Considering that the mileage for day one was almost double the longest ride I had ever managed to take while training, I was extremely anxious to get started the first morning. The speeches at the welcome breakfast seemed impossibly long – even to someone who is as committed to the cause as I am. Finally, they let us go and we started riding out of the city. Aside from a little nervousness about riding through areas that were crowded with pedestrians and vehicles, I did ok – until we got to “the Devil’s Slide.”
Although this climb was not nearly as steep or long as some of the others we faced later on the ride, I found it particularly terrifying. For one thing, because it was Saturday there was a lot of traffic coming up and down the hill, and it was moving fast. There was essentially no paved shoulder whatsoever – and not much dirt space between the edge of the road and the mountainside. And, unfortunately, the only way I am able to convince my joints to keep riding uphill is to stop and rest periodically. These issues turned out to be a bad combination.
Though I went as far as I could without stopping, I found myself forced to stop several times on the way up – essentially clinging to the mountainside while cars whizzed past me. Re-starting was also real challenge. Clipping into pedals is never an easy task when going uphill, and it was made even more difficult by the lack of space and traffic zooming around me in frustration. I did manage to make it to the top in one piece, but then I had to take a break to sit down and literally cry my anxiety out. What on earth had I gotten myself into?
APL sat next to me while I cried for a while. Then I looked down at the green ribbon wrapped around the frame of my bike with more than 50 names of other people living with arthritis. All of those people wanted to believe that it was possible to take on a crazy challenge in spite of arthritis. They were there with me. It was the first of many times that those names helped me keep moving forward when I thought about giving up.
I really wanted to ride the entire first day – to get what felt like a success under my belt so I could feel more confident about the seven days of riding that would follow – but I knew that we had to get to camp by 6:30pm. After the morning’s late start, I felt an immense amount of time pressure all day long, which didn’t help with my confidence or my feelings of anxiety. I worked as hard as I could to keep moving forward, stopping for only a few minutes at a time and only when absolutely necessary. But having worked at rest stops on two previous tours, I knew we had fallen to the very back of the pack because they were already shutting the rest stops down by the time we arrived (and there was no more pineapple juice or pickles, which sadly became the theme of the week.) I worried that the sag van would try to pick me up before I could make it to camp.
In the end, I was able to ride all the way into Santa Cruz - at total of 85 miles with about 5,400 feet of climbing. We pulled into camp around 6:45pm and it was already getting dark. We had missed announcements and dinner had already started, so there wasn’t much time – or energy – for socializing with anyone. We set up our tent, ate, showered, and went straight to sleep. But I did feel very proud of myself for managing to ride every mile of the first day.
To be continued…