Or possibly I should title this the Agony and the Ecstasy.
This month I’ve ridden two rides that share one thing in common (other than that they involve biking) – they both start from one city and finish a long ways off in another city. The similarities pretty much end there. My first effort (the Agony) was my part of the riding of the Rockwell Relay – Moab to St. George Utah. This race is a 4 person relay starting off from Moab and covering about 530 miles in 12 legs – each rider doing 3 legs. My second effort (definitely ecstasy) was the Red-Bell 100, covering 104 miles from Redmond to Bellingham Washington.
I attempted to ride the 4th leg of the Rockwell relay (stages 4, 8, and 12). Stage 4 is a beast. It features a slow, seemingly endless climb from about mile 6 out to mile 26, and then a 19 or so mile decent to the start of stage 5. I was on the road from 3:06 pm till 6:33 (if you’re thinking ‘heat of the afternoon’, you’ve got it spot on). On the climb, the high temperature was a soul crushing 117 degrees, average overall was 108. Often this leg features a killer head-wind – I got a reprieve of sorts there, getting to instead fight a killer cross-wind. I think, if you can manage the heat, then this isn’t really that hard a ride – my problem was that I was not able to manage the heat. I finished the ride ‘well done’ or perhaps only ‘medium well’, was unable to recover, and abandoned leg 8 5-10 miles in (where exactly isn’t clear, as I didn’t get my garmin started). Frustrated, Disappointed, and Ashamed of failing the team describe pretty well how I’m feeling. There was lots of good and fun from the trip, and my 3 teammates have a lot to be proud of for their efforts, and overcoming their own bits of adversity – but I won’t cover that here and now.
Fast forward two weeks, and the circumstances and results couldn’t be more different. The biggest concern heading into the Red-Bell 100 was how I was going to deal with the almost certain rain we would encounter during the ride. A trip to outdoor Mecca (REI-Seattle) resulted in a light-weight ultra breathable rain jacket that I tucked into my middle back pocket. It had showered Thursday and Friday, heavily at times, and everyone at the start was clearly prepared for a Pacific NW ride. Lots of bikes had fenders, and some people just rode in their rain gear. Son Patrick dropped me off at the start at about 6:30, and after checking in and downing a cup of coffee and a banana I moved over to the start area. There was a group of four, and then a lone rider (Mike from Seattle) who looked like he was about my age – so I started chatting with him, and when the ride started we headed out together. Mike proved to be the ideal riding companion – pretty darn strong, outgoing, and a local who was happy to play tour guide. The ride is on bike paths for much of the first 50 miles, except for the first ‘big’ climb (big is relative, but its a decent hill, gaining about 400 ft. over 1.5 miles). The path surface was awesome – ‘immaculate’ perhaps is the best word for it. Some time after the first rest stop, we collected another rider (Don) who was also of the ‘more mature’ sort, and working together we kept the speed up but the effort contained – getting in to the lunch stop in the first 40-50 riders and generally feeling like we really had no business feeling that good 60 miles into our ride. Also, the weather was cooperating (and would continue to do so) – although we hit some wet roads, we got no more than a minute or two of sultry drizzle the whole day. My new rain jacket was apparently just the right sacrifice to the weather gods – I never pulled it out of my pocket. With the temperature running from the low 60’s to the upper 70’s, conditions could not have been much better, and yet they were!
From mile 62 to mile 90, with much of the course running straight north, we had a tail-wind blowing 20+ miles per hour. For much of this time we were moving at a steady 20-22 mph, but only pushing at about 2/3’s the effort normally needed to do that – I was on the front pulling for a bit of this, and there was just no sense of pushing through the wind at all – if felt just like I was drafting. The final 10 miles runs through some low hills south of Bellingham on Chuckanut Drive. This is a series of short climbs with a bit of downhill between each one and was a great way to finish the ride – ultra scenic, a bit challenging, and finishing in Bellingham on the doorstep of Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro.
So where does this leave me? Its hard to say – clearly I can ride a fast century, given decent conditions. Clearly, I’m not as strong a rider as I would like to be, especially when dealing with difficult conditions – my two worst days cycling have featured lots of climbing and lots of heat. I probably learned more about what I can and cannot do by riding the Rockwell relay, but the Red-Bell 100 was a much needed booster shot of cycling confidence. I think I want to try both rides again, but I know for sure that I have a lot more to do in the training leading up to Rockwell if I want to be successful there. I initially chose the Red-Bell 100 when the Davis Livestrong Challenge was cancelled, looking for a ‘fun, flat’ century – and that choice was exactly right.