Taking It To The Limit: What I Learn From Bonking & Other Rides That Kicked My Butt

More than half way into 2018*, I find myself reflecting on how my resolution to bike img_7929more this year is working out. I believe this may be the first time I have actually made a true resolution and followed through on it enough to remain aware of it this far into the year. The resolution was somewhat vague; I just knew that I wanted to do more and longer rides. I kicked it off with the 50+ mile Epic Donut Ride on New Year’s Day, and soon thereafter discovered that the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition (LACBC) was offering training rides that are open to anyone who wants to up their biking game. This turned out to make all the difference for me.

Group Rides Are No Fun, Right?

I long ago realized that I prefer to go solo when it comes to road biking. When I had tried riding with a group, the pressure would be on to keep up with riders who were faster than me. While I can appreciate the value of others inspiring me to ride faster, my experience was that I would spend the entire ride focused on trying to go faster, feeling like a loser because my best effort wasn’t good enough, and eventually realizing that all the joy of cycling disappears when the effort is all about trying (and failing) to keep up. The only thing that makes that worse is seeing the look on the face of a fellow rider who clearly is annoyed and disappointed that someone like me is holding them back from riding as fast as they would like.

It didn’t take me long to conclude that group rides were pointless for me. There is so much to enjoy about cycling, and why should I care about going faster? I have no desire to enter a race or to prove myself to others. I just plain love riding a bike.

But, Wait A Minute: How Do I Meet Other Cyclists If I Only Ride Solo?

bikie girl final 111618 with text and butterflyMy resistance to group rides changed when I launched Bikie Girl Bloomers. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I could not expect to sell my cute bike shorts to others without getting out there and interacting with other cyclists. But at first I made the mistake of going on a social ride with roadies. It was the Rapha 100, all about women riding together, and 100 km is a very doable distance, and they were going to ride the San Gabriel River Bike Path to Seal Beach, cut over to Long Beach, and ride back to Union Station on the LA River Path, which means a nice long, flat ride. While I very much enjoyed the ride, that turned out to be a stupid way to try to connect with the kind of women who might be interested in unpadded bike shorts for commuting to work by bicycle.

So I figured out that I should be going on low-mileage, slow-roll rides, and that’s what I started doing. After all, part of my mission in peddling bike shorts is to encourage more women to ride their bikes. But, who really wants to bike at an annoyingly slow pace of 8-10 miles per hour? How can you even stay balanced on a bike rolling that slow? What is the point? Yet I did it, and I met all kinds of interesting people (you can actually talk to people when you ride slow), and saw and learned interesting things about different parts of Los Angeles. After all, we weren’t whizzing past everything without looking. And, some of the nice people I met became Bikie Girl Bloomers customers! Success!

What Kind of Rider Am I, Anyway?

But then I started to miss road biking and being in better shape. What a dilemma! Can one person be both a slow-roller and a roadie? Can I bike in style AND climb Nichols Canyon? I spent several years trying to split the difference. I got a Dutch-style upright bike for social rides and commuting in style. I still got out my road bike for

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Biking in vintage style on my Gazelle for the Tweed Ride

the occasional solo ride, cleats and all. I had fun, I met great people, I fell more deeply in love with Los Angeles, and eventually I figured out that I can squeeze in a nice climb up to the Griffith Observatory and still participate in other desired activities on a lovely Sunday. More or less.

But the years were sliding by, and I was doing a lot more social rides at the slower pace, while the road bike adventures were just not consistent enough for me to really be in the kind of shape I’d like to be in. So I found myself in my mid-50’s, facing the reality that I was not really the cyclist I wanted to be. I wanted more adventure. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to get out and ride and ride for hours. And, for once, a true desire for a meaningful New Year’s resolution arose in me. I was determined to ride more in the coming year: more rides and longer rides. No more (or at least far fewer) Saturdays at the office catching up on work I should have done during the week.

Can I Blame It On Coffee & Donuts?

One side effect of my quest to explore all things bicycling related on Facebook (and, boy, is there a huge amount of bicycling related activity/groups/events on Facebook) was the discovery of Coffeeneuring. This “sport” of making 7 trips by bicycle to 7 different coffee shops in 7 weeks during the darkening days of Fall and documenting it in order to earn the coveted patch delighted me. Then I had to participate in the late Winter img_1364Errandonnee, a challenge to conduct a variety of errands by bicycle, covering a distinct list of categories, and documenting the exploits in exchange for yet another coveted patch. These endeavors led me to the discovery of how much fun can be had in planning and executing an urban bike adventure. This gave me excuses to bike in new places, try new coffee shops, plan new bike routes, see new parts of the Los Angeles area.

