Thursday, April 7, 2011

Riding off into the Golden Years

PCH Randos "Wine and Waves" 400k, March 12, 2011

OK, it's time to admit it: I finally went into retirement, on March 3rd. Nearly everybody who knows me imagines that ever since I am spending all my time riding the bicycle - but that's not how it works! (At least, not if you are married.) It's a cliché that retired people don't have time for anything any more; but it's true. Proof is that I am still four weeks behind in my blogging! I even didn't get to ride the Davis Bike Club 200k brevet on March 5th - although I had a good reason for that. I felt a little "under the weather" the day before and didn't want to overtax the organism. (I also had been busy celebrating the special milestone).

Celebrating retirement at Hardy's Bavaria
(note the Bavarian colors of the balloons)

It might be a worthy subject for a dissertation or a blog post to analyze the feelings that come along with the deep cut in one's everyday routine and the identity crisis that could arise from suddenly missing a very substantial component of one's self-worth - but I don't have time to get into it!

Identity crisis or not, on March 11th, we drove the familiar route down to our friend Yolande in Shell Beach. We found a nice dinner on the table:

and some "retirement balloons" in the bedroom:

All this didn't distract me from getting in time to the start of my first 400 km brevet of the season, the next morning in San Luis Obispo.

I was familiar with most of the route from various previous events in the area, and I was very much looking forward to a long day on the bike through the wonderful scenery of the Central Coast.

It was quite chilly in the morning, and I was overdressed as usual. Also, compared to the last time I climbed up Cuesta Grade, I was much slower, had much less ambition, and was much further back among the nearly 60 starters. I remembered, however, that many riders tend to relax on the following downhill and over the bucolic flat portion through Santa Margerita and beyond, and that I could catch up with them if I didn't abuse of the freewheel. And so I found myself eventually part of a friendly and very competent group which included several randonneuring luminaries (you know who you are!). I was thrilled of course to be in their midst and did my best to pretend being worthy of the privilege. As a side effect, I could benefit from drafting them (yes, again!) and arrived at the San Miguel control much earlier than anticipated. I was competitive in staying focussed and to-the-point during the time off the bike, but I did not remove enough layers. About half an hour later, when we got into the hills to the west of Paso Robles, I realized my mistake and had to let everybody else go while stopping for wardrobe adjustment. Then again, my legs had already started to twitch on the uphills and I would have been dropped from the group at that point, no matter what.

The climbs over the mountains towards the coast did nothing to make me feel stronger - quite the opposite. At the highest point, volunteer extraordinaire Bobbe (already mentioned several times in this blog) had set up a water stop. I certainly appreciated, but honestly couldn't buy into her compliments about my good riding. I felt lousy and had trouble articulating coherently. Silently, I promised myself to finally start training, some time in the months to come!

Recovery was slow during the long downhill to the coast, and I needed to extend my lunch stop at the Cambria control longer than planned. My feelings regarding the upcoming 22 mile stretch to Ragged Point were mixed, to put it diplomatically: the headwind was quite unforgiving (good thing I had seen much worse not so long ago). It certainly overpowered any consideration of the spectacular scenery. And my legs still didn't feel confident enough to wait for the company of some friends who had arrived during my stop. Of course, it would be reasonable to team up with them into the headwind; but I honestly felt unable to contribute my fair share, and (call me whatever you like) didn't want to only hang on their rear wheel either - heck, I wasn't even sure I would be able to hang on their wheel. And so I set out on my own, carefully optimizing my effort for this most demanding part of the whole ride.

After about twenty minutes, it didn't feel quite so difficult any more. I felt more comfortable keeping my head down and adopting a lower more aerodynamic position on the bike, and I realized that I was slowly catching up to a rider who had left the Cambria stop several minutes before me: Mel (who I had ridden the last portion of last year's Clambake 1000 with). This felt very motivating, and I increased the pressure on myself to actually catch him. I guess Mel wasn't sure whether I would cooperate with him into the headwind when he realized that I was at his wheel. He knows that he is fundamentally stronger than I; and I needed a recovery from my effort to catch him. But my morale was suddenly intact again, and as soon as possible I started trading pulls with him. I was satisfied of having overcome the earlier low point and was determined to put up a good fight against the wind. Mel seemed to feel more motivated himself and several times rode harder than I could follow. As soon as he noticed that I was "gone," he waited for me. And I am proud to report that this happened also reciprocally (even though much less frequently). All together, we covered good ground under difficult conditions and closed in on another rider ahead of us, maybe two miles (or three) before the climb up to Ragged Point. That's when I suddenly developed leg cramps and had to let loose. Still, I was happy: getting the cramps was evidence and proof that I had been working really hard - harder than I thought I could. I wasn't worried about recovering and finishing the ride in a satisfactory way.

On the way back from Ragged Point

For one, we were rewarded on the return trip to Cambria with a wonderful tailwind (which mostly died down at sunset, sadly). And then, back at the San Luis Obispo control (mile 175) the event master Vickie offered not only a well furnished dinner, but also moral support for the remaining 75 relatively easy miles - it was all good!

About eight miles after leaving San Luis Obispo, the route lead through Shell Beach, not far from where Ghislaine stayed with Yolande and her daughter Gerry. I had convinced them not to expect me for a stop - I wanted to cover the last portion of the ride in a good rhythm and get home as early as possible. But because Ghislaine followed my progression on SPOT, she had a good idea when I would come through and waited for me with Yolande, Gerry and the Pomeranian Jacquot at a street corner.  This was quite a surprise; and Ghislaine needed to document the event with a picture. Because her old iPhone doesn't have a flash, I used my helmet light for illumination:

I rode the remaining distance mostly alone and without any trouble other than the bitter cold that fell on us during the last hour. Even though I finished in good form and in good spirits, I did not expect that my rather modest finishing time of 21h44 would position me so close to the middle of the pack:

Despite some difficulties in the first part, my first ride in the Golden Years was a success!

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