It has been in the making for over a year (not this blog post, which is overdue since last Monday only). But at the end of last year's Weekend in Death Valley, my younger daughter Fabienne wrote "And yes, I would do anything for my little brother. Even sign up for the next century in Death Valley." which should have given me a clue. By August of last year, I was finally cued in, at least regarding the bicycling plans and ambitions of my daughters, which included Valerie's initiative to make me set up our old and nearly forgotten Santana tandem again. But following the training plans I had come up with for them (you know, the "don't increase distance by more than 10% in a week" rule of thumb) encountered the usual obstacles and difficulties, and it was definitely not a given that they could pull off the Century distance by early March. Both of my daughters had managed to do some not-bicycling-related damage to their knees while they were even younger than now, and they certainly felt their knees each time they exceeded their longest distance up to then. The dress rehearsal (scroll down to "Mega-Monster") however went mostly according to plan - the knees started acting up only during the last miles.
Still, they were somewhat nervous during the days before the trip, in particular Fabienne who was under pressure with midterms and what have you. And I am not very good at pep talks ...
Well, meanwhile the results are up, and we also got pictures taken (the first three are from the AdventureCorps website):
The "Family Team" at the start ...
I'm holding back (for now) with sharing more insights into how we lived those 9 1/2 hours on the road (and how we celebrated after the finish!), because I still hope that Fabienne will get a chance to write up her own account which I would like to include here, then. From my side, I can only say that I am mighty proud of my daughters: Hi 5!
At the finish in Furnace Creek - with Fabienne showing some (sore) knee
And here comes (with some delay due to finals) Fabienne's recollection of the day:
Ballerinas on Bikes
The week before our big ride, I could not sleep. I was pretty pessimistic. I felt way undertrained and had suffered excruciating knee pain for over two weeks. I had not had a single workout since my 100k a few weeks earlier, and hesitated even driving to Death Valley with ice packs on my knees. On the way there, my Dad bought some Bengay which he recommended I use immediately and said, "you'll feel better tomorrow; the desert heals such things." I was excited to ride alongside the tandem of my sister Valerie and my Dad but I expected that I would not be able to keep up. I kept silently telling myself that I'd sign up for the next one, and that I would train much harder until then.
I planned to take the much anticipated cyclist Yoga class the afternoon before, but following The Tandem team's advice decided against it, to make sure I did not add to my knee injuries before the big ride. We goggled at the beautiful, sculpted muscles of the cyclists around us, and Valerie chuckled "They're simply overtrained! Don't worry. We're well rested. Let's go tan at the pool." Although it had been our ongoing joke and motto, hearing her say it twelve hours before the ride perturbed me. And seeing my pessimism, I think Valerie got pretty anxious too.
Our best friend Katie came along for the trip to cheer us on. She told us to keep our thoughts on the finish line. My mother said, "You two are ballerinas. I know you can handle the pain. You just smile through it and you cross to the finish. I've seen you do much harder things."
I chuckled thinking about Mom's "ballerinas on bikes" as we climbed the first uphill towards Furnace Creek Inn, right after the start. She clearly had no idea how different this felt. I looked up to the top of the hill by the Inn, and wondered if that would be my grand finale, 10 minutes in. I realized I was unable to stand on my pedals "en danseuse" without pain shooting through my knees and up my spine and silently took it as a sign of my defeat.
I arrived last in Badwater, but left only a few minutes later, leaving a dozen or more cyclists behind me. I started thinking that my knee injury was actually a blessing in disguise. I would learn to ride smoothly and lightly without ever pushing myself to pain. I felt gently warmed up now, and decided to venture out onto part two before the Tandem.
