Some people climb Mount Everest without oxygen (which is stupid), and today I chose to ride two hours through Tucson and the Arizona desert without water (which is equally as stupid). Perhaps I should give you the details...
On Saturdays I usually have my long rides, which means that I typically try to ride for more than 40 miles. That being said, I have been on the email list for one of the local cycling shops, Sabino Cycles, for a couple of months. Their shop organizes weekly rides on Saturdays and Sundays, and I have never gone riding with them for two primary reasons:
- Their rides usually start around 6:00am
- They provide almost no details about their rides
Both of these reasons have usually been show-stoppers for me, because I have never been what you call a "Morning Person," (I usually go to bed around 2:00am and get up around 8:30am), and I don't like the idea of going on a ride that I know nothing about.
Note: Their emails usually contain information like, "This Saturday we'll ride our north route, and we'll leave the shop at 6:00am." That's almost nothing to go on, so I emailed the guy who organizes their rides to see if he could provide a map of their course routes with his emails. He replied that they like to change their rides, so he would prefer not to send a map. On a different occasion I have tried to explain to people who work in their shop that they would do better to at least say, "This Saturday's ride will be along Sunrise Drive through the Catalina Foothills, and we will probably ride somewhere around two hours or 30 miles depending on the pace and the weather. How hard is that? OK – I'll get off my soapbox.
Anyway, this week's email provided one piece of useful information: they were going to ride part of the El Tour de Tucson course, which I plan to ride next month. Their email said that today's ride was starting at 6:45am, which is somewhat closer to reasonable for me, so I set my alarm to get up early and ride with their group.
Unfortunately, I am who I am, so I was still wide awake and working on my computer at 3:00am when Kathleen got up to check on me. She asked if I was still going on the ride, to which I replied "Yes," and I eventually climbed into bed around 20 minutes or so later. Of course, that meant that it was quite the shock when my alarm went off at 5:45am. When you're working with only two hours of sleep, you make bad choices (like going on an early morning bike ride) and you tend to make mistakes (which I will get to later).
Nevertheless, I forced myself out of bed and I shuffled off through the house as I grabbed my gear and got ready to leave. I had set some things out the night before so I wouldn't be stumbling through our bedroom in the dark while Kathleen was sleeping. That helped out, but I still had some things to put together for today. I loaded several packets of Gu and a Cliff Bar into my bicycle's panniers, and I prepped four water bottles filled with Gatorade. I had wanted to hit the road by 6:00am because I knew that it would take a half-hour to get to the location where everyone was meeting, and I wanted to hit a McDonald's along the way to pick up an egg-white McMuffin to carb load for the ride.
Note: I missed my departure goal by a few minutes, but not by many. I stopped by the McDonald's according to plan, and this is one of those McDonald's stores with two drive through lanes that feed into one for expediency. As I pulled up, someone spoke over the intercom and asked me to wait while they took the order of the person in the other lane. I said, "No problem," and waited my turn. But after the other car had finished, there was a long pause after the next car pulled forward in the other lane. After a few minutes, the anonymous intercom voice took that car's order. Once it had pulled forward, the disembodied voice started to take the next car's order. By now McDonald's had wasted several minutes of my time and I didn't think that I would make the ride. But I was trapped in the drive through lane by several cars behind me, so I simply pulled forward. When I got to the window, the person started to rattle off someone else's order, and I explained that she had completely forgotten about me (and ostensibly everyone else in my lane). She profusely apologized, and I replied, "No worries – these things happen." I picked up my order within a couple minutes and got on my way.
It was still early in the morning, so there was little traffic, and as a result I sailed through Tucson and I arrived at the rally point near a coffee shop and bakery with a few minutes to spare. There were 30 or so cyclists who were there and ready to go, so I hopped out and started to get my gear ready as other cyclists arrived. I had worn a set of regular shorts over my cycling shorts, with the intention of stripping off the outer shorts before the ride. I had also set out one of my cycling jerseys the night before, so I reached into the back of the car – only to realize that I had failed to pack my cycling jersey in the car. (This was mistake #1.)
