By Michael Collier
The first century of the cycling season, which usually comes around in April or May in California and the Pacific Northwest, is not only a time to have ridden a few hundred base miles and firmed up your core. It’s also when the weather can be unpredictable, turning from cool to hot or vice versa.
A year ago, I completed a very difficult, 200-mile ride known as the Devil Mountain Double Century on a day that began with a chilly rain on the way to the first summit, then turned hot and windy and later, near the end, quite cold at the end of an epic day.
The early-season rides pose a challenge for cyclists who are riding as light as possible: Quite often, the courses are either too cold or too hot. Two years ago, on the same Devil Mountain course, I was dressed too light, and nearly came down with hypothermia before I pulled myself from the event.
This year’s Primavera Century, a wonderful event that is sponsored by the Fremont Freewheelers Bicycle Club, was hospitable most of the way — until the mid-afternoon sun turned it into scorcher. That’s when the pain began for a few hundred cyclists, including me, who were still on the course. On the next to last hill, which usually is a breeze for me, I came down with debilitating cramps in my quads and couldn’t drink enough water to counter the effects of dehydration. I had to get off my bike and walk slowly until the cramps went away.
At the last rest stop, at the base of a difficult climb and about 20 miles from the end, I hydrated liberally and gulped a handful of sodium tablets. I thought I’d be good to go, but my legs began cramping again after about four miles.
As I got off my bike and worked through my pain, I looked up the hill and saw more bonked cyclists than I have ever seen in an endurance ride. Some of them were standing but leaning on their bikes, while others were sitting on the shoulder of Palomares Road.
Over the course of an hour, I helped or encouraged about a dozen riders, one by one, who had been caught in a heat-killing loss of energy. Before the course closed, I saw most of those weary riders getting to the finish line. And all of them were happy to have made it through an ordeal.
The moral of the story is that weather is fickle, and when you ride an ultra-distance event of 100 miles or longer, you need to be prepared, physically and mentally, for whatever weather may materialize during the day and throw you for a loop.
- Here are a few helpful guidelines:
- Ride with at least one buddy to avoid being alone if an emergency strikes.
- Keep a charged cell phone with you at all times so that you can communicate with someone and get out of your jam.
- A cool head is always a good thing if you run into a serious problem. There will be a way out, and you find that way out a lot faster if you are calm and rational in the moment.
- Have enough food, water and sodium pills. I prefer the Salt Stick brand because it has more sodium than other brands.
- If you are at your wit’s end, tired, hungry, thirsty and alone, it’s time to hitch a ride with the SAG crew. No shame.
- Be resourceful when your bike breaks down. Bring all of the basic tools and first aid, and use them.
- When you finish an epic ride, cherish your accomplishment and tell all your friends, who will make you feel like you just won the lottery.
Michael Collier is a USA Cycling certified coach and blogger who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find Michael’s email and phone contact information by clicking to the Coaching page from the menu bar at the top of this page.