Friday, March 20, 2009

High-Noon Rescue - Part II

Old Folsom to Rescue Fire Station segment off bike trail

Just as I had remembered it, the steepest parts of the ride are the first couple of miles of Deer Valley Rd. For the first time since I rebuilt my crankset with 46/38/24 gearing I actually used my granny gear - for a few hundred yards maybe - and I was happy the up and down shift of 14 teeth worked without a hitch. I think the 24T granny actually is a lot more sure-footed downshift than the stock 30T was because when the chain drops off the middle ring it wants to drop straight down, not forward as the 30T requires.

By the time I made the turn I expected Bruce might be visible, but after looking over my shoulder a dozen times or so and not seeing him I decided to keep riding as the open pasture was being swept hard by the cold wind and my jersey was soaking wet from climbing. There were about 8-10 stout rollers left to go to get to the ranger station and the downhill a few hundred yards ahead was a welcome bit of fun.

As I started down the backside of the last hill I did a double-take, not quite believing I was looking at the little general store at the end of Deer Valley across the road from the ranger station. Deer Valley had been a bit longer than I'd remembered, but now it seemed to end a bit too abruptly. I guess I was in the zone, because it sure went by fast.

Pulling off in front of the firehouse I coasted into the picnic area, pulled a picnic table out of the shade of a 150 yr old oak tree, dug all the junk out of my jersey, laid down on the seat of the squeaky clean picnic table and stretched out my back and neck. Ten minutes later Bruce rolled by, did a U-turn yelling something about his favorite TV show being on at 3:00 and rode off. Translation: It's a race to my front door. Last one there's a rotten egg!

I had hoped to use the men's room and refill my waterbottles inside while he watched the bikes, and with the contents of my jersey spread out all over the picnic table, empty bottles and a full bladder, I had to do some quick thinking. I decided rule #1 was to ride my race. No, it wasn't a ride anymore, it was a race. I collected my stuff, put it back in my jersey, went inside, took care of business, and hoped my bike would be there then I got back. It was, but it's always uncomfortable for me leaving it unattended. I had put on my balaclava to warm up my neck while lying down, and the sticky rubber of my sun-glasses just wouldn't slide under it, so I paused yet again, folded it properly, and stuck it back into my jersey.

Finally, with everything stowed and filled I clipped in and started up the shallow grade that starts the climb back to the top of Deer Valley Rd at the turn where I had intended to wait up for Bruce. I did a little mental math and decided to make a goal of catching Bruce by that point - about 5 miles or so I guessed. I exercised some restraint to let my legs warm up and then put the hammer down. I came over a rise at about 2.5 miles and saw him 200 yards from the top of the next hill. I knew I'd catch him as he tried to climb the next hill and focused on getting to the top of the one he'd just crested. It went by in a blur and I came charging down the backside in a tight aerobar tuck and caught him 200 yards later halfway up the hill.

As I caught up to him I rode alongside catching my breath and asked him why the hurry. When he told me it was for a TV show I laughed. When's it on I asked. 3:00 he replied. What time is it now? 1:30 he said. The fastest roundtrip time for me was 4:12 minutes in the saddle, so I laughed and wished him good luck. Then I really put the hammer down. I beat him to the crest of the hill, and kept pouring on the power going downhill into a stiff headwind - one becoming less and less a quartering wind and more and more a headwind. I had exceeded my goal by far, catching him in about 3 miles - making up a minute and a half a mile in the process. As I made the turn I glanced back over my shoulder and Bruce was nowhere in sight, but not underestimating him I tucked in tight and hoped the pads on the Syntace C3s would help absorb the pounding from the really crap road surface as I went flying down "granny alley" hugging the center line to find some decent surface.

Flying across a narrow bridge that spans a meandering little creek so quaint it's right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, I was hoping I wouldn't meet one of the many "dualies" used to pull horse trailers up and down Deer Valley Rd with its endless horse ranches. I had about 2 seconds to worry before I was across the bridge and down in the drops downshifting for a short but steep 200 yard climb - Deer Valley's parting shot at cyclists who think they are going to coast home. I was tempted to go to my granny again, but decided to just stand and power over it. My legs felt really strong all the way to the top and as I sucked the saddle under me coming over the hillcrest, I hung onto the drops for dear life as a quilt of road patches threatened to break the bars right out of my grasp. I wondered how much my legs had left.

