"This is going to be the most miserable day in my life."
Those were the words I spoke to myself 10 miles into the 126-mile Two County Double Metric Century ride I was embarking on Sunday morning, outside of Olympia. The temperature was hovering around 50-degrees and the drenching rain had already soaked my shoes and numbed my feet. My hands were losing feeling as well and everytime I ran my tongue across my lips or teeth, it discovered a new fragment of putrid road grime. Visibility was poor, the roads were rough, and there was a bit more traffic on these "country byways" than I would prefer. These were optimal conditions for pain and suffering of a degree that has long since been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
To survive this day would require one of three things: 1) a full compliment of winter cycling apparel, 2) a level of a mental toughness that I only dare wish I possess, or 3) a cataclysmic shift in the weather conditions. I felt like Richie Sexson with men on second and third and the game on the line -- a strikeout was inevitable.
The one saving grace on this ride was that, despite riding 100 miles the day before, I actually felt pretty good. It took a few miles to stretch out, but the intense massage I received after the previous day's century ride left me feeling good and limber and with enough gas in the tank to at least struggle through what I expected to be seven hours of pedaling.
I made some concessions early in this attempt at 126 miles. For starters, I would stop at every aid station and take my time refueling. There was no need to get minimalistic or try for time or speed this day. It was about surviving. I also decided that if the opportunity presented itself to draft, then I would. That opportunity presented itself barely a mile into the ride (I again started over an hour after the course opened) as a tandem bike passed me with a friend of their in tow. I quickly hopped on and enjoyed 15 miles of effortless flatland cruising at 21mph. I was drenched from the spray -- nobody had fenders -- but I didn't care. I wanted this day over with as fast as possible. This, surprisingly, led to me abandoning the tandem and riding solo the rest of the way as they took nearly 20 minutes at the first aid station then followed that up by severely slowing their pace during the miles that followed. When they flatted 23 miles into the ride, I politely explained that I was simply too cold to stop and wait and that I had to keep going. Off I went.
Considering I was setting out to ride 126 miles, I have to admit that it was tempting to follow the course markings for the 35 mile option and call it a day. Fortunately, the rain started to let up by the time I reached the turn-off for the 70-mile route, else I may have opted for that distance as well. At this point in the ride, I was completely alone, struggling to make sense of the course and wondering where all the hills were. The course was very boring and terribly lacking in scenery. It was just flat countryside broken up the occasional set of railroad tracks or collection of row houses. When we finally did reach a lengthy hill I was so happy to get out of the saddle and climb it that I didn't even mind the rain's return. And I was so happy for a "free mile" during the descent that I zipped straight past the second aid station... as well as the point where the 126- and 85-mile routes split. I continued following the road markings (a large "2" with a circle around it) figuring I was on the double-metric course and when I arrived at what was supposed to be the location for the third aid station, and found it empty, I got confused. Fortunately, some other riders arrived and explained that I missed the split and that the second aid station was far off the road, on the side of a building. There were no signs to speak of and having not seen a cyclist for over an hour or so, I can only assume the aid station was empty when I went by else I would have certainly noticed someone.
I was about 6 miles past the turn-off for the 126 mile route and, was in effect, firmly on the 85-mile route. I didn't know how to feel about this. I really wanted the challenge of having to decide whether to go long or go home. I didn't want that decision made for me. If I was going to wimp out on the 126 mile route, I at least wanted the shame of having to make that decision myself. Yet, on the other hand, I was only 42 miles into the ride and my feet were frozen solid, as were my hands, and the course was incredibly lackluster and, apparently, not as well-marked as it needs to be. And did I mention the wind? Yes, the wind was also picking up and it was becoming frustratingly commonplace to be limited to 17mph during a descent because of the headwind. Not to mention I already rode 100 miles the day prior.
"I guess I'm just riding 85 then".
Any lingering feelings of disappointment I had were soon replaced by a sense of urgency to just simply "get this shit over with". I picked up the pace and soon passed another two tandems, as well as a number of other riders. It was weird to go for so long without having seen another rider and now to be suddenly catching and passing numerous people. I guess that is to be expected when you start an hour after everyone else...
I rode the remaining 40+ miles alone, with my head down, just trying to get back to the shelter of my truck -- and the fuzzy pair of fleece socks I always keep inside it. I spent a good bit of time at the final aid station, 20 miles out from the finish, eating a handful of very tasty oatmeal raisin cookies, and then made a hard push to the finish.
I finished the course with a time of 4:54 for a distance of 83.2 miles and 2,234 feet of elevation gain. My average speed was only 17.0mph, but considering the conditions I'm not terribly upset about this. I wanted a long, hard, training weekend as one last push before I attempt to solo the Spokane 24-hour race next weekend and although I rode 41 miles less than I wanted to, I'm happy with how it went.
And I was even more happy to get home, take a hot shower, and fall asleep on the couch with Kristin.