Last Fall’s Coffeeneuring ended up following a theme (for me) of visiting different donut shops. That led to the realization that there are far more donut shops worth trying than one season of Coffeeneuring could cover. So I became obsessed with the idea of planning a “donut ride” to visit a number of donut shops I hadn’t yet tried. I would invite my friends and make a full day of it, perhaps a weekend or holiday. Next thing I knew, I was organizing Bikie Girl’s Epic New Year’s Donut Ride. I rode about 67 miles that day, spread out over many hours, but this ride was a delightful mash up of the best of urban road biking and the social slow roll.

The Resolution Will Not Be Motorized

But that was just the first day of 2018. I couldn’t possibly stop there. Soon I joined the LACBC training rides, and was having fun on rides that were both social AND road rides. It was a supportive group that welcomed and accommodated a variety of skill levels, and never made me feel ashamed or burdensome because I can’t keep up with the fast riders. Well, OK, maybe once, on the Latigo Canyon ride, but that’s one of the points of this story. You see, the training ride series started out easy, as one might expect. The first one was only about 35 miles, and we climbed hills in Elysian Park I hadn’t climbed before, where the fantastic views make climbing rewarding. The next rides in the series were a little longer, and there was always some hill climbing involved, and I loved it.

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Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park, a solo adventure in January 2018

As I took on rides of increasingly greater length and challenge, I sometimes encountered a hill I couldn’t quite finish. I would try to talk myself into persevering – just a little farther, you can do it, don’t give up, just keep pedaling! Sometimes that worked, sometimes it didn’t. I figured it was just a matter of needing to train more, and get stronger. Then came the Latigo Canyon ride. By the time this one came up on the schedule, it was late April, and I knew, in fact I was certain, that I could do this one. I have a special affection for Latigo Canyon. I first discovered this gem of a ride when training for the AIDS ride back in 1998. It’s a long climb up switchbacks, gaining about 2000 feet over 9 miles, but not too terribly steep. Somewhere along that climb, you start looking out over the canyon at stunning scenery and a view of the ocean.

The last time I climbed Latigo Canyon, it was 2011, the summer I was turning 50, and I had challenged myself to get back in shape enough to be able to do that climb by my birthday. I did a lot of riding with my eldest son that summer, after he’d come back from a year in Santa Cruz, where he’d fallen in love with road biking. The day he and I took on Latigo Canyon, it was pretty hot. By the time we reached the Calabasas area, the temperature was well over 100 degrees (F), I believe as high as 114. I had gotten a little woozy, and had to stop a few times to rest on the way up, but I did it.

I Think I Can, I Think I Can

This year’s attempt looked promising in that the weather was cooler (than 100+ at least), and I felt pretty confident that I was ready for it. The one thing that made it more challenging was that we started in Santa Monica, adding about 18 miles before the climbing began. I found myself torn between wanting to conserve my energy for the climbing part, and not wanting to fall too far behind the group as we rode along PCH. Adding to the pressure, a ride marshal had been assigned to stay with me, and I could tell he was disappointed with the assignment. I tried not to let that ruin my experience, but to instead turn that situation into a positive motivator. It was hard, though, to let go of the awareness that the whole rest of the group was well ahead of me, and this one guy was stuck having to ride behind me.

The group did a re-grouping at the turn off for Latigo Canyon, and so I was not alone when the climbing began. I felt pretty good on the first segment, which is a gentle, steady climb. At some point, though, I noticed I wasn’t feeling 100%. So I stopped and took a little rest, snacked on some trail mix, drank extra water, and started climbing again. It seemed I hadn’t gone much farther before I needed to stop and rest again. And then again. I couldn’t understand what was wrong. It wasn’t as hot as the last time I climbed Latigo, and I thought I was in good enough shape for this. I didn’t want to accept it, but the truth was, I was stopping to rest more and more frequently, to the point where it was ridiculous. Finally, I realized I was feeling woozy while pedaling, even right after a rest, and I was alone at this point, and I knew I still had more than a few miles of climbing left. I did not want to give up, but I decided it would be stupid to force myself to keep climbing in that condition. After all, I have responsibilities and other people to think about, and it would be so embarrassing to have some sort of medical crisis here. So, I turned around and rode down that beautiful canyon.

