Monday, August 29, 2011

Bike to the Beartooths

Day 1
This weekend Sarah and I rode in our 5th Bike to the Beartooths, Montana MS Bike Ride.  This year was a different experience than our four previous rides.  Our first two years we had to deal with near freezing temperatures in September and cold rain.  The following two years we had mostly wonderful weather, with a little rain and one day of fierce headwinds, but it was doable.  On Saturday, we were in for a some new treats that I never would have expected.

Saturday morning was warm.  We usually start off the day with jackets on an shed them before we start.  No need for them on Saturday.  I was sweating already just with the horsing around that I had to do to get the bikes ready, find our team and load our gear into the team vehicle. 

At the start, Sarah and I got pushed to the front of the pack in a big mob of cyclists.  Everyone was trying to work out their pace and no one was very consistent.  I was getting pretty nervous with all the swerving I had to do to not get hit.  At some point, I got pushed into the opposing lane.  By then I'd had enough so I sprinted up to the front of the peloton and took the lead for awhile.  We kept a fast pace, more than I'd bargained for.   I was hoping that several lines would form behind me and pass.  Finally it happened and things started thinning out.  Eventually Sarah and I fell in pace with three other Conoco riders and felt much more comfortable there.
At the start line.  I'm in there somewhere with a bright jersey.  Sarah (barely visible) is right beside me to the right.

Somewhere, right before Joliet, I was leading our group and started to drop back to draft and take a break.  As I dropped behind Sarah, she told me she couldn't shift her front derailleur.  We stopped in at the Joilet rest stop and had some mechanics look at the bike.  We were told that the derailleur was shot and Sarah would have to pick a gear and stay in that one the rest of the ride.  That was pretty unnerving.  We were still on the flatter part of the course will the real climbs starting about 20 miles ahead so one gear just wouldn't do.  She picked the high gear and was able to jamb it into the middle gear for the climbs.

Also, by Joilet, it was getting really hot and we had worked hard to get there.  I was looking forward to some bananas to ward off the cramps that I was beginning to feel in my legs.  There wasn't much to eat besides trail mix so we moved on as soon as the mechanics were done fiddling with Sarah's bike.

We pushed on and made it to lunch at the rest stop between Boyd and Roberts.  We ate quickly and jumped back on the bikes.  I was really stiffening up and dreading the climb to the gate.  Sarah took off up ahead and I started struggling.  I was sweating so much that it was dripping off my head onto my glasses making it hard to see.  Then I stated getting crazy painful charlie horses in my right thigh.  I tried to work through the pain but eventually had to stop to stretch my leg.  Not a good sign when you still have 35 miles to go.  I didn't make it even a mile before my other leg started seizing up as well.  It was bad.  Charlie horses in both legs at the same time!  I've had leg pain while riding before, but never charlie horses.  Uggh!

I pushed through the last ten miles to get to Red Lodge, met up with Sarah and started again to climb up to the gate on the Beartooth Highway.  I think pride got in my way.  I've been to the gate every year, once on a mountain bike, and I wasn't about to let some charlie horse stop me.  I didn't even make it through Red Lodge before I had to hang back and let Sarah go.  In fact, I was hurting so bad that I stopped at the hotel, sat on the couch, raided my luggage and switched shoes thinking my old worn out shoes might be more comfortable than my new ones.

I mounted again and took off at a less than leisurely pace hoping that Sarah noticed I dropped in Red Lodge and would just go on without me.  I really struggled the whole way up.  The pain was unbearable and on top of that, I started to have problems breathing.  I took things at my own speed and stopped when I needed to but I was determined to keep going.  It was a long, long time before I saw anyone.  I figured at my slow pace, I'd be getting passed left and right, but as it was, the few that passed didn't look to be in much better condition than I was in.  One of my teammates, Wayne, passed and gave me some gel to eat to hopefully give me a boost and relieve some of the pain.  Another teammate, Jay, caught up.  I shared some of my water with him and kept up with him for awhile until I couldn't any longer.  Finally the end was in sight, but it was also the steepest part of the ride.   I jumped in behind some friends, Chris and Cheryl.   Chris kept shouting back encouragement to his wife who was struggling.  This gave me motivation to keep going.  We finally reached the top and as I hopped off the bike, I noticed that I couldn't breathe.  I struggled for probably five minutes to calm down and normalize my breathing before I could even speak.  I really need to see a doctor about that.  I was so relieved to be at the top, but I still had to go back down.

Sarah had waited at the gate for me, and even though I wasn't quite ready to get back on the bike yet, we started off down the mountain.  I just wanted to get to the hotel and be done.  Usually it's an easy 13 mile decent back to Red Lodge with just a little climbing.  I even struggled on this leg of the ride but I pushed through knowing it'd be over soon.

After we finished, we jumped into the hot tub and pool to relax and recover.  I thing we were both pretty spent.  Our ride to dinner was leaving at 4:30 but we decided to take our time and pedal (coast) down to the MS village when we were ready.  After dinner, we stopped at the supermarket and bought a half gallon of ice cream and brought it back to the hotel.  We vegged on the couches for a bit before busting out the ice cream.  We shared a suite with Mike and when I saw him coming to the front door, I jumped up to let him in.  Instantly, charlie horses attacked both legs.  I couldn't move without searing pain.  I jumped around in agony and then fell back onto the couch while Sarah laughed at me.  Mike had to let himself in.  Then we dove into the ice cream and polished off the entire carton in a matter of minutes.  We all conked out soon after.

Hope you enjoyed reading about our suffering on the first day of the MS ride.  I'll follow up with Day 2 later.  Day 2 was much better.  In the meantime, take a look at the video link below about the ride.  Sarah, Mike and I all make an appearance as well as some of our other teammates.

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