This ride is awesome. It kicked my ass thoroughly and completely but it's one of the most scenic rides in San Diego. It's extremely well supported and organized. I've never met such nice volunteers, not only willing to stand in the freezing cold for several hours but cheerfully and with smiles on their faces. There is very little traffic, and Julian is a wonderful little town that I don't get to visit often. Finally, no matter how hard of a ride you have, the all-you-can-eat apple pie (a la mode) at the end makes everything worthwhile. This is a ride I will be adding to my annual must-do list.
"It's not that bad," Alex said, referring to the amount of climbing in the 55-mile ride in the Tour de Julian. "Not that bad," he said. I was skeptical. Afterall, hadn't I ridden the 28-miler ride last year? Didn't I remember feeling toasted after just 28 miles of climbing? But I am in better shape now, I told myself. 28 miles? That's not long enough. Didn't I just do a half-Ironman? I can handle it, I thought naively, disregarding the fact I had only worked twice in the last 2 weeks. I can handle it, I thought. Afterall, Alex said it wasn't that bad. I should have known better. Over 1,000 feet of climbing, I should have known. "Oh, I'm going to be in Vegas that weekend," Alex said, finding a very convenient excuse for why he would not be riding the "not so bad" 55-mile ride of nothing but hills with us. Later, as we all were enduring the excruciating torture of the relentless mountains, altitude, wind, and cold, I thought of Alex and pictured him in Vegas, kicking back, drinking martinis, and having a good laugh.
When the alarm went off at 5:45 am, I struggled to rise, my body still adjusting to the time change. Plus, since I haven't been training, I'm totally out of my routine. Russ, Michelle, and Mark picked me up in their enormous SUV so we could carpool out to Julian. Julian is nestled in the mountains at 4,000 feet, a little over an hour drive from San Diego. It takes awhile to wind up the twisty, curvy mountain roads. Not much fun if you're sitting in the back seat. We watched the thermostat on the dash drop as we escalated--65--55--48--42--finally resting on an even 40 degrees F. Good thing I brought my gloves, booties, headband, arm warmers, long biking pants, and biking jacket! We pumped up our tires, ran to the loo, and got ready to ride. Only thing was...I hadn't eaten much for breakfast and nothing on the drive up. Shoot. That would come back to bite me in the ass.
Russ, me, Michelle, and Mark at the start, all bundled up.
The Saga Begins:
Once we started riding, I warmed up immediately. My fingers and toes were toasty because of my gloves and ridiculous bright blue booties. I was afraid the wind would be bone-chilling but there was only a light breeze (for now) and all my clothes did a fabulous job of blocking out the wind. Mild relief settled in. There's nothing that makes a ride more miserable than being cold. Little did I know, I would rarely be going fast enough to be generating wind anyway. We hit the first few hills out of the winery, and I attacked, standing up to climb. They were short, but steep. It felt so good to be exercising again! I had missed it. Plus, it helped warm me up. Michelle was smart and stayed seated, knowing we had a long road ahead of us.
The ride was one of the most scenic rides I've ever been on. The trees were changing colors and losing their leaves. The smell of wood burning fires emanating from cozy fireplaces filled the air. Flocks of wild turkeys grazed in the fields. Turkeys? Yup. Turkeys. It felt like fall. It felt like Thanksgiving. Living so close to the coast, I had forgotten. My body has been confused. Riding through Julian allowed my spirit to be settle; I finally could catch up with the appropriate season. We rode past many farms, and I delighted in the livestock along the road: donkeys, ponies, horses, cattle, sheep, goats.
We rode through sections that the recent San Diego fires had pillaged. Occasionally, a house here and there had been completely burned to the ground. Even the fence around it had melted. However, the neighboring house next door had been untouched. The path of destruction was random and indiscriminate. It was apparent how quickly the fires had moved through, pushed by the strong winds. People whose houses had been saved had hung signs on their fences, "Thank you San Diego fireman for saving our house, our town, our livelihood." Viewing the damage first-hand made me realize how much the fires had destroyed people's lives.