I carried as much speed as I dared through the right turn onto Green Valley, trying not to swing out onto the road. As soon as I was on the shoulder side of the white line I shifted 2 gears in anticipation, grabbed the aerobars, hunkered down and focused on watching for debris and setting up a smooth cadence. The wind was ferocious in my ears. The wind was 15-20mph right into my face and going down the long 3 mile grade I was turning 102rpms and making about 35mph. I couldn't believe how great my legs felt. The cadence wasn't strained at all, it was just flowing - smooth, steady, liquid power. Sure, I've hit 105, 110, even 112 before at the base of hills when shifting early, but this went on for 3 miles!

I was lucky and hit the first couple of lights on green, before having to coast up to one and roll it out before climbing up the next hill. Again, I just put my head down and cranked out the power. I hit the next light green and then hit an ugly one, visibly turning yellow and then red a mile up the road. Ugly because it was sensor triggered and impossible to predict. I tried to roll it out, but ended up down to 10mph. There was a rider stopped and unclipped waiting, and with heavy traffic I didn't want to go through the intersection side by side, so I watched and coasted. When the light turned I was 50ft back. The other rider was clipping in and rolling slowly, but saw me and moved right into the other road to let me by. With all the coasting I had also been downshifting in case I had to unclip. Now I didn't have time to come out of the aerobars to shift, so I did the only thing I could - spin for all I was worth. I got past him with 2 bike lengths to spare and was really moving.

I stole a glance at my computer - and then another - and then 5 seconds later another. It read 129 rpms and about 36 mph. I let out a whooping war cry and pumped my fist. "Cadence Rulz Baby". I heard a whooping retort and glanced to my left. A stunning blond in a VERY short mini-dress was driving next to me in a Miata with the top down, blowing me a kiss and smiling coyly. I had an audacious thought; maybe I could stay with her till the next light and chat her up. Hey, it was a day where anything was possible. As she sped away I checked the light ahead. It didn't look promising, but I decided it was good motivation and hammered hard going up still another 3-4% grade.

The light turned red and she was well back in traffic, so as I rolled past I blew a kiss in her general direction and kept going. When I got to the light it was red, but the traffic had cleared from the intersection so I carefully approached and then went through. It was a short 100 yards to the top of that hill. As I started coming down the other side, the 7 lane wide road beckoning me, I had a giddy thought - "damned, I could just time-trial this sucker all the way home!" I rolled that around in my head for a minute.

I was about 20 miles from home and while my legs were a bit sore from riding 33 miles just 40 hours earlier they were doing everything I asked and a lot more. I really had no idea where my limits were. My Acai spiked Gatorade seemed to be some kind of magic potent. Beyond strong, I was flying and testing myself with ridiculous challenges and then meeting and exceeding them. The few riders I came up on I passed almost immediately, and came down the hill at Rodeo Pk so fast I almost overshot the ramp down onto the bike-only switchback that took me to Old Folsom and across the footbridge to the west side of the river.

As anticipated, the wind along the west side of the river where the sheer cliffs funnel the wind was brutal. The Powerbar I had eaten while riding down the last of the downhills on Green Valley was gone. It had gone remarkably fast. I made a mental note that my Acai spike seemed to be accelerating the digestion rate and reached for more. The bottle was all but empty, so I took a few swings from the water bottle and kept my head down. As I pushed the pace along the long flat section approaching the Nimbus Dam my quad started to twitch - then spasm. I slowed, came out of the aero position and planted my hands in the drops. The wind slammed into my chest. I slowed some more. My right quad was joined by my left in twitching, in spite of cutting the power in half.

I made the exaggerated U-turn past the dam slowly and started wondering how I would make it up the Hazel Ave corkscrew - a very short 12-15% climb where the bike trail goes up a "spiral staircase" of asphalt before heading down the enclosed wire cage on Hazel where it crosses Lake Natoma. I decided to stand and climb it slowly. Big mistake! I got 20 ft up it and both of my quads locked up hard. I was lucky to be able to twist out of my pedals before falling over. I dug my thumbs into my quads trying to get them to loosen up. I was screaming in pain, legs locked, leaning into my bike hoping I wouldn't get hit by traffic coming down. People stopped and asked if they could help. I asked for Gatorade. Nobody had any on such a cool day.

I was in trouble and I knew it. I needed to get up this damned hill. I needed to get my quads working again, and I needed to get home somehow without being able to put down any significant power. Since the route from the bike trail to my front door was full of long rollers I didn't even know if it was possible. I was a little panicked, I admit. I had worked out with a gym partner who had torn his quad and they hadn't been able to reattach the head, so it moved freely under the skin of his leg, totally useless. God forbid that would happen.

