I signed up on a bit of a whim to ride the Tour de Whatcom Century bike ride. As I’ve said, I have never ridden more than 65 miles in any given day before, and I knew 100 would be a stretch. But I wanted to do it, to see how it was, and to have the accomplishment under my belt. It wasn’t a bucket list sort of thing…it was something that I felt a desire to try, my conditioning is pretty solid, and I have been on the bike quite a lot this summer. So why not give it a go?
The ride was Saturday. Having done only one organized ride before (the same ride, only the 62-miler two years earlier), I was excited and a bit nervous when I arrived at the registration booth at 7:10. The ride started at 7:30, and I was pleased to be through registration and with my bike in the shoot by 7:27, with three minutes to spare! Since it’s not a “race”, but simply an “event”, the starting fanfare was minor. But excitement was in the air, and I was ready to go!
Bellingham to Alger and back to Bellingham
I had mistakenly thought the course took off north from Boundary Bay in downtown Bellingham. But it actually headed south, down to Fairhaven, right past my office and down and around Lake Samish. After Lake Samish, it wound down to Alger, then back to Sudden Valley. Since I live in Sudden Valley, and ride to work regularly, I am intimately familiar with all those roads. It was a good way to start the course, as I was in my comfort zone in terms of road familiarity. I also knew it was the most hilly section of the ride, and it was good to get that out of the way early.
Almost immediately after taking off, I encountered my friend and fellow massage therapist, Lisa. I didn’t know Lisa was doing the ride, as she and her husband Dave had just signed up two days prior. Lisa and I have ridden quite a lot over the years…she is one of only a handful of people I ride with even at all. As I have said in previous posts, I almost always ride alone and I am very used to that. It was an unexpected bonus to have a bit of time to chat and catch up with Lisa as we made our way to the first rest stop in Alger.
My friend Carrie, who has ridden multiple century rides, told me to eat and drink at every stop, but not linger too long as “time can get away from you”. At the first stop, I could see how that could happen. By the time I got through the bathroom line-up, reconfigured my clothing and belongings, and refueled, a good 20 minutes had gone by! But soon I was back on the bike, and headed along Lake Whatcom Boulevard. More familiar roads with hills, and in no time I was at the second rest stop, at a park right along Lake Whatcom. Those two rest stops were very close together, but I did as Carrie had suggested, and ate and drank more anyway at the second stop. I was feeling good, and I wanted it to stay that way!
Bellingham to Lynden
The stretch from Bellingham to Lynden was longer, and mostly calm and quiet. After a short stint on the Mt. Baker Highway, I found myself on quiet county roads, slowly progressing north to Lynden. I was feeling good and strong, and my energy was great. Midway this stretch, the ride splits, and the 62-mile riders return to Bellingham, and the Century riders head north to Lynden. I had taken up conversation with a female rider from Vancouver, who was riding a similar pace. We’d been passing each other, she passing me on the uphills, me passing her on the downhills, for quite some time. It was nice to find out about what draws other people to a ride like this, and it helped the miles go along to chat a bit with her. We split ways at the junction, as she and her friend were riding the 62- miler, or “metric” in bike event speak.
I was back to riding alone, in my comfort zone and on familiar roads. Inevitably, I reflected on times of past rides along these same roads, and where I was in my life at the time. I enjoyed my contemplative mindset tremendously, and had a big smile on my face as I rode. I felt happy and content when I arrived at Lynden, even after a short time of losing the route when I inadvertently followed some bikers who were NOT on the tour. I quickly self-corrected, and found my way to the rest stop in Lynden. Dave, Lisa’s husband, gave me a big high-five when I arrived. Lisa had turned for the 62-miler back to Bellingham, but it gave me deep satisfaction to be more or less keeping up with Dave, as he is in my book a much stronger rider than me. This rest stop signified 50% completion of the ride, and I was starting to believe I could do it.
Lynden to Blaine, then Birch Bay
This 23-mile stretch was easily the hardest, the most tedious…and also the most nostalgic for me. After leaving Lynden, I found myself on long, mostly flat county roads that went right up to the border in Blaine, before dropping south to Birch Bay. I rode this entire stretch alone, and saw only a handful of other riders. It was a bit lonely and I became increasingly aware of pain and discomfort settling into my body. I must curl my toes when I ride, because I could tell they were getting sores on the tops of two of them, and this bothered and distracted me. I kept trying to alter position and foot stance, which is always hard on the bike. I was acutely aware that pain had settled into my left side lower back, a vulnerable area following two previous back surgeries. I know from experience that once that type of pain settles in, it won’t abate until I am off of the bike.
I fluctuated during this time between trying to manage pain, enjoying the ride, and heavy introspection. For one six-month period of my life, I lived in Blaine. It was a mixed time of life, full of some positive but also many difficult events. Riding the roads in and around Blaine, I passed multiple ball fields where my son had played baseball, and my heart felt full with good memories. I also passed by the turn off to our old house, with all the desperation walks and beach explorations I had done so often to try to get through the hard times. It was interesting to encounter these memorable places while I was struggling with increasing back pain on the ride. The time I lived in Blaine was also one of intense back pain, and it was an odd sort of deja-va.
