It’s a New Year and traditionally a time to make changes, resolutions and fresh starts. I think my diagnosis and decision to ride across America already has these covered for 2018 even though I had a five month start on them. Over the summer and fall I managed to build my miles and time on bike up from almost nothing to 5-6 hours and 60+ miles. I got a coach, Julie McKenzie, from Peaks Training and with her help and guidance managed 493 miles in December. So as the year ended I was happy with my progress and yet did still have some apprehension about climbing and the big distances on the CrossRoads ride ahead. Deirdre had booked a week to visit our niece in Scottsdale AZ for the first week in January, which turned into the ideal opportunity for a training week for me. I found a great company called Arizona Outback Adventures who rented me a top end road bike and had a number of cycling routes I could download into my Garmin. A plan formed in my head to do my first ever century ride, ride some hills and take a drive along part of the route I will be riding in May. So as the New Year arrived we headed out to Arizona. As we flew over the mid west I couldn’t help looking down from the plane and seeing the land below, thinking that in five months I would be cycling across here on my bike.
On the second day of the year we woke in Scottsdale and went to the shop to pick up the bike. Arizona Outback Adventures (AoA) had set up a top end road bike with my measurements from my bike fitting here in Florida so off I went for an eighteen mile test ride. Scottsdale is a wonderful bike friendly city and has endless bike lanes around the area, so with the sun shining and room to ride it was a great way to start the year.
The next day I tried a 35 mile ride with 2,200 ft of climbing. Off I went to Fountain Hills determined to conquer all the hills it had to offer. All was going well until I came to the last two hills on the ride. As I grinned my way over a 12% long climb and free wheeled down the other side I saw the sign for the next and final hill, 18% incline. Looking ahead at this long straight climb I decided to stop to take on water, an energy gel and catch my breath before attempting this seemingly vertical ascent. As I did a lean, old cyclist passed me at speed and ventured forward up the hill. I watched as he rode up the first half of the hill, then out of his saddle continued all the way to the top and over. So seeing it was possible, I clipped into my pedals and off I went. Slowly I peddled inching my way up, panting I kept climbing towards the top. With about 100 yards to go I noticed a side road and decided to take a chance to rest almost there. Breathe back I turned back up hill and pushed for the summit but with 30 yards to go I was beat. As I pushed my bike the final few yards I couldn’t help thinking of the veteran biker who had danced his way over this hill only minutes before, I still have work to do. However despite my failure to conquer all of Fountain Hills, I rode the rest of the way back to the cycle shop, feeling I had come a long way from my first attempts in the hills.
After another 65 mile ride with 2,000 ft of climbing out into the Sonoran desert I took a day off to drive with Deirdre from Wickenburg to Flagstaff. This route is part of my Ride-Across-America and from what I have read from others blogs is some of the toughest 3 days I will face. So off we drove to see what lays ahead for me in May. It is a beautiful, scenic and hilly part of Arizona, passing through Prescott, Jerome and Sedona up to Flagstaff. I will leave a description until I actually ride there but despite climbing to 7,000 ft I must say I left feeling I could do it. So we drove back to the resort talking of the future adventure full of hope and excitement. Tomorrow I was going to attempt my first century ride.
Early rise, coffee and breakfast sandwich at Starbucks, time to load up the bike with bottles and off I go. I had arranged to meet Deirdre at a school parking lot after 54 miles, so my first goal was to get there and then see how I feel. As I began pedaling down the road I found myself riding along with a group out for a morning club ride. I chatted with one of the riders for a few minutes but then our routes headed in different directions and I was out on my own again. The ride climbed out of Scottsdale and up past Troon North Golf Club, a Tom Weiskoph course Deirdre and I played on our honeymoon back in 2001. Three hours into the ride and I started to worry about being late to meet Deirdre for our SAG stop, so I kept the speed up and pedaled on. As I approached the school we had decided to meet at I saw Deirdre drive into the car park, perfect timing and I was ready for a break. My one woman support crew had sandwiches, coffee and a car full of drinks, a loving, smiling face also helped rejuvenate this solo rider. After some refreshments, encouraging words and a kiss for the road it was off into the desert again. Ahead of me was Fountain Hills again. I felt once I was through there the 100 was on. I climbed the first three steep hills well and headed to the big three I knew were ahead. Grinding up the first I paced myself much better than before, over the top I could see my nemesis ahead of me. As I passed the 18% gradient sign I slipped into my smallest gear and focused on the hill ahead. It seemed a lifetime slowly moving forward up to the side road near the top. Panting I reached my saving rest stop and turned off to catch my breath. Off again I turned onto my mountain and rode as long as I could, 100 yards to the top, 50, 40, nearly there and then 10 yards from the top I stopped. Not wanting to do another stationary fall trying to start again, I reluctantly pushed my bike the final 10 yards to the top. Disappointed I hadn’t conquered the hill, yet pleased I was now over the worst I sped down the other side. The final few steep inclines were no problem and I was heading home with 20 miles to go. One final cruel thing came as I approached the area of the bike shop. I looked at my Garmin and it said 90 miles, yes I had another 10 mile loop to do, bummer. So I continued on and foolishly kept looking at the miles slowly count down as I rode away from my final destination. Then finally, finally as I went under the freeway I knew the shop was a mile away and my Garmin said 100 miles done. As I made my final turn into the side road and the shop ahead I felt that great sense of accomplishment you get when you know you did something good. As I got off the bike, wouldn’t you know, Deirdre arrived again in the car. Perfect timing once again. Knowing I had now ridden a bike 100 miles in a day did a lot for my confidence, that maybe, just maybe I would be able to ride across America.