Yesterday morning started off early – too early, if you ask me. I never relish getting up well before dawn, and while many of the team was smart enough to make arrangements at or closer to Palm Springs, I decided to drive up that morning. 4:00 am – alarm goes off. 4:15 am – jump in the car. 6:10 am – jump out of the car. 6:30 am – hastily find a bathroom and locate our other team members. Diving through the Scottish highlanders on bagpipes, the marching band playing a salute, and what seemed like thousands of people on bikes, we somehow managed to gather our six team members together and head off west/northwest on the start of the course not long after 6:30. Julie, Judy, Candace, Jill, Heather and Jessica – a solid team ready to hit the road.
On the drive into Palm Springs on highway 111, I noticed a car in front of me swerving almost completely off the road. I thought – distracted driver? And then it hit me, too – a tremendous gust of wind blowing the cars like they were the size of a child’s Hot Wheels. I shivered… surely, they wouldn’t have the route heading out this way, you know, in the direction of the one location strategically windy enough to locate a windmill farm?
So I had a bit of a sense of foreboding as we started the route back out of town, the way I had driven in. The foreboding became a seriously reality as we left the protection of the town and mountains, and all seriously started to struggle to keep our bikes up, buffeting a cross wind that I would estimate was somewhere near 25mph or above. The overpasses added the bonus of complete exposure, increasing the ability of the wind to knock you over as well as adding blowing sand into the mix. After a few miles of squinting, keeping your mouth shut, and bearing down, we realized soon we’d be turning directly into that fearsome wind. During this stretch where you could at any point look down and see your odometer reporting no more than 12 mph while going downhill, I more than once entertained the thought of turning around and simply calling it quits. It seemed hardly worth the pain and agony of struggling through these conditions for what was looking like a maybe eight hour day. And to top it off, the sheer number of people and lack of bike handling skills in the face of the adversity only added to the suffering.
It seemed unfortunate at the time, but perhaps fortunately, the team got strung apart during this trial – I say fortunately, because perhaps if we were closer together we may have convinced each other to quit. Julie mentioned early on that you eventually turn away from the wind on the route, and with ten years of riding in a seemingly never-ending southwest wind in Idaho, I knew well the pure joy that awaited me once we made the fateful “turn” – you rode into the wind, you suffered through the cross-wind, and then one more turn brings you to cycling heaven – may the roads be smooth, the wind always behind you, and a delightful landscape of rollers ahead.
Let me use hard facts to explain exactly how demoralizing this first part was. After one hour of riding, we had not yet reached 10 miles. It was approximately 16 miles and 90 minutes of torture until the blessed turn occurred. The average speed was around 11 mph at that point. That is approximately half the average speed of our first 35 miles of the Palm Desert Century, and as I told Candace in the 10-16 mile stretch, this was actually way more taxing.
The good news is, of course, that we survived and we soldiered on until we reached that most delightful entire back stretch of downhills, rollers, and the few short moderate climbs through the up country north of Palm Springs. The group had split in half, with Candace, Jill and I hitting the rest stop first (~22 miles), and then Judy, Julie and Jessica were not far behind us but decided to skip the stop (thinking we would also), so we ended up chasing them hard to catch them at the next stop (~52 miles). Candace and I got a little caught up in the fun of the rollers until at one point I had to beg for mercy – while zooming past everyone at super fast speeds was most excellent fun, I knew I’d be paying for it later if I didn’t start to seriously back off.
We were entertained at the first rest stop by yet more marching band music, and I mentioned to Jill that I would be seriously disappointed if we didn’t have this level of fanfare greeting us at each of the remainder of the stops. Never fear – there was in fact a marching band at each and every rest stop. You can’t fault this ride for its lack of pageantry.
This ride also had a rather interesting array of rest stop snack offerings. I had completely convinced myself on my drive over that I would fully indulge in all manners of cookies at the rest stops. Unfortunately they had in fact one cookie type only – fig newton, and really, does that even qualify as a cookie? It’s marginally a cookie, at best. They also had these brown shriveled lobes of something in cups, and I asked the volunteer, “What are those?” “Oh, they are dates! You must try our dates.” So I did. Dates contain a tremendous amount of fiber. I would suggest not eating dates on your next bike ride.
On a positive note, we were all happy to regroup and capture some awesome photos to remember the day.
