A few weeks ago, I asked my coach if I could go to Wisconsin this weekend to do the Dairyland Dare – 126 miles, over 14,000 feet of climbing, more horrible than the Horribly Hilly Hundred, in the middle of summer in Wisconsin, do you dare?
We left the house at 5:40 am. Let me start by saying, who put Dodgeville, Wisconsin 3 hours north of our house? Finally we arrive at 8:40 am, last two people to start and the minute we pull out our bikes to get started – torrential downpour and nasty storm.
Back in the van. Chris falls asleep. Is there any place where he does not snore? In misty rain, we are finally rolling at 9:45 am.
By 5 minutes into the ride my shorts were soaked. I stop on the side of the road and confess to Chris that I have a bad feeling about this ride. Maybe it just wasn’t worth it today. Maybe the storm, the rain, the pending heat that you could feel cooking in the air – maybe this was a sign.
He wants to hear nothing of us. He wants to ride, with or without me, he tells me to wait in the van if I don’t want to ride. I scowl and continue to pedal. Today I will not be a good riding companion. I think to myself that today I just might want to drop myself on this ride.
30 minutes later the sun is out. We start to ponder the more important questions in life – do llamas baaaa? How full is a Bento Box when it is really full? And can you add more? How many salt tabs will we need to take? How many is too many? How far until the next town? And will someone have a white van, a tent, and a cold beer waiting?
Wait, this isn’t Ragbrai in Iowa in late July. No, it’s Wisconsin. And I’m not sure where. Maybe west, maybe north. At some point we may have crossed the Minnesota state line. Long rides get like this – you have no idea where you are other than an arrow on a map or painted on the road. You know no name of town, no direction, just which way the wind is blowing and which way you need to go.
The first hour we averaged 15.8 mph. The roads were wet, our legs were not ready to ride. The hills were constant, steep, and long. It had to get better, right?
The second hour we averaged 15.8 mph. I repeat – we maintained 15.8. The temperature also spiked to about 95 degrees, full sun. But we finally got some tailwind. Which brought our average up to 17.1 mph.
At mile 30 I showed Chris a move I entitled the downhill slingshot. Get into his draft on the downhill then as I approach his wheel dart to the left side and soar past him on the descent while shouting YEE HAW.
The third hour I thought to myself there is no way we are doing 126 miles. Not with 14,000 feet of these hills. Imagine this: climb at 6.8 mph, 58 rpms, heart rate at 179 bpm and nearly maximum wattage for 8 minutes while some guy in front of you checks mailboxes (zig zags back and forth up the hill) every inch of the way thus blocking your most direct path up the hill. When you get around him, and up the hill, you then descend at 37 mph, imagine wet roads, blind curves, scattered acorns, signs that say “loose gravel” everywhere. It also doesn’t help that at the bottom of every major descent there seems to be a stop sign and a right turn.
At one point I descend at 41 mph and nearly soil myself. But I probably would not have noticed because my shorts are still wet.
And what goes down at 41 mph also must go up – at about 6 mph. I admit that more than once I was tempted to dismount and walk my bike up a hill. I wondered if there was some siren on the bike that would go off for going too slow on too fast of a bike. System shutdown below 50 rpms or when speed drops below 5 mph. I think to myself that time trial bike is perhaps the dumbest bike choice ever for a course like this.
At mile 42 I am looking for coffee. Who cares that it’s hot oustide. I need caffeine and I need it now. I am complaining to Chris that these rest stops never have coffee – why not? Who needs nuts, or bananas, or bagels. I have never craved any of that on a long ride. I crave coffee. Every rest stop should have coffee and salt. Those are the only food groups you need to care about on a long ride.
At 3 hours 30 minutes we make a decision – go for the full 126 miles or settle for 100. Since we started so late, we decide to ride 100 instead. Chris is disappointed. He wants to go the full 126. I tell him this ride is not imperative to Ironman success. He doesn’t believe me. I tell him Jennifer did not want us to ride 126. And then he is ok. He will do whatever she says this year. I make a mental note that I need to talk to Jennifer about assigning Chris household chores on his weekly workout schedule.
Around mile 53, Chris asks if I’m ok to ride on my own. I say yes, and just like that I am abandoned. I see a dead kitty on the side of the road and think that could be me. Chris says someone should tell that kitty the road is no place to take a nap.