I have to say, I was relieved to come into Birch Bay after all of that. Birch Bay drive was crazy, with cars, people, a street fair of some kind, and multitudes of activity along the strip. I thought I would never reach the rest area…but eventually, I arrived. This rest area was at 78 miles, and I felt moderately confident. I pulled in to the rest area just as Dave was getting ready to pull out. Again, he high-fived me, and I felt great to connect with him even though we weren’t riding together. He had offered for me to join them, but I was feeling fatigued and too insecure to commit to trying to keep up with people who were even a bit faster than me.
And I was definitely hurting. I got bandaids for my two sore toes, and ate and drank. I love Birch Bay, so it was nice to be here. But honestly, I was ready at this point for the ride to be over.
Birch Bay back to Bellingham
Once again, I was back on very familiar roads when I left Birch Bay. I have done the ride to and from Birch Bay so many times, I could do it with my eyes closed (well, maybe not..) I knew that the end was near, and I got a bit of a second wind. There was a strong head wind all the way from Birch Bay back to Bellingham, which I knew would be the case. I ducked down and hit my low-riding stance when I could…a help for the wind, but killer on the back. I hunkered down and did what I had to do, as I knew I’d be hurting no matter what. Simply put, I could tell that my body was into a zone of not having been there before, in terms of hours on the bike, and I was feeling it intensely.
One mile at a time, lots of self-talk, and a constant reminder to enjoy the process, and soon I was back downtown and at the Finish Line at Boundary Bay. I felt relief, happiness, and a great sense of accomplishment to be done. They gave me my finisher medal, and I took it with gratitude. I didn’t hang around Boundary Bay for post-race festivities…that’s not really my style, and I wanted to get home for a shower and real food. I finished the ride about 3:45, just over eight hours after I started.
There were many positive aspects to this ride, and like I said I am very glad I did it. Here’s a sampling of highlights:
I felt on the whole much better than expected. I had taken two full days off before the ride, with no activity. I don’t usually “taper” for an event, but life dictated that I had no time for exercise in the days prior. So my legs felt rested and strong, and that was a huge bonus. Of the things I noticed and felt hindered by on the ride, leg fatigue was NOT one of them.
I had received a cortisone injection in my severely arthritic right knee two days prior to the event. I can’t say enough about this…I had so little knee pain compared to usual, and this was HUGE for me on the ride. Usually, knee pain is a constant and severe hindrance, especially on hills. On this day, my slowness on hills was more about energy conservation and habit than pain management, for which I was extremely grateful.
Overall, my fitness for and ability to do this ride made me feel good. I had put in some miles, but I didn’t really train for it. I am happy that I was strong and fit enough to do it, and that I felt relatively OK throughout.
Walk down memory lane…
As mentioned, this was a highlight for me as well. I literally travelled roads I have been on before…both on the bike, and simply at past points in my life. To be alone in my head while I revisited those roads brought about an incredible perspective on how life has changed and come together so nicely. As I came and went on roads of past significance, I felt very grateful for all the positive changes and turns my life has taken. The stressful Blaine days are behind me now…in more ways than one. I have moved on past many roadblocks in life, and it’s a much easier ride now.
A part of something bigger, and yet…
Doing this ride, as an individual within a group, gave me a perspective on life as well. I loved being a part of something big and organized, the ride in it’s greater sense. There was some camaraderie and moments of interactions with others, and I loved that. Then there was also a lot of time alone, with just me and my bike and my thoughts. I realized that this IS my comfort zone…I like being aware and a part of something bigger than myself, and I also really like and enjoy my alone time. I could have sought out more interaction and conversation, or taken Dave up on his offer at the rest stops to “ride along with them”. But I actually like being in my own company, and best of all, I am very comfortable with that.
I am not such a slouch after all!
I always think of myself as a lame bike rider. That changed a bit on the ride, as I realized that I am not really all that slow. I feel slow, but It’s all a matter of perception. Many people wouldn’t even try to do something like ride 100 miles in a day. So while I wasn’t the fastest rider out there, that I persisted and did it gave me a great sense of accomplishment.I actually felt a bit like a “real” biker!
The main lesson learned?
I am a better hiker than biker!
Simply stated, my body did not like being bent over on the bike for that amount of time. I realize now why I like to hike and backpack for long days much more so than to be on the bike all day. I felt it in my back at 50 miles, and it was a constant battle after that. While I didn’t let the back pain get to me to such a degree that I lost all enjoyment of the process, it did affect me. And it will take awhile to settle it’s way out as well. I am grateful that with hiking and backpacking I can move around and I am not stuck in one position.
And the really cool thing is that I get to choose these things! As much as the ride was hard, no one had a gun to my back saying, “Kathie, you have to do this!” I took it on, reveled in it, and made it through, I completely got what there was to get out of the experience. I loved the organization of the event, and the Tour aspect of it was unparalleled. To see that much of our beautiful county on mostly quiet roads all in one day was extremely rewarding. I don’t know if I will do another, but the experience was overall very nearly a complete success!
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