300 Miles in Five Days: Fighting Fifty Part IINovember 12, 2010
I didn’t sleep much the night before the big ride. For some reason, I was nervous and anxious. Would I be able to ride high mileage for several days in a row? Had I trained enough? Would I make it? And yet, I was also excited. I was about to embark on a new adventure.
After dressing in my riding clothes early the morning of our departure, I checked my panniers and double-checked them, making sure I had packed enough energy gel, energy bars and snacks for munching on the road. I loaded my bicycle with lightly packed panniers onto the bike rack of the car and woke my wife to drive me across town to the Starbucks where we were to meet my riding companion. Our plan was to start our ride from a Starbucks midway between our homes. It was 6:00 a.m. We would be on the road in an hour.
I had mapped our trip via google maps which offers a bicycle route feature. The first day we would ride from La Quinta, CA to Brawley, CA, approximately 85 miles of mostly flat terrain, with some very slight climbs. I had never ridden this far and hoped I would finish without being completely spent. I clipped a 3×5 index card to my handle bar bag that had our route, turn by turn.
After coffee, a high carb breakfast and hugs goodbye, we set off from Starbucks with two friends in tow who rode the first few miles with us. The first part of our journey was on side streets with low traffic. We travelled through neighborhoods I hadn’t visited before and entered the rural area flush with date farms. I felt strong. We conversed about all sorts of things as we rode. So far so good.
My brother-in-law served as SAG support. He would drive the route and stop periodically to provide us with water, snacks and the like and to encourage us on. Every ten miles or so we would see him by the side of the rode and stop for a few minutes, refilling water bottles if necessary, making adjustments to our bikes as needed and stretching our legs.
My sister-in-law (who is 66 years young) planned to only ride part of each day, as much as her energy and stamina permitted. She would start each morning with me, stop when tired and possibly resume riding the latter part of the day.
After about 20 – 25 miles, my sister-in-law decided to take a break and joined her husband in the SAG vehicle. I was now on my own. As the miles ridden mounted up, my energy started to lag. And now I was on the part of our route that included some long, slight inclines. A 2% grade doesn’t sound like much, but on a heavy touring bike with loaded panniers, it feels steep and never ending. By the time I broke for lunch, I was only about half-way to Brawley. And I was low on energy. I needed to stretch my legs and re-fuel.
The last 15-20 miles were very challenging. My sister-in-law rejoined me and we rode triumphantly into Brawley, arriving about 2:30 p.m. We checked into the local Best Western, enjoyed hot showers and took short naps. That night we went to dinner at a local Italian restaurant to carbo load for the next day, a day I knew would be hell on two wheels. (If you are ever tempted to eat at an Italian restaurant owned, run by, and completely staffed with asian people, go to a different restaurant!)
In planning this trip, I knew that the second day would be the hardest day of the ride. We would be travelling from Brawley to the Yuma, AZ area on back roads that took us through some very hilly terrain through Glamis, a recreational haven for ATV’s, rails, dune buggies and off road motorcycles. The ride traversed rolling hills with some very steep inclines and some long gradual inclines. The surrounding landscape was comprised of mostly desert terrain, no large trees, no shade and a lot of sand dunes. So in addition to challenging terrain, it would be hot.
I knew the day would be tough when I didn’t sleep well the night before and when I had low energy at the start of the ride. My speed was 3 miles per hour slower than the day before. Maybe this was normal for a second day and after riding 85 miles. I pushed myself to pedal on. After about 20 miles, my sister-in-law once again took her mid-day break and converted from riding companion to SAG support. I was on my own for the most difficult part of the ride, rolling hills that seemed never to end and felt to my legs like the Swiss Alps. If I thought the first day was hard, it was a piece of cake compared to this second day. I was tired, I was hot, and I was in pain. I pedaled on, albeit slowly. Again, my riding companion joined me for the last 15-20 miles. The second day’s total was over 65 miles. I had made it.
Once arriving at the hotel, ice on my tired and sore legs was the first order of business. I tried to take a cold ice bath but couldn’t tolerate the cold on my feet. After icing my legs, I slathered arnica on my sore muscles and Desitin on my chaffed rear end. My sore behind made the aching legs feel like nothing. I was happy I survived day two.
