PERSONAL BESTS: Sometimes a PB cannot be measured. Sure, Garmins are great for giving us everything from our mph, average speed, distance, heart rate, elevation etc…but some things simply defy quantification.
Last July I came across an old cyclist who was on his last leg…of a ride that is. We were at a popular water stop. The temperature was well over a hundred and he was
really hogging the fountain. Between gulps, he told me about his annual
challenge. Every year, during the month of his birthday, he rides his age in
miles. I forget how old he was (really up there), but I do remember him saying
that he still had fifteen miles to go in that sweltering heat before he could
call it a day. As he plunged his face back into the drinking fountain I remember
thinking two things: 1) What’s the point? and 2) I’m glad my birthday doesn’t
fall in July!
Well, my birthday is in November, which in Chico usually means temps in the 50s. When I checked the conversion, this year was to
be a milestone (or…kilometer-stone). Sixty-two miles (my age) converts to 100
kms. Like seeing Haley’s Comet, or an eruption of Mount
Etna, this seemed an event too important to pass up without some
type of observance.
In October I started announcing my plans for this ride (for me, planning is nothing more than announcing and announcing is the same as committing). I made it clear that
this would be a solo event…go fast, slow, stop and eat (or not), at my
The mild October temps led me to believe that weather would be the least of my concerns. Little did I know that a month long series of cold fronts was about to launch Northern California
into the coldest and wettest November on record. As the calendar days of the month slipped by,
it appeared as though conditions would not improve. So, Friday, November 26th
I woke up to cold but clear skies and decided that it was time!
I tried waiting until the temperature was at least in the forties. At 10:20, I realized that 38 degrees was my best window of opportunity. I know that this temperature
doesn’t seem too harsh for some of my fellow VRers, but for my friends and
family (Californians all), this seemed like an act of sheer madness. As I
pedaled out of the neighborhood, my wife snapped a picture of me all bundled-up
with a smile stretched out on my frozen face…who knows, maybe she was gathering
documentation of declining reasoning skills.
The ride, as I had planned it, broke down into four parts. The first part had rollers that gently rose from 200 to 600 feet in the span of about nine miles. I added an
extra fourteen-mile spur to gather extra distance that I would need. The second
was the climb. In eight miles the elevation would rise to 2500 feet, steep…but
a ride I do frequently. The third portion of the ride was the one that concerned
me the most…rollers, but at around 2600 feet. I feared, and correctly, that it
would was extremely cold before turning around for part four of the ride, the
The smartest thing I did was to take my Cyclocross instead of the roadie. I knew that my average speed would diminish and that the climbs would be a more
rigorous. What I gained with the CX, however, was the ability to control descents
through wet and icy patches as well as collections of wet leaves six inches
deep in spots.
I stopped plenty of times, mainly to gather my thoughts. My legs started cramping up as I approached a community at mile 20, so I stopped at a mini-market and munched a
bag of potato chips…, which seemed to help. I collected plenty of odd looks
from motorists…all bundled up with thick coats, gloves and earmuffs. Some
waved, but most passed by with only fearful glances (“Don’t stop honey, he
might be an escapee”), I saw one other cyclist at the higher elevation. We
nodded and puffed-out billows of steam in our greetings. I didn’t stop to
chat…he looked like an escapee too!
As I reached the final segment before turning back, I noticed that the last storm’s snow still covered both sides of the road. The weather was beginning to change. The sky clouded-up
as a new storm front was gathering momentum. I was chilled to the bone yet
still sweating. I started thinking about all of the articles of cycling apparel
that should have been on me rather than on hangers in my closet. I also started
thinking about things like soft blankets and hot soup.
At 1:45, I finally reached the furthest point of the ride. I knew that if I turned here, I was sure of capturing that goal of sixty-two miles…100k. I stopped and looked around. I had ridden past
this location many times in nicer weather. Now it seemed so pretty. Wood smoke rose from a chimney of a nearby cabin filling the air with the pleasant aroma of cedar. In the distance, I
heard gunshots marking the final weekend of deer season. The temperature was in
the mid to low thirties.
I dismounted my bike and looked out upon a nearby clearing…snow covered and bordered with a fence of split logs. Funny, I thought, I had never before stopped to enjoy this
beautiful little break in the forest. In the past, I was always pedaling as
fast as I could going either direction…PERSONAL BESTS don’t you know. I gently leaned
the Cyclocross against a stop sign and, while standing snow, took
a phone pic of my beautiful new bike with the white meadow as a backdrop.
As time getting late, I made final adjustments to my layers, lights, and helmet; stepped over the seat and took two strong but silent strokes back to the pavement. Glancing up I did a double take and came
to a quick stop. There, in the middle of the road, not thirty feet away, was
one of the most majestic bucks I have ever seen. He stopped mid-stride and
studied me with one eye then the other.
What he saw didn’t seem to worry him…a two footed, two wheeled creature with no rifle. His chest heaved and plumes of steam escaped both nostrils. He slowly glanced over a
flank, switched his tail then gracefully continued on his way. I reached for my
camera phone but he sprang over the split log fence and disappeared into the
forest so swiftly that I didn’t have a chance. For several long moments, I
watched the openings of the forest, hoping the buck would reappear. He didn’t.
As I slid the phone back in my pouch, I said to myself, “Good for you Lad, you’ve survived another year.”
DATE: NOVEMBER 26, 2010
THE RIDE: GIANT TCX-0 (CYCLOCROSS)
DISTANCE: 62.99 MILES (OR 100K)
TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN: 4988 FEET
TIME IN SADDLE: 4 HRS 49 MINUTES
TOTAL AVERAGE SPEED: 13 MPH
HIGHEST SPEED: 32 MPH
CALORIES BURNED: 4563
WHILE ON THE RIDE I CONSUMED: THREE BOTTLES OF WATER, TWO ELECTROLYTE DRINKS, ONE BAG OF POTATO CHIPS, ONE BAG OF JELLYBELLIES, ONE CLIF BAR.