Sophie Ballo had no choice but to cheat on running. The pavement pounding of too many marathons had taken its toll on her body, so friends convinced her to take up riding. She no longer cheats on running. It’s not cheating when you take a job at Specialized and become one of the fastest riders in the building. It’s called commitment.
Day Seven - Mesquite to Las VegasSeptember 18, 2012
The ride is over. The totals are in. 490.6 miles. 27,991 feet of climbing. 29 hours and 13 minutes of riding time. 5 PB&J sandwiches. 7 Cokes, 4 Diet Cokes, and 1 Dr. Pepper. A whole bunch of Gus and Chomps and cookies and granola bars and fig newtons. 70 Tweets. 1 massage. 2 Fast Food Feasts (or Dirty Dinners as one fellow rider coined them). 15 QOMs on Strava, graciously given to me by The Queen of Pain herself, Rebecca Rusch.
These are all the numbers.
But numbers don’t make a ride.
Cyclists love data, especially roadies, to be sure. We track heart rates and power output and kilometers and elevation as if the ride didn't occur unless we record it. How many times have I seen (and written) “If it’s not Strava-ed it didn’t happen” on the facebook? A lot. These ride diaries somehow prove our fitness our hardcoreness or epicness to ourselves and others.
But good times on a bicycle can’t be quantified solely with mileage or climbing. I’ve been on wonderful rides that were 20 miles and horrible ones that were 60, and vica versa. All that being said, this has been hands down the best ride of my life, each and every day. Why?
Because of the company I rode with, the friends I made, and the memories I now have. Shared experiences create bonds, and this week has been nothing if not an experience. There was the time Rebecca saved her own butt and the butts of others with her amazing bike handling skills, bunny hopping a dangerous truck tie that had fallen on the shoulder. There was the constant Cheech and Chong like banter of Kyle Davenport and Matt Neugebauer, zipping over my head at dinner and breakfast and all time inbetween while I tried to breathe between laughter. There were the Moon Boots. There was my own tweeting and blogging and instagramming, which joined together with Kevin Rouse and Yuri Hauswald’s wonderful work brought the ride to the world in an immediate, meaningful way. There were all of these things and so many more.
This is what makes a ride.
So now, even though we are all about to go our several ways, I know that should we meet again at random at any point down the road, we’ll be able to hop on our bikes and take an amazing ride as if no time had passed. And that, more than being epic or crushing it or climbing mountains or anything, is what I love about cycling: the universal bond that all cyclists share through their love of riding bikes, and the friendships that spring from that bond.
Ok, I know, Kumbaya and rainbows and unicorns. This is all admittedly pretty corny stuff here. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
And who wants to live in a world without unicorns anyways?
Day six - Cedar City to MesquiteSeptember 17, 2012
When the moon aligns with the seventh planet of the solar system of the Northern Star, and you eat Arby’s for lunch the day before, and you wear your most favorite Cycles de Oro kit (aka The Clown Suit), then you get what I had today:
You see, cyclists, contrary to what one may otherwise think, don’t always show up to a ride with their legs. Their hearts and heads may be 100% in the game, but for some reason, the lower body fails to respond to the request of PEDAL DAMNIT. The result? Getting dropped, bonking, or more commonly, a combination of the two.
For the first three days, I found myself in the situation above. Granted, my head was also only about 80% in the game. The thought of 660 miles and 30K feet of climbing psyched me out, automatically kicking my fitness into Survival Mode even if I could have potentially crushed it. In hindsight, this plan of action provided me with enough juice to last three consecutive Hardest Ride I’ve Ever Done days, but it did not leave me with that all important ***t Yeah! feeling when I rolled back into camp.
This morning when I awoke, I decided that enough was enough. It was the last real day, since tomorrow we were only riding a celebratory 60 easy miles. I had yet to really push myself to Lunch Ride capacity. I had yet to show people what I could do. I had yet to show myself what I could do.
And so, I kitted up in The Clown Suit, ate a power breakfast full of Greek Yogurt and Granola and Honey and Brown Sugar and Maple Syrup, downed my coffee, and donned my not so scary but very committed game face.
