The Soreness of the Gams

In high school I fancied myself an accomplished bike rider, zipping nimbly through the streets of New York like Kevin Bacon. But when I moved to hilly, hilly Pittsburgh for college I biked a lot less; and when I got a car I biked less than that; and when a car hit me and and mangled my bike (an incident that led to my first meeting with Andrea — “and now that woman is my wife”) I stopped altogether.

I grew more and more marshmallowy. Finally, after moving to California, I replaced my bike and took it on a few short rides a year, always intending some day to do serious riding but never managing to. Meanwhile my cycling friends would talk about a casual 20-mile ride they did, up and down steep hills; my biggest ride could not have been more than 10 miles on relatively flat terrain. Once in a while I’d hear about a 50- or 100-mile ride they did. I’d drive to work along the coastal route and see intrepid cyclists pedaling up and up and up the long climb to the top of Skyline Boulevard and wonder (a) whether I could do that too and (b) what it would feel like to speed down an endless hill like that after investing the effort to climb it.

Then I heard about Bike to Work Day and thought, this is my opportunity to try a long ride. At my last few jobs I worked variously 60 and 50 miles from home. All it would take is a little training before the day came and I would finally show myself and the world that I was still a cycling force to be reckoned with. But year after year one thing or another prevented me from participating: a newborn; an injury; another newborn; illness; a dying mother; surgery.

Finally, this year, I had no excuse — other than the weather and the usual craziness of April preventing me from doing any training. At all. But conditions otherwise were exactly right, especially the fact that I’m working closer to home (35 miles) than I have in eight years.

I planned my route and I set off with considerable trepidation. The ride ahead was longer by far than any I had attempted; it included several big climbs, any one of which had the potential to reduce me to tears, nausea, or unconsciousness; and my body was about as marshmallowy as it had ever been. But (to make a long story short) I made it! Albeit with considerable pain — it hurts even to be typing this up now.

Here are some observations from this experience:

  • Do not forget sunscreen; take it from someone who learned the hard way. As if sore, frozen muscles weren’t bad enough. Ow, ow, ow.
  • If you keep really well hydrated, as you should and as I did, you will endure much better than I did the time I tried just one of the climbs in yesterday’s ride without proper hydration and passed out. But after your ride, your kidneys will realize there is a giant surplus of water in your bloodstream and will wring it out into your bladder again, and again, and again, and again…
  • Why in the world is the shoulder of Skyline Boulevard strewn with so many discarded women’s shoes? And why are they all white? Hypothesis: new brides fling them from their Just Married vehicles; or possibly new divorcees ritualistically discard them along with other mementos of that no-good bastard. Do women do that? Is that a thing?

Naturally, as I rode I had my mobile phone with me, expecting to call Andrea for a rescue that it turned out I never needed. I also used it to tweet updates from the road. For posterity, here are yesterday’s tweets from my Twitter feed.

Finally hitting the road about an hour late. Here goes nothing…

Top of Mt Stinky (Andersen @ Sir Francis Drake), 1st climb of the day. Feelin’ good…

Off w the outer layer. Time to rock my Google bike jersey, showcasing my gut nicely.

About to tackle Horse Hill, a 90-degree vertical climb. (Well, almost.) Kills me dead every time.

Top of Horse Hill! Only mostly dead. Now a glorious descent into Mill Valley.

N. end of Bridgeway in Sausalito. Mill Valley was flat, smooth, and gorgeous.

Big shout-out to wife Andrea, taking on a lot today to make this ride possible. I love her.

Pausing to admire million-dollar view of San Francisco from S. end of Bridgeway.

Next: big climb to Golden Gate bridge. It once made me faint. I fear it.

Golden Gate bridge, yeah!! Suck it, earlier, wimpier version of me.

It’s amazing how good Clif bars taste when you need them, considering how bad they taste when you don’t.

Biking across the Golden Gate: a feast for the eyes, a bludgeoning assault for the ears.

Legion of Honor. Forgot about the killer climb to get here. gasp, gasp

Legs weakening. Butt sore — so sore. But onward! Next stop: the beach.

Back at sea level. All that hard-won potential energy, gone. (But thrillingly spent — whee!)

Butt soreness becoming critical. Cannot maintain a steady cadence.

Taking a break on Great Highway near Sloat.

Facing the endless Skyline climb — the most daunting part of this ride even before all the soreness.

Chain-ring print on right calf: check.

In San Mateo county. Made it all the way through S.F.! Whatever else happens, they can’t take that away from me.

3.4 miles remaining in Skyline climb. Pain does not exist in this dojo!

On my last water bottle. 1.6mi remaining in Skyline climb.

Skyline climb: done! All downhill from here. (Except the remaining uphill parts.)

Just 3.6 miles left! But I can barely move…

Top of Sneath Lane. Now it really is all downhill from here!

Made it. Fuckin’ made it! I am, I am, I am Superman, and I can do anything.

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