I somehow waddled stiff-legged to the top of the corkscrew, leaned against a signpost and tried to stretch and shake out my legs. I unscrewed the top of the Gatorade bottle and drank the last few tablespoons from it, and then drained my waterbottle. It was then I remembered sweat flying off my face and hitting my jersey while flying down Green Valley Rd. I was collecting myself. Calmer now, I focused on the mental game. Play for time. Put one foot in front of the other. Keep moving. You'll get home. Just dig deep into your bag of tricks and by-god, by hook or by crook, get your sorry ass home.

I sat on the guard rail and tried to massage my quads. My leg warmers were in the way, so I rolled them down and started again. My legs were cold to the touch. Surprising. I felt for my Powerbar wrappers stuffed up the right leg of my shorts. I never litter, but over the winter had also found the foil Powerbar wrappers worked like little space blankets to stop wind and reflect body heat back towards the body. I finished the massage and then carefully opened the wrappers and placed them over my quads - carefully rolling the leg warmers and then shorts over that. They felt better almost immediately. OK, something was working. I was making progress. I just might make it home.

I kept trying to bum more Gatorade or energy bars from passing riders but to no avail. After 5 minutes or so I decided to try clipping in and riding downhill across the bridge to Gold Country Rd. I spun gingerly when the downhill flattened out, made the right turn onto Gold Country, kept the rpms up and slowly made it back to the bike trail. Anything more than 100 watts and my quads would start to cramp again. I was forced to crawl up hills I usually roll right over - sometimes down in my granny gear. I didn't want to risk tearing up my legs.

I made it back to the Y just before crossing the Sunrise foot bridge, unclipped and stretched my legs before hitting the drinking fountain. I filled and drained the 20oz waterbottle twice in under a minute, making a mental note that wind can really mask water loss - to the point of being dangerous. I rested for another 5 minutes and sipped water before topping off the bottle and heading across the bridge for the short but steep climb onto Pennsylvania and the short piece of bike trail to Bannister Pk. I managed to climb it in my granny and shook my head that this was the pathetic role my granny was now playing - nursemaid to get me home - and at the same time I was damned happy I had that option to call on.

One more challenge - the short but steep approach to Bannister Park. I tried my luck one more time, shifted down into my 24/27 gear and tried to keep the rpms up. Somehow my legs hung together long enough to get me up that grade and back onto city streets. It wasn't pretty, but my confidence started to rise. There was nothing between here and home that was steeper. I should be able to pull this off.

Slowly but surely I limped home, arriving at the front gate a few minutes after 3:00, hoping Bruce wasn't somewhere on the road needing help that I couldn't give. I lifted the bike onto my shoulder and climbed the stairs on very shaky legs, unlocked the front door and started peeling off wet clothes. The salt cake on my face burned as I washed my face and toweled it dry. As soon as my eyes were dry I picked up the phone to call Bruce's cell and make sure he was OK. As it was I stepped to the window at just that moment and saw him coming through the gate. I shouted down to him to make sure he was OK. "I should have brought Gatorade" he coughed.

I laid down under the ceiling fan, ate an energy bar to prevent catabolic muscle destruction, and drained a 24oz waterbottle. The neighbor's cat climbed up on my stomach and started licking the salt off my arm, purring like, well, a kitten. I was home and safe. I'd dug deep into my bag of tricks, kept my cool, and managed my way through the crisis. I'd made some mistakes, like not bringing a 2nd Gatorade bottle, and only bringing 2 Powerbars, and maybe doing two hard rides so close together, but I'd kept the mental game together and managed a respectable 4:15 ride.

At that moment I had a thunderous epiphany, for the first time since racing in my late teens, it was no longer my cardio or nutrition that was limiting me, it was my musculature. If you've ever laid on a hospital bed while they wheel you down a long series of hallways, the fluorescent lights flowing past as you twist and turn through pale green canyons destined for an operating room, and know you might well wake up with your chest cracked open like a cheap lobster with a lot of new arterial plumbing installed, or at least, a stent screwed into your coronary artery, you know what elation I felt in that moment. Not since jumping out of a perfectly good airplane have I felt such excitement. I'm sure I have limits, but for the first time in decades, I have no idea where they are, and can't wait to find out!

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