This Saturday, April 30th was the Project Rwanda ride. This a ride to raise money for Project Rwanda, and they provide bikes for those in Rwanda to be able to transports agricultural produce. According to their website:
Project Rwanda is committed to furthering the economic development of Rwanda through initiatives based on the bicycle as a tool and symbol of hope. Our goal is use the bike to help boost the Rwandan economy as well as re-brand Rwanda as a beautiful and safe place to do business and visit freely.
They sell tons of raffle tickets, and will give away a carbon bike as the grand prize, as well as lots of smaller items. There are two ride options available for those who want to participate, 25 miles and 50 miles. Somewhere in my confused brain I thought, “I’ve done 25 mile ride before, why don’t I do the 50”. Needless to say I am now paying the penalty for that decision. From what I heard they were expecting around 600 riders for the day. The 50 mile ride started at 7:00am and the 25 at 9:00am. When I arrived at Cook’s Corner early due to limited parking for the start of the race, the wind was absolutely howling. I prepped the bike and stayed in the car out of the wind. There wasn’t a good area to spin and warm up, plus 50 mile is plenty of time to warm up, so I waited till the last minute jump on the bike and spin a little bit.
After some brief comments by one of the ride organizers, he finished by stating, “You have now officially started.” It took a few moments for those at the very front that this meant GO! This was a mass start so even near the middle of the pack it took a minute before I even started moving. The first section of the course followed part of the Aliso Creek bike trail (which is paved). This was just downhill enough that there was no point in pedaling on the single speed. Next was the first turn onto dirt and riders were backing up trying to get into single file for the single track. This section headed into the Whiting Ranch for a small loop. After a quick climb the trail headed down and out of Whiting on single track. With SO many riders so densely packed, this was the absolute slowest I had ever ridden through Whiting. At every water crossing, there were at least five riders who would stop for some unknown reason. I never did figure out why so many riders seemed to have a water phobia on this ride. This fear of water continued throughout the entire ride and only got worse as the water crossings got bigger and deeper.
Once out of Whiting we headed back toward Cook Corner’s and on to O’Neil via Live Oak Canyon. This was a fairly easy stretch, but had some good climbs. The first aid station I knew was around the 12mi marker, although at this point it felt like I was past 12mi, it was probably only 8-10mi. By this point the riders were starting to thin out a little bit, but the hardest part for me, being on the single speed, was the single track climbs. All the geared riders would immediately drop into granny up the hills and spin away, not climbing very quickly. I, however, had to stand and crank on the pedals to get up the hill, but it was even harder to do it at a slow pace. By this point I was beyond the brief 10-15% of the course I had actually ridden before, and everything was going to be new to me. So I pulled over for a quick snack. I had checked with another rider before the race who does a good amount of endurance riding and was informed that your body is only capable of making us of approximately 250 calories and 24oz of water per hour. Based on that info I had loaded my pack accordingly with GU gels, Cliff Bars, Gatorade, GU chews, orange slices, and a peanut butter & honey sandwich (for the home stretch). I ate one of my oranges, chugged some Gatorade and took off again.
As I continued to head on I scaled back my pace a bit to make sure I wouldn’t run out of steam too soon. This section was mainly rolling fire-road and a little bit of pavement till I hit the first aid station. The aid stations had plenty of extra water, Gatorade, snack bars, as well as fresh oranges and bananas. I downed a couple a bananas, a bottle of Gatorade, a shot of GU, and a bag of chips. The aid station was near a set of restrooms, which I made use of while they were available and because I had already had to stop once and answer the call of nature. The though did cross my mind at this point, if this is only 25% of the course, how am I going to finish. After the brief rest, I was feeling good and headed out. Once past the first aid station the riders definitely began to thin out. After about 10-15 minutes I began to feel the benefits of the food I had consumed and kept on spinning. Not far out past the aid station I hit some pavement as the course wound away from the dirt and through a few intersections. In just a few miles I came upon the second aid station. I only stopped long enough to grab a few Cliff Bars and down another bottle of Gatorade and kept pedaling. I’m sure I probably was not eating quite enough as I should, but my stomach is not very forgiving when it comes to mixing food with strenuous exercise.