We ate another carbo rich dinner at Olive Garden and splurged on Cold Stone for dessert. I had burned over 4,000 calories each day so had no guilt about this indulgence. Day two was now in the record book.
I slept like a rock that night and awoke the next morning feeling great. Yes, my legs were sore, but it was a good soreness. We drove the car outside of Yuma and unloaded our bikes at the first rest stop. We had a light tail wind that would help push us on. Today was our first day riding on the shoulder of the interstate – I-8. I was a little nervous about this but it was the only viable route for day three. We had decided not to ride the entire way to Gila Bend as it was around 120 miles. So, the plan was to ride at least 60 miles.
Day three was incredible! I felt great all day. My speed was excellent and my legs felt good. Even my rear end was somewhat better. I had plenty of energy. I felt so good at 60 miles that I decided to ride on. Total for day three, 75 miles! Reward – a chocolate dipped cone at Dairy Queen in Gila Bend, AZ.
Because lodging options were so slim in Gila Bend, we drove on to Maricopa, AZ outside of Phoenix and stayed at the Ak-Chin Harrah’s Casino resort. My room was incredible! My sleep was not. My legs ached all night and made it hard for me to sleep. Ice didn’t help, arnica didn’t help, even ibufpropen didn’t help. The fourth day was to be a fairly short mileage day. I was going to spend the night at my sisters in San Tan Valley, on the south side of Phoenix. 50 miles and I could rest. At about 20 miles into the ride, it was time for my sister and brother-in-law to leave me and return to Palm Springs. Previous commitments precluded them from completing the trip. I was in civilization at this point and had no qualms about riding the rest of the way alone. In fact, one of the things I like about riding is being alone with my thoughts. Riding is meditative to me. It renews my spirit.
The night before I added about 15-25 pounds to my panniers. Since I would finish the ride on my own without SAG support, I had to pack all my personal belongings that I would need for the next several days in my panniers. I was fully loaded down. It is unbelievable how this extra weight dramatically increased the effort it took to ride. Although I only rode 50 miles on day four, it felt like 100. One of my mistakes, not having enough coffee that morning! I arrived at my sisters simply exhausted. After showering I laid on the couch to take a nap until everyone got home. Despite my throbbing legs and sore hindquarters, I managed to sleep. One more day to go.
I woke early for the final day of my journey. My sister assured me that there was a Starbucks only about 4-5 miles from her house so my plan was to fuel up there, coffee and breakfast. I could make it 4-5 miles. Unfortunately, she was wrong. It was nearly 8 miles to Starbucks. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn’t have been a problem. But on a touring bike, with fully loaded panniers, after having already ridden about 270 miles, it is a long, long way to ride.
But make it I eventually did. I think that was the best iced coffee I have ever had. I also had an Egg McMuffin (minus the meat) at McDonalds and a blueberry scone. I needed fuel.
The plan was for my mom to meet me outside of Florence, AZ to provide SAG support. I would ride as much and as far as I could on this last day. Unbeknownst to me, the ride from Florence, AZ to Tucson was a long steady incline that eventually turned into rolling hills. And I do mean long. It might not have been steep but it was an incline and a very long one with little breaks in the climbing. Without a load, it probably would have felt like nothing. But hauling all that weight, plus my body weight up the long incline was draining.
After much internal struggle, I decided to stop after my total mileage for the trip reached 300 miles. My legs were aching and my knee began to hurt. Although part of me felt like that would be giving up, another part of me knew that riding a bicycle 300 miles in five days was an accomplishment that few have achieved. I finally made peace with the voice inside me that kept saying “You are a failure if you quit.” Riding 300 miles on a bike is not failing. I was content.
When I reached the 300 mile mark, I dismounted and loaded my bike and belongings into the truck my mother was driving. I had made it. I had just spent the last 5 days riding through the desert on a bicycle. How many people can say they have done that?
Some have asked me if I would do a long bicycle ride again. I can honestly say yes. Yes, I would. This was a great experience for me. I saw incredible scenery and a part of the country I have driven through on numerous occasions in a new way. I challenged myself physically and succeeded. I tested my resolve and commitment. And I connected with my spirit and soul.
Maybe, just maybe, turning fifty isn’t that bad.