I woke up lying in my cot dreading today's 52-mile ride with 49 of it on gravel. Yesterday’s 21-mile ride climbing on gravel brought me almost to tears. While I was frustrated - fighting my exhaustion and the street conditions - I muttered over and over again that I have survived much worse in my life. It became like a chant in my head to make it to camp.
I took my time to get ready, taking down my tent and getting my bike loaded. Pete, our awesome tour leader, was riding sweep. Usually, as sweep he would have to wait for me to leave with him as the last person. Maybe he noticed my resistance or he gained enough confidence in me or he did not want to wait until noon to leave.
The first 20 miles were just up and down. “This is ridiculous!” I have no clue how many times I repeated these words under my short breath. Within 200 yards, I would ride 50 yards down, 50 on even ground and then a very steep 100 yards up. It was a real roller-coaster ride, except my legs substituted for a nice motorized engine!
On a regular road surface I could gain enough momentum to get halfway up-hill. On gravel I had to slow down drastically to 7 mph (compared to 20-plus mph) to avoid holes and loose stones that may make me fly across the handle-bar or fall down with heavily loaded bike.
Jon, who mountain bikes in California, gave me some advice on how to use my disc brakes under rough road conditions. His advice helped me to avoid the worst by slowing down and stopping safely. Any drastic shift and turn would have turned Jamie and I over. I just held tightly onto my handlebar and hoped that, if I avoided any rapid movement, I would remain on the top of the bike.
I am tougher than I thought….
There were no beer or pie stops and no filtered water access for 52 miles. Pete and Joe carried water pumps, yet the water was even too silty to be filtered. I must have drank about a gallon of water with all the climbs and the heat.
Today I learned that I am a much stronger rider than I previously thought. Even though I am a slow climber, I surpassed the stragglers and caught up with the front of the group where the 30s were. I left at least an hour later and took numerous long breaks throughout the day.
Jessie and I led the group for 15 miles. He is stronger and stayed a tiny bit ahead of me. The hills, both downhill and uphill, gave him the advantage to pull away. Going downhill, I was too scared to push 30 mph and stayed at a max of 21 mph.
I slowed down the last 10 miles and let the group pass me, trying to enjoy the last hours of the ride and hoping to get a glance of Mt. McKinley in the distance. It was too cloudy to see it though.
When I arrived at the campsite I could only think of pitching my tent and going to bed. We ate dinner at another local place before I fell asleep at 9:30 p.m. There was no attempt to stay up and join for a drink. Sleep sounded too good.