I've always had an insatiable desire to work really hard for something that I am passionate about and to push myself to the absolute limits, both physically and mentally. Well, yesterday I discovered just where my limits are and pushed right past them. I discovered how incredible the human body is both physically and mentally. I learned how incredibly important friends are and how vital their support it to my own success. More than anything else though, I experienced once again just how incredibly thrilling it is to explore this world from the seat of a bike.
Yesterday, myself and seven other riders set out at 4:00 am to accomplish a double century ride, or a 200-mile bike ride around the entire valley that surrounds Phoenix, AZ. The riders included myself, Jared Miller, Jonathan Donohue, Lance Strong, Brian Lindsey, James Tingley, Scott Peterson, and Tim Leighton. I considered myself the weakest rider of the group coming into the ride, and so I was honestly stoked just to be in the presence of such strong riders attempting to cover 200 miles.
We started in the town of Surprise and began our ride heading north for a few miles before heading east towards Dove Valley/Desert Sonoran Parkway. This is where the early morning winds picked up from the north, causing us to get slammed with some major crosswinds. The wind caught me off-guard and the speed at which the other riders were moving caused me experience my first low of the day, not even 20 miles into the ride! I was already feeling defeated trying to keep up with everyone else and getting dropped so early into the ride. The wind was knocking me all over the place and I felt as if I was exerting myself too hard way too early into the ride. Luckily, the plan was to all stick together, and so they let me catch up and ride in the middle of the pack so I wouldn’t get dropped.
By the time we got east of the I-17 and into the Dove Valley area, the winds started to die down a bit, which was encouraging, but the temperature just kept dropping. The sun was just starting to come up in the east, but the temperature hit its lowest as we got further out into the open desert. Riding east on Dove Valley/Desert Sonoran Parkway was absolutely freezing, but the sunrise in the distance brought with it the anticipation of warmth in the near future.
We continued plugging along east into 9-mile hill heading down into Rio Verde. This part of the ride was absolutely gorgeous. By the time we climbed up Dynamite Blvd and headed down towards Rio Verde, the sun was rising over the mountains in the east, illuminating our world and bringing with it warmth and the excitement of a long day still to come.
My second low came after we got into Rio Verde and began to climb out towards Fountain Hills. We were heading south past McDowell Mountain Regional Park when I was quickly dropped by the pack. I started to become a bit overwhelmed with the speed at which they were moving, being unable to keep up with them. I definitely wouldn’t call myself a slow rider. I’m kind of an average, middle of the pack rider. The group of guys that I was riding with, though, were flying through the first 100 miles of our ride, easily pushing an average pace of 20+ mph. The group stopped just before getting to Fountain Hills and let me catch up. Luckily, Jared Miller gave me the first of a few pep talks we would have that day to lift my spirits. By the time we got to Fountain Hills, I was feeling much better. I was also surprised with how good I was feeling physically. At this point, we were maybe 60-70 miles into the ride. Other than being a little slower than everyone else, I was actually feeling relatively strong. My legs felt good and I was ready to tackle the next 130-140 miles.
After passing through Fountain Hills, we headed southwest on the Beeline towards Mesa. Once in Mesa, we turned to head south towards the western edge of Chandler before heading west through Tempe. We stopped a little over 100 miles into the ride at Whole Foods for some much needed fuel. Eating nothing but energy gels and bars for 200 miles would have been miserable, so splurging on a vegan doughnut and some coffee was a nice change of pace for my taste buds.
After re-fueling, we continued to head south past the eastern side of South Mountain until we got to Riggs Road. Here we turned west to head along the southern side of South Mountain, which was cool as I had never ridden out there before. The only thing that really sucked about Riggs Road was that it was very long, flat, open and exposed. This gave us a little more trouble with the wind as we were heading into a headwind much of the way past South Mountain. This road eventually turns into Beltline Road and begins to head northwest along the eastern side of the Estrella Mountains. Eventually, we found ourselves at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and began to head west towards the White Tank Mountains far, far off to the west.
We continued to head west past Goodyear, Avondale, and Buckeye until we were just northeast of Palo Verde along the southern edge of the White Tanks. Up to this point, I was still feeling pretty good. I was definitely getting more and more tired as the miles began to tick away. Others in our group were beginning to get a little fatigued, but overall, we were all hanging tough. We experienced a few flat tires along the way, which slowed us down a little bit. Other than that though, we were all in good shape and were ready to take on the final stretch of the ride.
Things got interesting for us as we tried to make our way around the White Tanks. By this point in the ride, Brian Lindsey and James Tingley were forced to drop off the ride and head home as they had other commitments that they had to attend to. This left six of us. When new were at the southwestern edge of the White Tanks, we needed to head north in order to get back to Surprise, and in order to do this, we had to connect with a long stretch of road that would take us along the western side of the White Tanks. There was a point in the ride that three of us continued along a road called Lower buckeye road, convinced that this was the best way to meet up with this road, whereas the other half of the group decided to head a little further south before making a loop that would eventually meet up with this road. Myself, Jared Miller, and Jonathan Donohue took the Lower Buckeye Road option while the rest continued on a different road. Unfortunately, after about a mile, our road turned into a dirt road. We decided to continue onwards since the dirt was relatively hard-packed and, therefore, rideable on a road bike. After a half mile or so on this dirt-road, it turned into a wash cutting through the middle of the desert, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. This left us with no other option that to hop off our bike and walk with it until we got back onto hard-packed dirt. This is the part of the ride that left me dismounting from my bike and running with it cyclocross-style. I’ve always wanted to try cyclocross, and this was my chance! I alternated between cycling, albeit slowly, on this sketchy dirt road running through the middle of the desert and running with my bike.
