Enjoying Cup O Noodles at the lunch control
These were easily the toughest conditions I’ve ever ridden. Morning hail, rain in some form pretty much all day, mudslides with temporary road closures, flash flooding, stiff headwinds at times, temps in the 40s (not sure it made it into the low 50s, but possibly). Here’s the weather report for this particularly non-conducive day for cycling.
Like pretty much every other big ride I’ve participated in, I was an anxious mess the night before. Even after tuning the bike earlier in the week and setting aside all of my clothes, tools, nutrition, etc. a couple nights prior, I was still up until past 10PM organizing all the final details. Closely monitoring the weather forecast for the week leading up to the ride, I was hoping desperately that the 70% chances of rain was a mistake, but lightning strikes at dinner said that these conditions were going to be real. Hardly asleep the entire night, I woke up about once an hour: a couple times to pee, once awaking from a dream that I had overslept (and was more relieved than upset about missing the ride), and a time or two to check my clock.
The alarm rang at 3:30AM and it was time to get ready.
My friend Tom and I did the morning ritual: oatmeal drenched in maple syrup, banana, a big glass of water, teeth brushing, and dressing. I was really on the fence about bringing my extra long sleeve wool jersey, but when I add it to everything else I was wearing, it was pretty insignificant. I put on (in this order) arm warmers, leg warmers, wool knicker bibs, a Hot Chillys thermal top, wool short sleeve jersey, SF Randos long sleeve wool jersey (to be seen by no one that day, unfortunately), another long sleeve wool jersey, and two pairs of wool socks.
We got in the car to make the drive from San Francisco to Healdsburg. On the ride up, the outside temperature read 43 degrees and the wipers were set to a steady speed. The inside temp was set to 72 and I tried to occupy my thoughts by picking some good music for the hour long drive. After shuffling through a few albums, I finally settled on Chromeo. A little neo-80s pop/dance beats were what I needed to get me pumped for this ride.
Driving up to the start, Tom and I were still not fully committed to the idea of riding 188 miles in miserable conditions. We though of all of the options to bail. “We can turn around now and go back to sleep.” “We can ride 30 miles and if we decide it really sucks, we can just turn around…and tell people we did it.” “When we get to Pt. Reyes Station we can just ride back to the city and ask someone to drive us back to Healdsburg to get the car. That’ll still be over 100 miles.”
The closer we got to Healdsburg, the more committed I felt to riding.
We arrived in Healdsburg, pulled the bikes out of the car and put on the final articles of clothing. For me, they were rain booties (they should call these sprinkle booties by the way), kayaking gloves, rain jacket, rain chaps, neck warmer, hat, and helmet. We checked in and did a quick pre-ride meeting. Moments later, around 30 tail lights rode off into the morning night.
I rode alongside Tom until just past dawn about an hour later. He separated with a group of riders that were slightly faster than my pace. I felt a sprinkle turn to rain and then for a few moments to sharp hail stinging my face. I didn’t see Tom again until just past mile 50 at our first checkpoint. There went the idea of riding 30 miles and turning around.
For much of the ride, I felt myself asking, “why do randonneurs even ride on a day like today?” Or even, “why do randonneurs ride the distances they do when conditions are good?” I kept asking myself the same questions for miles and miles and miles. There were moments when I came to the conclusion that these guys are all a little mentally ill or that they get serious bouts of depression when they don’t exercise or a number of other possibilities. (At some point in any long ride, I have moments of frustration towards myself and towards the people that think riding in adverse conditions, distance or weather, is a good idea.)
I began to ask myself, “why am I riding today?”
As sad as it sounds, I’ve been feeling like lately my life doesn’t have tons of purpose. I’m fortunate enough to have a job that I think pays well and isn’t overly demanding, but my day usually starts and ends with “okay, just another 8 hours.” I think my boss has become aware of this as well. I donate some money here and there (probably not enough) to causes and countries in need, but in reality that’s only a moment or two of my life. I semi-recently ended a four year relationship and find myself pretty depressed about that still and now with more time to myself and those thoughts.
So back to the question: “why am I riding today?” I’ve been finding that I am searching out what I am passionate about. Lately, this has entailed asking others what their passions are. Whether it be their job, their hobbies, or anything else, when I see someone genuinely passionate about something, I see that they sense their purpose.
Riding in the cold, wet, and challenging conditions the only thing I could gather that made it enjoyable to me was the fact that I was having a life experience. At times being more miserable than I had ever been on the bike, for what it’s worth, I thought that I would never forget this ride. Those hours on the bicycle with only one goal, one simple goal of arriving at your destination with little time to afford spent on distractions; I find are rare moments when I can actually really focus. I do sense passion and purpose in my life when it comes to cycling, but sometimes I wonder how passionate I can be about something that can make me feel so miserable on a fairly consistent basis. Maybe that’s just life.
Back from my digression.
The rest of the ride was fairly consistent: wet and challenging. I felt pretty strong most of the day and contribute it to the 12 scoops of Perpetuem alongside the three bananas, thousand or two calories in prepackaged bars/gels/candy, electrolytes, and actual real food including Cup O Noodle. The further along I got in the ride, my thoughts changed from “where can I bail” to “let’s get home.” Some people along the way gave us crazy looks and asked us if we were crazy, but I just attribute that to the fact that we all were just a little crazy.
When dusk turned to night, Tom and I were on highway 116 and it began to pour rain again. On fairly regular intervals I would call out our remaining mileage: “less than 30 miles left,” “less than 25,” “less than 20,” “18,” “still 18,” (to myself) “fuck it’s really still been less than a mile?”
A woman alongside 116 pulled over her BMW SUV with bike racks and offered us a ride home. She was a little puzzled that we refused the ride in the downpour probably thinking that we were a little insane. Oh, did I mention that along with the ability to focus on just one task, Chromeo’s Bonafied Lovin was stuck in my head for about 100 miles?
We arrived back in Healdsburg to a warm room in the Best Western full of tired randos, warm food, and stories from the day. Just another epic!