I started to write this blog post as a ride report. As a rookie cyclist, a lot of the stuff I write about seem fresh and interesting to me, so I go on and on and on about them. You might read this and think, “Wow, she’s an idiot.” Just keep your thoughts to yourself, and remember that I’m still new at all this.
Back in the fall last year, “Coach Jill” told me about the Penticton fondo. Jill is probably 103 lbs soaking wet, but can power up a hill like a boss. Penticton is easy enough to drive to with the whole family without too much fuss. Naturally, I signed up with little prompting.
Since March this year, I’ve been faithfully following a schedule to train for the fondo. After much anticipation, the day finally arrived and I was pumped.
Before this, I have only ever done one fondo (the 2017 Whistler fondo). Whistler was rainy and cold, and I was miserable, but I finished. Whistler has more net elevation gain than Penticton, and I handled it just fine. I figured I’ll be ok with Penticton. Right?
Not so much.
Whatever mistakes I made, I chalk it up to
stupid rookie mistakes. The fact that I actually finished the ride was a huge win in my mind.
The route starts in Penticton, goes up to Summerland, back to Penticton, then down to OK Falls on the east side of Skaha, back up the west side of the lake, back to Penticton. It is absolutely gorgeous. Breathtaking. Beautiful.
I started the ride waaaaay at the back of the chute, and I couldn’t find anyone I knew. Mistake number one was trying to chase down other people I might recognize. Right out the gate was a hill, and I tried to pass everyone in my way. Eventually I found another familiar jersey (Emily), and hopped on her group. I already knew I blew more energy than necessary to try and catch someone. But I was so happy to find a friendly face. Emily was full of energy and it was infectious.
Things were great in the flats and turns, until we hit the KOM hill in Summerland. Mistake number two, I tried to keep up with the girl pulling, and it was a long hill. By the time I crested the hill, my legs and lungs were burning and I was on my own. After only 35km, I was *this* close to pulling over to throw up, and I still had 90km to go! Somewhere around 40km, Emily found me and we rode together back to town again with a big group.
After 50km and back through town, I lost Emily. That sucked. I found a big guy with giant calves and stayed behind him for a good while. It was like having a windshield, so I can take a breather. I tried eating, but my stomach was very unhappy with me. I have already drained two full bottles of electrolyte, and about half way through my 3rd bottle. Mistake number three–likely the biggest mistake I made–I didn’t want to stop at a busy aid station to get more water, so I went further down the East side of Skaha Lake with only half a bottle of water left.
Between 60-80km, things were pretty decent. I was very thirsty, obviously. Half a bottle of water for 20 km was not smart. I will pay for this very dearly later. I found two guys with Spandex Panda jerseys riding just above my speed. I asked if I can join them, and they kindly accepted. We all took turns pulling, but I knew for certain they were just being patient with me when I pulled. At 5’3″, I’m not giving them much draft. That was probably the most blissful part of my entire ride. They were going at a great speed I can manage, and rode smoothly and predictably.
Sadly, the Spandex Panda guys were doing the 160km ride, and I am doing 126km, so I had to wave them goodbye at the bottom of Secrest. By the time I took that turn, there was barely anyone on the 126km route. Was the rest of the world doing 160km? I looked up that hill, and looked down on my empty water bottles, and just thought to myself, you’re an absolute idiot.
I like hills. But Secrest is not like many other hills I have climbed. It was steep. It was relentless. I stood up on my pedals to try and use my body weight to push my way up this hill, and that’s when the cramps hit me. At the same moment, both my quads and both my calves cramped. I nearly fell over as my legs just gave way. I quickly sat back in my saddle as a “fuck!” involuntarily escaped my lips. What the hell was that? I have never cramped before.
My little brain was still trying to work out what was wrong with my legs, and how I was supposed to do this climb sitting on my butt the whole way. I pedaled slowly like a drunk person, zig zagging all over the pavement trying to not fall over. I ran through my options in my head. I can pull over and call it quits. Or I can try to ride through the cramps. I also really wanted to call the super athlete Tennessee and ask her what I’m supposed to do with the cramps, but the hill was too steep and I couldn’t take one hand off the bar to use my phone. So I kept riding.
My legs were in excruciating pain with each pedal stroke. I rode up the entire hill doing the drunken zig zag. The worst part was, at this point, I felt like my crotch was on fire. Maybe not enough Butt’r (a chamois cream I applied quite liberally before the ride)? Too much sweat? Too warm of a day? I don’t know, but I swear I was sitting on burning coal.
Imagine the Okanagan paper headline, “Fondo participant from Vancouver started a forest fire with her crotch“.
Some guy was being friendly and was chatting me up, and I was just so not in the mood. I really wanted to say, dude, my crotch is on fire, how is yours? (Don’t worry, I didn’t say that out loud. I just smiled and nodded, and pretended not to speak English.)
I crested the hill, and rode the next 7 or 8km all by myself. It was a remote piece of road, with no traffic, no signs, and no other cyclists. It was a little creepy. I went from, “This hill is finally over” to “Am I even on the right course?”
Eventually I see a few people ahead of me, and it gave me motivation to try to catch up. I rode a bit on and off with a few guys who look like they didn’t even sweat. They were chit-chatting and joking around. I’m pretty sure their crotches weren’t on fire.
At the next aid station, I was so happy to see the volunteer with two jugs of liquids. When she filled my bottles, I almost wanted to kiss her feet. Then a cute young man even peeled a banana for me. He could probably tell I was in shitty shape. The volunteers at this fondo are freaking awesome.
Eventually I caught up to someone riding somewhat at my speed. I found out later his name is Rob. Since I wasn’t going anywhere fast with my useless legs on the climbs, I chatted him up. He looked like he was suffering too. On the downhill, I ducked behind him for a quick descend. On the uphills, I would ride in front to give him a little break.
During the last 20km, it was so warm and the wind picked up. Back on the last stretch of the highway, all I can think of is how much pain I was in, and hashing over all the mistakes I have made to be where I was at that moment. My Garmin wasn’t giving me an accurate read of the distance, and I don’t know Penticton at all, so I really couldn’t gauge how much farther I had to go. I was nearly in tears. Even my inner thigh was cramping. Like really, I didn’t even know there was a muscle there!
When we started the steady 1% climb up Main Street, Rob said that was the last climb. I figured the fact that I saw a Starbucks, we must be near the edge of downtown. It couldn’t be much further now. I had nothing left in me to go any faster than I was going. I keep waiting for Rob to lose his patience and ride past me, but I guess he likely had nothing left either. Main Street eventually flattens out, and the last 500-600m everyone starts to sprint. That was probably the clue that the end is near. Rob pulled out in front of me with a couple of other guys, and I gave it all I had to hang on. We rode as fast as we could to the last corner, and sprinted down the chute to the finish line.
The poor volunteer who cut my timing chip off had to catch me as I almost fell over. I limped my way up the curb, shook Rob’s hand, met his wife, and went to look for my family.
I finished. I couldn’t believe I finished. As much as I was cursing my legs for not working right, I knew it was my mistake. I started out too hard, tried too hard to keep up, and I was dehydrated. Even though I took enough electrolyte, there wasn’t enough water to deliver it to my muscles. And when you over-stress your body, the digestive system shuts down to allow all the blood supply to support the “flight” mode. That’s why I could barely eat and was at the edge of throwing up for more than half the ride.
I have learned so much on this ride. I’m still trying to digest all the valuable lessons. More importantly, as shitty as I felt physically, I looked back on the day and thought to myself, I will be back.