Still, I couldn’t really tell what was going to happen until I pressed the issue with my legs. So when the road pitched up, rather than shift down, I spun harder to mash out a faster pace (as is my “style”. That’s right, I have a style). The legs responded with a Thank God I Thought You Would Never Ask.
Which is JUST what I wanted to hear.
My legs and I had a high hog of a time. We became QOM of the only climb, arriving only a few minutes behind the front group and in front of everyone else (a la it was them and then me). We bombed down the descents with that same front group, averaging 36 mph for a good 11 miles. We felt strong. We felt good. We were ready to go harder when others were ready to stop.
In short, it was a ***t Yeah! kind of day.
Roadies are vain creatures. I am a Roadie. And so while I know it’s pure vanity, I’m glad I was able to put in this sort of effort before everyone rolls home. Because this is the type of riding I know I’m capable of, and these are the days that cyclists live for, and fortunately, the Cycling Gods smiled upon me and the stars aligned and it was to be.
But I bet that Arby’s Chicken Sandwich didn’t hurt either.
For full details, visit the Strava Powers That Be here.
For full details, visit the Strava Powers That Be here.
Day Five - Escalante to Cedar CitySeptember 16, 2012
Today marked the longest and most difficult day of the Ride to Vegas. According to the God of Garmin, we clocked 124.6 miles and 8841 feet of climbing, most of which occurred over a steady, mind numbing 30 miles. It was the Queen’s stage; however, the determined riders eventually achieved their goals, coasting triumphantly into Cedar City. You could almost hear the trumpets blaring.
And today, I wasn’t one of them.
Three days at 100 miles a pop took a toll not so much on my legs, though of course they were feeling less than Irish Spring fresh, but on my behind. I literally couldn’t spend another second in the saddle. Instead of sit bones, I had two spiny pieces of hot coal (if this image makes you gag a little, then you may have somewhat of an idea of how I felt). Since the mileage was so long, and the terrain so difficult, the guides and I decided that my helping with SAG support instead was a win-win situation.
Now, here I am, again eating trail mix in my hotel room, my legs closer to status quo (relatively), my clothes normal (I haven’t worn a chamois once all day!), and my stomach pleased as punch with its lunch of Arby’s Chicken Sandwich w/ Curly Fries.
And how am I feeling?
The more interesting question is, how am I NOT feeling? I’m not feeling regret. I don’t wish I had been riding instead, or that I missed out on a once in a lifetime opportunity (even though I did). I am SO GLAD that I got to eat Arby’s. It was glorious. As the van went up each ascent, at every upward pitch I thought to myself, “Wow, this would suck.” Not “Wow, this would be so much fun.”
There are riders, and then there are riders, and then there are riders. Me? I’m a rider in that I like to go hard, and I like to go fast, and I like to go epic, but I also really like to be able to walk the next day, and I want to enjoy my next ride without suffering TOO much (i.e. I don’t want my butt to turn into a pincushion).
So more than anything, today gave me some perspective regarding my own attitude. Which needed an adjustment.
You see, I am, I confess here and now before the masses of the interwebz , somewhat of a bike ride snob. Just one par example: when my friends don’t participate in The Lunch Ride (aka 45 minutes of sheer anaerobic hell), and I do, a part of me feels superior. Better than.
But guess what? I’m not. Riders are riders, and all riding is legitimate. Weekend warriors, endurance monsters, triathletes, even farmer’s market amblers. The enjoyment one receives is the same enjoyment, and one is not “better” or “more legit” than the other simply because one may require more physical exertion.
Tomorrow, rear end ready or not, I will climb back into the saddle. But it won’t make me any more or less of a cyclist than I already was when I climbed into the van this morning.
Riding is riding is riding, and all riding is rad.
Day Four - Fish Lake to EsquilanteSeptember 15, 2012
When I first moved to Greensboro, NC for grad school, I was bikeless, but loved the idea of riding to and from campus on a “vintage” looking ride, complete with basket and bell. So I went to a Big Box retail store, found one that looked “vintage”-E, and off I went without getting any attention from the staff.
I rode it once. It was heavy. It was too small. It had no gears, and thus left me vainly struggling to climb one of Greensboro’s many rolling hills. I didn’t make it. I walked, sweaty and late to class. I sold the bike on Craigslist.
