I joined a fairly elite group of riders yesterday on a ride I wasn't quite ready for: 7000' of climbing over 115 miles. One rider ("John") held the record for Seattle to Spokane (285 miles, in 13 hours), one rider recently did a 600km ride over 4 mountain passes. And the ride leader wasn't a slouch either, one of these bearded old guys who's probably spent more time in the saddle than I've been alive.
Coming up from Ohanapecosh in the southeast corner of Mount Rainer National Park, ascending to Cayuse Pass and Chinook Pass in the rain, the temperature dropped from about 60 to 40 degrees. I was feeling just fine, hardly even tired, just wet and cold in my hands and feet. I managed to get ahead of most of the group, in fact. Then heading east on Highway 410, it quickly warmed up and the scenery transitioned from forests and snow patches to desert canyons. With a strong tailwind, even on the flats, sustaining 24-26 miles per hour was pretty easy, as we followed the Naches River into the Yakima Valley.
But then I found the group had me beat. Slowly I was falling away from the pack. One of the riders came back and pulled me back. We kept together, but I wasn't so confident anymore. I wasn't keeping up!
And then I "flatted" soon on the turn off to White Pass. The ride leader assisted. I learned an important lesson about embedded rock shards in tires: Apparently small pieces of rocks actually wiggle their way through the rubber surface of a tire and can be eventually pushed into the tube causing punctures. He removed a dozen or so of these pieces from my tire and suggested I "flat" and inspect my tires after every long ride. (I also learned what pump to buy.)
I rode ahead. The tremendously helpful tailwind turned into a nasty headwind and energy-wise I wasn't doing so well. I was riding alone and could have used a pack to save my energy. I ate furtively: Calorie Mate and chips. The temperature felt about 80 degrees on the pavement and I really could have used some sugary food. But lunch was a few more miles up the road.
Luckily, I found myself arriving for lunch just a few minutes later of the other riders. I don't think I could have stomached a hamburger and fries preceeding the climb back, so I settled on pie and ice cream. I should have gotten more food, but I had plenty of bars, but again I needed more carbs and sugar. (Why didn't I pack some onigiri?) And so with a significant headwind, the climb to the pass was brutal. I stopped every mile or less to rest.
The decent was obviously easy, but there was a little climb (300' back to Ohanapecosh) in the last few miles. I was delighted to be back at the car.
In some strange way, it was wonderful to discover my limit, and I really started to respect those other riders with me who made this ride look easy. And I was pleased with my performance at the beginning and middle of the ride, knowing I just have to eat a bit better, cycle just a bit more, and sustain to the finish. John, who I drove back to his home in Sumner, paid me a compliment on how well I did on that initial climb.