Not long ago, I participated in one of those Multiple Sclerosis bicycle rides. The 150-mile bicycle trip from Irvine to San Diego over two days was my second such MS ride. The first, two years earlier, was not only my first century-plus ride but my first organized cycling event as well, so I was eager to see how (or if) I'd improved. It was wet for most of the recent ride. Now, I'll admit the rain was not heavy enough to give me bragging rights about how I survived the cruelest of tortures on a bike, but I think I'm entitled to some manly whimpering. I’d describe the weather "torrential drizzle." Give me a break; this is southern California, and it's all relative.
With two additional years in the saddle since my first MS event, I knew to replace my worn tires before the ride, and even swapped out the chain. I wish I'd bought new cables too. The front derailleur cable broke at about mile 50. But I called the MS communications center for SAG (Support and Gear) assistance. And not two minutes after I hung up, a SAG van came rolling up. Those MS people run things as tight as a military operation, I decided. The SAG driver waved. Thinking he was responding to my call for assistance, I waved back. Then he gave me a thumbs-up and kept going. That made me think about that captain in Cool Hand Luke.
Great. Well I made all sorts of clear and unambiguous gestures as the SAG van headed away down the road, but the driver apparently was focusing on the traffic ahead, of all things. It's probably best that he didn't see my last gesture. As it happened, a lady walking by with her dog told me there was a bike shop two blocks down the road. I discovered that even with the chain stuck on the small ring, you still have nine good gears to work with, so I rode to the shop. $15.00 and 15 minutes later, I was back on the road, good as new.
At mile 65 or so, a sign on the side of the road announced I was entering the "Elfin Forest." My eyes were not deceiving me. There's actually a city called Elfin Forest in San Diego County -- no kidding. Okay, I grew up in Ohio and did plenty of camping there and in Pennsylvania and the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I know from forests. I even visited the Black Forest in Germany once. Now that's a real forest. But there's not enough rain here to grow forests (occasional torrential drizzle notwithstanding), and for sure there is no forest in the Elfin Forest. I thought I saw an elf on the shoulder, but it turned out to be a bloated opossum that'd been there a few days. I'm going to go out on a limb here and bet there are no elves in the Elfin Forest either. It's all a cruel hoax.
A highlight of the ride was my jaunt through La Jolla, one of the tonier areas of San Diego. So humble, by comparison, is the rest of the county that the well-heeled La Jollans even tried to secede from the county not long ago. Anyway, this was one of those stretches where I was riding alone, with no other bikes anywhere in sight. But one of the official event motorcycles was riding right ahead of me for about 15 minutes. With those flashing lights and event markings, it looked just like one of those escort motorcycles in the Tour de France. Thinking the locals would naturally assume I was the lead cyclist – by a huge margin – in some epic bicycle race, I did my best to look fast and professional. But those people are so cool and sophisticated, I don't think any of them even looked. And I wasn't about to ride all the way through La Jolla shouting "Hey, look at me." That would be obnoxious. (Okay, I tried once; all it did was mildly irritate them.) Those high-brow La Jollans are so jaded, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't care if the great Spanish cyclist Miguel Indurain was riding a time trial against Indira Ghandi though their streets -- on penny farthings.
I apologize if you happen to be from La Jolla, but it's true, right?
Since my first MS ride, I'd learned a lot about carbohydrates and hydration and all that on long rides, and had been doing something resembling training in the months before the recent ride. So I'm happy to say that I finished.
I averaged 14.3 mph. Even allowing for the wet roads and mechanical problems and all, I was initially disappointed; I'd recalled that my average for the first ride was just shy of 15 mph. But I went back and checked my notes and found that I had actually averaged 13.9 mph on the earlier ride. And my body didn’t feel nearly as thrashed as after that ride. Still, I want to do some double centuries soon, and realize now that I need to do more structured training. Walking up the steps after the recent event, my thighs felt like elves had been using them for timpanis.
I don't care. I still don't buy that whole Elfin Forest thing.
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