Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not Quite 24 Hours

Ride Report - Ring of Fire 24 Hour Time Trial 9/12/2009

There are ~10 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and ~10 billion galaxies in the universe. 3 miles outside of Maupin Oregon, I stood straddling my bike, sucking on a Gu Roctane, and staring up at what seemed like every single one of those 10 billion billion stars.

16 hours earlier, at 6:43am, I rolled up to the start line of my very first 24 hour time trial, the Ring of Fire. I felt surprisingly calm, despite the daunting ride ahead of me. Perhaps it's because my very good friend Richard had volunteered to crew for me. I knew that no matter what happened, I could count on him to be there for me throughout the event.

The 157 mile day loop featured nearly 15,000 feet of elevation gain, starting right out of the parking lot with the climb out of Maupin. All morning I rode northwest getting progressively closer to Mt. Hood. Richard, driving my pickup, leapfrogged me along the way. He kept me fed and logged my fluid intake, making sure I drank a minimum of one bottle per hour. I rode strongly, summiting Bennett Pass on Mt Hood, savoring the descent on the other side as my reward. The subsequent climb up Forest Road 44 was less challenging than I'd expected, and the long descent into Tygh Valley gave me a chance to rest up a bit.

Throughout the day, the temperature rose higher and higher, eventually reaching nearly 100 degrees on the pavement. At 3 pm, after 112 miles and more than 10,000 feet of elevation gain, I made the turn onto Bake Oven Road, a 45 mile out-and-back. I'm sure there's a “real” story attached to the name “Bake Oven”, but amongst ultra racers in Oregon, Bake Oven is notorious for being a long hot climb that challenges even the most fit athletes.

Sure enough, Bake Oven proved to be my biggest test of the day. Not long after starting the climb, I started to feel chilled and to break out in goosebumps. I recognized this as a sign that my body was overheated and that I needed to take a break. As soon as I reached my support vehicle, I called for a time out, my first “non-bio break” all day. For 15 minutes, I sat in the shaded passenger seat of my truck, applying cold water to my face and neck, and drinking cold liquids. Finally, armed with an extra bottle of water for dumping over my head to stay cool, I set out again, feeling renewed.

I knew the key to surviving the climb up Bake Oven Road in that heat would be to ride at an easy pace and to continue to stay hydrated. It took me 3 hours to ascend the 22.5 mile climb, but I reached the summit feeling good. Because Bake Oven is an out-and-back, the climb also afforded me the opportunity to see how many people were ahead of me, and by how much. I was shocked by how few people were descending while I was climbing. I would later find out that the heat had claimed many victims. By 6pm I reached the turn around. The intense heat of the day had passed and I felt rejuvenated. I made the 22.5 mile return trip in an hour.

I pulled into the race HQ at 7pm, having finished the 157 mile day loop in 12 hours & 15 minutes. I took a 1/2 hour break to change into a clean set of cycling clothing, affix headlights and taillights to my bike & helmet and to strap on some reflective bands for safety. During that half hour, the sun had gone down, and I set off on the 27 mile night loop in almost complete darkness.

I've often ridden my bike in the dark, mostly while bike commuting, but that has been “town riding” usually accompanied by street lights and plenty of motor vehicle traffic for light and company. Thus, it was a bit unnerving to head off into the inky blackness of the night loop. The roads on the night loop are VERY lightly traveled, and very lightly populated. Thus, I had nothing to rely on for guidance other than my headlight. I knew the route in daylight, but in the dark of night, everything looked different and I felt as though I was continually cycling into a black hole. Unlike the day loop, rider support vehicles were not permitted on the night loop. So I was well and truly alone out there, with just my thoughts for company.

The first loop was mostly uneventful, though the effort of the day was really starting to weigh on me. My legs, while not cramping, were very tight, and my right Achilles tendon started to ache. I began to think ahead to October 18th, and the half marathon I'd been training for for almost a year. Would continuing to ride jeopardize my ability to run that race? As I pulled into the race HQ at the end of the loop, I began to consider calling it a night at that moment. 184 miles was respectable, I thought.

But of course, peer pressure is a strong and powerful force. Race staff and fellow competitors encouraged me to take a break, have a snack, then get out there again for another lap.

So, I did just that. And three miles up the climb, my headlight died.

There are ~10 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and ~10 billion galaxies in the universe. 3 miles outside of Maupin Oregon, I stood straddling my bike, sucking on a Gu Roctane, and staring up at what seemed like every single one of those 10 billion billion stars.

My ride was over. I had covered 187 miles and climbed ~17,000 feet in 16 hours. As I stood staring up at all those stars, I realized that I was OK with that. While I didn't ride 24 hours, I knew I had accomplished much of what I'd set out to do that day. I'd had a great time, I'd maintained a positive attitude and I'd cheered loudly for each and every racer who passed me that day.

And so, with that, I plucked a red taillight off my helmet and used it to light my way as I slooooowly descended back down into Maupin, while in my head I was already plotting my training plan for *next* year's race.


  1. this is absolutely amazing and inspiring. I truly admire your strength, endurance, and love of cycling. I too, love cycling and would love to take it to your level someday.

  2. Susan, today is October 18. I hope you have successfully finished that half marathon and are currently celebrating your achievement. This is an amazing story! I rode a 120 mile endurance ride in the Rockies this summer and thought I had really done something - until I read your post! I am so in awe of you!

  3. Jane - Thanks!! Yes, I successfully completed my half marathon on Sunday! It was an amazing experience for me, and the culmination of a season of hard work. I wrote a run report that you can find on the Team Estrogen forums here:

    120 miles is a loooong way to go, especially at elevation in the Rockies! What a wonderful accomplishment!