Honestly, it was probably only a day in hell for my friend, Zeb, who pulled me the last 30 miles of our 80-mile ride on the gravel roads in and around Boulder. I cracked hard halfway through and he stuck with me as I fought each pedal stroke. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
The conditions were near perfect—the complete opposite of last year’s Day In Hell ride—with big blue skies and bright sunshine that didn’t let up all day, velvety packed dirt roads, and a tolerable amount of wind. Despite the complete physical breakdown I experienced, I can only look down at the tops of my sunburned and freckled hands with joy. Because I’ll take a tough day on the bike over a lazy afternoon on the couch any day.
On Saturday evening, the night before the ride, I gave myself an out. I hadn’t been on a long ride like this in many months and I could feel some kind of something brewing in my head and the back of my throat. If I wasn’t feeling great, if I ran low on water or fuel, or if I wasn’t having fun, I’d bail. I made it that simple for myself because I’m not trying to break records—nor could I in Colorado. I ride for fun, for company, for connection, to see more of this earth, and the fitness I gain along the way is a bonus.
On Sunday morning I woke up with that something throbbing behind my eyeballs. I rolled over onto my back, stretched my feet into the cool spots, pulled the covers over my face, and massaged my brows and temples. I’ve been doing everything I can to fend off sickness, but I work in an office building with 300 other people; it’s bound to find me.
You can bail, remember? I thought to myself.
Eventually I plodded downstairs around 7 a.m. to make coffee and draft up a post about the first month at my new job. The coffee didn’t kill my headache like it normally does, so I got dressed, packed all my bike things into my car, chugged a few glasses of water and hoped for the best.
For shorter group rides I normally bike to and from the clubhouse to get in some extra miles, but I figured 80 miles was plenty. After crashing and burning on my first century attempt, I knew I’d thank myself for driving after the ride.
Around 8:30 a.m. I rolled up to a packed clubhouse, caught up with my friends, and watched the rest of Paris-Roubaix. It’s such a big race in the season of spring classics, and I love how excited the cycling community gets to watch them together.
An hour later we all rolled out in waves to start the Roubaix-inspired ride, and I could already tell I was in for a long day. The group went out fast despite the promised ‘social pace.’ I hoped this wouldn’t happen, but when you get a bunch of eager riders together who have been locked up inside all winter, everyone feels fresh and ready to hammer. Or maybe I’m just a weekend warrior who can’t play with the big kids and their fresh legs on their fast bikes. Either way, I was dropped just 30 or so miles into our 80-mile day.
At mile 40, somewhere in Berthoud, we stopped at Rapha’s support car parked on the side of the road. It came at the perfect time because I did what you’re not supposed to do before big rides: not eat enough. I was under-fueled and out of water. My headache that morning squashed my appetite, so the one Skratch Labs bar I had with my coffee didn’t last me long.
^^^Zeb. The real hero.
I stumbled off my bike and towards the car, re-filled my bottle and smashed a banana and a Trail Nuggets bar.
^^^Rapha’s Cargo Bib Shorts are a game-changer. And they hold gummies!
I thought about turning around and going back home, but I was already halfway out there. Finishing the course would be the same amount of miles as backtracking everything I’d already biked. So I pushed on. Every once in awhile we’d get a tailwind or a slight descent and I’d feel ok. But each mile proved to be more exhausting than the next.
Around mile 50, Zeb caught back up to me after stopping to help a guy fix a flat, and from then on he stuck with me. Maybe he knew I was hurting or maybe he didn’t care about kicking his own ass to catch the group in front of us. Either way, I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed the ride as much as I did if it weren’t for his generosity. He talked for awhile when he knew I physically couldn’t, he waited for me at the bottom of the hills and at traffic lights even when they turned green.
The first and last time I apologized for slowing down his ride, he said in his North Carolina drawl, “I just love being out here in the sunshine.” From then on I tried to focus on enjoying the sunshine, instead of how badly I wanted to stop and call an Uber.
I didn’t recognize the roads or where I was for about 75% of the ride and used the mountains to ground me in which direction I was moving. The closer we got to them, I thought, the closer we were to the clubhouse—and food, and my car, and a hot shower.
I peeked down at my watch: almost 5 hours moving time. That’s it? I felt like I’d been out there in the saddle all day. I felt like I watched the sun move from one end of the horizon to another. But we were getting closer. I started to recognize the neighborhoods and the buildings in the distance.
Eventually—finally, dear god, finally—we turned on to Pearl Street. My heart fluttered and my stomach flipped. I hobbled into the clubhouse behind, Zeb, and we were clearly the last ones there by AWHILE. The celebratory frites were gone, the ice keeping the beers cold was all but completely melted. I was dizzy and my lips felt tingly. Mentally, physically, emotionally, I’d given everything I possibly could. I hugged Meredith, our RCC Coordinator and leader of all things Rapha events and rides.
“You did it!!” She is always smiling and it’s my favorite.
I could’ve returned at midnight bloodied and dehydrated and she would’ve been just as thrilled simply because I’d finished something I started. I love her.
I high-fived and thanked Zeb from the bottom of my heart before I left the clubhouse then loaded everything into the back of my SUV.
It was 4 p.m. A whole different part of the day than when we started.
Before I drove home I got a big fat sandwich to go from Organic Sandwich Co. and collapsed into the driver’s seat. By the time I got home, I was so past the point of hungry I had to force feed myself just to finish the thing. An hour or so later after I showered and stretched and took a few minutes to breathe quietly, my hunger went from a 3 to a 50 and I ate two of the meals I had prepped for the work week.
^^^Not my photo, but basically this times two.
In a hungry haze I remember feeling proud for not bailing on this ride. It felt really good to push past everything that told me to stop. All these little commitments I keep will add up, and I’ll be able to look back and feel really good about this season of life.
I took Monday off of any sort of intense movement; my whole body felt drained and exhausted—the good kind, you know?
I am so happy spring is here. It means more riding, more racing, more time with friends, more time with this community the universe gave to me when I needed it more than anything.