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Climbing up Latigo Canyon

As disappointed as I was about not being able to finish the climb, I was ecstatic to discover what a fun descent can be had on that road! I thoroughly enjoyed that downhill on the switchbacks, steeled myself for the ride back on PCH (a scary ordeal that I am always grateful to survive), and rode on to the restaurant where the group was planning to meet for lunch afterward. Over lunch with the other riders, I shared my experience of bonking, and gained some useful tips on improving my nutrition and hydration strategy. I still struggle with this notion that I even have to have a nutrition and hydration strategy. Why, back in my youth, I did triathlons and Ride the Rockies, a week-long bike tour through the Colorado mountains, and I don’t recall needing a nutrition and hydration strategy. I just drank water and snacked on bananas at the rest stops. But, OK, I’m a little older now, and I have to deal with my reality.

OK, Time to Figure Out A Strategy

This frustrating experience was also leaving me wondering if I can realistically hope to do long, arduous rides the way I used to. I love being on a bike all day, and I don’t want to have to cut my rides short or pass on the big challenging ones just because I’m older now. I’d like to spend my whole retirement doing bike tours, and I don’t want to be limited to short, easy routes.

The following weekend, I decided to do a solo ride, and take the opportunity to experiment with timing my snacks and electrolytes. I planned out a big loop of a ride that would introduce a few climbs spaced out so that one climb was near the beginning, one in the middle, and another near the end. It turned out to be a nice tour of some of my favorite spots west of downtown L.A. I made Nichols Canyon – a doable favorite climb – the first challenge. At the top of that climb, I was about 90 minutes into my ride, so I nibbled on a couple of Cliff blocks (electrolyte / nutrition chews) and took a few swigs of my electrolyte drink before rolling on to Mulholland and over to Franklin Canyon, where

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Taking a little break in Franklin Canyon

I descended into Beverly Hills. I stopped a snacked a wee bit (just one more Cliff block and some electrolyte drink) there, and then again (a couple more chews and a banana) before climbing up Mandeville Canyon over in Brentwood. I just don’t get hungry when I’m out on a bike ride, but word has it the muscles need more glycogen after 90-120 minutes of exercise (likely my problem on the Latigo ride), so I tried spreading out my snacks into smaller bits to ensure I had consumed enough before beginning the five-mile, 1000-

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My triumphant moment at the top of Mandeville

foot climb.

I was pleased with myself at how good I felt making it to the top of Mandeville at noon. From there, I sailed down with a big fat smile on my face, and continued to Palisades Park along the ocean in Santa Monica. I sat for a bit in the park and snacked on a Cliff bar (my “lunch”), drank a lot of water, and refilled my bottle. I continued on to the Ballona Creek bike path, took another, shorter snack/drink break there before heading to my last climb, Kenneth Hahn State Park. There I climbed one of the hills that had been hard for me to complete when it was part of an LACBC training ride. This time, it was after 2 pm and my third climb of the day, but I DID IT!! That success brought on a sense of glee that added to the joy of taking in some beautiful views of the city. By the time I got home, I had logged over 60 miles with over 3,600 feet of climbing. Just what I needed to restore my hope!

Time to Get Epic

With my confidence restored, I was able to feel good going into the next LACBC training ride, the epic 74-mile ride south along the coast to San Juan Capistrano. It had

The Aurora Bridge in Seattle, May 2018

a couple of challenging stretches that weren’t easy for me, but I was able to do it, and even enjoy it. That was followed by a couple weekends of easier rides, some for social / Bikie Girl Bloomers commitments, and some because I was in Seattle for a patent attorney conference, where I enjoyed commuting into downtown Seattle from my sister’s house.

I dared not rest on my laurels too long, as I had another challenging ride in my plans for the first weekend of June. So I was happy to speak up when I learned that my friend Joni was also jonesing for a long ride on Memorial Day weekend. She and I were both going to be out of town the weekend of the L.A. River Ride, missing out on the century ride from Griffith Park to Long Beach & Seal Beach and back along the L.A. River Bike Path. I though a flat century ride was just the ticket, so we made plans to do that route together. I hadn’t ridden a century since 1998, when I did the California AIDS Ride. The 103 miles total I rode that day with Joni kicked my butt, mostly because the headwinds really got to me as we rode toward the ocean. Between about miles 80 and 90 that day, I worried that it was more than I could handle, as I fought the urge to quit. Something kicked back in for me to get me through the last 10 miles, and I was glad to have that experience before my trip to Colorado.

