I got up at 430am as usual this morning, had my usual pre-BIG ride meal of almond butter, blueberries and bananas on naan bread and then got into the car and headed to Alpine CA where I was doing the Dirty Devil bike ride. It is a 130 mile 12,000 feet ride. When I got there everything worked like clockwork. I signed in, used the bathroom and then met up with my buddies who were doing the ride as well.
The ride rolled out at 7am with a couple guys I know riding the front of the ride at a good warm up pace. We were a group of around 75 to a 100. On a gear change I had a mechanical with a dropped chain which put me at the back of the group. I got the chain back on relatively easily and I bridged back to the group that was getting ready to climb the first dirt section.
My plan for the ride was to stick with my fast riding buddies (Jason and Josh) who I usually ride with on Saturdays. Just before the first dirt section I ended up next to Matt, also from my cycling club Wolfpack or WPC, who was telling someone that it’s going to be a long day so take it easy on the first climb. I thought, hmm…sounds wise maybe I should amend my original plan, take the climb easy and ride with Matt. When we hit the climb I decided to stick with my original plan and rode away from Matt to the front group of 20 or so who were climbing at a relatively fast pace. My body felt good and the pace felt fine.
The climb did go on for a long time (4 miles in 15 to 20 minutes). It was hard packed dirt and there weren’t any squishy sections. There were a couple of accelerations but I made sure to slowly catch back up to them with NO sudden accelerations in order to save energy for later.
At the top of the dirt climb we got back on the tarmac road and then cruised until the next dirt section. The second dirt section was longer at around 13 miles. It started with a climb where the lead group of 10 or so slipped away followed by my chase group of 10 or so. What was interesting was about 2 miles into the dirt section we hit a descent of around 1350 feet. This descent split our chase group as it included bumpy sections and soft dirt in the corners. Ultimately it split us into those who were either comfortable in the dirt or with more risk. Getting home safe with my shoulders intact was one of my objectives for the day so I was part of the crew that took the descents slower and got dropped by the quickly splintering chase group. For those of you non-cyclists – shoulders are what get hurt when you crash, particularly when cornering.
After a lot of dirt we got to our first rest stop at mile 30. My original plan was to skip this rest stop but I saw my fast-paced crew so I stopped and downed some sugary snacks and topped up my water bottles. Interestingly this was the chase group that had further splintered on the descent that was now back together.
We left the rest stop together and got some nice road riding in together. We pace-lined a little bit for the next few miles and it was a nice downhill from mile 30 to mile 40. The only issue with a pleasant down-hill is that what goes down must come back up! Mile 40 to 60 was mostly flat and we saw the famous Black Canyon dirt climb at mile 60. Fortunately there was a rest stop right before it. I’d originally planned to stop at this rest stop and we all did. They had pb&js here which I downed along with more sugary snacks. One of our group, Jake, had a flat tire right at the rest stop. Larry, another rider from our group told the crew that he’d start the hill and let us catch him. I decided to do the same thing as I knew that Josh and Jason who were helping Jake fix his flat tire are very good climbers.
I followed the guys who had already started the climb. They came to a fork in the road and took a right up a climb. After about a mile I met a guy in a truck who yelled at me, “This is private property!” I thought to myself well if the cyclists are going the wrong way they’ll turn back and well….after about 5 minutes I saw them coming back so we rode back to the fork in the road and went the other way.
The infamous Black Canyon climb is about 11 miles of dirt and has about 2000 feet of elevation gain. It starts with a flat section and a short climb. Then a descent which includes squishy dirt, and then the real climb with more squishy dirt. As I was going through the short climb I saw Josh, Jake and Jason behind me giving chase. I decided to keep going hard and try and stay away from them. I caught up to Matt from WPC on the descent. He was previously behind me but had passed me when I took the wrong turn. I passed him because he was descending cautiously and even slower than me because he crashed badly on a descent in 2014.
