Today is another drizzly riding day, but I’m staying dry in my car as I am volunteering for SAG support in a training ride series I participate in. SAG is an acronym for Support And Gear. Today I will be part of the vehicle support team that can help carry tire pumps, medical kits, and can transport cyclists back to the start if they run into mechanical trouble or just run out of steam.
I’ll admit that I would rather be on my bike with everyone else, but I’m so appreciative for others who volunteer thier time to support all the rides that I have been on so I feel great that I can give a little of that bike love back to others.
But not to worry, I’ll be back in the saddle logging the miles tomorrow. And tomorrow is already looking like a lovely spring day in Texas!
Yesterday I moaned heavily about missing a training day due to rain, and instead I went to spin class. As we discussed spin class is just not my thing.
Today the rain has passed and I celebrated by heading outside for a great day!
Now, after a 1.8 mile ride I’m driving an hour back home.
It’s 36 degrees with a 16 mph headwind and 89% humidity. I’ve been informed that the feels like temperature is 26 degrees. Let’s be honest, mother nature just schooled me big time! Living in Texas, I’m not appropriately prepared for these conditions no matter what my pride says.
So I’ve found my motivation to go back to spin class.
Advice asked, advice received. Thanks mother nature. It’s just what I needed.
When was the last time you experienced absolute and utter joy?
Maybe you felt it on your first sip of your morning coffee, or it was puppy kisses that made you smile, but for me it happened when I finally reached the summit of Healy Pass in Ireland!
This is pure joy!
Except, as it turns out, the hill I just climbed was not Healy Pass. I just thought it was.
I would actually reach the summit of Healy Pass an hour and a half after this celebratory dance on the side of a random highway. What I had conquered were two smaller climbs.
And there’s nothing worse than a pair of falsies.
While riding up Not Healy Pass I reached the blazing speed of 3.1 mph which is very likely the bare minimum speed anyone can go without actually falling over on your bike directly into traffic. All of this due to a fairly steep grade and a headwind blowing at approximately a zillion miles per hour.
At the end of this effort I was ecstatic! I couldn’t believe that I did it! I made it to the top without falling over and I DANCED from the sheer joy! I suspect the tourist busses passing by were confused, but probably appreciative of my interpretive Irish jig of happiness too!
After my celebration and when I was able to breathe normally again, I got back on my bicycle and went on my merry way totally thrilled that I had gotten through the hardest part of my ride so early in the day.
Until approximately 40 minutes later when I saw a mountain of switchbacks rise up the countryside in front of me. And I knew I had messed it up.
But this is the view from the top of the real Healy Pass.
Healy Pass itself was beautiful. It was a challenging climb in where I looked down those switchbacks to see the tremendous, albeit slow progress I had made. Along the way many fluffy sheep gave me a creepy side-eye stare me (with their disturbing sideways eyes) as I slowly rolled by. That alone was a little motivating to get to the top.
Finally, the celebration at the top was still pretty good, but a lot more cautious. Just in case.
Because, every now and again, even a seasoned cyclist sometimes gets it wrong.
The first thing I learned while in Ireland is that the locals will tell you a rule, and the immediately disregard it. They are habitual line crossers!
They will tell you all about the rule, and then they immediately break it! And I love this! I absolutely adore it, and hope that I can bring a little more of this Irish spirit to my own life.
The following is one such story:
It was about 10:00 in the morning, and it was the first day of my trip in which the intermittent Irish rain arrived. I was about 31 miles into my ride and had just climbed the Ballaghisheen Pass.
After conquering this challenge the reward is riding downhill! But, speeding down a wet road on two skinny tires at high speeds is scary!
I was white-knuckling it and riding the brakes hard through beautiful wide open landscape. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill I was soaked and was cold in my bones.
Shivering, and with my toes in a puddle that used to be my shoes, I pulled into the small hamlet of Glencar. I noticed a few cars in a parking-lot next to a little hostel/pub, a good sign that it was open (something I had rotten luck with throughout my trip!). I leaned my bike against the building and shuffled inside.
I started peeling the soggy layers of bike clothes off my frozen limbs and a weathered man enjoying his morning Guiness immediately questioned my sanity for riding my bike in that weather. “Doesn’t look like a fun thing to do.”
Well, he wasn’t exactly wrong in the moment.
The barmaid appeared:
Barmaid: What can I get you?
Me: Do you serve lunch?
Barmaid: Well, I can’t serve you lunch. But I can make you a toasted special.
After explaining to me that a toasted special is in fact, a sandwich, I thought about the barmaid’s statement:
You can’tserve me lunch, but you canmake me a toasted special?
What?! How is that not the same thing? Is this a rule? What does this even mean?
Oh I don’t even care! YES PLEASE A SANDWICH!
I silently thanked my lucky stars to have this line-crossing rule-breaker here to help.
