 marathon. I finished in much less time than I expected, and was happy. I now had about a month to train for a century….so I thought.
As Tour de Pink drew nearer, I was not getting the training in that I needed. Feeling a little defeated, I decided to opt for the metric century – which I knew would be no problem to complete. With 2 weeks left before Tour de Pink I told Erik – “I wish I would’ve signed up for the 3 day ride. I feel like I am going to be missing something about this experience. Oh well.” At this point it was too late – I hadn’t raised enough money and childcare etc. would just be too difficult to figure out. That is about the time that Erik got in touch with Fatty and nominated me to ride. You know the rest.
The point of this is: I was way undertrained.
In looking at the online profiles for the 3 day Tour de Pink ride, I thought it would be a piece of cake. Sure, I had never ridden more than 60 miles before. These 3 rides looked relatively flat, though. With a bike I love and a great attitude: piece.of.cake.
We arrived in Thousand Oaks the on Thursday night, notreally knowing what to expect. We registered, got what we needed, met a few people and listened to the ride director talk about the ride for the next day. In the morning we would be headed from the hotel to Giant Headquarters in Newbury Park and leave from there. Some steep down hills as we leave Newbury Park, blah blah blah.
Day 1, Friday
We congregated at the hotel, rode to Giant Headquarters. We were greeted with such smiles and enthusiastic support! The short introduction included a few thank you’s and be carefuls and we were off.
Heather with Dustin
The director was right – some steep downhill switchbacks getting out of Newbury Park. After that, some pretty flat road and decent scenery. Erik rode with me most of the time; however, he stopped several times to help cyclists with flat tires and would later catch up. Total cat and mouse.
The group was great. While I have never participated in “speed dating,” I would think it compares. I would ride along side a new friend, chat for bit, get to know him or her. One of us would move ahead or fall back, and a new date would take the place. Since this was the first organized ride I had ever been on with more than, say, 15 people, I found this fascinating and so much fun!
By the time we hit the first rest stop at mile 20 or so, I had broken away from the group and was riding with one new friend and was quite proud of myself. We had made pretty good time through the flat veggie fields and towns! I knew it – piece.of.cake.
Little did I know, the next leg of the ride would take us to Lake Casitas – which also meant over 1000 feet of steep climbing, some parts of the road at around 10% grade, and 100 degree air at the top. This was not what I expected. It was NOT a piece.of.cake for this undertrained recreational cyclist. I remember thinking several times “this has got to be the end of this hill, right?”
I made it up and over the mountains. On my bike nonetheless and with my pride intact.
No matter how tough that ride was, I remember thinking how happy I was that this day would not conclude my Tour de Pink 2011 experience; I was not ready for it to be over and luckily we still had 2 days to go.
Pulling up to the magnificent hotel we were staying in on the beach in Santa Barbara was such a great feeling. 72 miles down, 2 days to go. We showered, checked in, visited for a while with our kids who were there to meet us, and then joined the rest of the riders for dinner. We had time to mingle, eat, and prepare for Saturday’s ride which presented a choice: full or metric century. Both looked like challenging rides but the full century had an extra (and significant) hill just past the 70 mile mark. I decided the shorter ride would be the smartest route for me.
Erik chose to ride 100 miles, and we agreed he would ride at his “normal” pace which meant way ahead of me. Turns out, his pace was ahead of most everyone.
Day 2, Saturday
We left the hotel and headed toward Carpenteria. I teared up when we rode by my daughters Annabelle (4) and Genevieve (2) yelling from the sidewalk “GO MOMMY!!”
Past Carpenteria we rode in to the back hills of SantaBarbara and Montecito. While the views certainly didn’t compare to day 3 (more to come), the ride through country hills was awesome. It was so peaceful – not what most people think of California. The houses were magnificent. I had been through these hills before by car, but it doesn’t compare to the serene mindset that came with being on my bike.