The Climbing--Let the Torture Begin:
Soon, there were no more houses. Just trees and a narrow, winding road that went up, and up, and up. The view was spectacular. I drank it all in. Afterall, I had time. I was doing nothing but climbing. This was going to take awhile. I decided to sit back and enjoy the view.
scenic view on Tour de Julian.
More Climbing (Up, and Up, and Up...)
The relentless climbing continued as we began scaling Mt. Cuyamaca . Every once in awhile, a random descent would appear. I would coast down, sighing a big breath of relief and stretch my legs. Only to wind around and be faced with yet another climb. Tease! Why go down if I'm just going to have to go back up again? I felt like I was digging a hole and then filling it with dirt again. For about 3 miles, the climb reached 9-10% grade (I later learned). The incline translated to this: "forced to stand in the saddle and stomp on the pedals, using every ounce of concentration, with a rising fear that I physically wouldn't be able to turn one more revolution." I looked down and saw that in my lowest gear (27 in the back, small ring on the front--compact cranks), I was going 3.9 mph with a cadence in the mid-30s. A new record! I didn't know I could go that slowly without falling over. My heart fluttered like a hummingbird's and my quads screamed in a long-forgotten pain. The accumulating lactate ate away at my muscle fibers like battery acid. I could taste the ketone bodies in my throat. As a newbie long-distance triathlete, I'd avoided these kind of intense, anaerobic workouts like the plague. Until now.
Feelin' Good? Don't Worry--You'll Get Over It!
Still, I was in pretty good spirits. The incline leveled out a bit, and I was able to recover some. When asked how I was doing, my reply was, "hanging in there." I wasn't watching my mileage or even focusing on the time (although I had noticed my average speed was 10 mph). Every 15 minutes or so, I'd pop a Cliff Block. I was sipping on my water (mainly for the nutrition; I wasn't sweating much), filled with electrolytes and Carbo Pro . I still felt good, could maintain a good rhythm, and was full of confidence. Obviously, the mountain wasn't finished with me yet.
Michelle aka "Mountain Goat" showing her stuff on one of the climbs.
Thank, God for PB&Js!
We regrouped by Lake Cuyamaca and were able to spin and rest our legs on the only flat section in the whole ride. The view of the lake was gorgeous. We turned up Sunrise Hwy. and began scaling Mt. Laguna. More climbing. Yea. I knew the steepest part was over but although the grade up to Laguna would be more forgiving, the relentless length would be my undoing. We reached a rest stop, and I promptly engulfed some PB&Js the volunteers were handing out. I hadn't realized how famished I was! Yikes! After a quick Port-a-Potty stop (from drinking fluids to help digest the food but not sweating in the cold), we rolled onwards. None of us had shed any clothing. The temperature hadn't changed since we started. Working up the hills had generated enough heat to make us comfortable in our jackets but stopping for too long made us shiver. Michelle and Russ--aren't they cute?
And Still More Climbing: As we started scaling Laguna, I was quickly dropped. Unfortunately for me (and for the group too since they had to wait for me), I was the slowest rider and the weakest climber. Which meant, pretty soon, I was alone. I didn't mind...at first. The ride was so pretty, and I still had a rhythm. I was staying within my boundaries. A few miles later, my eyes were fixed on my bike computer. We had only gone 25 miles. How was that possible? It felt like 50. My average speed was 10 mph. I had been riding for 2 and 1/2 hours. I was not even halfway done. My legs were sore, my neck and shoulders were locked up, and my lower back felt like someone had hooked it up to an electrical tower. Plus my ass was killing me. I was sorely (pun intended) reminded that I hadn't ridden my road bike for months. I had ridden my tri bike. Apparently, there's a difference. Apparently 60 miles on a flat course in the aeoro bars means shit on a road bike uphill.
