A ‘wheely’ amazing way to end my last weekend in Vegas!

As I type this, I am struck by how quickly my time in Vegas is coming to an end.  The past 6 weeks have been a whirlwind of activity and emotions as we make preparations to move our bodies and our (many many) belongings out of “Sin City.”  Since yesterday was my SAT’s birthday, I had this idea to combine a celebration in his honor with a quasi-going-away party.  So, for the past 2 weeks, I plotted and planned, sneaking into his phone contacts and Facebook friend list and sending out invitations to party!  What I planned was a birthday road ride, followed by a casual lunch gathering at one of our favorite hangout spots.  About 30 friends, both cyclists and non-cyclists, joined us for the day and it was such a fun time.  Beautiful weather, great company, and a very happy birthday boy!  He was very surprised and we were both touched by the number of people who took time out of their weekend to spend it with us.  Here are some pics from yesterday’s festivities:

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(Clockwise from top left: the friends who joined us for the ride; other friends who joined us at the restaurant; my SAT with 2 of his “Saturday Starbucks” riding buddies and the cool Vegas-theme clock they gave him; birthday boy with his cake.)

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This morning, the two of us and our friend Mike tackled the infamous Lee Canyon hill climb.  This climb is just over 17 miles long and gains over 5348 feet (1630 m).  It is one long road that keeps getting higher and higher….before I go into the specifics of the pain, I want to impart a little information about climb ratings.  In road cycling, different hill climbs are assigned a number from 1 to 4, with 1 being very difficult and 4 being easy.  Factors such as overall steepness, length of climb, and how far into the climb the steepness begins influence the overall numerical rating.  If the climb is ridiculously stupidly difficult, it is assigned “HC,” which is a French term for “hors catégorie” (“above category”).  Needless to say, the Lee Canyon hill climb is rated HC (i.e., so stupid and difficult that it is beyond classification).  These climb ratings were originally used for those mountain roads in Europe (France in particular in the earliest years of the Tour de France) where cars were not expected to be able to pass, which begs the question: if motorized vehicles were not expected to pass through these steep mountain climbs, WHY SHOULD PEOPLE ON BIKES DO THESE CLIMBS?

I digress.  Climbing Lee Canyon this morning was not as bad as I expected.  Although many cars passed me and the sun was beating down on me, the overall temperature was quite nice and I had my NPR podcasts for company.  My SAT and Mike were probably in more pain than me because they elected to climb Lee Canyon on their UNICYCLES.  Haha.  Good on them.  Really!  Getting to the top was satisfying, though, and we all enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment and renewed sense of feeling in various body parts whilst soaking in the beautiful scenery.  My cycling computer said I burned over 1000 calories during the climb and I celebrated by eating some fries and drinking some Coke.

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(Top left: One-wheelers!  Top right: at the start.  Bottom: Mummy Mountain.)

We stopped a couple of times at designated points to catch our breath and grab a snack.  Mike’s wife was gracious enough to drive the support vehicle (we told her that she would have a LOT of reading time….hiking time….nap time….).

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(Clockwise from top left: taking a break; rest stop #1; at the top! Look at the snow-capped mountains!; my Garmin with the official ending statistics.)

So, there’s another little adventure completed.  Now, back to the packing….

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Changes

As the title of this post states, there have been changes happening RIGHT NOW which have been distracting me and interfering with regularly scheduled life.  We’re in the midst of moving and all of our worldly possessions are in the process of being packed and purged.  T-8 days and counting — yikes!  Anyway, I thought I’d post a few more pictures from that photo shoot I participated in last month just for fun.

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Yesterday, we took a break from work and packing and cleaning and went on a very short hike.  We joined a friend and enjoyed scrambling up a small mountain in Red Rock Canyon just before dark.  The desert flowers are beginning to bloom and their colors are magnificent against the red and cream sandstone.

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And here we are at the top!

