I called Vicky from a park about seven miles away from home. My hands were so sore, I could barely make a fist. I was almost out of water. My whole body hurt. "You want me to come pick you up?" she asked. But I declined. After all, I was nearly back and it had been a very long day.
It started at 7:30am. Friday morning had started pretty cold, so I decided to leave a little later than normal. A couple days of rain had left everything nice and wet and I figured there'd be some mud along the way, but I could handle it. I packed up some beef jerky, a power bar, a double helping of energy beans (my Jelly Bellies!), and two bottles of water because I knew I was in for a long, long ride, and headed out.
Up Lincoln and over to Katella and I was back in my old neighborhood before very long. Traffic was moderately light so that didn't bother me. What bothered me was the sight of the hills coming up. I'd told Vicky all about the ride - we'd even driven it to see what I had to look forward to - and it was these big hills that had me worried. And rightly so, I was riding into the backside of Orange County and knew I could expect one hill after another. I'd need all the stamina I could dredge up.
So, how sad was it that I pooped out on the first one? My speed dropped from 10 to 8 to 6 and, before I knew it, I was dying out. The thought occurred to me that I still had quite a distance to travel; what would I do if I couldn't ride? Exactly what I did do. I got off my bike and walked it. Up the hill we went. Once my breathing was back under control and I wasn't feeling like I was about to have a heart attack, I got back up on the bike. I might not be in the best shape, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.
When I reached the top, down by Santiago Canyon College, at Chapman and Jamboree, I decided to take my first break. I needed it, too. Just travelling this far - only about 10 miles - and I was already winded. The idea had started simple: If I was ever going to ride a century, I'd have to include some hills. This ride would give me a crash course, hopefully without too much crashing, in hills, and I was going to stick it out no matter what.
Back up, I headed south-east on Chapman and it turned into Santiago Canyon Road. This was it. The cycling equivalent of the Monster. If I could do this... I was crazy. But beside that, if I could do it, I could certainly make a century on flat ground. The thing is, Santiago Canyon starts out by going up. It keeps going up, too. Long after my poor little legs had given up and I was walking, it kept going up. This is when other cyclists started passing me, too. There are dozens of them out there! Each one was very courteous, too. "You okay?" they'd ask. "Need anything?" But all I heard was, "Loser!" and "Wimp!" Oh well. I just got back on my bike and kept going... and walked... and got back on my bike again. As I said, it starts out with a huge hill. But then, you're going down. Down down down - I hit 28 miles an hour and was certain I'd also hit a bump, followed by a tree and a boulder and a ditch. But then, it curves and the ride really begins.
It's basically one hill right after another and here's what no one tells you. One hill is a conquest. You take it and you think, "Yeah, I'm tough." But this ride, with one hill followed by another and then another, basically just breaks you down and turns you into lump of pudding... if you didn't start out as one. Because you finish the first hill and think, "Boy, I'm glad that's over!" And then, you have to take the second - and you're not ready - and if that doesn't kill you, the third one will, and then the fourth, and the fifth. But I kept riding. I wasn't giving up - especially with all these other cyclists passing me! Anyway, the scenery was wonderful and the air was cool. It was beautiful, if deadly.
I knew I'd have problems on the final hill, which is mockingly just as big as the first, but was shocked by the speed in which my legs gave up. I had just started when my legs said, "Oh no. No way. We're not falling for this again!" And then, I was off my bike, walking. Halfway up, a guy rode by on his bike, slowed down a little, looked back at me, and asked, "You okay, buddy?" I took my bike and swung it at his head, tearing off his face is a greasy, bloody mess... by which I mean, I said, "Yeah, just fine." Okay, I thought, so I'm a wuss. Inspired by my lameness, I got back up and finished the rest of the hill... barely...
And then, it was time to go DOWN! Faster faster faster - and then I was going up again... damn. One more hill. I remembered telling Vicky about how my momentum was bound to carry me back up the next, and final (really) hill, even as I pedaled angrily to get over it. But then, I was going down again - 27mph - 29mph - 33mph - 35mph... I began to think I should probably slow down. There's a light down at the bottom, I recalled. Not a nice way to die. It also didn't help that my brain was playing a slide show of every possible accident I might have along the way. Believe me, 35 on a bicycle is FAST!
