Sunday, June 13, 2010

Just Deserts

Race Across the West – 2010

“I’m pretty tired…I think I’ll go home now.”
F. Gump; Monument Valley, Utah

As I began pedalling my bike away from the start line of the 2010 Race Across the West, I was aware that I had joined a group of offbeat but determined athletes who were attempting something extraordinary. From every path of life and every level of ability, the RAW field had one thing in common: a desire to ride a bicycle from California to Colorado, across deserts and up mountains, through some of the most unwelcoming conditions on the continent.

The taxing 4000 foot climb from the Pacific Ocean up to Palomar Mountain was followed by a thrilling descent to the floor of the California desert. It took me hours to get to the top, and about 15 minutes to get to the bottom.

I was delighted to discover a strong tailwind blowing eastward across the desert; I grabbed hold of it and sped effortlessly along the highway at an average speed of about 25 miles an hour all evening. In the support van behind me, Laura and Duncan periodically blasted hip hop tunes through my walkie-talkie to keep my pedaling cadence upbeat. After riding for a total of 13 hours, we stopped and slept in the middle of the desert dunes under a black sky that was washed with stars. Although it was a restorative and pleasant break, it proved to be a rookie mistake; it would have been more prudent to have kept riding through the night. We left well before dawn, but the desert sun was waiting for me.

I cycled all day in hot windy conditions, the road curving gently but insidiously upward all the way. I had thought that I was taking enough salt, water, Gatorade and food but it became more and more difficult to process fluids and nutrition. I rode slower and slower as every pedal stroke became an effort. At the top of a long, long climb into Salome Arizona, I slid from my bike and collapsed onto the ground, every muscle in my body in spasm. On my knees at the side of the road, I threw up all the unprocessed water that had accumulated in my stomach over the past hours. I felt beaten up and utterly defeated.

In the Hollywood version of the story I would have climbed heroically back onto my bike and finished the race. My version was not written in Hollywood unfortunately. We took a motel room, paramedics were called and after an unpleasant and unsuccessful attempt to take in some more water (it came right back up), I was given IV fluids to rehydrate me. In many races this treatment is enough to disqualify you, but in RAW it does not, so there was still the option of continuing. Some hours of sleep later however, I still felt awful and the crew and I discussed my situation. After bicycling over 330 miles in 30 hours, with considerable mileage left to go, I made the very tough decision to withdraw from the race. It is a decision I know will be second-guessing for months, but at the time it was the only one I could see myself making.

Needless to say I am disappointed not to have made it to the end, but I choose to think of a project like the Race Across the West as a journey rather than a destination. My training these past seven months has taken me to new levels of fitness and endurance, and the race itself has given me an appreciation for the challenges and adventures that are available beyond the scope of everyday vision. The learning experience has been unparalleled for all of us; we are now a seasoned racer and crew, and are ready for the next challenge, whatever that might be. In short, I got far more out of it than I put into it.

I congratulate and thank my stellar crew, without whom I would not have made it 38 miles let alone 338. Karen: rainmaker, provisioner, helpmate and unfailing supporter. Laura: intrepid follow-vehicle driver, documenter and photographer extraordinaire. Duncan: Crew Chief, indispensable bike mechanic, who can change a tire in 30 seconds flat. Terry: flawless factotum, provider of exactly the right encouraging words, always there when needed. These four made the race for me, and I can’t imagine a finer team.

One of the biggest successes of my participation in the Race Across the West was the support I received for my chosen charity. Through the thoughtfulness of family, friends, co-workers and many Canadians I have never met, we achieved our financial goal of raising $5000 for Myeloma Canada. It’s impossible for me to express enough gratitude for this support.

The Team Lyricycle story is still a work in progress, and I look forward to musing on the topic of endurance athletics here in days and months to come. I now begin adding some swimming and running to my biking in preparation for Ironman Canada later this summer. After that we’ll just have to see where the journey takes us.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

End of the Beginning - Race Across the West 2010

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Winston Churchill, 1942

By popular demand, here is an update; the first since New Year’s Day. We are at the end of the training phase of the Team Lyricycle / Race Across the West project. Laura is currently driving somewhere between Toronto and the Grand Canyon with all our bikes and equipment (don’t forget about that left turn at Albuquerque…) en route to the starting line at Oceanside California. The rest of us are flying this weekend. I will write more before the race begins next week, but here are some thoughts about what’s happened so far.

Just over five months ago I wrote here of my plan to train for, and to participate in the Race Across the West, 1400 kilometres across the deserts and up the mountains of the southwestern US. I am all about learning experiences and this one is turning out to be a postgraduate degree. More biking, more sweating than I have ever done in my life. And that’s just the training.

My log indicates that over the course of 280 hours of training, I have pedaled my bike more than 6000 kilometres. Truthfully, I didn’t travel quite that far since many of the kilometres were logged on my trainer in the basement during the winter, (when in fact I travelled nowhere). But each kilometre – real or virtual - on my computer represents a number of pedal strokes, and another training milestone reached. Over the past months I have pedaled hour after hour through long nights, headed out on cold windy mornings when the last thing I wanted to do was ride a bicycle and I have watched the sun set over my handlebars after riding since sunrise. Is it enough? I believe I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. How can anyone know?

I am lucky to have survived the training phase without developing any new injuries, although I have caused some of my old ones to look up sharply and take note, like wolves aroused from sleep. One of the challenges of the race will be to keep these crafty old wolves at bay.

One thing I hadn’t planned for was the wonderful response of family, friends and the myeloma community to my fundraising efforts. We are up around $4000 now and I hope the figure keeps climbing. The stories and notes I receive from Canadians who are battling this disease make it all very real to me. As I have said before, their best advantage is our awareness and support.

The world at large will be happy to see me safely away on my bike and happier still not to have to listen to my endless chatter about the Race Across the West. I am shameless in my self-promotion. At an upscale reception the other night I couldn’t resist telling person after person that I was about to try riding 1400 kilometres on a bike. Their reactions resembled what I imagine they would be if I had told them I was going to try to eat fifty hard boiled eggs. I have gotten used to that kind of reaction.

The training is over; now it is time to ride.