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In other news, we’ve been experimenting with veganism.  We watched a few documentary films about farming and food production and were really appalled by the so-called “living” conditions of the animals that are raised for human consumption.  Those poor cattle, chickens, and pigs are crammed into tiny pens, forced to live in its own excrement and rarely get any fresh air or exercise. The animals deemed “defective” or “useless,” such as male chicks (because they don’t lay eggs), are thrown into the garbage.  Such a waste of life.  We have been impacted by what we have seen and for the past couple of weeks, have enjoyed a plant-based diet.  Since I have a bit more free time, I’m the one who has been finding different recipes and cooking up all kinds of great things.  Who knew vegetables could be so filling?  Some of the things I’ve made include quinoa patties with roasted red pepper cashew cream (SO GOOD), a layered eggplant and zucchini casserole (kind of like lasagne, where the eggplant act as noodles), chickpea “tuna” salad, and a sweet potato and quinoa chili.  The most decadent thing I’ve made was a raw apple pie; the crust is made of walnuts, dates, and a couple of flavorings that are food processed, then pressed into a pie plate.  After the crust is sufficiently chilled, you pour the apple filling into it.  It’s really quite good.  My SAT and I are liking this new change in our diet and know that all of the fruits and veggies we’re eating is fueling our bodies well.  How long will this last?  Hopefully a long time.  Do any of you dear readers have any great vegan recipes?  Have any of you attempted a “raw” food lifestyle?  I’d love to hear your stories and recipes!

Freefalling….

I have been thinking about how I want to direct the content of this blog, now that the original purpose for its existence is fulfilled.  I believe that I will still be pursuing adventures in my leisure time, ones that include hiking, rock scrambling, rock climbing (hopefully soon), camping, and yes, cycling.  Until my next big adventure, I want to share the wonderful day that my SAT planned for me this weekend to celebrate my birthday.  Everything about the day was a surprise.  The first thing I was told to do on Friday night was to go to bed early, because we “had to meet some people at 6:30am.”  My first thought was that we were going to go on a long, difficult hike that required a very early start.  Cool!  So, we went to bed early and got up just after 5am.  (Yes, that hurt a little bit.)  As we were driving to the yet-unknown destination, I tried to guess where we were going to hike.

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Me: “Well, we’re not going to Red Rock, since we’re passing the exit…”

SAT: [smug grin]

A few moments later….

Me: “Maybe we’re doing Black Mountain?”

SAT: [smirk]

Upon spotting the signs directing the way to Boulder City….

Me: “We’re SKYDIVING??”