Then when an injury ended my marathon days, my cycling friends all but ordered me to get a road bike from a local Independent Bike Dealer (or IBD in industry speak).
“But I hate bikes,” I said. “Trust us,” they said.
So I headed to a local shop. The staff set me up with a rad bike, all of the equipment I would need, plus numerous offers to ride with me and show me the ropes. They checked in with me multiple times afterwards. Clearly, they loved bikes, and loved helping people ride bikes, and loved everything about bikes. In fact, their passion in turn led me to love bikes, and to a job at an IBD (shout out to Cycles de Oro!) so that I too could share why bikes were so amazingly awesome to the world.
A bike shop. There really is no place in the world quite like a bike shop, and no bike shop in the world is quite like another bike shop. Each one uniquely reflects the passions, personality, and bike nuttiness of the owners, salestaff, and wrenches. There is history. There is lore. There are inside jokes and outside jokes. They are glorious little micro universes of cyclemania.
On this ride, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing IBD owners. I wish they weren’t all so scattered throughout the country so I could continue hanging out, talking, laughing, and riding with them after this trip comes to an end. Their staff is clearly like family and their shops are fun-with-a-purpose places to work. One has an employee “Pin-Up Calendar”, complete with Mr. February: Naughty Mechanic. One has Used Car Salesman Friday (in case this needs an explanation, the staff dresses up like used car salesmen on Friday, just because it’s HI-LARIOUS!).
But most importantly: They. Love. Bikes. Riding them, helping other people ride them, and even just looking at them. They operate these wonderful havens out of that love. In fact, the phrase “labor of love” I’m pretty sure was coined by someone describing their IBD owning friend.*
*Disclaimer – this is probably not true, but probably should be
Please people, on this blog I am most likely preaching to the choir, but please don’t be a Sophie Example A. Go to your Local Independent Bike Dealer. They want to help you. They know what they’re talking about. They will not lead you astray. If you already DO frequent an IBD, then pat yourself on the back and encourage your friends and family to as well.
In closing, here is a list of the amazing Vegas Riders for 2012. May their IBD glory forever shine:
Brian Gierke Gerk’s Ski & Cycle
Dan Hughes Sunflower Bike Shop
David Guettler River City Bicycles
John Brown Family Cycling Center
Doug Emerson University Bicycles
Emily Samstag Bicycle Habitat
Glenn Fant NorCal Bike Sport
Joseph Howard Richardson Bike Mart
Kyle Davenport Sugar Cycles
Matthew Neugebauer Brandywine Cyclery
Nate Rex Cycle Center of Stamford
Day Three - Nephi to Fish LakeSeptember 14, 2012
Disclaimer: Due to lack of internet (though ABUNDANCE of natural beauty), this post is a day late. Take my word for it though, it was composed in front of a lake with a ton of fish.
Today’s ride stayed together for almost the entire time, but things inevitably shattered apart at the climb. The speeders sped ahead, while I sat up, waived, and watch them disappear into the vanishing point on the horizon. Suddenly, it was just me myself and I on the open road, a road unfamiliar to me. Open, exposed, filled with intermittent traffic that included double semi’s. But also gorgeous scenery, mountains, and historical markers for those interested enough to stop and read them. Which I was. So I did.
Today, I liked the road I rode.
Roads, like people, have personalities. There are roads we love to hate, roads we hate to love, and roads we just plain crave. There are roads turned into shrines by famous riders and races to which we pilgrimage, just to experience their magic (when I ride on these roads, I fully expect to add 50 watts to my output via Pro Rider osmosis). There are secret roads, known only to a select few who covet their anonymity. There are roads known for simple, ABC like climbs and descents. There are crappy roads. There are rad roads.
And so a roadie develops relationships with the places they ride. The roads become a friend, or an enemy, or a training partner, or a teacher, or a casual acquaintance that you see all the time at the coffee shop but only converse with about the weather (a la that road you have to ride just to get out of town).