I stopped just after Cook's Corner, at the beginning of Aliso Creek Trail. This, I figured, would take me through all the coastal cities in a nice, scenic manner. I'd avoid all of the traffic and hit PCH down in Laguna. But I was shocked to find that, after all that riding, I'd only hit 20 miles.
Aliso Creek Trail is absolutely lovely - STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM IT! IT'S MINE!
(cough) Oh, excuse me.
The rain had left some muddy patches but it was, overall, in good repair and very pretty. The nicest thing about it, though, was that the first half of it runs at a slight angle, just enough so you can move along at a nice speed - I was doing 15mph - without hardly every pedaling. Very much appreciated after Santiago Canyon! But then, due to mud and confusion and my own idiocy... I lost it. I lost the trail. I ended up on a street, Paseo De Valencia, wondering where it went and where I should go. Thankfully, I had my phone on me, so I called Vicky and asked her to check a map. Oh thank heaven for online maps! She gave me great instructions... which I promptly ignored, because I thought I saw the trail, after all! Sure enough, there it was! It had briefly taken to the streets, something I had not expected, but then, I was in a park and riding through a wildlife preserve and moving toward the coast. It was all very lovely - if long. I was getting tired. I figured I'd take a long rest at PCH, eat lunch, and then ride up to the Santa Ana River Trail for the last leg home. But then, six miles short of the coast, I got some news that changed everything.
A couple of guys were helping their kids get ready for a ride, getting them in their helmets. One of them had tried riding to the coast himself and told me about what lay in the last two miles: a private golf course. The trail ends and private property begins, private property the owner of the course won't let anyone pass through. In other words, CHANGE IN PLANS! I thanked the guy, after all he'd saved me six miles, and contemplated what to do next. My first thought was: Call Vicky! After all, she'd come with the car and we could do lunch and... no, I wasn't going to do that. I couldn't call her whenever there was a problem. I had to get back on my own! But how? Since the trail was all I knew, I decided to head back up. I remembered seeing a map at a park so I figured I would ride back to it and use that to find my way.
So, back I rode, dejected, tired, far from home, and with no earthly idea where I was - it was fun! Then, as I reached the park, I noticed that the street it was on was Moulton Parkway. I had lunch at the park and confirmed with Vicky that Moulton turns into Irvine Center Drive, which then turns into Edinger Avenue, which crosses the Santa Ana River. I had my way home! But it wouldn't be easy. I was hoping to avoid traffic and here I was getting back into it. For the longest time, I didn't recognize a thing. I just kept riding, sucking down car exhaust. But then, landmarks grew more familiar: I passed Allied, the 5 freeway, the Irvine Spectrum, the old Reserve base, the 55 freeway, and as I entered Tustin and Santa Ana, I began to think of ways of wussing out. Basically, I needed a break and started thinking of ways to take one - but I was also getting closer to home and the nearness created its own kind of gravity, pulling me faster and faster on my way. The end result was extreme disappointment every time I passed a place where I could rest and building excitement at the prospect of getting home.
Seeing the Santa Ana River was like doing the impossible. Really? I'd come all this way? And I still had a long way to go!
So, when I reached the park where Vicky's last ride had taken her, seven miles from home, I finally decided to give myself a break. My hands were so sore, I could barely grip the handlebars and my crotch, quite frankly, was not my friend. I pulled out the last of my snacks and drank the last of my water and called Vicky and told her how far away and how near I was. When she asked if I'd like her to pick me up, I thought, "Not after going this far."
The last seven miles were a little slice of hell. The trail had become covered in tourists - not cyclists - who didn't know the rules of the road, who seemed to delight in slowing me down. I moved between them, silently and intently, a man on a mission, and reached Lincoln around 2:30pm. Seven hours. I thought of Spalding Gray's words: I've never done anything for seven hours in my life, except sleep. Seven hours of hills and thrills and bad directions, all of them mine. But if one thing was clear, after 65 miles and unknown elevation gain, I knew I could do a century.