Barmaid: Would you like: ham, ham and cheese, or ham, cheese and tomato?
Me, starving and sopping wet: Yes, please, ham and cheese would be lovely!
Me: Oh yes please!
Barmaid: And would you like tea with that?
Me: Yes, yes that would be amazing. Thank you.
Can we talk about tea for a moment? Oh tea. Where have you been all my life?
Maybe I should have led with this because many of you dear readers are British, but this was the first time I really understood the wonderful, comforting and warming power of tea. And now I get it. Tea has officially become a constant in my day-to-day life.
I am so grateful for that small pub on a soggy day for introducing me the glory of a toasted special and tea.
So it seems that Irish silver linings are served with ham, cheese and tea.
What a lovely cycle! ~245 miles of the lushest, greenest, and possibly the wettest quilt of colors making up the Irish landscape. Around every corner it felt like one section was prettier than the last. Breathtaking!
Actually I should rephrase that to say: It wasn’t just breathtaking, rather it was breath gulping! All of it required sucking in massive amounts of oxygen into pitiful, panting lungs.
Before my trip to Ireland, my last minute additional training schedule, unbelievable heat and humidity and an unexpected massive hurricane interrupted my normal training, so I hadn’t been on the bike in the three weeks preceding my trip. I knew there would be some fitness to recover, but honestly I still felt MEGA confident in my previous training for the AIDS/Lifecycle. I knew I could do the ride, it might just be slower than normal. Besides, we were going to ride the Southwestern Irish coast, I mean how hard could it really be to ride on the coast?
Now let me tell you about a few of the ways that I’m an idiot:
Fail #1: Had I given any actual thought about literally any of the pictures I’ve seen of Ireland’s gorgeous green scenery, I would have realized (but didn’t) there is almost nothing flat about Ireland.
Honestly, what about this gorgeous picture tells you to expect any amount of flat terrain?! Nothing.
So why would I and did I expect on some level for there to be flat riding in Ireland?
Because I believe in kindness.
Because I reasoned (illogically) that I would be riding on the Irish Coast – therefore, 0 degrees of elevation, therefore FLAT.
Does this look like a flat coastline sitting at 0 degrees elevation? No. no it does not.
No, this is Irish Flat.
That’s what I started referring to it as. Irish Flat. While the hills started shortly after I left Killarney, the descriptor came on Day 2 of my ride.
Day 2 ~ 56 miles / + 3172 feet — This is the day we had to combine two routes into one, and It turned out to be a very big day.
Normally this day is broken into 2 to allow for some additional sightseeing and overall pleasantness. Here is how the two routes were described (so I wasn’t worried really):
Part 1: Gougane Barra to Glengarriff (~20 miles / + 1010 feet) was described as “a very easy ride, being both short and mostly downhill.”
Part 2: Glengarriff to Kenmare (~36 miles / + 2162 feel) “Here you leave the coast, turning north towards HealyPass. The climb is steady but not too steep and the views from the top are glorious. The little gift shop / refreshment halt may be open, but don’t depend on it if the weather is inclement.”
I read the first description more than once and thought: AWESOME! Love me some downhill! No problem this is going to be totally cool.
Fail #2: What I failed to put together, is that this mostly downhill doesn’t mean that it is actually downhill if the ride also includes 1010 feet of climbing. Meaning, if this ride is described as “mostly short and downhill,” then there is going to be some seriously steep uphills to get that elevation gain. Otherwise it would say – Elevation, not + Elevation. Cheeky fail.
Anyway, the lovely tour company provided route maps, elevation profiles of the route and even a topological map of the area (this really should have been clue #1 that flat would not be an Irish descriptor). I studied these and deduced that this level of climbing would be totally reasonable because I had already done 3500-5000 feet of climbing during the California AIDS/Lifecycle, and this climbing would only be. between 2000-3000 feet a day. No problem.
Fail #3: My previous climbing experience for AIDS/Lifecycle stretched over 85-90 mile days, so big climbs, but generally at a reasonable grade. But in Ireland, they like to do ALL the climbing in as short of distances as possible! Which means, these elevation gain would be up STEEP hills! Another Cheeky fail.
But everywhere I went the lovely locals told me with their beautifully lyrical accent’s – Oh don’t worry girlie, it’s much flatter that way.
One of the best things about riding a bicycle is that by your own power, you can get yourself to an entirely new place, it just takes the time to do it, and a will to keep moving your legs.
This past June, I rode my bicycle for 7 days in beautiful California, cycling 548 miles ( from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This experience that showed me how much I am capable of, even if slow. Like a good Sous Vide, I ride low and slow, but I keep moving! This challenge opened my eyes to the realization that if my legs could take me through the hills and valleys of California, my legs could take me anywhere!