SAT: [guffawing with laughter]

~~~~~~~

A long time ago, back when we were both barely of legal age, I said that I wanted to skydive and would totally do it with my SAT.  He remembered this and filed it away for an opportune moment.  That moment had arrived.  The whole skydiving experience was excellent and the instructors at Skydiving Las Vegas had everything down to a science.  Upon our arrival at 6:30am, we were given paperwork to complete in a small room that also had a short training video playing.  After running through some basic body positions (cross arms before jumping, banana position while in the air, etc.), we changed into our jumpsuits and got into the plane.  I immediately noticed that I was the last of our group to enter the plane (the lightest person in the group gets on the plane last and is seated at the back, near the wings), which meant that I would be the FIRST to jump.  On the bright side, I had the best seat on the plane, as I was right beside the exit door and windows, which gave me great views.

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(Photos 1-2: Beautiful views of Lake Mead.  Photo 3: With my jump instructor, John.)

About 10 minutes or so before jumping, John opened the exit door to give me a breath of fresh air:

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(This just got real.)

Just about to jump!  Note my SAT in the background, grinning like a fool.  He was looking forward to seeing me jump:

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I was NOT ready to jump at all.  John told me to cross my arms, bend my legs backward toward the plane, and “…are you READY?  LET’S GO!!!!” and he pushed us out of the plane before my brain realized what was happening! The actual falling-out-of-the-plane part wasn’t scary and there wasn’t that weird stomach-in-throat sensation because you’re falling at the same speed as the wind and plane (100+ mph).  I found it difficult to breathe because of the wind pushing against my chest and face.  The instructors will tell you to scream, as that helps you to breathe!  (I didn’t scream, though.)  Freefalling lasted about 8 seconds, then John pulled the chute open, which jerked us upwards.  After that, everything was quiet because there wasn’t any wind and we were just floating.

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(Just after jumping!)

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(Yahoo!)

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(My SAT is stoked!)

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(Checking out the views.)

All too soon, it was time to land.  John told me to bring my legs up as we approached the ground:

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(Photo 1: Touchdown!  Photo 2: Back on solid ground.)

I would TOTALLY do that again.  Super fun!  I can’t describe the sensation of freefalling or floating, but it was definitely the closest I’ll come to being a bird in flight.  My SAT did a fabulous job of surprising me!

But wait!  Since we were finished so early, we decided to head back home and go for a hike for real.  I suggested we hike the ridgeline on the mountain across from our place, so that’s what we did.  Here are a few pictures from that little adventure:

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(Our hike continued to the next two summits you see in the right half of the photo.)

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(Fortunate to enjoy rugged hiking right across the street!)

Finally, to cap off all that fun adventuring, we enjoyed a lovely dinner on the Strip.  Perfect day and wonderful memories made that will last a lifetime!

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(Hey, we’re not wearing our cycling clothes!)

In defense of cyclists…?

Life after the double century has become easier and harder.  Easier because I don’t have to schedule so many (any!) training rides, freeing up time for other pursuits. Harder because several big changes have occurred in the past few weeks and WILL occur in the next few weeks.  Despite that inconvenient truth, I still want to get out and enjoy the outdoors when I can and yesterday, I managed to join a small group for a short scramble in Red Rock Canyon.  The weather was lovely and it felt really good to use my whole body during the scramble (and by “scramble,” I mean climbing over rocks and squeezing through narrow slots using both hands and feet.  I used the term “scramble” once before to a friend who had never heard of that term and she was immediately concerned after hearing it because she imagined “scramble” as in “scrambled eggs” as in “painful and unfortunate early demise”).

Anyways, when we were driving back to the original meeting spot, two of the people in my vehicle were talking about how it was so funny to see road cyclists all decked out in attire that matched their bikes.  Wasn’t that weird?  How much money do they spend on spandex anyway?  And road cycling is SO DANGEROUS.  Why would anyone want to do that?  (Granted, that was a question I asked myself not that long ago, but I digress.)  After a few minutes of hearing my hiking friends make fun of cyclists, I knew I had to say something because like it or not, I was (am!) a cyclist and it was up to me at that point to defend cyclists everywhere (especially the fashion-conscious ones).

Hiker 1: “Yeah, it’s crazy to see them all out there on the road in their matching spandex and coordinating outfits!”