I spent much of this day’s ride by myself and most of it just thanking God for the opportunity to participate in Tour de Pink – that just out of treatment my body was capable of riding this distance, and the stars would align so that I was lucky enough to ride for Team Fatty. I felt thankful for my husband, who was thoughtful enough to send an email to FatCyclist and for my beautiful daughters who would be waiting for me when I finished that day’s ride. In all its cheesiness, I was feeling thankful to be alive (and kicking ass!).
That evening’s dinner and ceremonies included some very inspirational speakers – it was this night I started to really recognize the love in the room. YSC is not just an incredible organization, but a family.
Day 3, Sunday
Bittersweet for sure. While I was feeling anxious to get the last day’s ride completed, I was a little sad the entire event would be over. For just a couple days, the world stood still and we got to just ride and bond. I was relieved, though, that this ride really was flat and might be a piece of cake – or a little easier than the previous rides anyway.
Not only was my body tired, but I had also lost my voice by Saturday morning and probably had bronchitis. None of that mattered; the 52 mile ride on Sunday was indescribable. My family drives along Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean often, but its nothing like following the ocean on my bike – the views, the air, the life.
The weather was perfect. The route was perfect. The ride was perfect. A perfect end to a perfect Tour de Pink.
I mentioned before that the Young Survivors Coalition holds a special place in my heart. After being a part of Tour de Pink, YSC holds a much larger place in my heart. Through meeting so many amazing people and seeing from the inside what YSC is about, I realize that YSC is not only anorganization, but a family. A family that Erik, Annabelle, Genevieve and I will always feel welcome in. That kind of connection is priceless.
Piece.of.cake? Deciding that Tour de Pink will be a longstanding tradition for our family.
A Note from Fatty: Hey, remember Tim Joe Comstock, The Trailer Park Cyclist? He wrote a story for the “Proudest Moment” guest post series. A lot of you liked it. I know I did. So when he sent me this new story, I wanted to post it, even though it’s not exactly a “I’ve Never Suffered So Much” story. Enjoy!
When you live in a Crappy Trailer Park in Florida that sits alongside Old Highway One, it is only natural that most of your rides are of a North-South orientation. The Intracoastal Waterway parallels the highway and makes for a Riverside Ride that has very little traffic and affords some awesome views of the water and of the sailboats and cruising yachts headed South for the Winter. (As a side note, I once calculated that the daily gallons-per-hour fuel consumption of one of those big sixty footers would be more than my average monthly income for the past couple years. Weird.)
But I seldom concern myself with the imbalance of wealth in America that we seem to hear so much about these days. Not me.
What I’m doing is riding my bicycle. What I am concerning myself about isn’t the MPG of those big old Cabin Cruisers or where I stand on the economic scale. I already know about all that stuff and I don’t care.
What I’m thinking about is The Wind: Is the wind blowing from the North or the South?
Around here the wind pretty much blows either from the North or the South most of the year. And I like to Ride Long on this North-South road. My monthly Sunday Century is like this: if I can predict the wind, I’m Golden. I can ride an Heroic fifty miles into the wind, then grab a couple beers and some honey roasted peanuts and then blast home with a sweet tailwind that makes me feel like my bike should be named Shadowfax or Pegasus and maybe I might live to be a Hundred Years Old after all and maybe I might yet Grab the Fleece and then all this Life will have made sense and maybe it was all worth the effort.
But Ya Never Know.
If I could accurately and consistently predict which way the wind is going to blow, I wouldn’t need to grab the fleece, unless I wanted to use it to polish my yacht. And if I had even the least clue which way the wind was blowing, I wouldn’t be living in a crappy trailer park in Florida. But that is why I have me darlin’ little 1981 Schwinn Super Le Tour and why I ride all those miles: For me, A Long Day On the Bike is the Golden Fleece.
One lovely Sunday last Summer I chose North.
“The wind shall be out of the North,” I said.
Are you sure? said the Voice.
“Yes, Voice,” I replied, sounding confident (even to myself). “It’s been North all week, it is North now, hence: North.”
Hence? said the Voice.