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Long Beach with Joni on our century ride

And Then I Bonked Again

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Top of my last climb in Colorado, passing through the Black Forest

I wrote a whole blog post just about the Colorado trip, so I will summarize here. The nearly 70 mile ride from Denver to Colorado Springs kicked my behind big time. Maybe it was the headwinds, maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was the 3500 feet of climbing, but most likely the biggest factor was combining all that with a steel bike that had 25 pounds of panniers on the back. I thought the ride would take me 8 hours, but it took me 10 hours. I had to walk the bike up some of those hills, and there were times when I feared I just wasn’t going to be able to do it. Luckily, the return trip to Denver was a delightful downhill thrill, and I finished that weekend on a positive note, but I knew I still had more to learn about tackling the tough rides.

With that slice of humble pie settling in, I returned to L.A. determined to just get in as much training as I could before the next big challenge. Because I had committed myself to a very BIG challenge for later in the Summer: the Tour de Laemmle. That would be a 138 mile ride that passes by each of the movie theaters across the Los Angeles region owned by the bike-loving Laemmle family. The ride is timed to coincide with the end of the Tour de France. That means late July, in Southern California, as in HOT weather. If you manage to complete the full course, you get a special pair of socks. How exciting is that?!

My first Saturday back from Colorado, I planned for myself a 40-mile ride with over 1800 feet of climbing that coordinated with some social plans. On Sunday, I rode the COLT, the Chatsworth Orange Line Tour, which got me another 60 or so miles. The following weekend, I did a delightful 57 mile, 3000 foot elevation ride out to Pasadena and Montrose, followed the next day by a 30-mile croissant-themed ride with Joni. Some easy social rides followed on the next couple of weekends, but I made sure to squeeze in a lot of extra rides to keep my mileage up.

The weather got super hot in July. I knew I needed to do more challenging training rides, so I made the most of the 76-mile LACBC training ride to Pt. Dume. The next day after that, the LACBC group did a 71-mile ride to San Pedro. Those back-to-back high mileage rides challenged me, giving me what I knew I needed. I still had a little trouble on the San Pedro ride, feeling myself waning and even a wee bit woozy with another 15 or so miles left to go. I stopped for a Cliff bar and some extra hydration, and managed to get the energy I needed, but only just barely. The following weekend was a good test for me: the LACBC group rode out to Claremont in the heat. This tracked the hardest part of the Tour de Laemmle route, and it kicked my butt. I had enthusiastically joined a group that rode from Koreatown out to the start in Pasadena, but was unable to do the return from Pasadena back to Koreatown after barely getting through the last part of the return to Pasadena from the San Gabriel Valley. This showed me how critical the nutrition and hydration strategy becomes when riding in such high temperatures (over 100 degrees F).

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The Koreatown contingent getting ready to roll out to Pasadena
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The killer route of our training ride to Pasadena in 100 degree HEAT

That left me with only one more weekend before the big Tour de Laemmle challenge, and we were hosting a huge party and out of town guests that weekend. The only training ride I got in was a quick run up to the Griffith Observatory. Before I knew it, the big weekend was upon me, and all I could do was give it my best effort. I wore my flame print bloomers (in a nod to the heat) over my padded shorts, and I prepared myself as best I could for riding in the heat: cooling sleeves, a visor that had a special band to keep the sweat from running into my eyes, and a vented helmet instead of the stylishly covered helmet I usually ride in.

The first half of the Tour de Laemmle went very well. I had planned out a schedule of what I thought were realistic goals for getting to each of the official stops that would keep me on pace to complete the route before the time cut off. The first stretch took us from Santa Monica through mid-City and downtown to our first official stop in

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Feeling good on arrival in Claremont

Montebello. I continued to feel good as we pedaled on to Claremont, managing the heat and staying on schedule. I stuck to my plans for eating and hydrating along the way. The next segment was the part that had kicked my butt on the training ride: the ride from Claremont to Asuza, and then across the Santa Fe Dam into Duarte. I was ecstatic when I finished the Santa Fe Dam part and was still feeling good!