I have always been enamored with the lush greenery of Ireland, or at least what I knew of Ireland from pictures or movies. And since I always enjoyed riding my bike, a friend in college once gave me a bicycle guide-book for Ireland. “Someday!” she encouraged.
But I never thought that riding a bicycle through Ireland was something I could do; it was something for those extreme adventurers, not a weekend rider like me. I was resigned that if I ever visited this beautiful country it would be seen through a car’s windshield. But after my experience riding the AIDS LifeCycle a seed was planted. I thought, I just road 548 miles through hilly California! Maybe I could ride my bike around the Southwest coast of Ireland too.
I immediately started researching companies that could help me do what I have for years thought to be an impossible dream. Now to be entirely clear, because this was a late-planned trip my research hit the level of “just enough to get it done.”
I do. It was the first year I volunteered for the AIDS/LifeCycle. I stood in the parking lot on a chilly San Francisco morning and watched rider after rider kickoff for a 7 day, 545 mile trek over the hills and valleys of California to ride to LA. All this to raise money to support the fight against AIDS. I thought, “These people are nuts! 545 miles is SO FAR.” And I immediately put it on my bucket list.
Since then I have moved away from California, but I had never forgotten the “Ride to End AIDS“. So, this past June, 10 years from that fateful day, I got on my bike at the San Francisco Cow Palace and started pedaling down the Golden state to raise funds that support the life-saving services offered by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
This ride, and the journey up to it, changed me for the better.
It changed me physically
I trained for 8 months gradually adding mileage and hills to my riding regiment. I gained a lot of muscle, came to feel healthier than I’ve felt since my days as a kid, and I earned the most ridiculous tan line on my thighs you’ve ever seen. My bike shorts are about 3 or 4 inches longer than my normal shorts, so I’ve gotten to show off that tan line a lot!
I got stronger, I became faster and there were days where I felt like a well-oiled machine racing up steep hills (then stopping for pie afterward)!
It changed me mentally
There were so many good days! I saw beautiful scenery during the Winter, Spring and Summer. I came to appreciate how amazing a bit of shade feels from a passing cloud, and how refreshing a few drops of water from a rogue sprinkler feels on the hottest of days. These reminders helped revive my soul.
While riding my bicycle I got to see so much of my state that I would not have likely visited otherwise. Small towns, open fields and pastures. Places that cars see as a means to an end. But I got to really see these places, to smell the sweet scent of wildflowers on the breeze, and talk to dozens of cows as I coasted by. It was wonderful to let my mind quiet, to hear the gentle hum of my bicycle tire gliding across the road, and the birds chirping in the leaves overhead; a freedom that only two wheels can offer!
But there were long days too. Sometimes it would require a 1.5 hour drive to our training ride destination, 6 hours of active riding (like I said, I’m still not the fastest rider, but I keep moving!) plus more time for breaks and rest, plus another 1.5 hour car trip home. It was hard to get up at 4:30 in the morning for those training rides, but I had the support of my friends and loved ones so I got out of bed.
And there were hard days. When I first started riding again it was hard to sit on the saddle, because it is a hard saddle! And it was even harder to get back in the saddle the next day! Ouch Ouch Ouch! But the pain went away, and I got stronger.
But the hardest was my very last training weekend in May, 2 weeks before the big ride. I expected to ride at least 150 miles over Saturday and Sunday, one last training push before my bicycle was shipped to California. I had just come off a rest weekend and knew that if I could bust out this 80 and 70 mile day, I would be totally successful on those California hills! But it didn’t work out that way. Instead I eked out a mushy 40 miles that Saturday, and a painfully slow 30 miles on Sunday which felt even worse. I. Was. Devastated! I was supposed to be at my prime, but that was it, training was done. My confidence was absolutely shot. How was I possibly going to make it the 109 miles required on the Day 2 route?!
I got on the plane anyway. I went to California and I set my mind to do my best. I promised myself would go in my sous vide style: low and slow. After all, it’s a ride, not a race. And so I set off and kept pedaling, and pedaling, and pedaling. And I rode 109 miles on day 2!
The hard days have shown me how much I am capable of, even if it is a slow journey.
Most unexpected thing that happened: It changed my heart
The best part of my experience, over and over again I got to see the best of humanity. I was continually overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, family, and even strangers along the way.
People gave their support in so many ways: some were able to contribute to my fundraising goals, a few committed time and knowledge to help coach me, others volunteered to support training rides, and they were all joyous cheerleaders who encouraged me all through my training. There were even people came to cheer for all 2200 riders, every day, in big cities and in tiny towns during the AIDS/LifeCycle. People showed up with handmade signs, some waved and many yelled thank you for riding!
All of these people are the best of humanity. I feel so lucky and humbled to get to see these examples of people helping and supporting each other. We are all part of the AIDS/LifeCycle Love Bubble! And I can’t wait to do it all again in 2018!
Has riding changed you for the better? Share your story in the comments below!