I was already in unfamiliar territory by this point. All the dirt was new to me, and I had to start keeping an eye out for the trail markers as not every turn had someone pointing in the right directions and no large groups of riders to follow. After some downhill section which I knew would be tough on the way back I came across several water crossings and each seemingly followed by sand pits. And just like before there were riders who didn’t know how to attack the crossings. The water on the deepest crossings was only about 12-18”in. My fee didn’t even get wet till the third one. The sand coming out of the water was pretty deep. A lot of riders ahead had given up and were just walking through. I pedaled through most of them, but 2/3 of the way through the biggest sand pit, my front wheel sunk in and I was done in with it. A quick hike a bike out of the sand let to trail through the river bottom that was just painful at this point. All of the little river rocks were just chattering me to death.
Rolling hills and deserted fire-road came and went for several miles as I tried one by one to pick off the isolated riders ahead of me. In one section I came charging down a fire-road only to find a off-camber left turn at the bottom with a large rain rut on the outside of the turn. I quickly tried to lose as much speed as possible before I made a fatal mistake and ended up going OTB. Just as my front tire slid into the rut I had gotten my speed under control and was able to keep rolling through the rut without going over the bars. There were constant reminders that MTB’ers were not the only ones to use these trails as evidence of horses was more than abundant. After a bit of trail that was more down than up I rolled up on pavement and third aid station situated just past the halfway point.
As I sat resting in the shade at the aid station I contemplated how much energy I really had left. It felt like I had used up 75% on the first 50% of the mileage. More bananas, oranges, and a cliff bar quickly were eaten while I chatted with some of the other riders from which I found out that there was a big climb out of where we were back in the other directions. I took a little longer rest knowing that the first thing out of the gate was another big climb. There were guys at the rest stop cleaning and lubing chains, so I took advantage of that while I rested and ate. I was not really watching the clock on my rest, but quickly enough I reached a point where I realized that I was only postponing the inevitable and further rest would not be of any benefit.
I headed out to face the pain of the final half of my journey. Just like I had been told shortly after the aid station there was a long grind. The first bit of it was not too steep and I slowly conquered it. The last section got fairly steep and I ramped up what speed I could and made it about halfway up before I spun out and lost my momentum. A quick HAB up the remaining climb, I then headed back through the rolling hills that led to the sand and water crossings. After the final water crossing there is a significant climb, but all the riders ahead of me stopped to clean their bike in the middle of the trail at the foot of the climb. On the single-speed this just sucks, as momentum is your best friend. I ended up having to attack the hill in sections, stopping for air several times. This just depleted what remaining energy I had, and in the 35-40 mile range I was really SSuffering. I was starting to get cramps in both legs, and when I straightened my legs they cramped up badly and wanted to stay that way. About the only thing keeping me moving forward was sheer stubbornness and unwilling to give up. I was definitely slowing down and other geared riders were passing me. I came across some covered benches and took a few minutes to rest.
I got back on the bike and continued on at what felt like a snail’s pace, but I was still riding. After a while I came upon a group and riders and used them to pace me and chatted with them along the way. After a while things were starting to look familiar and I realized we were quickly approaching the second aid station on the return route. With that glimmer of hope, I had a small resurgence of energy and pulled ahead of the small group I had been pacing with. The aid station was down in supplies to mainly water and a few granola bars which I passed on. Finding a spot in the shade to rest, I finished off my remaining fruit as well as my sandwich. I still had a good amount of water remaining, so once my food was eaten there was no point in further rest. From the aid station it was pavement for a bit, so even on the mild uphill, it was fairly easy even in my tired state. Soon enough I found dirt and generally gravity was in my favor as I headed back passed the first aid station toward O’Neil Park.
I came through the pavement section of O’Neil and began the last major climb of the ride. I was so spent I had to break it up in to section again stopping every hundred yards or so. By the top of the climb it had gotten too steep to ride. I hiked the remaining bit of the climb and the cramps returned only much worse this time. I made it to the top of the climb and the last hard climb was over. With every pedal stroke my legs wanted to lock up whenever they straightened. The cramps were bad, but I was not about to quit this close to the end. I was on the home stretch, and I could virtually see the finish line. That alone was enough to give me the burst of energy I needed to finish strong. Up the final climb at Live Oak Canyon, and down the hill back to El Toro and Cook’s Corner where the finish line was. It felt good to be done!! I had never done a ride of this caliber before, let alone on a single-speed. 50 miles is a long way, and this was an awesome but painful ride.