The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
Such experiences are not necessarily pleasant at the time they occur.
~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow
Yesterday I drove 160 miles round trip to ride Madeleine somewhere other than on the same stretch of highway out of Valdez. I parked at Squirrel Creek Campground (just over the bridge from Tonsina Lodge) and headed south. That's where I'll start riding in just a few days on the second day of the Great Alaska 2Day300K, what I keep calling the tourist-class, non-race version of the Fireweed 400. That day's ride will come after Friday, the day on which I will have ridden 110 miles from Sheep Mountain Lodge to Tonsina Lodge - hopefully.
I previously calculated that I need to maintain about a 13-mph pace in order to have time for short off-bike breaks and still make it to Tonsina (Friday) and Valdez (Saturday) in a reasonable amount of time. My previous rides this summer have indicated that such a pace should be doable, if not easy. However, having driven the highway several times already this summer, I know that the wind blows - a lot. Yesterday's ride proved me correct.
I had high hopes. The skies were heavily overcast, and typically the winds are strongest here when it's sunny. I knew I'd be disappointed, however, as soon as I stepped out of my truck. Sure enough, I pedaled onto the highway and took off uphill into a 20-mph headwind. The hill wasn't steep, not enough to be much of an issue on its own, but the wind kept my pace down under 10 mph. A pace that continued.
I'd started out thinking I'd shoot for riding 30 miles south, and then turn around and ride back - a good, long training ride. Five miles in, I had to stop and stretch my legs, still tired from the previous day's 30+ miles, and berate myself into not quitting then and there. I reminded myself that it often takes up to 10 miles before my quads warm up sufficiently. Seven miles, eight, nine...no, Sharry, you can't quit. You have to make it at least 10.
I took my second break at 9.46 miles, the one I'd intended to be my first, and took a video of the aspens blowing in the wind - more than living up to their moniker "quaking." I figured it would be my proof that my mental despair was not not unwarranted. There was a good reason I had a running litany in my head for over an hour that sounded something like this:
What in the hell am I thinking?
I don't want to ride 110 miles in this crap.
This is ridiculous. What do I have to prove?
I know I'm the strongest I've ever been.
What do I need to prove...to myself or anyone else?
I should just call off the whole farce before I even waste my time starting.
What the hell am I thinking?
About the time ten miles came and went (at this point I was telling myself that there was no way I was going to have driven that far to only ride 20 miles so I had better keep pedaling) my legs finally warmed up or the wind dropped a bit or something else improved because, while I wasn't going any faster, I wasn't having to work so darn hard to maintain that 10 mph. I also took pity on myself and agreed that I could quit after 20 miles. A 40-mile ride was respectable, even if it wasn't what I'd hoped for.
The nonstop flow of motorhomes and trailers fleeing Valdez after the holiday weekend finally had a gap in it so that I could turn around at 20.25 miles. I rode a mile back up the hill I'd been coming down to a nice pullout between the highway and the Tiekel River for a little lunch break. Sausage sandwich in my tummy, I set off for my truck.
Ah, the bliss of a tail wind. Even up the hills I flew along in my highest gears. I was actually able to coast for the first time all day. A smile started to replace the scowl etched on my face.
I remembered why I love to bicycle.
Maybe, just maybe, I can do this. On the other hand, I never get to ride north during those 200 miles.
What the hell am I thinking?!