Monday, June 22, 2009

Alaska Breaks Me

Warning: this is a long one

I don't know if it's the fact that I am recuperating from the worst flu of my life, or that my stupid toe won't lift, or that I had ridden 23 miles only 12 hours before, or that I am just plain tired of coming in last in every single race that I do, but Saturday my body, mind and spirit were broken once again by Alaska.

Alaska has the power to push you way, way, way past your limits and when you're finished it makes you think you had a good time all the while. I've been clinging to the side of a mountain, crying, staring down at my death below me and hours later talking about how much FUN that hike was. I've been dangling from the side of a frozen waterfall watching a torso sized piece of ice come crashing down on my face almost knocking me off, only to feel empowered when I clipped in to the top of the climb. I've been flipped over my bike, broken leg and all, laughing while a bag of morphine is being attached to my arm on the side of the trail.

What I was doing Saturday was not particularly difficult or scary and not something I have never done before, but the way my body felt and the way my mind was working in combination with the hard ride was enough to make me rethink endurance mountain biking all together.

Friday and Saturday was the Bon-Ton Roulette. A two day ride/race put on by Carlos who organizes the Soggy Bottom. This is always one of the more fun weekends of the year, because it's Solstice Weekend and the ride ends in Hope at the Seaview Bar.

Friday night at 7pm we rode the road from Tern Lake to the Crescent Lake Trailhead, climbed the singletrack up to Crescent Lake and rode back to Tern Lake for 23 miles. I felt great and actually improved on my time from last year by 30 minutes. I came in last but convinced myself I was okay with that because I had improved so much.

Saturday morning the plan was to assess my condition and if I felt great I would do the second stage of the ride which was the same leg of the Soggy Bottom relay that I did last year. The ride is 35 miles and a few thousand feet of climbing from Devil's Creek Trailhead, up over Devil's and Resurrection Pass, with a 17 mile descent down to Hope. If I felt tired I would ride with Tim, Ken and Heather out to Cooper Landing which was slightly shorter at 27 miles.

I felt good that morning despite the lack of sleep I got in the back of the Subaru the night before and decided to do the race/ride as planned. But things started to go wrong early that morning. The biggest thing was that I didn't get to eat breakfast after waiting at the Summit Lake Lodge for 45 minutes. So I ended up eating an old cliff bar and a small apple. I would find out later that with 35 miles of riding ahead of me, that wasn't going to cut it.

As soon as we started climbing out of Devil's my chain popped off, and then the pain and fatigue in my thighs began. I thought they were just stiff from the night before, so I sucked down some Accelerade and some taquitos and kept pushing up. The crowd of racers were long gone and Tim, Ken and Heather who were riding casually, passed me as well.

With every pedal stroke came pain in my legs and back and heavy breathing. I pushed on because I thought that I would warm up soon enough and be flying over the tundra on Resurrection Pass, with a huge smile on my face, on my way to the descent. The fun always comes, I just had to wait for it.

But the fun never came. The pain persisted and my breathing never slowed. I actually walked a number of the hills up out of Devil's, which I have never done before. I glanced down at my bike computer to see 2.5 mph and then turned it back to the clock setting, vowing to never look at it again.

I started to have bad thoughts about the Soggy Bottom and how maybe I was not ready for it this year. I thought, what the hell am I thinking, I'm not like those other people who are probably already in Hope and maybe I'm not cut out for mountain bike racing. Forgetting that I had cut 30 minutes off of my time the night before, I thought I will never get faster no matter how much I train, even though I am faster than I was last year.

So when I caught up with Ken, Heather and Tim, I decided that I wanted to get out of this race as fast as possible. And they provided me with an out. They were heading out to Cooper Landing, which was only 17 miles down from Devil's Pass as opposed to 25 lonely miles down to Hope. And in a moment of weakness, I took it.

And it was exactly what my broken mind and body needed at that time. Good friends to help me through this time when I wanted to curl up under a tree, cry for a few hours and then go to sleep for a few days. Good people to cheer me through the rough spots on the trail when I thought my legs would never do another pedal stroke again. Good times with people who make me laugh and forget about the pain.

No, I didn't do what I set out to do that day, and I didn't do it on my own, but sometimes you just need to take the help. So thanks Heather, Ken, and Tim for helping me get out of there and making me laugh in the mean time. And H that ride was not awesome! I'm sticking to it!

We arrived in the parking lot at Cooper Landing and I said, "I'm never doing the Soggy Bottom solo. WTF! Can you imagine turning around and going back up THERE! No f-ing way!" All agreed. And we drove back to Hope to meet up with everyone else.

On the drive back down the Hope road I started to think about giving up. I thought about the feelings I have been having lately about coming in last. It used to be funny, it used to be my thing, I'm last and that's fine. But now I was really training and still coming in last and that just hurts.

And I kid you not, just as I had decided to give up I saw a man in a wheelchair bike, pedaling solo with his arms up a huge hill on the Hope road. He had no use of his legs at all and maybe never will, but he kept pedaling.

As the night went on and the beers flowed, I began talking to the crazy people again. You know the type, the people that ride from Devil's to Hope in three hours, some of them on a singlespeed. The people that invented these races. The people that think riding over Resurrection Pass is just about the best thing that you can do.

Those crazies told me that everyone has bad days and that I cannot make my decision about the Soggy Bottom based on one bad day alone. What about all the good days of training I had had? One of those drunken crazies reminded me that he had dropped out of the Soggy Bottom after 45 miles because of a bad day, and that so had my boyfriend Brian. That didn't mean that they were going to quit.

I was back on the crazy wagon by the end of the night.

So this week I am working on getting my bike fitted more properly to get ride of some of my back pain and hopefully make my pedaling more efficient. I'm going to think a lot about nutrition this week as well. Part of my problem was that I don't think I refueled my glycogen properly after the race Friday night.

The good thing is that when Alaska breaks you, it also builds you back up stronger than you have ever been before. And that's where I am now.


Anonymous said...

Jules! Seriously, Dude! You've gone, like, totally bipolar at this point! So glad you stuck it out w/ us and had fun. I felt dead that day, too, and you were great company to keep me going! I was seriously punchy in the last few miles, and could've easily laid down in the pine needles for a nap as well. Glad we didn't, and yes I had lots of brutal, gruesome fun (even tho we promised we said we wouldn't say that)! :o) H

Anthony said...

Woo hoo, bring on the crazy wagon!

Amber said...

I know exactly how you feel. I won't let you give up as long as you don't let me give up.

Cheers to being Crazy!

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