“Hence,” I said. I made my preparations, which doesn’t take all that long. I throw a spare tube and a pump into my cheap Goodwill messenger bag, I throw in a couple bananas, I throw in some trail mix (if I have any), I check the pressure on the tires and then I step off the porch onto my bicycle from the top step, so that my feet do not touch the ground (a little Magic thing) and then I pedal off, against the wind.
On my century-voyage North I have a goal to reach: it is a simple little roadside market by the Ocean in a place called Flagler Beach. Once upon a time in the Pleistocene Era of my pre-historic life my First Wife and I were out riding around in our grievously beat up old ‘68 Plymouth Fury convertible and we broke down. It was cause for sorrow, to be certain. In those days, like now, small woes could become catastrophic, due to some of that imbalance of wealth stuff.
But in those days we were young and glad to be together wherever we were and rather than worry about it overmuch, we instead walked over to this goofy little roadside market and bought a bottle of Boone’s Farm Wine and we drank it sitting at the concrete tables out front. It was beachside Florida in the wintertime and the Sun was doing that Chilled Sunshine thing that we sometimes get here in the winter. The Atlantic Ocean was right across the road.
She and I sat close together to ward off the chill and we laughed a little and we watched the waves dance in the waning light of day. She always went barefoot in those days. We watched the blue light on the water turn to purple and we drank some more cheap wine and then we walked over to the little motel across the way.
He will turn twenty-six this year.
So no amount of headwind this hot summer day here in the Here and Now was going to stop me and yes, I rode hard and fast and strong against the wind those fifty miles North, then I rode a couple more miles to a little westbound road that I know about and that I knew would dump me back onto Old Highway One. What I didn’t know was that when I got there I would find myself turning South into a Headwind. The Changing Wind of Change.
Sometimes this is what Life (and the Wind) does when you are not ready. The wind changes. It blows from a different direction and you are not really ready but if you are ready enough it will be alright. If you are ready enough you will be alright and ready to face a Florida afternoon headwind that blows hard , blowing hot and hard and blowing road grit and memories into your face and I knew that I had fifty miles to go.
Looks like you screwed up again , said the Voice.
“No I didn’t, Voice,” I said. “And shut up. I got fifty miles of grinding to do.”
I think you enjoy the suffering.
“This ain’t suffering, Voice. This is riding my bicycle. Suffering is not riding.”
And so it goes.
Tim Joe Comstock, the Trailer Park Cyclist, lives in a trailer and rides bicycles.
A Note from Fatty: This is the third in the “I’ve Never Suffered So Much” guest post series, sent in by readers of FatCyclist.com. And it’s high time we have an entry from a woman.
I’ve never suffered as badly on a bike as the second time I did a ride that was entirely climbing: two summers ago I was forced to ride up Big Cottonwood Canyon. First a little (long) back story…
During the 2006 Olympics I was living in my home state of California. I had recently quit playing hockey but I was still skating for fun with my friends. Sharks Ice San Jose put on free clinics of all the Olympic ice sports. My friends and I spent the day attending every one. The last clinic of the day was short track speed skating. I was immediately hooked.
Fast forward two years. After only skating on and off a couple times a month I wanted to get more serious about training. A few of my fellow Nor Cal skaters would go on rides on days when there was no ice time. I decided I also needed a bike if I was going to train like them. After a couple weeks on layaway I brought home a 2007 Specialized Dolce just before Christmas.
I loved my new bike. I started riding it on a paved trail in Los Gatos with a couple of skaters. I did not ride very frequently and when I did it was always flat.
Five months after buying my bike I moved to Salt Lake City because it’s the best place to train for short track. Once I started riding with the skaters here I developed a deep dislike for cycling. On the ice I was the slowest and weakest skater, and so I was on the bike as well. By the end of that first summer I felt a little stronger biking but all the rides had been flat and I was still getting dropped.
The next summer I was usually working on ride days. Because of this I only rode once or twice before being forced to climb (attempt) Little Cottonwood Canyon. I have been told that Little Cottonwood is like Alpe d’Huez without the switchbacks.
