Tuesday, August 6, 2013

San Francisco Diary: Monster Legs

Last Saturday was a cycling milestone for me: I completed my first "century" - a 100-mile bike ride. Riding the Marin County Century was our primary purpose for visiting San Francisco. Mark and I had trained as best we could during this very busy summer, and neither of us felt too confident when we left Salt Lake on the 28th. But riding around Lake Tahoe - a 72-mile ride - had boosted our confidence, and Mark felt that riding a few hundred feet above sea level would see us through. He was right. So many times throughout the ride, I felt like all the oxygen in the air was an elixir - in contrast to the Tahoe ride which was all over 6000 feet above sea level. 

Kurt, me and Mark at the start line Saturday morning

The route started in San Rafael and wound through some wooded areas before heading out into the rolling countryside. I felt strong that morning and felt it would be a good day.

There were five rest stops along the route. This was the second one.

I'm including these rest stop pictures to show how many cyclists were involved in the ride

We had gotten on our bikes at 8:00 a.m. The morning was going well. The elixir of oxygen was working. It was a beautiful morning. I had been refreshed at the two previous rest stops and we were coming up on the third. It was a little after noon.

Before going on, however, I wanted to note something about the amount of oxygen in the air. I wrote in my journal that there is a metaphor in this, I think: How well we do in life has to do with the amount of "oxygen" in the air, how much there is in our life that nurtures. If there is little to nurture us, then it becomes harder to breathe and the hills become much more difficult - as we had discovered at Tahoe. But if there is much to nurture us, the hills of life can so much more easily be climbed.

At approximately 12:05, however, the beautiful morning that I had been experiencing took an unexpected turn: I hit a bump in the road and got a flat in my rear wheel. No problem. These things happen - although Mark and I cycled for 1100 miles last fall in France and Corsica without ever experiencing a flat. We got the wheel off and the tube replaced with my spare tube, carefully checking the tire for any problems. None were found. We got out the CO2 capsule which is used in place of a pump and fired it up, inflating the tire, which immediately failed.

We tried again with Mark's spare tube. This time, the tube inflated properly, we put the wheel back on and away we went. For 100 yards, at which time I had a spectacular blowout on my rear wheel. "Spectacular" is not a word I would normally used, but this was the word used by a woman who also had a flat at the same place. In heavily German-accented English, she pulled over ahead of me and said, "That was a spectacular blowout." Thanks. I'm glad you were entertained.

Now we were toast. I could just see myself sitting in the back of a SAG van with my bike in a rack on the back, heading toward the finish line. (And, throughout the afternoon, I did in fact see several such vehicles doing exactly that.) My first century appeared to be over at the 54-mile mark. 

There seemed to be no reason for hope. Having never ridden a century life this, I had no idea what support would be available. Looking back on these events the day after, it almost seemed perfectly logical that things would work out as they did. But at that moment, on that lonely stretch of road, it seemed like it was the end. My only consolation was that three other people had had flats on that same stretch during the time we were there.

But then a course marshall rode up. He stopped and made a couple of phone calls. The rest stop a mile down the road had some spare tubes, so Mark headed out to get one. Not long after he left, a SAG motorcycle pulled up. He had tubes. So he gave me one. He then had to give the course marshall one because, as he was pulling away to head on down the road, he discovered that he, too, had a flat.

I called Mark and told him that I had a tube and asked if he wouldn't mind riding back to help me get the tube changed and me back on the road - which, of course, he did.

Meantime, another SAG van had pulled up. They pulled off to the side of the road, and a couple of guys hopped out and came walking back toward me. I was in the middle of getting the old tube out when one of the guys named Eric, whom I assumed was in his mid-late 20's, asked how I was doing. "Well," I said, "I'm not very good at this." "Well," he responded, "I am."

At that, he took the wheel and got the tube off, then examined the tire. He discovered that it had been seriously damaged, perhaps in the second "spectacular" blow out. Without saying another word, he headed back to the van and put a new tube and tire on. Meanwhile, Mark pulled up. 

Just then, Eric returned with the wheel, ready to pump it up. The other fellow in the van was standing there and made a comment of whether it was possible that there was a burr in my tire. Eric looked up and said, "Are you kidding. Look at this guy's monster legs!" I hardly knew what to say. He was apparently implying that I'd obviously been cycling for a long time and would have know if there was a burr. 

I gotta tell you. For a cycling geek like him at his age to call my legs "monster legs," that is about the highest compliment I've ever received since I started cycling a year ago this past May. Mark kidded me about that the rest of the day, calling me "Monster Legs" and "ML." I have never viewed myself as anything approaching athletic; and although I did receive compliments on our cycling tour last fall, in my insecure mind, Eric's statement made the whole 45-minute ordeal on that road worthwhile.

There were other experiences and lessons learned on that ride, but I'll have to same them for a later post.

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