My Personal Web Log: Riding Solo by Michele Zacks
This week Bayou City Outdoors wants to give a big thanks to our special guest blogger Michele Zacks. She blogs for a cause and she’s almost to her fundraising goal for the MS 150. Donate to the MS 150 through Michele here. Although training rides start for the MS 150 in January, we train all year round. Our next two big rides are Tour De Cure on May 10th in San Antonio and Katy Flatland on July 14th. All this leads up to the two day 180 mile Bike Around The Bay in October. Great job Michele! Thank you for sharing your raw and real experience. You are an inspiration to all.
Day 1: Departure Katy’s Rhodes Stadium.
In ominous warm, humid darkness, we depart Houston later than I had hoped. 5:45. Lots of traffic. Arriving in Katy at 6:15, it takes us another 15 minutes or more to reach the stadium. Now there are only another few until the riders who are lined up will roll out in batches. I stuff my back pouches, adjust my helmet, hoist on my hydrator pack, load my water bottle, fiddle with the Velcro on the bento box, switch on my front/back lights, and snap on my two new body blinkers. My partner checks my tires, and I bid him goodbye. “See you in La Grange,” I say.
“Who does this?” I declare, in urgent need of a port-o-potty. Thinking about the forecast for rain. Yes, it is a comical thought. 13,000 people do this, I am reminded as I scan the Rhodes lot. Seeking the path to the starting line on the opposite side of this overwhelming stadium.
All the needs and comforts that I have for an entire day of riding? Whatever is on me and my bicycle. This is THE moment, and I am abnormally calm.
The mass of riders has already left. I do not wait long before the crowd around me is summoned to ride out. At 7. I go slow, allowing myself to truly warm up. Soon, however, I am ready to outpace the majority and gain a bit of open space.
This is a ride, not a race. But I have decided to ride for longer periods than in past years. To take only short breaks.
— At nearly 20 miles, I merge with traffic from Houston.
— At 27, I take my first rest stop. Grab a banana, go.
— At 35, I lunch briefly in Bellville.
— At 64, I hit a moderate headwind, but I take it in stride.
I ride the entire day without seeing a single Team BCO member. Until mile 84, when I pass the Fayette County Fairgrounds in La Grange. Reaching the junction of the freeways, I jump off my bike to examine our Team Angels’ instructions to the Dairy Queen for pick up. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a BCO jersey pass. And several more follow.
“I’m with you,” I say.
Back on the bike, and two downhill miles later, I am drinking an iced cold Shiner while ordering fries and a strawberry malt. In 45 mins, we’re at the B&B and I rejoin my ride partner. Feeling pretty good. Schmoozing with the team. And awaiting my massage.
Call it a day.
Day 2: Departure La Grange.
Up at 4:30. Ready at 5:30. With breakfast and team social time in between departure. The prep is rote, at this stage. I had rehearsed this moment over the past few days while packing. After a 30-40 min drive, our team angels drop us just outside the Fayette County Fairgrounds at dawn. And we roll out as a team, until the second-to-last rider passes me. A single team member remains at my pace and waits patiently at the first tent for me to get my bike meter readjusted, load up on ice, and use the potty. I lose track of him upon departure.
Day 2 evolves slowly. In 7.3-14.6 mile increments. With the placement of the rest stops. I decide to stop only every 20-30 mi, as on Day 1. My pace would surely be encoded by the parameters of my training.
At the entrance to the Bastrop “Lost Pines” State Park, there is a tiny collective boost of optimistic adrenaline. We are off our bikes to take the requisite power breath to initiate the Challenge Route. I agree reluctantly to take a photo and likewise oblige the stranger to pose. A mellow, reluctant smile is all I can offer.
Entering the route, it feels like a fire blanket has been thrown on top of me and someone yelled, “Ride!”
I had been so ready to push from my new core strength. To conquer the concrete. Instead, I am plagued by GI problems from the onset. Quiet resolve overcomes me. I pedal at a sub-burn pace. Only revolving up the hills at 4-5 mph. Just enough to stay respectably upright.
Near crashes transpire like ghosts in an old black & white movie. I fade on and off my top-mount brake grips. Riders spin out of gear directly in front of me. Riders jump out of the saddle mid-hill, before pulling over. I ease away from the shoulder and into the middle “lane.” Unperturbed. Stopping only to blow my nose.
My ride is marked by absence…
…of niggling worries.
…of outspoken wind.
…of vicious sun.
…of friendly, excited conversation.
…of the distressed urgency for breaks.
And…of my riding partner.
I skip the lunch break in Bastrop. I pedal through the packs of riders as if experiencing a noiseless hallucination. I do not fear. I am resigned to continue. To ignore my discomfort up until the finish. Begged GI remedies are of no use. The preventive simethicone pills have not taken effect. I slowly sip water. I limit my food and electrolyte gummy intake. I seek relief in Tums at a medic tent. No improvement.
The meter malfunction adds to the quality of endless, enigmatic miles. I do not know exactly how far I have gone. Or how much further I have to go. Each rest stop is a marker of progress. But I mostly pass them by.
“Oh,” I thought, reaching Rest Stop 5 at minus 10.7 mi. “This is it.” I move within the bottleneck. There are the dramatic speed peaks of 32 mph, matched with steep climbs. Oddly, consistency rules my mood.
On this last 2-3 mile stretch, we reach the first of the cheering patches. Emotion begins to kick in. I soar down the final hills, dodging other riders at narrow margins.
As I approach the Capitol, the finish line is a blur of people. I can feel my heart beating nervously and my eyes filling with tears. I cover the length of the barrier and turn left to reach my partner, waiting to greet me. I remove my helmet, hugging him, and I burst out crying.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“It just wasn’t the same without you,” I say.
If there was any victory in this experience, my fourth MS 150, it was not the time of arrival in either La Grange or Austin. Rather, it was the time of recovery.
And the idea that I could, indeed, ride solo.
Thank you to Kelly Howard (all that is BCO), Joe Khalaf and Mike Kiefer (Team Captains), all the Team BCO Angels, Wooch Graff (our Timberline Fitness spin class instructor), my cycling guru (you know who you are). And finally, a huge gold star goes out to Tristan LeGrande (my personal trainer) for helping me to achieve my first pain-free riding season.
Big thank you, likewise, to all those who read my blog, showed interest in my training, and donated to the cause.
To my life and riding partner, Carl Alexander. For suggesting — 4 years ago — that we ride the MS 150…and doing all that it takes for us to train. Registering us for training rides, maintaining my gear and bike, printing directions and ride maps, pumping our tires, loading our bikes, and driving us to our training destinations throughout Texas.
It is truly a hell of a ride.