Before I knew it, the three of us stood below Jubilee Pass. I "bengayed" while Valerie fed me and refilled my Camelpak. I had anticipated the 5 mile climb at mile 47 for an entire year! If I made it to the top, Florian had promised I would find "a God-sent water stop." I kept thinking about how daunting it looked last year driving up and asked my Dad if pushing the bike was allowed. He recommended that I shift to the smallest gear to gently float up. So we did, and smoothly, lightly and carefully, never adding any stress to my knees, I enjoyed watching the fastest riders coming back down smiling. I kept wondering what the big deal was with this Jubilee... Until I finally reached the top, and realized that God had forgotten to send me my water; all I could find was a brown sign in the middle of nowhere. So Valerie and I decided to go kiss it and make our jubilee official. Without delay, we started the way back to the finish with our well-deserved 20 minute descent which was not as rewarding as anticipated. Not only did I almost freeze to death from the wind chill, but the tandem team vanished; and now I wasn't sure I would ever find the rest stop "where Jesus hung out for 40 days" according to Florian's comments from a year ago.
As a devoted disciple of The Tandem, I was relieved to find that it had decided to wait for me at MY God-sent hangout. I spent 440 seconds there demolishing 2 PBJ's, 1 Chocolate Brownie Clifbar, and 1 banana. Not only did God remember to send me a few extras for the road, in the 7 days during which He created the beautiful scenery of Death Valley, He remembered to dump a delightfully fluorescent green guest house there. I spent another 140 seconds enjoying the accommodations while Valerie and Dad refueled my bike. What a sensational five-star service! I did wish I could have afforded a longer stay, but knew my Subway turkey sandwich was waiting in Badwater. Looking back, I think the sandwich could have waited an extra 140 seconds in exchange for letting me apply some more Chamois Butt'r to my tender bum.
A couple of times, I felt riders drafting our little group, and I felt pretty honored. Who would have thought anyone would want to ride behind two awkward looking, first-time-riding ballerinas? When Val and Dad stopped to take pictures of the beautiful reflection over Lake Manly, I decided to keep going because I did not want to push my luck and attempt walking on water. I honestly did not know if I would be able to get back on the bike if I stopped.
But a few minutes later, my left knee completely locked, and for the first time on the ride, I panicked. I was so close and yet too far. I could not turn the pedal, and had trouble un-clicking my right foot. I saw myself plunge towards the pavement when all at once, the descent to Badwater was right around the corner, which gave my legs a rest while I coasted down and Val and Dad caught up to me, which helped me relax. In Badwater, I applied my last coat of Bengay and got so high from the fumes and the actual possibility of my finishing the ride that I completely forgot about my rear-end (and about leaving the rest-stop). Val came to pull me away from my chatting, and I felt ready to drive it home. I decided to entertain The Tandem with my singing (it kept my attention off of my increasingly hot saddle). My chain derailed twice in the rollers, which was frustrating; but thanks to riding with a pro, the interruptions never took more than a minute. The countdown mile markers on the road could not have been more encouraging.
There is nothing more rewarding in life than spending a day in the desert cycling with family, especially when you're with someone who has done it so many times before. Mom and Katie were waiting cheerfully. I wondered whether I should be smiling or pretending to be miserable, to make it seem more believable to myself and others. A few people even asked Valerie and I if we had actually done the ride! We were so thrilled to have finished that our energy levels were much higher than others' I guess... (until we reached our showers and nearly fainted).
That night, my knees caught up with me. I tossed and turned and could not stop the throbbing. I worried that my decision to do the Century with my bad knees was a mistake and that I would suffer the consequences.
But other than a sore, scabbed derrière and trouble squeezing the tube of toothpaste with my right hand, I feel great. For the first time in two weeks, I went to school on Monday without an ice-pack for my knees. I was more than happy to have traded in a "God-sent Jubilee water stop" for my three miracles in Death Valley: We finished the century, we beat Florian's time by 31 minutes, and we healed my knees. Oh, and one fourth miracle when we celebrated at dinner: Dad (assisted by the waiter) turned water into wine!
I guess I got too spoiled with this year's cool temperatures and my father's wise guidance. I'll have to return to experience the "real pain" of doing a century in Death Valley. And since my brothers are up to doing it again in the future, maybe they'll show the ballerinas what it really means to suffer.