At mile 55, I found myself riding alone, in the middle of Wisconsin? Illinois? Maybe Minnesota? Who knows. I told Chris to go on without me but really I wish he had stayed behind. The pain in my legs was approaching unbearable, the heat was smothering me, I had enough of the hills, the bike seat chafing me, the Bento Box scraping my knees, the squeak in my crank, the stickiness of my aerobars. I start to annoy myself so much that I want to drop myself. I knew this would happen.
A few miles later, I am still trying to drop myself but having no luck.
At 4 hours, I pull into a rest stop desperate for cold water and shade. A volunteer asks if I need anything and I am not even sure where to begin. How about a sticker and a Sharpie – address me to Jennifer Harrison, drop me off on her doorstep with a note that says HELP – FILL WITH COFFEE NOW.
At mile 77 I deviate from my nutrition plan and eat salty peanuts. I decide that salty peanuts are the new Cheez-It.
At 4 hours 23 minutes, climbing a hill at 5.8 mph with my heart rate nearly at max and my breathing so loud I want to turn myself down, I cry. Giant sobbing salty tears type of cry as I slowly grinded away at 50 rpms up this neverending hill. I think to myself I cannot afford further salt loss but the tears I cannot help. My legs had nothing left. I had been completely out of gears since mile one. And I still had nearly 2 hours to go.
At 80 miles, I think I have a lost a toe. I am sure it has detached from my foot after too much climbing out of the saddle and now sits painfully jammed in the top of my left shoe.
Around 5 hours, I regrouped myself. But I was still beyond hot, thirsty, and every time I looked down I was going 10 mph. This is where I completely unraveled on the ride. More so than the tears a few miles before. I was completely alone. I was in the middle of nowhere. I was almost out of water. I was hot. I was going so slow I couldn’t determine if it was headwind, or heat, or humidity, or if I had been ascending a giant hill for the past 10 miles. I knew I had 12 more miles to go and realized it could take me well over an hour.
At 5 hours 30 minutes, I see what looks like my husband coming from up over a hill. I believe I am hallucinating. It has gotten so hot and the road is so barren – I think it is a mirage. I expect to see a giant coffee cup following behind him or other things in the category of things I would really like to see right now but then realize indeed that is the real version of Chris. He is coming back for me. I shouted for him to just leave me there to die. Just scrape me off the pavement in the morning and feed me to the crows.
I confess that for the past hour I have maxed out at 10 mph. Chris looks at me and admits he has been going 11. I ask what is going on, he confirms we have been going uphill for the last 10 miles.
15 minutes later, we are at the final rest stop. I have broken out in hives. Someone asks me what I am allergic to and Chris says “her bike”.
At mile 93, I am finally in Chris’ draft. It doesn’t help much. I pass some people while going 7 mph up a hill. Then my speed drops to 6.8 mph. I stand out of the saddle just to break 7 mph again and because Chris is pulling away.
At 6 hours 12 minutes, the route is finished and I have ridden 98 miles. But I’ll be damned if I get off my bike without going the full 100 so I ride circles around the parking lot while Chris shouts at me about having a can-do attitude.
At 99.97 miles I almost get hit by a pick-up truck while riding circles in the parking lot.
At 100 miles I am finally done.
These rides, these awful, horrible, hot, hilly rides are what I am looking for. I am not interested in going out for a 100 mile ride and breaking 5 hours on a cool and comfortable day. No, I want it to get bad, get ugly, leave me completely battered and baked on the side of the road. I want to go 100 miles at 15.8 mph (seriously, 6 hours, 19 minutes, 15.8 mph, 100 miles). I want to climb 10,000 feet. Sweat it out. Check mailboxes up a hill. Nearly lose a toe. Just like I did today. I want to hit rock bottom. Make me find a new low, and a new way of working through that low – whether it’s through tears, or going 10 mph, eating salty peanuts, or telling myself to just shut up and ride. These are the lessons that make long, painful rides oh so worth the dare.
The question is, then, do you dare? Do you dare let yourself unravel this far and hit this deep at the bottom of your workout soul? Do you dare to see what you find when you reach these new lows? When you open yourself up to these lows and just let them happen you find new strategies for coping, you discover new strength in your what feels like weakness, you realize the time always passes and that no matter what you will get through.
Go ahead – I dare you….give it a try.
originally posted 8/12/07