The Bonking Begins: Doubt began to sneak in through the cracks like termites eating away at the foundation. I willed myself onward, focusing on making my mind blank. As my mood dropped, I started singing under my breath to keep myself entertained. It worked. My spirits were uplifted. For the time being, I was saved. (I should have eaten something instead. I didn't recognize the early warning signs of my plummeting blood sugar dropping). I felt a resurgence of energy. At every little crest, as I would recover and catch my breath, I would begin singing more loudly. It was bike karaoke with STP, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, RHCP, and the Eagles keeping me company. As I was belting out "I got to, got to, gotta take it slo-ow" (RHCP's Soul to Squeeze), a group of riders rode by with wide smiles. "Hi!" they all-to-cheerfully exclaimed, making it very apparent they had heard. "Hey, whatever gets it done," I replied. I didn't care. It was working.
Are We There Yet? A few miles later, I had given up on singing. I had passed the campground where I had been sure the turn-around should be, and it wasn't there. Panic ensued. Did I miss it? How much farther? My mood plummeted and all sense of confidence fell away. I wasn't sure I could go much farther. How on earth would I make it back? My motto has always been: you can always go slower. I was now going 3 mph. I couldn't very well go much slower than that. The urge to stop was overwhelming. Not just stop. But lay down in that very inviting pile of leaves on the side of the road. Just for a bit. A little cat-nap? And then hitch a ride back to the start (I couldn't very well call a cab)? But there was no one around. I had hit a record low.
I Hate This G*d*#n F@#*ing ride! I saw Russ up ahead. He had turned around and circled back for me. Great. That made me feel even worse. I'm so slow that everyone was worried. I asked him where the turn-around was.
"Just up ahead at the top of that hill," he lied (it was 6 miles farther). "How you doin'?" he asked.
"Like shit," I replied, quite distinct from my earlier, "Hanging in there." Clearly there had been a downshift in my mood. Sensing my impending doom, he tried valiantly to cheer me up,
"Just think of this as mental training for Ironman Arizona," he said.
"I really don't want to hear the word, 'Ironman', right now," I replied, restraining the urge to kill him.
"You can do it. Think about how strong this ride is making you." I glared at him with a look that would have made Medusa shudder. "Think of ice cream," he suggested. He was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The more he tried to cheer me up, the worse I felt. I wanted to respond to his ridiculous statements. I wanted to scream and yell at him. I felt dangerously violent, enraged. At him, myself, the world. A few times, I opened my mouth to speak. To rip him a new one and tell him what it was like. But every time I did, I shut it again. It was one of the few times in my life, I didn't feel like talking. Yup, pretty bad. Partly because I didn't have the energy. Mostly because I could feel the tears welling up inside, and I knew if I spoke I would simply burst into tears and start sobbing (not to mention, scare the shit out of poor Russ). It didn't help that he was spunky and perky and biking in wide circles around me because I was pedaling more slowly than he. I wanted to reach out and shove him off his bike but he was going too fast for me. Another part of me was thankful he had come back for me. I was a little scared at my state of being and concerned about my physical ability to continue much farther.
Hallalujah, Thank God Almighty! We pedaled onwards at an excruciatingly slow pace, Russ patiently by my side. The silence was thick and ominous as if we were on a funeral procession. After what seemed an eternity, the rest stop at the turn-around suddenly appeared. It was as if God Himself had opened up the doors of Heaven and we had reached the pearly gates. I swore I could hear angels singing. I was flooded with relief and joy. Pure and simple joy.
Russ ran ahead to Mark and Michelle. I could just imagine what he was saying, "Make sure someone stays with her on the way back. She's in bad shape. Otherwise, she's going to either kill herself or some innocent victim." I didn't care. I was in bad shape. I got off the bike. Ahhh. My poor ass. And back. I stretched. Then, I dive-bombed the food table. PB&Js? Yes, I'll take 2. Make it 3. Cliff Bars? Hmmm. Chocolate and Pecan? Yes, I'll take that too. Banana? Sure. What else you got? Within 5 minutes, I felt 100% better. My energy restored, my belly full, and my mood uplifted. Confidence? Yo! Doubt? Gone. Could I make it back? No problem!