Hiker 2: “I couldn’t imagine doing that!  Or wearing that!  Too much bother.”

Me: “Uh, dude, MY cycling clothes totally coordinate with my bike.”

*pause*

I went on to say that it was a normal practice.  Long road rides can be difficult.  May as well LOOK good while suffering all those miles on the bike.  Also, I said to my hiking pals, while road cycling is dangerous, it is the cyclist’s responsibility to be as visible and aware as possible.  Of course, motorists should watch out for cyclists (and pedestrians) and be courteous enough to give cyclists a bit of extra room on the road when it is possible to do so.  Furthermore, the scrambling that we  had just enjoyed, I said, also holds inherent dangers, such as rock falling onto heads/bodies and losing one’s balance on a ledge and plummeting many feet to the canyon floor (and resulting in scrambling oneself like scrambled eggs).

I just thought it was funny that I was identifying with THE OTHER SIDE (i.e., cycling!).  Will wonders never cease?

I’m famous! Almost.

About 2.5 weeks ago, I got to model for a photo shoot!  No, not Victoria’s Secrets, although wearing cycling spandex is just as revealing as lingerie, in my opinion.  The local NPR station here publishes a magazine called Desert Companion which informs readers of the myriad of activities in and around the Las Vegas area.  A friend of mine owns a bike shop in town and she asked me if I could round up some road riders for a road cycling photo shoot.  I’m not going to lie: I felt sort of flattered and important!  I get to organize people for a PHOTO shoot for a legitimate MAGAZINE!  I could sense fame and fortune at my fingertips!  (I’m still waiting for said fame and fortune, but I can be patient for good things.)

The morning of the shoot was brisk, beautiful, and (very) breezy.  We met at 6:45am near Red Rock Canyon and rode up and down the same stretch of road for about an hour.  Our photographer told us to “look like we’re struggling,” or “get down on your drops,” or “ok….get ready….GO!”  After the first series of photos were taken, we travelled over to another stretch of road for some more action shots.  Too bad the headwind was literally pushing us off our bikes.  Ah yes, the sacrifice I made for art.

Only one photo was going to be published in the magazine as part of the March 2015 “Sports, Leisure, and Outdoors” issue and this was it:

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And here is the magazine cover:

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It was a fun experience, even with that darn wind.  Seems like I can’t escape ferocious headwind when I bike.  I hope that isn’t the case this weekend because I’m planning on doing a pretty big ride.  As always, details to come!

Now, what?

Some people have asked how I feel now on the other side of the double century.  Am I sore?  (Not as much as I thought!)  Am I sad?  (No.)  Happy?  (Yes!)  Relieved?  (Yes!)  And other people have (almost) immediately suggested other ultra endurance events for my consideration, just in case I was bored now or missing the training regime I’ve followed for the past 4 months (and if you were wondering, those “other people” really mean my SAT).  For instance, in the car on the way home from Yuma yesterday, talk turned to the HooDoo 300, a 300 mile race that can be done solo or in teams of 2.  There is “only” about 18,000 ft of climbing.

Me: “You are suggesting that we do the HooDoo 300 together now, a scant 2 days after finishing the double century?”

SAT: “Well, yeah, it’s a thought to keep in mind and maybe think about…”

Me: “Why do you think I have the same sicko gene as you?”

SAT: “I didn’t think you did, but now I’m thinking that you sort of do….I think that more and more people are believing you less and less that you don’t have that gene.  Maybe it’s a suppressed gene.”

Me: “I don’t want to continue this conversation.”

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Despite my disgust at my SAT’s line of thought, I would like to have another goal or big adventure to tackle.  Even though training and preparation can be painful and tedious, accomplishing a goal is very satisfying and blogging about it even more so, at least to me.  I like to write and I’ve enjoyed sharing my progress with family, friends, and interested readers.  Honestly, I would do my best “writing” whilst riding my bike; instead of mindlessly moving my legs in circles, I would try to compose interesting and amusing (I hope!) paragraphs in my head.  How can I make this sound fun?  What pictures can I include in the blog post?

So, if any of you have any ideas (not YOU, my SAT), let me know in the comments!

DIY Double Century

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley” (From the poem “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns in 1785)

Well, dear readers, the reason for this blog’s existence has come to pass.  My SAT and I completed my first double century yesterday after many, MANY hours of seemingly endless pedaling.  Warning: this post is a LONG one, so read at your peril and/or leisure.