I was more than a little out of my league.
That season we had got a new coach named Jun. He was from Korea and didn’t speak English very well. He had never seen me ride before. I tried to explain to him before the ride that I was horrible on a bike and I had never done a climb before, not even a small hill. I also made him promise not to laugh at me.
My team was riding with the short track national team so I knew some extreme embarrassment was in store for me. Sure enough I was dropped about 40 feet from where our cars were parked. The coaches drove by in their van, with Jun hanging out the window yelling my name, and pointing and laughing. Not the best way to boost my confidence. Just shy of halfway I turned around. I did not try another climb that summer. In fact I can’t even remember if I got back on my bike at all.
Now that brings us to the next season (last year) and the worst ride of my life. Jun had left us to be the national team assistant coach. The process of finding us a new coach was going to take a few months so the head coach of the national team, Chun-sem, let us train with them. Every Saturday they would climb one of the canyons in the valley.
Conveniently I had to work every Saturday. The last thing I wanted to do was make a fool of myself on my bike again.
One week, sometime around late May, my boss posted the schedule for the next week and I wasn’t working on Saturday. When I asked her about it she said she thought I would like a weekend off. This was a very nice thing to do and normally I would appreciate it except it meant I didn’t have an excuse to get out of the group ride. Coach Jun was also my roommate so he would know if I lied. I had no way out.
Saturday morning comes and it’s colder than normal. I tried again to get out of it, reminding Jun about my failure of the summer before but with no luck. I did not have any cycling clothes for cold weather. The only clothing I had at that time was one pair of shorts and one sleeveless jersey. I grabbed a thin cotton jacket hoping that it would keep me warm enough. According to Salt Lake City Cycling, Big Cottonwood Canyon is about 14 miles long with an average grade of 7.8%. The grade didn’t really mean anything to me because I didn’t have any frame of reference. All I knew was that it was going to be long and hard.
In the parking lot at the base of the canyon I was already suffering. I was completely unprepared for the weather. Chun-sem remembered my lack of skill and so before the ride he told me and another skater that if we didn’t keep up we would be attacked by bears and wolves (Chun-sem is also Korean and can’t say the word wolves, read as if it sounded more like “vorlves”). Apparently this was supposed to motivate us.
Most of the actual ride is a blur of misery. I only remember the beginning, the end, and small parts that were out of the ordinary. It started out not so bad. The girls started five or ten minutes before the guys. I was actually able to ride with the group in the not-so-steep beginning part of the climb.
I mean the very beginning. I don’t know if I even made it a mile with them. Time and distance are also pretty blurred. There was one particularly steep part when I was about a hundred feet off the back of the last girl that very clearly stands out because I was still warming up and having a hard time breathing. This was also about when I started hating life, a feeling that wouldn’t end until about five hours after I finished the ride.
The next thing I remember is the guys passing me one by one. I remember Jun and Chun-sem going by in the car for the first time telling me to keep going. Once everyone passed me all I can recall for miles is cold, snow, and hail. I was freezing. My legs did not warm up. My feet were numb and then they started to hurt. My cotton jacket got wet from the snow and hail.
The coaches came down to check on me again and I remember Chun-sem saying I looked stronger. I didn’t feel stronger. I replied that I was completely frozen. I thought this was the most miserable I would ever be on a bike. The voice in my head was really loud at this point. Mostly it was saying things like “you are stupid,” “what made you think this was a good idea,” “I hate cycling,” and “you are pathetic.”
In about four more miles I would discover that I could feel worse.
The coaches later checked on me one more time and told me to turn around when the first person passed me on their descent. Finally I felt better because I thought it was almost over, they had given me hope. Unfortunately because of the weather no one wanted to ride down. They all waited at the top and the coaches went down to get a second car.