When the real climb started there was a sign, KOM Starts Here, meaning it was a measured King of the Mountain section. I decided there and then to give that KOM my all. I got into my half marathon mindset where I pick an effort level that I can hold and I then hold it all the way. I knew that I would pay for my hard efforts later but this is kind of like when you’re out drinking late at night and know there’s a hangover coming the next day but you think “whatever!”
Josh, Jake and Jason were still behind me but they caught up to me shortly after we started the KOM section. We rode together with Josh, Jason and I taking pulls. As I was targeting the KOM I pushed the pace a little harder than them and we dropped Jake on one of my pulls. The second time I was at the front I inadvertently pulled away and I decided to try and stay away because I knew that since they had started behind me, if we finished it together, they would get a better time for the KOM section than me. Josh told Jason to keep it steady and they slowly accelerated and caught back on to me. Josh, Jason and I caught up to and passed Larry and ultimately the 3 of us finished the KOM section together.
We then got to the next rest stop at mile 72 and waited for Larry and Jake. I downed more PB&Js and sugary snacks.
I felt a little bloated and started to think maybe I’d had too much crap. We rolled out together and Larry said he felt terrible. He came off the group once and Jason slowed the rest of us down so that Larry could catch back on which he did. Jake sat in at the back while Jason, Josh and I traded pulls. We got to the base of the climb into Julian and started climbing up with me in third wheel. After a bit of climbing, I realized I was in a spot of bother and tried to just keep it steady. I couldn’t hold Josh’s wheel and Larry came around. Jake came around too and said some words of encouragement, which pushed me back onto the group’s wheels.
We made a left and I moved back to 4th wheel ahead of Jake.
I decided to down some more sugar – fig bars – from my emergency food stash and drank some water. We were riding steady uphill at a pace of around 8 to 10 mph which I should have been able to hold. My body was in full on rebellion unfortunately and I told Jake, “Go ahead of me man.” He responded and encouraged me again! I tried to keep up but the group pulled away from me.
When Josh and Jason realized they’d dropped me they rode a bit slower to let me catch back up. Matt, my WPC brother that I’d passed about 15 miles back, suddenly appeared out of nowhere and as he passed me said, “You can’t give up now!” It took me about 5 minutes but I pedaled hard and got back on to the group. I then stuck with them for about 30 seconds at which point I cracked completely and my pace went from 10mph to 6 mph.
This was mile 85 and I went through the emotional rollercoaster that is cracking on a bicycle. I realized that I had about 45 miles to go which would be mostly solo. I wondered how the heck I was going to do it. Then I thought to myself – you ride solo all the time, just ride like you normally do. However, mostly when I’m riding solo I’m usually starting the ride not finishing one after riding HARD. As hard as I tried I couldn’t find any way to encourage myself and just tried to keep pedaling.
I caught up to a skinny guy in a Giant Kit who had been riding the dirt sections even harder than I was. I could tell that this dude was a very strong rider who had cracked as well. As slow as I was going he couldn’t keep up with me which told me that he was completely and utterly broken. I caught up to an old guy riding up one of the hills. As I caught him he accelerated and tried to stay away from me. Given my situation I wasn’t going to try and race him. I slowly caught him and passed him as he was panting heavily. Ahead of him was a lady who I slowly caught up to as well. She could have stayed away from me but as we started to descend she slowed and I passed her.
At this point I heard a voice behind me and it was Giant guy which I was happy for as it meant someone I could work with. We chatted a bit about our miserable states and rode together to the rest stop at mile 100 where we found all the PB&J’s were finished! Giant guy sat in the chair at the rest stop and sat down like he was done for the day. I knew I couldn’t sit down or else I wouldn’t get back up given that riding another 30 miles to the finish sounded very very difficult at this point. I told Giant I was going to keep rolling and grabbed some sugary snacks, filled my bottles with water and rolled out.
