Thursday, June 23, 2011

To Zephyr, and back -- the first time

Having said all that . . .

. . . I was woefully ill-prepared for a 65 km ride last week, particularly one that had Zephyr Road as its centerpiece.

Looks beautiful, doesn’t it? It’s relatively back-country; paved, yet modestly challenging as well. Ever since we moved out this way, I’d thought this stretch of road would make for some fabulous cycling. What I was resolutely unwilling to do, however, was the reasonable thing: ride my car over, pull the bicycle out of the trunk, hop on and do a quick there-and-back, or perhaps a slightly larger circuit of modest ambition. For whatever absurd reason, it seemed the honorable thing to cycle the entire distance there and back.

Sixty-five kilometers doesn’t have to be a big deal, even for a 46-year-old who could stand to shed a dozen pounds. I’d been preparing by making increasingly longer runs in that direction, and figured I'd be in shape to complete the entire Zephyr run by early July. Then Saturday came along. The weather was so gorgeous, I was making such remarkable time, the farmers were out haying and it was such a delicious smell, and I was feeling so good — and I’d just turned 46! Wouldn’t it be something to say, “Yeah, I did Zephyr and back the day of” etc? I reached the point (Udora) where I had planned to turn around and head home, looked ahead to the beckoning highway, and thought, “Why not?”

Well . . . there were several very good reasons why not, the most important of which was: I hadn’t yet hit the wall.

In the years since the cyclathon I haven’t much bothered with long-distance riding — it’s been the rare time I’ve cycled for longer than an hour — so I wasn’t familiar with this business of “hitting the wall.” But any marathon runner will tell you there comes a moment when your body has burned up the various sugars you’re carrying around in your bloodstream, and must now start burning other materials — muscle fiber, say, or maybe even a little fat. When you reach that moment, there is no mistaking it: you hit the wall.

Patient training had gradually extended that moment for me. Here I was, over an hour away from home, and I’d not yet hit the wall. With a little luck, maybe I’d hit the wall in Zephyr, buy a chocolate bar and some Gatorade, then turn around and ride back.

I hit the wall down in the first valley en route to Zephyr. As I struggled up the first hill, I remembered that I hadn’t bothered with money, because when I left the house I wasn’t thinking about cycling to Zephyr. So no chocolate bar, no Gatorade. Also, I hadn’t bothered with sunscreen, because I’d left in the early morning and didn’t expect to spend more than two hours in the sunlight. Zephyr was going to add another hour, maybe more, to that total, and the sun would reach its zenith as I rode home. A long hot ride home. Oh, and only one water bottle. Because I wasn’t thinking about cycling to Zephyr.

I wasn’t thinking at all. The eight-plus kms up and down and through the Zephyr Valley were the most physically demanding riding I’d done yet, and I was doing them with my reserves exhausted — and I’d be repeating the ordeal on the ride back.

Agh. I did it. But that was one bone-headed impulse I should never have followed. But I'm hoping to do it another time or two before the full heat of summer hits.

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