We somehow yet again got separated, and Jill, Candace, and I hopped on quite a few pace lines to kick the pace up through the beginning of the last half of the ride. That is, until we got a little tired of the unpredictability of trying to paceline with people you don’t know, can’t predict, and who aren’t exactly willing to admit “defeat” and back off and line up appropriately. I was particularly unhappy when I was leading a line at one point as after I had slowed down and yelled “stopping” at a few stop signs, I started to get yells from the back to “roll it!” We eventually decided to back off the pace and let that particularly hodgepodge of riders go on ahead and stick together as a threesome until the next rest stop. This stretch seemed particularly endless and misery-filled to me. We skipped the 63 mile rest area (11 miles between those two seemed a little close), so on to about 82 miles for what would be our last stop – the cramping and the discomfort started to settle in, and I did my usual whining to Jill – while Jill, who never seems to tire on these things, just kept pushing on. Trying to encourage me with average speeds and overall times just doesn’t work. Maybe next time, she’ll bring me Oreos that I can only have after I make it through my whining stage.
Again, the team of six managed to re-group at the rest area. I sat down with a bottle of water and a bag of cherry Honey Stinger chews in the shade and hoped for the best.
We stayed together for quite a bit of the remaining 20-odd miles to the end, latching on to a few groups here and there to inspire us to the finish (or more easily keep a high speed in the draft, to put it a little more plainly). Sometimes, you just want the dang thing to be over with, already! Unfortunately, Julie got a flat around mile 90 and had to pull off to change it, but everyone finished strong – with overall ride times between 5:39 and 5:58 (17.1 – 18.1 mph average). Considering that we spent the first 16 miles with an average around 11 mph, that’s an impressive finish to a ride with an extremely taxing start. In fact, I did the math – because I know Jill loves to know these things – we averaged 20.7 mph on the last 86 miles – which actually exceeds our pace with David at the Palm Desert Century in November. Ooh, I knew I was glad I finished this one! I am also proud to say this was the first century where I could actually turn to Jill at mile 100 and say, “You know, not that I want to, but I think I could keep going for quite a bit more!”
We got more than a few cheers for Team Fun along the way, and also a few of the omnipresent remarks of, “Are you really having fun?” One woman asked me where she can purchase the kit and said, “I just love what you’re all about – women riding strong together, supporting each other, and having a great time.”
Another memorable Team Fun adventure…. however…
On an extremely sad note, I am sorry to say that we learned not long afterward that a female cyclist was struck and killed during the ride (read a news article reporting the accident or this one, which maybe has a more complete story). We did not witness the scene, so I cannot convey accurate details. It involved a two-way stop, with the stop sign for the cyclists. This is not a traffic situation we commonly encounter in coastal Southern California, but it was one I very commonly encountered riding in rural Idaho – and it can be one of the more dangerous. A ride of that size (estimates at about 9000 riders) can also be extremely dangerous, especially given the range of abilities and experience. The last 5 miles or more were routed with all ride distances together, making for a difficult stretch. All of our hearts break for the woman and her family and for those who witnessed it.
All I could think about after I heard the details was, that very easily could’ve been me. I say this because if you recall earlier, I said how people behind me were yelling for me to run stop signs off the front. Even near the end of the ride, with all the chaos of riders – kids, mountain bikers, impatient road bikers – and even with cops literally stationed at the stop signs – people STILL WANTED TO RUN STOP SIGNS. Why, when even when you are doing everything right, you can easily be grievously injured or killed, would you take that chance?? Why did I choose to run them earlier? With the mass of people behind me, I felt a little bit in an impossible situation – get run over by the mass behind me or potentially by a car on the side – and with the little traffic out there, I took the chance.
We should NOT take those chances. EVER. Even if it’s clear for me, it very well might not be for the sixth, or tenth, or sixteenth, or thirtieth person back. This is a dangerous activity. We need to take care of each other. Commit to rider safety and obey the laws.
We are all also drivers. Do us a favor, and pay attention. We are not there to annoy you, or slow you down, or any of the other things people say. Do not make us an easy target for your anger or frustration.
(This is not to claim that this woman in any way did anything wrong – we are saddened by her loss and pray for her family.)
Let’s hope that the frequency of these tragic stories can begin to decrease.