I thought to myself, "That's okay – I can wear the t-shirt that I'm already wearing, and since I don't have back pockets in a cycling jersey that I can use, I'll just bring two water bottles with me instead of four." It was then that I realized that I had also failed to bring the four water bottles that I had put together before I left the house. (This was obviously mistake #2.) All of those items were sitting safely and uselessly at home, so I thought that my chances of going on this ride were pretty much shot down in flames by my self-imposed fatigue and the terminal forgetfulness that was plaguing me as a result.
Nevertheless, I walked over to listen to the pre-ride briefing by the ride organizer, and as the group or 40 or 50 riders took off, I walked back to the car and weighed my options. I thought that I could call the whole affair a bust and head home, pick up my jersey and water bottles, and do some other ride. But I wanted to go over this leg of the El Tour de Tucson route, and I didn't want to miss this opportunity. Eventually I resolved to go on the ride without water. (This was mistake #3.) My reasoning was that I had several Gu packets, and I could stop for water if I needed to. To that end, I packed some cash and my debit card into my bike's panniers, just in case I would need them.
By this point the riders had been gone for several minutes, and as I hopped on my bicycle and sped after them, I realized that I had neglected to take off my outer shorts, so I was still wearing a set of shorts over my cycling shorts. (Crap. Crap. Crap. And that makes mistake #4.)
The group was far out of sight as I pulled onto the main road, and for the first mile or so I had to deal with the thought that I might not actually be riding the same route as the rest of the group, which meant that this ride might be a complete bust – again. I decided that if that scenario turned out to be true, I would simply ride for a bunch of miles and then turn around so I would at least salvage something of a decent ride out of my debacle.
As I sped down the road trying to locate the group, I noticed that my GPS was trying to tell me something. I read the status message on my GPS screen, which was telling me that it detected that I was moving – but I had never hit the 'start' button on the GPS to tell it that I had actually started my ride. (Dude? Seriously? Is your brain even working? Apparently not, and this was mistake #5.)
Shortly after I discovered my failure and hit the start button on my GPS, I remembered that I had brought my cellphone with me, where I have an app that I use as a backup GPS. Of course, I had packed the cellphone into my bicycle panniers, so I hadn't hit the start button on that, either. (Which brings us to stupid mistake #6.)
Somewhere about the two-mile mark I thankfully caught up to the group. Shortly after I pulled into the pack, someone had a flat tire, so the entire group pulled over while three or four people worked on the bike and quickly changed out the tire. As I was waiting, I noticed that the part of my GPS screen that should be displaying my heart rate was blank, and then I realized that I had failed to put on my heart rate monitor. (Um, that would be mistake #7, I guess.)
To be honest, the heart rate monitor is simply for curiosity – I don't need to have it, but it's kind of cool to look at my statistics after the ride, so this mistake wasn't all that bad. Anyway, I remember thinking to myself earlier that morning that I should put on my heart rate monitor before I left the house, but then I thought, "Nah, I'll get that later." Now I was several miles into the ride, and I figured that my heart rate monitor was probably sitting at home with my cycling jersey and water bottles. As I was mentally kicking myself for my never-ending comedy of errors, I suddenly remembered that I had put my heart rate monitor in the pocket of my shorts – the same shorts that I had failed to take off before I started the ride. (OK – failing to realize that I had the heart rate monitor with me the whole time is obviously mistake #8, but do I at least get credit for remembering to bring something? Does that negate one of the mistakes that I already counted?)
As I was putting on the heart rate monitor, one of the other cyclists in the group humorously remarked, "You know, you're not wearing a pretty cycling jersey like everyone else." I laughed and replied, "Yeah, it's sitting at home – with my water bottles." She laughed and said, "At least you remembered your helmet." (Taking everything else into account, it seems like a minor miracle that I didn't forget that, too.) Once the cyclists changing the tire caught up to us, the group took off again.
This was my first time riding in a group, and I was pretty happy that my pace seemed to be on par with the majority of the riders. That being said, there were some cool things that I noticed during the ride – most of the riders were great about calling out "On your left" as they passed, and they were great about pointing out hazards like debris in the road, approaching cars, braking for stoplights, etc.