Training for this event began in early November 2014.  I used Bicycling magazine’s 16 week training plan and scheduled the double century for February 28, 2015 (i.e., yesterday).  I’ve never trained for a physical event before, so this whole experience was definitely eye-opening and challenging.  The first 3 months of training went fairly smoothly and without interruptions.  The month of February went extremely quickly, not only because it is a short month, but also because of major life changes and illness that popped up unexpectedly.  Those changes necessitated weekends away from home and days of recuperation, all of which pushed my training down the priority totem pole.  It was a little frustrating, but no matter what plans one may make, they are almost certain to be disrupted.  Robert Burns knew that way back in 1785!  My consolation was that I had built up a decent foundation of fitness and mileage by early February and that was probably going to be enough to see me through the double century on my originally scheduled date of February 28, 2015.  I was also fairly certain that if the double did not occur on my originally scheduled date, it was not going to happen for a long time, if ever, because of all the life changes coming my way.

My SAT (“self-appointed trainer” for those of you coming to this blog now!) and I checked various weather websites religiously over the past week and were disappointed to see the forecast for Las Vegas and Death Valley (original venue of the double century) worsening as the week wore on.  Rain = 50%, wind = YES and very strong, colder temperatures, etc.  Should we cancel?  Postpone?  Celebrate the impending cancellation?  Well, my SAT thought differently and had a great idea on Friday February 27 at approximately 12 noon: what if we did the double century anyway, just the two of us, in Yuma, AZ?  (FYI: I was out doing errands when he had this brainwave.)  He called my parents in Yuma — they are retired and spend their winters there, like many other retirees — and told them his plan.  Would it be ok for us to come out there tonight and use their house as a home base (or, “aid station”) so that we could attempt the double tomorrow?  The weather was supposed to be dry, sunny, and not too windy in Yuma.  My SAT calls me at about 12:20pm, saying “we’re leaving for Yuma in a couple of hours and we’re going to do your double there tomorrow.”

*crickets*

Ok.  Yikes.  It was actually going to happen, but on a much smaller scale.  Instead of an organized event with plenty of aid stations and support vehicles, we were going to improvise some sort of route that will equal 200 miles self-supported.  This just got real.

Saturday February 28, 2015.  5:00am.  Yuma, AZ.

We got up at 4:30am, after driving for 5 hours the previous day.  A part of me was still in disbelief.  Whose idea was this?  It didn’t take long to get ready because we did the preparation and packing last night after arriving at my parents’ place (home base).  Here we are just before we rolled out:

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We had about 2 hours until sunrise, so we thought it may be a good idea to get some miles around town done while it was still quiet.  Since we didn’t have an official route, just a vague sense of north/south/east/west, we wandered a bit and after about 25 miles, pedaled back to home base to ponder our next move.  After a brief discussion, we decided to head north along SR 95 to the US Border Patrol checkpoint, which was 50 miles away.  Not the most exciting cycling destination, but we would get a large chunk of miles done.  All was going well so far: PERFECT temperature, dry, flat terrain….we were making good time, especially with a helpful tailwind at our back.  Then, at mile 53 of our journey, I got a flat tire. Good thing I had a bike mechanic with me!  The cause of the flat was a “big” thorn (according to my SAT):

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Photo 1: The “big” thorn.  Photo 2: my bike mechanic/SAT fixing my flat.

One challenge for me was to keep eating.  Many seasoned endurance cyclists told me to eat often during the double.  Normally, I’m a fan of food and eating is one of my hobbies.  BUT eating whilst riding is a totally different story.  My stomach was rebelling and even at this early stage in the double century, I was starting to feel some gastrointestinal distress.  Since our double century was self-supported, we (or, rather, my SAT) had to carry our food, water, and clothing with us.  Our food consisted of pizza, bananas, pb sandwiches, Shot Bloks, and fig bars:

IMG_9723 Junk in my trunk.

We reached the US Border Patrol checkpoint and I sweet-talked the guards into letting me use their bathroom.  Remember that nice tailwind I mentioned a few sentences ago?  That was now a raging headwind that stayed with us the entire day.  It was about 20mph and made the 50 mile return to home base difficult and long.  We started taking short breaks every half hour to nibble some food, stretch, and reclaim our sanity.

Photo 1: pretty scenery.  Photo 2: Tired and suffering from GI distress.

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We finally made it back to home base!  At this point, we were at 125 miles and 10 hours into the day.  In case it wasn’t already obvious, I am not a sprinter.  The wind slowed us down incredibly and my upset stomach was annoying the heck out of me.  We took a longer break at home base, mainly for me to use the bathroom and to relax my tummy.  Much too soon, it was time to head out to our next exciting destination: the Arizona State Prison Complex!  Yes, don’t you wish you could have been there with us?

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Photo 1: my parents took this of us!  They drove out ahead of us specifically to take some pictures.  Photo 2: pretty light on the road to the prison.

We hit 150 miles at 6:20pm (hour 13, good time for a break!).

