I Ride 300 Miles on a Bicycle in 24 Hours
(I Meet Myself In Person)
When I was 32 years old … a long, long time ago … I was a member of a bicycle racing team. Kind of a racing team, we did race (each other mostly) and we did have a team name (which I have forgotten – some French water bottling company). I was the oldest guy on the team by about five years.
We had been racing (each other – did I say that already) for about two years and one of us got the bright idea to ride a triple century. A Century Ride on a bicycle is a hundred miles, in one go, all at once, on the same day. If you’re in good shape and experienced, this can take, give or take, six hours. Depends on the terrain and wind, among other factors.
As a team we had already done a goodly dozen century rides (races). So a hundred miles in the saddle at one go was not a big deal to us, at that time. We were very young – we were passionate about bicycles and riding them. What can I say.
This was when I was living in Arizona, right in the middle of the Phoenix Valley. Now the Phoenix Valley is huge, maybe as large as the state of Rhode Island. However, the valley is surrounded by mountains – really big mountains. Some of them very steep mountains. Grades of seven to ten per cent grades (which is actually very steep for a road) and they can go on for miles.
Now on this day, on this triple century ride (300 miles) we gave ourselves 24 hours to complete it or we were getting into support van (known as the sag wagon – because when you are racing bicycles and you carp out … maybe, you sag? Get all saggy??) This ride included climbing uphill to the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Which is located on the Tohono O'odham Nation Reservation and just happens to be 8,675 feet above sea level. And this is … oh, a good 7500 feet above the Phoenix Valley floor.
This is all part of the Mojave Desert, which on the east side, appears to be flat – very flat – part of this natural wonder. You wouldn’t think there would be this much of a huge difference in elevation as you stand anywhere within the hundreds of miles surrounding Kitt Peak. Doesn’t look like any kind of a mountain, or Peak. It looks flat as a table.
As you leave Tucson going towards the observatory the climb begins. Twenty-two miles of it. A deadly slow, soul grinding climb that doesn’t even give the bicycle rider any sense of accomplishment. I have ridden in Colorado and the steep mountains of New England. On mountainy mountains, even though it really hurts, burns the thigh muscles and cramps your back into a horseshoe over the bike, you can see the grade. You can see you are on a mountain climb and it gives you that sense of accomplishment, which keeps you pushing with all you have on the pedals.
Melt it all down and this is what is happening with this little jaunt on two wheels: you leave Phoenix and for about 200 miles you physically drain your body totally against a mountain you can’t see. Lord help you if you also run into a head wind. Then … and then when you crest the peak, you can’t even see that you are cresting the bloody thing!
One of my teammates encapsulated the experience, “You know you are grinding in your lowest gear when somebody is walking alongside you and they are passing you!” Now that’s discouraging.
We did make it, however, and began the descent. What would seem to be enough of a daring feat, that is riding a bicycle for two hundred miles up a mountain, is not enough though, on this task. This incredibly naïve challenge we had set for ourselves. Oh NO! Now we had another 100 miles to ride after that climb.
We had figured it be a 100 miles downhill though. We hadn’t seen the mountain going up and now we couldn’t see anything vaguely resembling a downhill. It looked just the f---ing same – flat! A gain of 7500 feet in altitude and other than being really shortwinded – nothing! WTF!
And that was when we did run into a headwind! So, this was a desert, in that there were no trees, nothing at all to break the wind, just wide open spaces of nothing.
Nothing that is, but a strong wind right in the face.
Here is the cast of characters. Me, short, skinny (at that time) and the oldest (as I said). There was my best friend, let’s call him Mike, who was very tall and even skinnier than me and a full on type 1 diabetic. Then there was Joe. Joe had a definite beer belly because Joe definitely drank wa-a-ay too much beer. Even so he was an incredibly strong rider. Then we had Benny, barrel chested with chicken legs. Strange physique for a bike rider. Those lungs gave Benny a huge edge on the mountain climbs even if his legs didn’t look like they could keep up. And there was Josh, the youngest, who was still in college and was a varsity gymnast. Even shorter than me, Josh was … like … 100 per cent muscle. Small, but possibly the strongest rider on the team.
And Officer John. John was a cop (Police Officer) and even though not the strongest rider, it’s always handy to have a cop along on any kind of dumb thing like this. Big Ken was the giant on the team. A good six six and so strong he had actually broken the pedal cranks off bikes. However, on a bicycle, being big tends to mean weight and the more weight you have to push against the wind and up-grades the mathematical math starts to reverse the advantage you might have in other sports – like the shot put. But if you wanted to get out of a headwind for a few miles, Ken was the guy you wanted to get behind.
The only reason to know the team members is that once we did get to the top of Kitt Peak, the team began to break up into groups. And you need to understand that after a 200 mile mountain climb it is the brain that makes the greatest difference. We had stayed together on the climb. We had set out in the late morning planning to be on the climb in the dark. Figuring that riding at what we had hoped would be lightening speeds on the downhill, we wanted to have daylight. Just safer that way, we had thought.
End of part ONE …
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Dale Clarence Peterson © 2014
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