I might have suspected that my ride was to be ill-fated when I lost my gel-container within about the first ten miles and one of my water bottles popped out shortly thereafter. This was after getting to the starting line and realizing that I had left my seat pack, containing my wallet, cell phone, Co2 cartridges, spare tubes, and tire levers, at home and couldn’t get them before the start. That and the two and a half hours sleep I got the night before…
The first hundred miles went by as smooth as you please, except for a near wipeout around mile 15 from having to mash my brakes because of the rider in front of me. My rear wheel was determined to take the lead but I was fortunate enough to pull out of a high speed, potentially ride ending, crash. The hill that my Tacoma coworkers kept going on about was a paper tiger.
As I munched my peanut butter sandwich at the Centralia food stop, I felt pretty good about my prospects. I had begun my first STP with probably the least amount of training as anybody in the ride that day. I saw this as a way to convince one of my riding coworkers that I had some sort of freakish genetics that allowed me to get away with crazy feats of endurance without the appropriate training. It worked for the Flying Wheels Summer Century, so I figured I could just keep rolling the dice. Just in case you are curious, my training after the FWSC consisted of 45 minutes on my stationary bike, a 13 mile ride, and a 21 mile ride. Crazy, huh? Sure, I had meant to train better, but it is what it is.
At mile 110 I began to notice that I was having problems keeping up with my four man pace line. We had been together since the beginning of the ride, my coworker, Chris, a husband and wife team, Brad and Jen, and I). By mile 114, I began having problems keeping up with my pace group. By mile 117, I could no longer keep up with my pace group and told them to go on without me. The cramping started soon after. It began in my left calf but soon encompassed the entirety of my lower extremities. More than once I had to get off my bike (sometimes almost crashing) as my legs would seize up with cramps. I also began to notice that my two 20oz. water bottles couldn’t get me the approximately 25 miles to the next rest stop. I realized something was wrong, but I hadn’t quite realized the seriousness of my predicament.
Somehow, by mile 127, I had caught back up with my pace line (well, they were leaving and I was just arriving. After exchanging our happy surprise at meeting up again, Brad mentioned that there was a proper food stop about ten more miles down the road. The only reason I had planned to stop at that time was to fill my water bottles, and I knew that I couldn’t keep up with them (both Brad and my coworker are hella-strong), I opted to join them again. I mentioned to Chris that I really needed to get some water first and he didn’t hesitate to offer me one of his bottles. It was at this point that my front wheel collided with his rear wheel. What followed was a spectacular crash in which I emerged with some skin missing from my right knee, a bruised left palm, and various scrapes. Chris escaped with a blow that cracked the back of his helmet and a few scrapes of his own. We could easily continue (Chris more so than me); however, our bikes could not. My Scat 560 got off with only the front wheel out of true and the handlebar tape on the right drop shredded. Chris’ bike had a rear derailer that need much love. Luckily, this happened at a stop that also had repair support (thank you Pedro’s). Although the repairs ended up taking about an hour, Chris figured that if we averaged 17mph the rest of the way, we would arrive in Portland by 6:30pm. Of course, I knew I couldn’t average 17mph the rest of the way. While our bikes were being repaired I tried to drink some water and stay out of the sun, but I still didn’t feel right. I was even running my hand over my forehead and trying to lick the salt (Yes, I know that’s gross). Shortly after taking off from the rest stop the cramps began again, requiring me to get off my bike to stretch and massage the affected muscle (which tended to be the entirety of my left leg). Still, I was able to make it to the next rest stop while Chris was still there. We started off together once again, and soon thereafter the cramps returned. The deal was that we would regroup at the next rest stop if we became separated. We wouldn’t see each other for the rest of the ride.
We joined a new pace line and Chris soon outdistanced me as I was unable to keep the pace. Yep, more cramps. I realized that I couldn’t catch any more pace lines as I had no gas left in the tank. Although I had averaged 17.7 mph prior to my troubles, I was resigned to finishing the final 60 miles of the STP, even if I did it solo the rest of the way at 10-12 mph. By this time, the rider was not important, only the completion of the ride. I distinctly remember as we crossed the bridge to Oregon… As I began the climb I began to cramp in both thighs. After dismounting and massaging my legs on the bridge’s very narrow shoulder, I continued my journey. There were no more style points left to be obtained. My pride had wilted under the Oregon heat, and my cries of “On your left” had long since been replaced with the same cry from countless others.
My spirits lifted as I came to a downhill section of the course but I was still barely able to average 12mph. Then more cramps. My entire left leg seized up and I barely managed to keep from crashing. I got off my bike and stretched, drank some more fluids, and waited for my body to give me the okay, but no okay came. The shallow breathing came; the disorientation/confusion came; but the okay was nowhere to be found.
So I got back on my bike. I mean, what choice did I have? I had forgotten my seat pack, so I had no cell phone and no money. My only option was to continue… Mile 160 came soon thereafter and although I was still on the downhill slope, my pace had not quickened. I pulled off at a place where a “Group Health Team in Training” vehicle was as that was the only decent off-road spot I had seen since entering Oregon. I thought that I would just drink some more fluids (although I had almost emptied my last water bottle) and rest a bit, but I couldn’t sit without my legs cramping.
I knew that I couldn’t continue and I guess it must have been fairly clear as the Team in Training peeps came over with some ice in a bag to try and cool me down and flagged down the STP support staff. And that is how I ended up fifteen miles down the road at the aid stationed, on a cot surrounded by ice bags, waiting for my wife to come pick me and my bike up.
I didn’t see Chris again; although, I was supposed to see him the next morning. I spoke with him that night to tell him what had happened and got the distinct impression that he thought I had faked my heat exhaustion. Perhaps I’m just being hypersensitive. Still, with 43 miles left to finish the STP, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had trained. The slight from Chris, perceived or otherwise, had quickly taken me from the point of not wanted to see my bike again to planning for next years STP. I will have my revenge, over the heat and over my condescending coworker!
PS. I didn't proofread this so I apologize for any typos.
PPS. I reserve the right to be totally wrong.