On March 27, 2004, against all logic and common sense, I decided to participate in Cinderella which is a women-only, metric century (100 km, 67 miles) bicycle ride. It was either going to be the coolest thing I had ever done, or the stupidest. The longest ride I had ever done was a 36-mile Sunday Ride last year. To make matters much worse, as recently as three weeks ago, I could barely walk, much less cycle, so I hadn't trained for this. I waffled about doing it right up until the day before but was comforted by Joy's reassurance that this was a well-supported event with quick SAG rescue/response times. My strategy:
- Take my time
- Treat the event like four ~17-mile segments, as opposed to 67 miles
- Be disciplined at rest stops
- Start early!
It was raining in San Francisco when I left home at 6AM. It was pouring by the time I crossed the Bay Bridge. I usually "don't do rain", but the weather report promised sunshine in Dublin. I kept on going anyway in the hopes that the skies would clear up.
The ground was dry with the sun was peeking through the clouds in Dublin, CA. I followed the congo lines of cars into the lot and parked where directed. Some ladies cycled into the staging area. I assume they had either stayed the night before at a nearby hotel or took BART.
En route to registration, I briefly spoke to Katie who had recently graduated to clipless pedals since I last saw her at a Sunday Ride. She said she was "relatively new to the whole clipless thing" but she looked great. At the sign in area, I was handed a turn sheet, a number to put on the top tube and a wrist band. Last but not least, I went to the Velo Girls booth to collect my brand, spanking new VG cycling jersey. I wore it with great pride. This year's colors are pink, white and gray.
While I was at the booth, I said hello to Deb and Lauren H. (I finally met the other Lauren!) Other Velo Girls came by: I saw Susan, who on her snazzy Calfee instead of her signature Pocket Rocket; and Holly, who was decked out in VG (racing?) gear.
I hit the road at around 7:50AM. In the first few miles, there were lots of turns, lots of lights and and lots of traffic. I usually have trouble cornering and kept reminding myself of Heather's advice, "Keep OUTSIDE leg down" and Lorri's instructions, "Put weight on INSIDE arm and turn from the HIPS, not the hands." The upside of all this turning was that with all this real-time practice, I finally started getting the hang of it partway through the ride.
There was always somebody in front of me to lead the way, so I focused on following the pack ahead of me. Some ladies wore costumes including tiaras and ballerina outfits... I gotta get one for next year! Most women were on road bikes, although I did see some hybrids, some mountain bikes, a few recumbent bicycles and even some tandems. My favorite cyclists were a couple of gray-haired ladies on a tandem. They wore pink feather boas and had attached a tall flag at the front. They laughed a lot and looked like they were having a ball (pardon the pun).
I figured that the distance to the first check point was akin to riding to Robert's. I can do that! On the way there, Winnie & Susan passed me. "Meet you at the rest stop!" I shouted hopefully. Surprisingly, I did see Winnie at the rest stop! I scarfed a piece of delicious pound cake and a couple of orange wedges while we chatted. Winnie is training for the AIDS ride this summer (hooray!) and is gradually increasing the distance of her long rides. She rode 67 miles the previous week and this week's challenge was to do some riding the day after Cinderella. I gave myself 10 minutes at the checkpoint before heading back out. "See you later when you pass me!" I promised Winnie.
I took off my cycling jacket for the second leg of the trip to show off my VG jersey. The terrain was pretty flat, without many stop signs or traffic lights. It was also incredibly scenic with lots of vineyards and luscious greenery all around. Too bad it was mixed with farms that reeked of methane, curtesy of the cows. As I noodled along, plenty of cyclists passed me. "ON YOUR LEFT!" was the most often-heard phrase of the day. Some cyclists didn't bother calling, some shortened it to "Left!" and one particularly friendly (and fast) lady said, "Good morning! Passing on your left!"
I was very excited when I arrived at the second check point. It was like finishing the 30-mile Sunday Ride! I made myself the best tasting turkey sandwich ever, and discussed the next leg of the ride with a couple of ladies. I was worried about the hill. "You're light," one of them said, "You should be able to make it to the top." I guess that was her way of inspiring confidence.
Heather had warned me about this next part last week. She advised me not to dilly dally or else my muscles would become cold. She also warned me about The Hill. So I only took about 20 minutes for lunch, raised my saddle, put my jacket back on in preparation for the headwind, and then went on my merry way.
The Hill is insidious. It's not steep, but it creeps up on you. It's an oh-so-gradual incline that you don't really notice apart from the fact that you find yourself shifting more and more until you realize that you don't have many gears left! It's like the Energizer Bunny: it keeps going, and going, and going... I think that's the hardest part, it seems to go on forever. That and the headwind, which significantly impeded my progress. Plenty of cyclists took little breaks on the side of the road, but I was determined to make it to the top. I started breathing heavier until I caught myself groaning & sighing audibly. A few ladies heard me as they passed and giggled. They were also encouraging, "It's tough work on a mountain bike! Keep it up! Almost there!"
My legs were getting tired, and my left knee started to hurt. I prayed that it was muscle ache from being tired and not real pain (injury). My butt hurt, and I lifted my bottom to hover above the saddle to relieve the discomfort. It didn't help that some random woman was standing outside her house yelling at us. I could barely make out what she was saying, something like, "Get off the road! Don't you see there are cars?" I thought I was doing something wrong until I realized that she was screaming at everybody who went by. I wonder how long she kept it up. For the briefest moment, it occurred to me that I may not finish. Banish the thought! Just when I was about to give out, I saw the Lemon Drop Man who offered me a lemon drop. I would have plucked it out of his hand except I was so tired I needed both hands on the handlebars. I thanked him anyway. It looked tasty.
The rest of that segment was not quite as miserable but I was ready for that third check point at any time. I was delighted to see it - it was like an oasis in the desert! As many of you know, there's a little slope to get up to the rest area. I was so tired that I didn't even bother cycling that last part. I got off my bike and pushed it up the driveway. This time, I ate orange, grapes and cookies. I spotted some Velo Girls and went to say hello: Anne, Esther Kim (who was wearing some butterfly wings) and "two Brits" (as Anne described), including Sam. I apologize for not remembering the other lady's name; I could barely remember my own name at that point.
I was thankful that the last leg of the trip was relatively flat. We were back into residential territory so there were a ton of stop signs. Most people slowed, but didn't quite come to a full stop. Somebody screamed, "California stop!" (rolling stop) which I thought was quite funny.
I was ecstatic when I got to the finish line. I couldn't believe that I had made it to the end. I had budgeted 7 hours including stops (averaging 10 miles/hour) and I came in on time. All those Sunday Rides really paid off since that's where I learned and practised group riding, safety and etiquette... and also overcame my fear of riding in traffic.
This is by far, my proudest athletic accomplishment. Definitely the coolest thing I've ever done.