Chasing Unicorns and the week of the century

This has been quite a week – I didn’t intend for it to be anything special, but I was left so full of self-confidence after last Sunday’s ride that continuing just felt natural. After the epic battle with the endless headwind on Sunday, I biked the next two days – 28 and then 17 miles, respectively. I felt sore – my legs were perpetually tired and begging for a rest day, but between actually needing to go do things and wanting to enjoy the sunshine before the inevitable return of the rain, it wasn’t something I could bring myself to do.

same trail, different ride.

Yesterday, I decided to take once again to the Bay Trail and embark one more time on my elusive unicorn. For some time now, I have been trying to work my way up to 30 miles in a single ride. I have consistently failed – hitting the wall somewhere around 25 miles. Part of the problem is dehydration and inability to pace myself. I also rarely stop riding until I reach my destination – a problem I am trying to work on. I had also never taken any responsibility to plan a route for myself – at least not one that long. Instead of thinking about windy areas, hills, traffic or particular hazards, I think about points A and B. Slowly, I am letting go of thinking like a driver, or even like a pedestrian, and more like a cyclist.

When I set out yesterday, I had planned a route for myself which had several unavoidable uphill sections, but was not loaded with them. I also started with a much newer, slower friend who did not intend to finish the ride with me. Once we got past some maintenance issues and some minor GPS glitches, we hit the open road on the San Francisco Bay Trail. Unfortunately, a strong headwind also hit the same road, making what could have been a peaceful 30 mile run an exhausting ordeal. But the day was warm and beautiful with amazing views from every inch of the ride. There was alot of stopping to take pictures – something I am trying to do more of – which worked out well, because otherwise that headwind would have claimed me.

When the time came for my friend to go back the way she had come, we stopped at what is possibly my favorite spot on the whole route, at the end of Point Isabel, where a random bench sits in a small field of tall grass, overlooking the bay and Golden Gate Bridge. We paused long enough to take some photos, pull out some music and say our farewells, before I took off to really get my ride started. I had woken up feeling anxious and tense that morning, and was eager to get out and ride alone – to think and to meet what had previously been an unattainable goal. What’s more, in that moment, I felt so much like I needed it. Like it was the only thing through which to redeem any sense of equilibrium. I had been antsy on the beginning of the ride – moving slowly and having to go back repeatedly. I am a huge proponent of riding with people – I ride with friends of all levels and have been both the slowest and the fastest on a ride. I ride in large groups, like the East Bay Bike Party, and in groups of two or three. I love riding with folks, and I love riding slowly, taking the time to enjoy the views and the conversation. But when I want to be riding alone, I really, really want to be riding alone, and I have a one track mind about it. In the future, it’s something I need to be more mindful of.

view from the bench at the end of Point Isabel, Berkeley.

And so it went, that I rode into a relentless headwind for miles and miles, finally ending up near the Richmond Pavilion, where I had a water and photo break before heading back the way I had come.

what life looks like 16 miles in.

I had a delicious tailwind the entire way back, and even decided to take a trail I had never ridden before, which fed back nicely to the main Bay Trail, heading back towards civilization. I notice that riding close to the water, even when there are more people, I still want to go very, very fast. But when I ride inland, on a sheltered trail with vegetation, I slow down, take things at a calmer pace. Which is how I came to meet the fellow below, who walked up to me with no reservations at all, and appraised me shamelessly as I took a water break.

looking back to go foreword
Making new friends.

From here I headed South, or East, or both, going back the way I had come, with the tailwind propelling me foreword, my legs grateful for the chance to spin but not fight. I looped back around Point Isabel, forgoing my favorite bench, but stopped one last time to watch a man play fetch with his dog in the turbulent bay waters.

Man and Dog and Bay

When the time came to jump back onto city streets, there was a convenient pedestrian overpass, waiting to take me up and over 80. From up there, I can look out and see all of the cars, stopped dead on a road built for speed and ease of access, full of people waiting to be thankful for their workday to be over. Except that it isn’t. Not yet. Not until they can park and do something else. Every time I see this, I cannot help but think to myself how glad I am to be on my bike. I am not a car-hating cyclist (unless they’re in my way, or trying to hit me) – I think driving can be extremely relaxing and I have a fondness for speed that only a car can bring me. But in this moment, it doesn’t even come close to being worth it.

trying not to say 'i told ya so'.

From here I went back to the bike boulevards of Berkeley and Emeryville until I landed back in Oakland. One of my major complaints about taking long rides is having to come back. After hours near the water, listening to the waves on the rocks, or the wind and my own ragged breath, its a difficult transition to come back to cars, people walking around in the street, noise, and traffic lights. There is no good way to get to my house from any northern point. All the major streets have some substantial problem. Be it the folks wandering around in the middle of them, or the people who try to run into the street to do god knows what, or the giant potholes, or lack of bike lane, I can never relax through the last few miles of my ride, giving my muscles the cool-down they need. Instead, I am forced to ride hard all the way through to the end, often hurting more in those last few miles than at any other point during my ride. Certainly more than I would be if I was using those miles to wind down.

However, my mission was accomplished; this ride was 30 miles long (31.4, to be exact). For so long that mark eluded me, and now that I’v hit it, it seems so silly, so easy, and I cannot figure out why I was never able to do it before. In the last five days, I have ridden over 100 miles – easily the highest number I have ever attained. I keep seeing training recommendations to set a target mileage you would like to do in one day, and then complete it over the course of a week. It seems I killed two birds with one bike-shaped stone.

Next week will have me back out on that trail, finding the park I was unable to locate this time around (if I had, this ride would have been closer to 40 miles), and reaching further and further. I might even add a hill, for the fun of it.


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