WTF? I was astounded by what I had just experienced. Then it hit me. I had bonked! Ohhhhhh. Biking uphill for hours on end in the cold, I hadn't been drinking or eating much. I hadn't started with a full tank. And I had been torching calories, especially glycogen. As my blood sugar had dropped, I started feeling cranky. And it had gotten worse from there. The rest stop had saved me in the nick of time--before my liver had been completely sucked dry. Blood sugar soaring, I felt revived.
A concerned Russ and Michelle look onward as I gobble my Cliff Bar, still pouting, still hating life.
The Downward Spiral: We began pedaling again, in a group. I chatted happily, looking forward to the descents. I was a different person. Slightly embarrassed, I wanted to tell Russ that other girl back there had been my evil twin sister. Boy, having one of those would sure come in handy now! In addition, I had company the entire way back. I certainly wasn't going to break any speed records but my rhythm had returned. I could keep the pedals turning over.
As we soared down the hills, a nasty head and crosswind picked up. I had a death grip on the handlebars, trying to keep the wind from blowing me off the cliff. A deep chill set in as the wind howled. So much for a quick descent. My shoulders locked up from hanging on for dear life. My legs began cramping from not pedaling. Yikes. I was feeling pain in places I didn't even realize existed.
"It's all downhill from here," encouraged a fellow at the turn-around. Luckily by that point, I had become wise to optimistic comments. I had been lied to one too many times. Remembering the few downhill points on the climb up to the top, I was prepared. Because the fact was, there they were--3 more steep hills. I just shut down my mind, maintained my rhythm, and got it done. Mark diligently stayed by my side. At this point, the rest of the group was hurting too. I privately rejoiced. Thank God, I wasn't the only one suffering!
6,000 feet at the highest point. Guess that's 2,000 feet of climbing!
Mark at the top, smiling and in good spirits.
Spectacular view of the Anza Borrego desert below Mt. Laguna.
One Last Nasty Little Bitch:
We all stuck together as we worked our way back. We rode through the busy town of Julian, avoiding cars and pedestrians in the busy street. Horses and carriages trotted up and down the road. Wooden signs hung from store fronts, fashioned like an old Western ranch town. Lines of people waited to be seated at the many coffe shops, breakfast nooks, and eateries. Our stomachs grumbled. It was past lunchtime.
As we wound our way (uphill) back to the winery, excitement rose. I was going to make it. I was going to finish. And there would be apple pie. Apple pie! We turned a corner, and 1 last short, steep hill rose in front of us. The last thing standing between me and apple pie. There was no contest. I attacked the thing with every last ounce I had, standing and huffing and puffing, legs screaming until I reached the top.
"I made it," I cried.
"That was one nasty little pitch," Mark said. I could have sworn he said, "That was one nasty little bitch." Aptly named, if I do say so myself. "Nasty little bitch" is now officially the name of that hill.
We Made It! Bring on the Apple Pie & BBQ Pork Ribs! We rolled into the winery parking lot. Our SUV was one of the last vehicles left. I didn't care. There was still plenty of apple pie left. And a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream. Even in the 40-degree weather, nothing ever tasted so good. Still hungry, we stopped in Julian for some good, ole' fashioned BBQ before heading home. Our waiter asked where we had biked. We told him. He looked at us in wonder. "That's crazy," he said. I grabbed his arm, stared him in the eye and replied, "Yes, yes it was. It was crazy." He walked off in quite a hurry to turn in our order. I had ribs--greasy, fatty, dirty, delicious, succulent pork ribs. Food never tasted so good!http://www.caloriesperhour.com/, I burned approximately 3,000 calories on this ride. No wonder I bonked!
Thanks, Mark for all the fabulous pics!