IMG_9731My Garmin before it reset.  Grrr….

This was when we had our Garmin disaster.  My SAT wanted to recharge both Garmins (cycling computers), but 1) forgot to pack the battery packs in his trunk bag.  At our last visit to home base, he brought them with us to recharge our Garmins at some point in the night…..2) when he plugged in the battery to my Garmin during our hour 13 break, he saw that it reset, losing all my data as a result.  While not preferable, that wasn’t a total loss, as we still had SAT’s Garmin.  He plugged in his Garmin to the battery and put both in his trunk bag, intending to take it out after a half hour or so, to give it a chance to recharge to a sufficient level of power.  When he checked the Garmin, he learned to his dismay that it shut off, probably because it lost satellite contact.  The good news: only the 9 miles we cycled during the half hour or so were lost.  Bad news: we probably had to bike 9 miles to make up for the data we lost in order to have our Garmin record a full 200 mile ride.  Not a happy thought during a double century.  My SAT said that since he forgot to bring the battery packs, he would ride the extra 9 miles as punishment.  [My first thought: “….and riding this double century isn’t punishment enough?”  But I digress.]  The AWESOME thing is that after uploading all the data we recorded to Strava, the social media site for cyclists and runners to post their rides and runs, the website interpolated the missing miles into our GPS track!  Turned out we rode a few miles more than necessary.  Ha, I rode a super ultra double century!

It was about 11:40pm when we returned to home base for the last time on this double century.   IMG_9733  Back at home base.  DONE!

I am kind of impressed that I did this on schedule.  I am very thankful to my SAT who encouraged and bullied me (in a loving way….I think….) to do this double and appreciative to him for carrying all our stuff, fixing my flat, protecting me from the wind, and just being so supportive of this whole endeavour.  There MAY have been a few occasions during the double when his sunny optimism and unflagging enthusiasm were in direct opposition to my more stoic outlook on the ride.  I know that at one point, he happily proclaimed that he was having so much fun and that “this is definitely the BEST day of the year!!!”  I don’t remember saying anything in response.  I may have grunted.  In any case, we both survived and, despite our fatigue, went to In-n-Out for celebratory burgers and fries at 1am:

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Nothing tastes as good as being FINISHED feels.

DoubleStravaStatsMy final stats courtesy of Strava.

Cycling Lessons Learned:

  • Train lots.  Follow a plan and stick to it to the best of your ability (I had to modify mine a bit at the end due to life events and sickness).  I was tired during my double century, but maintained a steady pace and effort.  My SAT remarked that I was “riding strong” several times during the double and was really glad I stuck to the plan as well as I did.
  • Stretch lots!  I stood up a lot, I rolled my shoulders and neck, I twisted my upper body to each side.  I’m happy to report that my soreness is minimal, my butt is totally fine, my feet are great, my wrists and hands are good.  One concern I had was the soreness and muscle tension I would incur, as those things have been my constant companions during my training.  I’m so glad those aren’t concerns now.
  • Eat lots.  This was difficult.  I nibbled some food every half hour and ate something more substantial every hour on the hour.  I also did my best to drink lots.  I put Cytomax in my water, which has electrolytes and calories.  Later in the day, I had a 50/50 mix of Gatorade and water in my water bottles.
  • There WILL be tummy pain.  This can’t be helped because of all the food consumed during the day.  In my case, I was packing my body full of food in order to get the calories I needed to keep riding and avoid “bonking” (the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by precipitous fatigue and loss of energy).  However, my body couldn’t digest — and more importantly, ELIMINATE the food — I was eating.  I was getting more and more bloated and the pain I was feeling was due to gas buildup.  I literally had a “food baby” — seriously, I looked like I was 4 months pregnant.  Thankfully, my tummy didn’t stop me from completing my double century.
  • Try to enjoy the ride.  Really.

Final Thoughts

Am I glad I did this?  Yes.  This ride was definitely a challenge and there were a few times I would not have minded stopping.  Permanently.  Cycling is not my first love, and even now, I am still a “reluctant roadie.”  However, I have proof that I can stick to a training plan and follow through with the plan’s goal.  Would I do this again?  Honestly, I don’t want to THINK about bikes or riding or events or anything related to those things for a while.  (And believe me, my SAT had plenty of opportunities during the double century to “tempt” me with even sicker ultra cycling rides: “I can’t wait to do the HooDoo 500 with you!  Wouldn’t that be fun to do it as a 2-person team?”  No comment.  At least out loud or on a public forum.

I think I’ll continue this blog to document other outdoor adventures.  It has been a good experience so far and it has been fun to write reports for myself and for my vast audience of readers (thanks to all 5 of you who read this!).  Until the next big adventure!