During this ride, my friends and I have all held multiple conversations with these long, open stretches of tarmac (and gravel). Almost everyone yelled at the gravel. The A group partied with the false flats, while the slow/steady crowd developed a more nuanced conversation (“I won’t call you an A-Hole if you don’t pitch up any more than this”). I would definitely invite the road from today over for dinner. I would block yesterday’s road’s cell phone number.
Think I’m over-romanticizing this? Are you saying to yourself, “What is she talking about, this isn’t some Western and she isn’t a Cowgirl and the road isn’t the Range”?
Well then, why do I sit in a saddle all day? It certainly isn’t for the motion of moving my feet in circles. Ask anyone who’s ever been caught inside for months at a time during a New England winter, stuck on the hell that is The Trainer. Roadies live for the road. The road provides us with the platform for our passion. Every cycling community around the country knows their roads as intimately as they know their own history. The first thing a new cyclist does when moving to the area is “get to know” the roads. Riding a new road for the first time is like going on a blind date: you don’t know where it’s going or how long it will be, you’re just hoping you have a good time along the way.
The Ride to Vegas takes this concept to 11 (see very first intro post or go watch Spinal Tap). Every rider is on one long blind date.
That being said, what’s my verdict thus far?
Well, I haven’t met any road I’d like to marry, but I’m still glad I decided to introduce myself.
Day Two - SLC to NephiSeptember 13, 2012
Gather round, boys and girls, for I must share with you a glorious word. This word of which I speak holds power for cyclists everywhere of all ages; a word that we masochistically yet faithfully worship. This word of which I speak…
Today, I rode longer and harder than I’ve ever ridden. Ever. 110 miles. 7500+ feet of climbing. 5 of them on a dirt road. A steep dirt road. With cows. I was up high enough to get an altitude headache. Guess what? It hurt. Today, I Suffered.
What is Suffering, you may ask?
Read, and you shall be englightened:
- Suffering is painful. Your legs will cramp and your shoulders will hunch. Vision blurs. You may or may not vomit. Anyone who says otherwise is either a) hoping to lead you horribly astray (i.e. “No, I’ve done that climb a million times, it’s SO easy!”) or b) has never truly Suffered.
- Suffering is universal. Everyone who has chosen to walk The Path has experienced the same trials, tribulations, moments of truth, and moments of crisis that Suffering brings.
- Suffering is unique. Each person Suffers at a different point. Some always blow up in the same sprint on a group ride. Others mash away in vain on a 20% switchback. The venue of what brings a person to his/her knees remains completely individual, and thus I am not contradicting the above point (see Suffering is universal).
- Suffering is eye opening. Just like the monks who walk on hot coals while listening to recordings of hyenas (I’m 99% positive that somewhere in the world there are monks who walk on hot coals while listening to recordings of hyenas), Suffering takes you to places you otherwise couldn’t access. You ask some big questions. What am I doing here? Where are my legs? Why was I born? Sometimes, it’s just an endlessly repeating WHY. You get pissed. You play mind games with yourself. You curse. I will admit that I’ve cried (though not today…today I cursed). These actions give insight into who you are, how you deal. Do you convince yourself to keep going, or to give up? Do you rationalize (I can do this climb because I’ve done it before)? Do you bargain (just one more switchback legs, and then I promise we’re done)? Do you deny (what climb)? Do you daydream (Wow! A unicorn!)? I myself do all of the above simultaneously while also getting a song stuck in my head.
- Suffering is temporary. I am living proof. Here I am, no longer Suffering, but happily showered, fed, and social networking. And eating trail mix. Life is good. No matter how much you are hurting, it will end and you will emerge a stronger, wiser person.
Suffering is all of those things.
But do you know what Suffering isn’t? Everything.
Today, in the midst of my epic Sufferfest, I looked up and realized that wow, the scenery was truly gorgeous. And the temperature felt perfect. And the cows smelt so cow-E. And I was riding with amazing new friends. And even though I hurt everywhere, at that moment there was nothing else I would have rather been doing.
So if you haven’t experienced any of thee above, grab your bike and find a mountain, preferably with gravel and/or singletrack with an average of 15% for 2+ miles.
If you have experienced all of thee above, and do on a regular basis, remember to stop and smell the cows.
I promise either way, you won’t be disappointed.