My stomach was feeling very weird at this point. I was feeling strange pains and I wasn’t sure if it was hunger or thirst. I wasn’t feeling very thirsty as I’d been drinking at the water stops and I’d been eating, albeit mostly sugar at the stops as well. I started to think how much stomach pain would justify me quitting the ride. I thought about Uber, the taxi-service, and thought how nice it would be to call one to pick me.
Then something clicked in me. Usually when I ride alone I carve up my ride into time segments. I try and drink water every 15 minutes and I try and change hand positions every few minutes as well. I hadn’t been following that because of all the water I’d been drinking at the rest stops and the generally hard pace we’d been riding as a group. As I thought about it I realized I hadn’t peed in a while and thought that might be part of why my stomach feels like crap. So I divided my ride into segments and sipped my water bottle every 15 minutes. I focused less on the mileage on my bike computer which honestly was not helping me because seeing 30 miles to go, then 29 miles to go, etc. was just depressing me and making me think about quitting. I also decided to get into really easy gears for the climbs.
At mile 115 I came to the final rest stop. I found the rest-stop guy chilling and I asked him if he could make me a pb&j because he surprisingly had an unopened loaf of of bread. He said most of the guys had just passed through and no one wanted any food. I thought to myself that’s because they finished all the pb&js at the prior rest-stop. He also told me I was doing well and I was in the top 50% of the riders. That was a little disappointing to me but after my hard KOM efforts it was to be expected. I did something at this point which taught me something. I had my first banana at a rest stop. I love bananas and eat a lot of fruit but I’d had cookies, and bars at all the prior rest-stops because they were there and easy to get and ignored the fruits. I then cut up a second banana and put it in the pb&j that rest stop guy made. A pb&j with a banana is one of my usual pre-ride snacks and I left the rest stop feeling mentally like I was actually beginning a ride. For my next ride long supported ride like this one, I’ll avoid the sugary bars and have fruit instead as my body processes it much better.
It also helped that rest stop guy told me there were 15 mostly downhill miles to go to the finish. I took off and rode for about 3 miles when I was caught by 4 guys including 2 guys from the cycling club Ranchos, a guy in a rapha kit riding a cyclocross bike (hmmm…I’m tempted to get one) and none other than GIANT GUY! Man, Giant Guy is relentless I thought. The lead Rancho guy said “Good job Wolfpack” when they caught me. All the Rancho guys I’ve met are nice people and this guy fit the mould.
So I thought to myself, usually when you are caught by people behind you, by default they are going faster and usually feeling better meaning the question was how long would I be able to stay with these guys. I ended up as third wheel and despite my fatigue I knew I’d have to pull through and take my share of turns at the front because a) I’m wearing a WPC kit and representing our team and b) I ain’t no punk. I took my pulls and Giant Guy took a couple too. We were mostly descending at this point at 20 to 30 mph. We got to a climb and the Rancho guys stood to climb which I knew was a sign of their fatigue. I immediately went into my half marathon mindset and went to the front and set the pace on the climb. We got to the top, descended with the Ranchos at the front and hit another climb. I went to the front again and set the pace. This time I decided to have some fun with them. I was going steadily at 10mph and accelerated just a little bit and took us to 11 mph then to 12 mph. I knew it would cause 1 or 2 people to crack behind me including possibly me – but I thought “whatever” this is why we ride. I was also feeling surprisingly rejuvenated after my pb& banana sandwich from the last rest stop. At the top of the climb I looked back and the group was still together except for Giant Guy who had cracked again.
And that my friends and family was the ride. There were about 3 more uneventful miles afterwhich we reached the finish together. I had a little food and drove home to my wonderful family and had a nice dinner at Urban Plates and then dessert at The Baked Bear, a new ice cream sandwich place. A little more sugar!
- Black Canyon Kom section – 5th out of 47 riders today and 11th out of 186 riders all time.
- Total calories burnt 6220
- Mostly sugary calories consumed in ride 3,000 to 5,000
- Total miles ridden 128
- Miles ridden solo after cracking 30