I also learned that it was extremely bad to be stopped by a red light – because the group will be a good half-mile beyond you by the time the light changes in your favor again. However, the group's organizers were great about pulling the group to a halt now and again to let the group reform. This turned out to be extremely advantageous at one point, because I was somewhere between several groups of riders that were strewn across a mile or so of territory, and I pushed hard to catch a yellow light – which turned red as I cleared the intersection – thereby cutting me off from the group behind me. However, I was far enough behind the group in front of me that I lost them when they turned a corner at a subsequent intersection. In this section of town there were cyclists from all over who were making their way through this particular intersection, and I couldn't be sure which cyclists were part of the group that I was following. I took a guess and turned a corner, but I didn't see anyone that I recognized. By now I was thinking, "Oh great, I'm a good 15 miles from where we started out, I've never been in this part of the desert before, and I have no water." There were several houses around, so I wouldn't be completely out of luck if something went wrong, but as I zipped along I suddenly heard someone yelling, "Hey!" from a side street. As it turns out, our merry band of cyclists had pulled over to regroup again, and someone thankfully recognized me well enough to stop me from absent-mindedly riding past them as I sped off into unknown desert lands.
This turned out to be somewhere around the half-way mark of the ride, and it was mostly uneventful for the rest of the way back to the bakery. There was one big hill that we had to climb, which I don't think will be on the El Tour de Tucson route. A bunch of the riders had a hard time with it, so I was thankful that nearly all of my normal rides are hill workout rides.
I should point out that I also had to learn another riding skill: what to do when you're boxed in. I was riding faster than a small group of cyclists in front of me, but as I caught up to them, two cyclists pulled up on my left side and prevented me from passing. I tried to signal that I wanted to pull out, but the cyclists didn't pick up on that. (Which was probably due to my bad hand signals instead of any error on their part.) I decided to simply slow down, drop behind the gaggle of riders, then I pulled around the left side and pulled ahead.
As we started to approach our starting/ending point for the ride, I had been riding for nearly two hours with no water. Along the way I had consumed two packages of Gu to keep my electrolytes up, but there's little moisture in those. (Actually, Gu makes the inside of your mouth kind of slimy, so I usually wash them down with water). With that in mind, I didn't want to have another package of Gu, but I could really tell that my lack of water was beginning to take a serious toll on me. It was extremely difficult to climb small hills that I normally would zip over at a pretty good pace. As a result, I understandably dropped towards the back of the group, and I spent a lot of the time simply tucking my head down and continuing to pedal even though my legs were starting to scream out for some desperately-needed hydration. (Seriously – you can tell when this happens; it's not a good feeling.) As one of the other cyclists observed, "Sometimes you have to pretend that you're 'Dora' from Finding Nemo and 'Just Keep Riding... Just Keep Riding...'"
We were probably a half-mile from the finish when we stopped at a red light, and another cyclist in the group pointed to the empty water bottle cages on my frame as he asked, "Dude – do you need water?" I knew that we would probably finish the ride in the next few minutes, so I laughed it off and said, "No thanks, I think I'm good for the last part of the ride." Another rider replied, "You just need some coffee and a pastry," to which I enthusiastically agreed.
A couple of minutes later we pulled into the parking lot near the bakery, and as I unlocked our car, I remembered that I had some leftover coffee from earlier that morning – which I downed in a single gulp. Once I had my bicycle secured, I walked over to the bakery, where I proceeded to buy an enormous cup of iced tea and a mini-éclair, because I earned that darn éclair. (And I consciously wanted some sugar back in my system.) Once I had downed both of those items, I hopped in the car and I headed home for the day.
My moral to today's story? I need to put together a checklist before I do another ride like this in order to make sure that I don't leave any critical items sitting on the counter at home. (And yes, it would probably be better if I got more than two hours of sleep, but I can't count on that – my body just isn't wired that way.)
- Primary Statistics:
- Start Time: 6:54am
- Distance: Somewhere over 31 miles (see notes)
- Duration: 1:52:53
- Calories Burned: 1,214 kcal
- Altitude Gain: 1,283 feet
- Average Speed: 16.2 mph
- Peak Speed: 32.5 mph
- Average Cadence: 73.0 rpm
- Average: 63.5 F
- Minimum: 55.4 F
- Maximum: 77.0 F
- Heart Rate:
- Average: 155 bpm
- Maximum: 174 bpm