Despite the fun I was having running my bike through a wash in the middle of the desert, the sun was setting and I was out of food. There was 20-something miles until the next gas station, and around this time, I wasn’t even sure we were going to even find the paved road we were looking for. Eventually, after a few more miles of dirt roads, we did find the road we were looking for and met back up with our group, letting them in our epic off-road adventure. It wouldn’t be a double century without some cyclocross thrown into the mix 170 miles into our ride! I was saved by Tim, who had an extra gel with some caffeine. He gave it to me, and this pretty much carried me through the next part of the ride past the White Tanks. I’m convinced that without this gel, I wouldn’t have made it…
We were now heading north along the western side of the White Tank Mountains on a road called Sun Valley Parkway. This road is 20 miles long and is at a very slight upward gradient. It was also a road that cut through the middle of the desert in the middle of nowhere. The group was hammering it up this road and I was hanging in the middle of the pack hanging on for dear life. The next 20 miles of riding are kind of difficult to put into words, but it was the closest thing I have ever experienced to an alternate dimension. Between the blackness of the night blanketing us from all sides, the red blinking tail lights in my face, the wind hitting us from the west, jackets of riders flapping in front of me, and headlights illuminating only the very next 50 feet in front of us, it felt like I was in a dream. I was in this sort caffeine-induced, hypoglycemic fantasyland where it felt as if I was literally flying, no longer on the ground, but flying on my bike into the darkness of nowhere. I could no longer feel any pain or discomfort in my legs, and my mind was pretty blank and empty by now. My only concern was hanging onto the wheel of the rider in front of me so that I didn’t end up stranded by myself. The 20 miles to the gas station on the northern side of the White Tanks felt like an eternity, and I’m pretty sure I have never been so happy to see a gas station in my entire life than I was in the moment when we rolled up to one on the outskirts of civilization just a few miles to the east.
When I got off the bike at this gas station, the pain, discomfort, and exhaustion hit me like a freight train. It was also getting colder now since the sun had set a few hours ago. When I got back on my bike to finish off the last 20 miles of the ride, I was shaking and shivering so hard that I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to keep my hands on the handlebars of my bike. I wasn’t even really that cold, but for some reason I just couldn’t stop shaking. It took me at least 5 miles of riding before I stopped shaking, and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t thinking of calling it quits during those 5 miles and calling for help. I told myself before the ride that I would stop only if I felt as if I was going to put my health in danger, and I was on the edge of concern as I convulsed on my bike heading downhill towards the town of Surprise. Luckily, Jared Miller saved me again and talked to me while I was fighting the urge to call someone to come and take me home. After catching back up with some of the riders from our group as we entered Surprise, I began to feel better. I was no longer shaking, and so I was no longer considering calling for help. I was 100%
sure that I was going to finish this ride off.
We finished our ride with 210.2 miles and 4,154 feet of climbing over the span of 11:50:22 in the saddle. We started at 4:00 am and finished a little after 7:00 pm. This was more of a group accomplishment than it was an individual feat of endurance. We all finished the ride together, helping each other get to 210 miles. I was lucky enough to have joined in on the fun. I was pushed to my absolute limit and am forever grateful to have had this experience. Those that rode with me helped push me and guide me the entire way. We all accomplished the ride together, as a team, the Mountain Goat Cyclists.
Today, as I write this post, I am surprised to have woken up this morning feeling as good as I do. I am a little fatigued, as expected, but am still planning on getting in my 5-mile recovery run as planned! I am incredibly thankful for everyone that joined in on our ride, including those that were only there for a portion of it. Being able to spend an entire day with such an amazing group of cyclists has reminded me just how important teamwork is and how vital friends are in the pursuit of our dreams and goals. There is absolutely no way I could have finished that ride by myself. In the end, it was all worth it, no doubt about that. Some may wonder why we do it, why we choose to subject ourselves to the inevitable pain and misery that accompanies a ride such as this one. The answer is simple. The journey. It is all about the journey, the lessons learned along the way, the incredible sense of accomplishment afterwards, and the personal challenges overcome along the way. I look back on some of my darkest moments along that ride and am overcome with emotion as I know that overcoming those sorts of challenges are what will make me a better person, not just a better cyclist. I learn more about myself through this type of experience than I ever could doing anything else. I learn to be a better person in all areas of my life and to appreciate everything that I have in the present moment. I think the Mountain Goat Cyclists embrace this type of mentality, and this is why it such a pleasure to ride with them. Looking forward to many more epic adventures in the near future!