One woman in the group I’d been riding with, however, was not feeling so good at that point. Our group stopped to rest in some shade after coming down from the dam. The rest stop continued for quite a long time. I began to feel nervous that we would fall too far behind schedule and not be able to make up the lost time. (And I wanted my SOCKS!) When we finally got rolling again, I made a foolish decision to ramp up my effort in order to try and get back on schedule. By the time we got to Arcadia, I no longer felt able to keep giving it that extra effort. And soon after that, I started to feel kind of lousy. The ride into Pasadena, our next official stop, was seeming to take forever. I tried drinking more water, eating an energy bar, but nothing was helping me feel better. By the time we got to Pasadena, I was woozy and weak and desperate for a rest. Making matters worse, the official stop in Pasadena was closing down just as we arrived. The ride marshals began to warn riders that we had to get moving if we still wanted a chance at the socks. I knew I had to rest for quite awhile and that I probably could not finish the route.

I had ridden 95 miles by this point. I decided to take as much time as I needed to rest and eat so that I could feel clear-headed before hopping on the Metro Gold Line to work my way back to Santa Monica by train. I figured I could get off the Gold Line in Little Tokyo, and bike a few miles over to USC to catch the Expo Line train to get back to Santa Monica, allowing me to log enough miles to make it a century for the day. Which begs the question: Is it really a failure to ride 103 miles in grueling July heat? Sure I was bummed that I didn’t earn the socks, but it was still an awesome adventure.

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The Tour de Lammle route that I completed (the super-straight lines were train rides that got me back to Santa Monica after I bonked)

Two weeks later, a few friends joined me for a reprise to ride the latter part of the Tour de Laemmle route, from Pasadena to Glendale to Encino and back to Santa Monica. We started from my house, though, which added enough miles to qualify as my “birthday ride” (and then some). It was fun, but I had mixed feelings about the realization of how easy the latter part of the Tour de Laemmle was. It made me think, “I could have finished it and earned the socks!” But then I remember how wiped out and delirious I was that day, and that it would have been well past 10 PM by the time I would have made it to Santa Monica, even if I’d been able to keep going that day. Instead, I will use this realization to help me try again next year!

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Tour de Lammle Part Deux – my birthday ride

Now What?

I continued to bike a lot for the remainder of 2018. No further big, huge challenges, but enjoying whatever rides suited my fancy each week. I did leisurely social rides whenever I wanted (a seersucker ride in Pasadena, for which I wore an old-timey seersucker dress), and longer rides when the opportunity arose (67 miles to catch the gently-paced Sunday

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Scenes from the wine-tasting ride

Funday ride with LACBC when it was held in Long Beach). In September, I planned and led a wine tasting ride to the San Antonio Winery just a bit northeast of downtown L.A., and mostly, I just enjoyed riding with friends and revisiting some of my favorite places to ride in the L.A. area, like Elysian Park and the Griffith Observatory. I also continued to enjoy some exploratory rides when visiting other cities, like Seattle, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.

So what did I learn from all that bonking and those tough rides that kicked my butt? I learned to respect the significance of taking on a long and/or difficult ride and the importance of minding my fuel intake, and most importantly, not to wait until I’m hungry or thirsty. I learned that I can cut a ride short if I need to, and there’s no shame in that. It leaves me with something to strive for next time.

I also learned that I can enjoy myself on a wide variety of rides. I don’t have to decide whether I’m a slow-roll social rider or a hard-core roadie. I’m just a woman who loves to ride her bike. The common theme that I see in the wide variety of rides I do is that each one feels like a rolling adventure. Sometimes I’m taking delight in an amazing view I was treated to after a grueling climb, or a thrilling descent down switchbacks. Sometimes I’m enjoying the gorgeous architecture of a city or an astounding canopy of old trees. Other times I’m enjoying the company of my bike friends, or the fun of dressing up in vintage clothing for a themed ride. As long as I’m out on my bike, I am enjoying the chance to feel most alive.

My last bike ride of 2018? A guided tour of Havana, Cuba on the Friday after Christmas. We rode to all the key sites of the city, most of which I’d seen before by car. It was such a delight to discover how each of these, the forest along the Almendares River, the Cemetery Colon, the Plaza of the Revolution, Old Havana, the Malecon, are not really that far from each other, and could be visited in one 14-mile loop. And this brought my total mileage for 2018 over 4,000 miles. Not a bad year of biking, and I can truly say I kept my New Year’s resolution.

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Biking through Parque Almendares in Havana, Cuba, my last bike ride in 2018

*OK, so it was Summer 2018 when I started writing this post. To be clear, I continued to work on it over the ensuing months, and finished this up in January 2019.

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