Or, Misfortune and Wisdom.
At the end of April, I was very focused on getting in my 1000km of riding in preparation for Rideau Lakes. There was a sense of apprehension, though, as at the time everyone in the house was sick.
On the day after my 80km Tour Nortel ride, I went for my morning swim. Uncharacteristically, I left the pool early, feeling totally beat.
When I got home from work that day, my temperature was over 100.
So began two very uncomfortable weeks. What started as an upper respiratory infection moved to be a lower resperatory infection. I did not swim, I did not bike. When I wasn't at home in bed, I was working long hours at work, trying to meet a deadline that my health was expediting.
In short, putting in 1000km was suddenly very fall down the totem pole.
Towards the end of May, I started riding again. I was able to get my total mileage up over 500km, and put in another 70+ km ride. Would it be enough? I would have to see.
Saturday morning, I made it to Carleton University for 6:30, registered, and found my group. We made some plans, and joined the mass exodus.
The first leg was a 40km ride though Ottawa, out to the countryside, to Ashton. The roads were very crowded, and I had a lot of trouble staying with my group in the crowds, and found the whole thing rather frustrating. Eventually I found myself an empty bit of road, and settled down into my own rhythm. Before I knew it, there was shade and water and a Mars bar at Ashton.
The group reorganized, and we left together, and settled into a paceline. The headwind was rather stiff, and the paceline helped take the bite out of the headwind. That said, I was very nervous in the paceline, and had trouble staying as close to the bike in front of me as I needed to to gain full effect from drafting. Some of the more experienced riders noticed, and tried to encourage me.
While this stage was very smooth, and the experience of riding in a paceline was amazing, it was also mentally demanding and stressful.
We arrived in Perth before 11am, having covered 40km in fairly quick time, and settled down under a tree for lunch of sandwiches, juice, bananas and baked goodies. We discussed the ride so far, and the fact that we'd dropped a couple of pickups who hadn't been able to keep up. I confided that I would probably be the next to be dropped. The group had agreed to lower the pace, but I just wasn't as used to the pace line as everyone else, and the mental and physical stresses of riding in a group, including not feeling comfortable taking a drink unless I was at the back of the line, were worries for me.
We started the next stage, a 45km ride to Westport. Once we were out of Perth, the pace line started again. We took shorter turns at the front, which was nice. At about the 90-95km mark, we started to hit some rolling hills, signs of things to come. One of my single biggest weaknesses on the ride was the uphills - I hadn't trained on many hills at all, and I was finding them much harder than everyone else. When more experienced riders were on the front, they attacked the rollers, trying to carry momentum from one hill to the next. This was technically correct, but was very difficult on me. I struggled to keep up, but was noticing that the midday heat was really starting to get to me. Finally, I decided that I needed to sit in the shade far more than I needed the paceline. I called out that I was dropping, pulled off to the side, and did so.
Interestingly, I did not drop back immediately. I was close to the group for several minutes, but was able to ride at my own pace. Eventually, I spied a bit of grass at the side of the road under a shady tree, and practially dove for it.
There, I was able to take some time and reflect. I was feeling ok, I was reasonably happy with my hydration and nutrition. I wondered if I would be able to do the return ride on Sunday. I realized that, if after a night's sleep and breakfast, if I felt I wasn't ready, I would be able to pull out and call for a ride home.
After giving two passing police officers on motorbikes the thumbs up (to let them know that I was resting, not injured), I got back on the road. I made decent time through the hills, eventually arrving in Westport in time to see my group resting in the shade of the gas station.
And what a sight the gas station was. There were 70-100 cyclists there, buying Gatorade, water and ice cream in large amounts. Every bit of available shade was taken. I bought two gatorades and a bag of salty chips, and sat down to refuel. The group asked if I wanted to join them, but I assured them that I wanted to rest long, and sent them on ahead. And I did rest - for much longer. I downed one full Gatorade and half a bag of chips. I used the facilities. I sat some more. Finally, I headed out.
The next stage was 30 km to another rest stop. This stage featured the worst of the hills, and progress was slow. I stopped in the shade more than once. The fact that I was dead slow on hills did not bother me, but the heat was really starting to get to me. I hydrated as much as I could, but I was getting a slight headache, and was starting to worry about body temperature. Progress was very slow here, mostly because of the hills, but also because of the heat.
I saw an ambulance go by me at one point, going the other way. Yes, this was serious business.
The rest stop was a disappointment. They had bananas (yay!) and water on ice, but they had very little shade. I took a long break, ate the banana (a godsend, for sure), and drank a lot of water. Still, even with a fair amount of rest, I felt no cooler.
I thought, and thought, and decided that I wanted nothing to do with the heat on Sunday. To put it in perspective, Friday was the hottest day of the year by a fair margin. Saturday was much hotter, and Sunday was supposed to be the same as Saturday, with maybe more of a chance of a rain or thundershower. At that point, 150km into my ride, I had learned SO SO much about myself and about distance riding. Riding 180km the next day intimitdated me, but I realized that sitting out in the sun for 8-10 hours, just doing NOTHING, was more than I would have wanted. Adding riding to that would be just too much.
I tried to call for a ride, but we were out of cell phone service. So, with nothing else to do, I got on my bike and started riding.
The break hadn't done a thing for my comfort level, but my strength was much better after the restart. I started making decent time, especially once the hills levelled out. At a small town at around the 160km mark, I found some shade on the sidewalk and made my call. Please, come pick me up in Kingston.
As I made my call, a gentleman in red pulled in beside me to cool off in the shade. We talked a bit about how we were both struggling. He generously offered to pull me for a bit. I told him that I was a bit uncomfortable following, but I nonetheless accepted his offer, telling him not to worry if I dropped.
For a few kilometers, my eyes were on the red shirt in front of me, as we rolled along the flat road. Eventually, we hit a hill, and he dropped me, but I was nonetheless grateful. A short ways up the road, he was off to the side. I asked if he was ok, but he said he was waiting for the line to pass. When the line passed, he overtook me, and settled back in in front of me!
He dropped me later, on a downhill, and I never saw him again, but wherever he is, he deserves my thanks.
I stopped at least once more in the shade, but now Kingston was in sight. Once we hit the city, it was stop and go with traffic lights and awful road conditions all the way to Queens University.
Interestingly, about half a kilometer from Queens, the temperature dropped abruptly as we approached Lake Ontario. It felt wonderful, but I ended up needing to pull a t-shirt on after sitting around for a few minutes. How quickly things can change!
I saw my group, and let them know that I was dropping out. At least one person agreed that my choice was probably for the best.
Sitting here, on Saturday morning, not riding the hills into Westport, I'm very happy with my decision. I learned so much yesterday, had an amazing time, and fulfilled a childhood dream. I was not ready for the ride, but the truth is that I don't think that I knew enough to properly prepare. All my training was solo, due to time, opportunity and personality. If I'd been comfortable in a paceline, and with riding with groups in general, AND had more distance in my legs, I know that the ride would have been very different. With the heat, I might still have dropped out, but riding solo and riding in a group are very, very different experiences.
As much as I hate to quit, I feel no remorse for dropping out. If anything, after 2 marathons in the sudden heat of late May, I'm surprised I didn't see this coming. It's so very very hard to be ready for the heat at this time of year, and I've never handled the heat well.
Rideau Lakes, well half of it, is an experience I won't soon forget.