The ALC Adventure Begins

This morning was 38 degrees. Let me be very clear about that. It took a lot of resolve to get out of bed, let alone knowing I was not only awake at 6am, but would be going outside. In lycra. To climb hills. It felt like a suicide mission.

I finally registered for a training ride, originating in Orinda and which headed over a stretch of hills affectionately called The Three Bears (Mama, Papa, and Baby), before ending us up in Pinole where we stopped for sustenance before heading back the slightly less severe Castro Valley Ranch and San Pablo Dam roads. The ride was 32 miles in total, and was more informative than I initially gave it, or myself, credit for.

At first I was mortified of being dropped because I am terrible at following directions when I am on my bike. I default to the auto-pilot state that allows you to ‘just keep pedaling’ and not give in to the urge to just roll over on the spot and take a nap in the sun rather than pressing on up the massive hill handing you your own ass, right then and there.  Today was the first time I was riding on unfamiliar ground in a very long time – which was exciting, but of course made me very uneasy about getting lost in the middle of nowhere with no cell reception, in what may have been too little clothing for the weather. But the truth is that I am a slow climber, and was dropped by everyone almost instantly. The first of the three hills is steep enough to be of consequence, and two miles along with a false summit. I don’t even know how many times I had to stop. Part of the problem was that we started this climb about three miles into the ride – not nearly enough time for my legs to warm up on a cold morning. Eventually I crested both summits, and bombed down a hill that had more ice on it than I would have liked, which meant more slow going. It was not until I finally found that magic place where my breath was back in my control and my legs were finally in the game and fully committed that I finally caught up with some of the other riders. This group slowly snowballed as we got back into civilization and traffic lights and stop signs tripped us all up (ALC’s rules include obeying all traffic laws to the letter while on official rides. Boring, but necessary).

We stopped to eat at a cafe and bakery. I am never sure about eating. Drinking water and electrolite stuff, yes. But eating is a dicey prospect. Sometimes it makes me feel better, even though I had not realized I was feeling drained. But sometimes, it makes me feel like I’m going to throw up, which is what happened, briefly, during the ride today. I never feel only good when I eat in the middle of a ride. My energy level will, of course, be better, but the rest of me feels sluggish and heavy. I have not spent a lot of time experimenting with different foods, or any of the ‘instant calorie’ nutritional stuff, mostly because any amount of caffeine gives me an instant and unyielding headache.

Rolling out, we went back up a shorter, but steeper hill. En route back to this hill, and the home stretch of this ride, I could already feel that my legs were tired. Not incapable, but tired. It took a while to find the rhythm of the climb, and I had to stop to get my breathing under control and remove a layer of clothing. But I made it to the summit of that climb and got my always appreciated death drop down the other side. We had one more hill to climb, up San Pablo Dam Road, which our route sheet qualified as a ‘gentle climb’. Whose definition of ‘gentle’ we were going on is something I would like further clarification about. Again, as soon as we hit a climb I was dropped by the lead group I had been following out of our rest stop, but I was never passed by anyone else from our group either. So I spent the last fifteen or so miles alone in some very beautiful surroundings. This was extremely fortunate, for several reasons. Firstly, once I started the ‘gentle climb’, I had no turns to worry about for many miles, and then it was into the parking lot we came from initially, so I could auto-pilot to my heart’s content. Secondly, I sort of threw a tantrum. There was a very ungracious moment where I asked, rather aggressively, of the road, where in the hell its summit was and also demanded answers about the varied state of its existence, the vehicle situation, who exactly qualified this torture as ‘gentle’, and why the hell I was even there in the first place. Thirdly, it gave me a chance to focus myself on the task at hand without worrying about dropping or passing or in any way having to deal with another human being. Just getting through the climb at this point was enough. The views, from what little I took in, were beautiful. But my body was tired, and I was having a harder and harder time keeping my breathing under control, so quite a bit of the climb was spent looking at the ground and my spinning legs and ignoring the summit’s stubborn refusal to appear.

Once the summit was reached, there was almost complete flat or downhill terrain. Happy again to be on a bike, and forgetting the ridiculous amount of pain I was in just moments ago I was able to take in the scenery and appreciate where I was. I live for the goddamn downhill.

Today is actually an anniversary of something very painful and still quite a focal issue in my personal life. As I was riding the final descent, just before traffic got dense and I could still hear my own labored breathing, I took pause to note that instead of sitting at home and ‘commemorating’ events in ways that would do no one any good, I was working hard to bring myself in off of the hardest ride I have ever done. At no point did I need sweep support, and the walking, pausing, yelling, urges to cry, and soreness became insignificant. I finished this ride under my own steam. Good job, legs. Good job.

This is the magic of cycling, I suppose. I know what it is to ride for a long time, and I know what it is to choose things that are challenging, only because they are out of the ordinary. This was a route I would never, in my right mind, have chosen. It afforded me beauty and new community I would never have found if I had remained so staunchly unyielding in my distaste for hill climbing. All the other things are a distant second to this, no matter how large they actually are. It was only through being forced to find a limit and exceed it so thoroughly that I could find this place in myself or myself in this place.

*featured image from Worth a Thousand Words

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