So there I was riding along praying that every biker I saw coming towards me was with our group and my ordeal would finally end. Every time it wasn’t one of us I got more frustrated. I had not been drinking my water and didn’t have any food with me. I was starting to fade fast when a car stopped on its way down and told me to be careful because there was a moose in the road. I rounded the corner and sure enough there it was right in front of me. The last thing I needed was to get charged by a moose. I was too afraid if I stopped pedaling that I wouldn’t be able to start again so I just rode in small circles until it finally ran off.
Pretty quickly after the moose incident I saw a skater coming towards me. I stopped and slumped over my handlebars thinking it was finally over. He rode over to me and told me I was almost to the top, just a couple more turns and I would be at the van. Completely exhausted and on the brink of tears I told him I couldn’t make it (you don’t want to know what the voice in my head was telling me at this point).
Somehow he convinced me to start climbing again while he rode behind pushing me. Then a second skater-turned coach rode down and also came to help me. I had stopped again– this time actually crying– and unable to move.
The new arrival told me I just needed to eat. He gave me a strawberry gel and then helped push me up the stupid hill. The gel was the most disgusting thing I ever tasted but I was happy to eat something. So there I was trying to finish the ride while being pushed by two people. I was frozen, wet, shaking, and weak and more than anything I wanted to be anywhere but on my bike on that mountain.
After only a few minutes we met up with the van on its way down. I can’t even describe the relief I felt at seeing it. I can’t say that I was happy. I was too far gone to feel anything close to happiness. I was told that I was picked up about ten minutes after the second to last skater finished and I had been less than a mile from the top.
You may ask if I regret not making it to the top and a part of me does. But then another large part of me flashes back to how I felt crying on the side of the road and I have to say no.
This day and ride still stands out as one of my worst days in recent memory. It is not an exaggeration when I say I have never been as cold or felt as weak as I did that morning. Other skaters were going out for lunch together but all I wanted was to go home and get warm. Once I added extra clothes I picked up a burrito from Café Rio.
To this day that burrito is the best meal I have ever had. Nothing has even come close to how amazing that burrito tasted after the suffering I had endured.
This shouldn’t be a surprise but I continued to hate cycling. However there is a happy cycling ending to the story. A few months later I quit skating and spent a year being lazy. This summer I needed to get out and do something so I started riding on my own. I quickly fell in love. I even enjoy climbing (though I am still dreadful at it).
Voila! happy ending.
About the Author: My name is Gabi, I live in Utah. Though I have had my bike for a couple years I only recently started riding often and actually enjoying it. I used to ride only as cross training for speed skating and every time it was a form of torture and humiliation. I have now joined to working world and no longer skate.
A Note from Fatty: This is the second in the “I’ve Never Suffered So Much” guest post series, sent in by readers of FatCyclist.com. This series will go on for two weeks, more or less, while I travel for work. I hope you find these stories as fun and inspirational as I do.
“C’mon old man. Pedal faster,” yells my son, Rob, from the front of our tandem bike.
“I’m going as fast as I can,” I pant. Truly, we are only going four miles an hour and although it is an incline, it could hardly be called a hill. And true I am in my fifties and sweat is pouring off me, but I am hardly an old man.
Some might pass us on the trail and think that I am suffering. They would be wrong. Real suffering is when you have nothing left to give and you are still expected to go on. It is scary. It is frustrating. It is exhausting.
I experienced real suffering for the first time about thirty five years ago when I first began bike racing as a junior for the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club. I was seventeen, and excited for my first big training ride. We were planning a 100 mile ride which would make it the longest ride I had ever done. I was excited to be part of a team of four juniors. Racing together, doing something I love, and being coached to get better. That didn’t intimidate me. If anything, it energized me. I felt ready. I was healthy, hydrated and eager to be riding.
Santa Cruz Criterium 1977
The first half of the ride was mostly flat with a few rollers. It was a beautiful Spring day and we started off great. Several club members and I set a brisk pace for the first thirty miles. We stopped for food and drink and I was thrilled to hear that I had kept up with the twenty plus mile an hour pace. Keeping pace with the more experienced riders gave me a feeling of confidence. Looking back I wonder if they were pacing themselves for the rest of the ride.