Day One - Salt Lake CitySeptember 12, 2012
Today has been many things. Crazy. Hectic. Exhausting. I waited 1.5 hours for the rental car at the Salt Lake City airport. I ran to the Whole Foods for 8 gallons of Almond Milk. My pen exploded on the plane turning one of my fingers into something out of the Middle Ages (insert “Bring out your dead!” reference here).
Fortunately, my day ended in the best possible way: Inspiring.
Every year, the Ride to Vegas champions a cause Specialized cares about, and this year, NICA steps in as the headliner. Tonight, we had a dinner at our Salt Lake City warehouse in celebration of their newest league in Utah. Now, for those of you who don’t know, NICA stands for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. For those of you who still don’t know, this means that hundreds of high school kids in an increasing number of states throughout the country get the chance to ride and race mountain bikes. Essentially, it puts cycling into the same vein as cross country running, track, and baseball.
Ok, awesome, right? But inspiring? Perhaps, you may say, I am reaching too far. Perhaps I am making too big a deal out of this. I mean, cycling is great, but so is baseball. Why the phone holding?
Oh… why indeed.
1) Getting kids into cycling creates a lifelong lifestyle choice. Basketball is fantastic, but you can’t commute to work as an adult via a full court press. Cycling as a kid = cycling as an adult = more cyclists. Rad.
2) Getting kids into cycling gets their parents into cycling. And a family that cycles creates a culture of cycling. Hey, let’s RIDE OUR BIKES to the movies, or the ice cream shop, or hey, let’s just ride our bikes! Because it’s fun and we’re a family that likes to do fun things together! Things that don’t include sitting in front of the TV all day! I have to admit that this wasn’t my AHA moment, I’m stealing it from Mike Sinyard, but wow does it ring true. Rad.
3) Getting kids into cycling gets kids off the street. In a former life, I taught 9th Grade English at an inner city school. I had fights in my classroom on a regular basis. I had a Panic button on my wall. These kids needed an outlet, something for them to DO. And not just immediately after school, which let out at 2:30pm, but on weekends and after dinner. What if we gave these kids mountain bikes, taught them how to maintain them, and let them ride? Out of the city? I know that there are many more pieces to this puzzle and don’t want to over simplify anything, but if you’ve ever been on a mountain bike, you know how powerful the experience can be.
And that’s just it, right? Cycling is powerful. Cycling changes lives.
It changed mine.
Now back to NICA. Are you seeing why I am holding the phone? NICA changes lives.
So tomorrow when I get on my bike and start the 66somethingalot miles to Vegas, that inspiring thought will keep me going when the crazy, hectic, and exhausting ones want to hold me back.
Vegas or BustSeptember 11, 2012
I am, as they say, a newbie. I bought my first bike in April of 2010. My list of epic accomplishments is sparse. A mountain century here. A crash filled road race there. A few Strava QOMs.
I am also, as they say, a fast learner. I am well versed in the art of Tegaderm. I know about hot spots, numb feet, and sore backs. I have learned how to descend, how NOT to descend (see Tegaderm reference above), how to pace myself on a climb, how to pull, and how to suck a wheel.
When I was told that I would be participating on the industry wide legendary Specialized Ride to Vegas, though, both the learner and the newbie gave pause.
6 days. Around 660 miles. A ***t ton of climbing. More riding than I've ever imagined I would ever do in one shot.
The thing that I love about cycling though, maybe more than anything else, is the physical and mental adventure of it. How much can I take? How far can I go? At what point on my ride does an amazingly good idea turn into an amazingly bad one?
How much can I eat afterwards?
These are all questions I've dealt with before, though this time they will be turned up to 11.
Follow me here on my 2012 Ride To Vegas*.
*Starting in 2009, the Ride to Vegas is an annual pilgrimage to the largest US cycling tradeshow, Interbike, and combines Specialized's passion for riding with its commitment to advocacy, raising awareness for causes near and dear to us. The 2012 ride is dedicated to NICA, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, www.nationalmtb.org.
September 18, 2012
September 17, 2012
September 16, 2012
September 15, 2012
September 14, 2012
September 13, 2012
September 12, 2012
September 11, 2012