This past Saturday started out like any other typical Saturday, waking up early to go ride some insane distance on my bike with a bunch of other people that are just as crazy as I am. Only today I woke up and for the first time in a while I wasn’t excited to ride my bike. This is really strange, especially when I am getting ready for such an epic group ride like this one, as normally I’m in vibrate mode the entire week leading up to a big ride. The week leading up to this ride, however, I felt sluggish, tired, and mentally drained.
The ride that we had planned was approximately 175 miles and 10,000+ feet of climbing, starting in Gilbert, AZ (just to the Southeast of Phoenix), heading 120 miles Southeast to the base of Mount Lemmon, continuing to climb Mount Lemmon, and finally descending back down to the base of the mountain. It’s a pretty insane ride by just about anyone’s standards, and I had really been looking forward to this ride for quite some time.
I’m not entirely sure why I woke up on Saturday morning daunted by the idea of completing this particular ride because normally this type of thing gets me excited, like a kid on Christmas morning eager to see what’s in store for him that day. The few days leading up to this ride I felt really burned out, both mentally and physically. I figured I just needed a good night’s sleep on Friday and I would wake up on Saturday reinvigorated. I did end up getting a decent night’s sleep, especially considering the fact that I went to bed at 5:30 pm for a 1:00 am wake-up call. However, I woke up feeling just as mentally exhausted as I had the day prior. I had been pushing myself pretty hard the past month, being pretty consistent with all of my usual swimming, cycling, and running workouts. On top of all that, though, I had been doing doing ultra-centuries every single weekend for the past month! I guess the mental and physical toll of my training finally caught up with me on Friday and Saturday, leaving me questioning my life choices and wondering why the hell I am getting up at 1:00 am on a Saturday to ride 175 miles.
I picked myself up out of bed and drank my typical morning smoothie and a cup of coffee, hoping that the caffeine would help get me psyched. I finished prepping all of my gear, loaded by bike in the car, and headed off to meet up with the other 20 riders or so that were nutty enough to undertake such a chellenge. The entire 30 minute drive to Gilbert I wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed and call it quits. I fought the urge to turn the car around the whole way there and found myself close to actually doing so with each freeway exit sign that I passed.
My lack of enthusiasm for this ride was immediately apparent to my friends at the meeting spot in Gilbert. Later that day they told me that the look on my face was one of exhastion as opposed to the usual glow of excitement. Every ounce of my being questioned my decisions that led me to this meeting spot. Nonetheless, I prepped my bike and got myself ready to endure a long day of riding. I hoped that within 10-15 miles I would get into a groove and find myself enjoying being out in the world and exploring it from the seat of my bike.
Things didn’t get much better for me, and in fact, they got much worse. As we left Gilbert and got out onto the more desolate stretches of highway leading us to our eventual destination, Mount Lemmon, my mindset began to turn darker and darker, almost as dark as the black night sky. By mile 40 or so, just as we were passing through Florence, I almost called it quits. We had a SAG vehicle following us the whole way to Mount Lemmon. The thought of throwing my bike onto the side of the road and going into the back of the truck to sleep didn’t leave my mind for the next 30 miles.
That stretch of 30 miles were some of the most difficult miles I have ever completed on my bike. I thought about never cycling again. I hated cycling in that moment. I hated being out there in the pitch black, cycling towards a destinationt hat I couldn’t even see. I had no sense of direction and felt as if we would never get to Mount Lemmon. I found myself going to a place much darker than I had gone before. Since becoming a dedicated triathlete/cyclist just two years prior, I had never had such intense thoughts of quitting the sport for good. I figured that life would be much easier and simpler if I decided to stay at home and sleep in on the weekends. I wouldn’t have to endure this type of scenario ever again. I didn’t want to feel this exhastion ever again.
I continued to fight through the urge of throwing in the towel until we reached Oro Valley, where we had a slight downhill all the way to Tucson. By this time, the sun had just come up and we were 70+ miles into our ride. I was feeling a little more optomistic at this point, thanks to the rising of the sun and some pep talks provided to me by Jared Miller and Jonathan Donahue. We descended 20 miles or so into Tucson and then continued along some rolling hills to the base of Mount Lemmon. When we reached Mount Lemmon, we were about 115 miles into our ride. We had made it to our final destination!
The ride up Mount Lemmon was an absolute sufferfest. My legs were tired having just ridden over 100 miles to get there and it was now getting hot with temperatures into the 90’s by the time we started our climb. I was in a much better place mentally than I was 60 miles ago, but now I was fighting physical fatigue and trying to climb the 7000 feet or so to reach the top of Mount Lemmon!
For those out there reading this, the climb from the base of Mount Lemmon to the town of Summerhaven at the top of the mountain is 25 miles of paved roads at an average gradient of 4-5% with over 6500 feet elevation change, going from 2500 feet at the base to 8000 feet at the town of Summerhaven. The true top of Mount Lemmon lies another 1000 feet higher and is about 2.5 miles further, and although this is normally my final destination when I climb this beast, I knew I wasn;t going there today as the final 2.5 miles to get there average between 7-12% gradient. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to climb those roads with how tired my legs were, and so the town of Summerhaven was my goal!
With the amazing support of the Mountain Goat Cyclists and the SAG support provided by the Bicycle Accident Attorneys, I made it to the town of Summerhaven! Many of the 20 cyclists that started the ride were able to make it to the top. After regrouping at the top of the mountain in order to enjoy some real food at the Cookie Cabin (an awesome little place at the thop with amazing pizza and massive cookies), we all safely descended back down to the base of the mountain where we were all driven back to Gilbert (nobody was crazy enough to actually ride the 120 miles back to Gilbert!).
I find myself today, now a day after this insane day of riding, reflecting back on just what happened to me out there. First off, I have to thank all of those cyclists from the Mountain Goats and the Bicycle Accident Attorney group that were out there doing this ride with me. The support from all of these riders was what kept me going when times got really tough for me. Also, we had incredible SAG support the entire ride, providing us with food and water. This support was invaluable and also allowed me to keep going well beyond my limits. The power that lies within a strong community of incredible, selfless individuals is truly unbelievable. I’m pretty sure nobody would have dared to attempt this ride solo, but as a group, we all managed to do something pretty incredible.
Next, I think about how far I have come as a cyclist since riding with the Mountain Goat Cyclists. Not even a year ago, the thought of doing this ride would have made me vomit. My first 90 mile ride with this group nearly killed me, but now I am riding more than double that distance! I have become such a strong rider over the past year and I am proud to say that I am a part of the Mountain Goat Cyclists!
Finally, I reflect on the importance of these types of experiences, not only as a cyclist and triathlete, but as a human being. Despite how painful both mentally and physically this day proved to be, I yet again learned more about myself in a day than I ever thought possible. I continue to push the limits of my body and inspired with just how far I can go when I choose to never give up. I reached new heights with this ride and proved to myself that the body and mind can go so much farther than I may believe. The lessons learned from this ride will surely translate into other areas of my day-to-day existence as I continue to move forward, hungry for progress in every aspect of my life.
These experiences remind me of how important it is to live my life with passion and to always, always, always follow my dreams, no matter how insane they may be. This ride was one helluva a journey, filled with ups and downs as well as memories made. The true experience of it all is what makes it so special. I often get asked “Why?” when these types of experiences come up in conversation. Although I may never have the perfect answer, I think that my answer can best be summed up in the following statement:
I’d rather live my life risking it all for something that I am truly passionate about as opposed to living a life of safety and comfort, too scared to chase life’s infinite possibilities.