After lunch, the group split, and I was riding with the coach and four junior team riders. The second part of the ride involved some climbing but not anything steep or long. Sixty miles had been the longest I had ridden prior to this day. At about mile seventy, I started to feel the accumulated effect of the mileage and it became increasing difficult to keep up. My fellow team members were also slowing their pace, but still, they were clearly stronger than I.
As the coach finally slowed the pace he began to encourage us. “Just keep going. You’ve got this. You can do it,” he yelled at us.
I wanted to believe him as my body screamed to get off the bike. I would try and hold the wheel of someone but they would simple ride away. I was unable to hold on. The confidence I felt at the beginning of the ride was quickly giving way to frustration, self-doubt, and exhaustion.
On the last climb I couldn’t take any more. I got off my bike and began to walk it up the hill. It was all I could do just to push the bike, at what seemed like a crawl, up the road.
The coach stopped and said, “Come on Dave. You’re almost there. Just get back on the bike. You’ll be spending more energy walking your bike than riding it.”
After much persuasion I got back on the bike. I felt like a zombie. My coach grabbed my seat and starting to push me up the hill. I didn’t even care. I couldn’t imagine pedaling further. I was in agony. I couldn’t think of anything or anyone else. For the remainder of the ride, all I could think of was to stay on someone’s wheel. If I had felt better, or had ridden 100 miles previously, I might have noticed the coach watching us, gauging our abilities. I might have noticed that we had already ridden far more than the designated 100 miles.
The ride ended at the coach’s house and I sat or laid on the front lawn for an hour until I could move again. I realized I had to drive twenty minutes to get back home and I didn’t think my body could do that. As I rested I realized the coach had intentionally pushed us all farther than we thought possible. The ride that was to be my first century turned into 140+ mile ride. Because of good coaching and the support of other riders, I was able to expand my abilities and potential. Euphoria began to replace the exhaustion and my confidence returned.
Even though I only raced for a year, cycling taught me that I could handle adversity. I learned the importance of camaraderie and coaching when working for a seemingly unattainable goal.
Thirty plus years later, I’m coaching my son. He was in a car accident three years ago and suffered a brain injury. I thought biking would help him. I built him a tandem which forces him to pedal with me. The cadence of pedaling sends signals to his brain that his left leg is working. We ride whenever we can hoping to help him learn to walk again.
At first, Rob could only ride a block or two and I wondered if making the bike had been a mistake. Was I expecting too much? Would he ever be able to coordinate his legs to pedal? Rather than voicing my doubts, I kept trying and I kept encouraging Rob.
Now, we try to ride twelve miles on weekend days. We even rode with Team Fatty on the twenty-three mile course in the Livestrong Challenge in Davis this past July.
It is still hard work for me to get both of us up even a mild incline. To some, it might even look like I’m suffering. I’m not. I’m proud. His therapists insist that the biking is helping his strength, walking cadence, and energy level. I’ve found a way I can directly help my son recover. Right now, Rob doesn’t know that his body can fully recover. He is still struggling up the hill. He is learning that he can do more than he realizes. He knows he has my support. He knows I will continue to help him expand his abilities and potential just at my coach helped me. We have grown close in a way I didn’t think was possible a few years ago. We joke a lot when we ride. Rob always greets everyone on the trail.
On a ride a few weeks ago Rob asked, “Dad how old are you?”
“Fifty two. Why?” I responded.
“Fifty two and still cycling?” Rob said with mock amazement. “Let’s give the Grim Reaper the middle finger,” Rob urged me.
So, if you are ever biking and you pass a strange looking tandem and the young man in the front is making a snide comment to the rider in back, give a shout of encouragement. We’re not suffering, just extending our limits. Real suffering is when you have nothing left to give. Although I’ve found myself frustrated and exhausted, I know I am not suffering. I still have lots to give. At least enough to get us up the last hill.
Dave Thompson is a mechanical engineer and avid cyclist. He lives in San Jose, California with his wife, Amy, and his son Rob. He has been a follower of FatCyclist for three years.
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