The time I biked 50 miles.
- I wore a mask the whole ride.
- The most that I’ve biked in one go over the past 12 months is ~10 miles (which I do 6 out of the 7 days a week, with weekly mileage ~60miles) as I primarily use my wheels for commuting
- The terrain was relatively flat, but there were some climbs peppered in
- I don’t clip in. There was a lot of street riding. My bike is 6 years old. I had no fuel (beyond one apple). Excited to hopefully properly do this again soon.
The Open Road
On January 1, 2021, I biked 50 miles for the first time in my life.
It was 3.5 hours, me and my bike, the road, the sky, the music beating through my headphones (and a lovely friend for mile 10–20).
It was bliss.
I didn’t have a specific goal in mind, just to ride.
So I did.
The Moment on the First Hill
Within the first 2 miles, I faced a 13% grade. It was steep. It was brutal. It was long.
I thought to myself — ‘I might not finish make it up this.’ And then, the hill (mountain?) was over.
I had crested it, barely. I let out a whoop when I made it to the the top, my bike swerving. A man walking his dog clapped, celebrating my small victory with me.
In a time of such cautious contact with the outside world, our moment of connection was powerful.
That clap set the tone for the whole ride. If I can get past the steepest hill in the world (or so it felt), I can do basically anything on this ride, I told myself. I carried the encouragement from the man and the dog with me, tucked away.
A small hello can change someone’s entire life.
The Moment the Bike and the Human are One
The first 20% of the ride was smooth (the freshness and excitement carried me). I rode in familiar bike lanes, the cars were kind, and most of the debris from the rainstorm had been cleared.
There are times when the bike becomes an extension of your body — the feet and the pedals are connected, the torque is effortless, the power and cadence a seamless byproduct of movement.
I was traveling on paths I hadn’t been on since I crashed a year ago. It was good to say hi to the old ghosts. They applauded me- my biking has improved tremendously since I had seen them last.
I turned onto the main road, hopped on a bikes-only path (+ pedestrians), onto the Marina.
The Marina is always such a treat. I love seeing the boats, tucked into their spots, gleaming and bobbing in the water.
This was when I realized my tremendous gratitude for my bike, for my legs that would carry me to see the loveliness of the nearby Balloona Wetlands, and for our Earth, for gifting us with such sights.
It was then that I decided to just keep going until the path ended. However long that would take.
So I did.
I biked into town, and there were no cars. Just me and little shops and a few other riders. It felt like I was an alien visiting another planet.
I stopped and hopped off my bike at the 25 mile point, checked my tires, drank some water (my fueling for this ride was atrocious) and stretched out.
I was ready to roll, still feeling fresh and good.
I biked back, planning to beat the 100 minutes that it took me to do the first 25.
The Moment of Pain
I rolled out of the beaches and was headed back with naïve confidence when I got my first pang of pain. I was ~37 miles in.
I hadn’t had any food. I was on a main road. I was headed back to rougher roads. And I really, really just wanted to not be on the bike at that moment.
I went onto a side road, hit the sharp edge of a sewer cap, and was jolted back to focus. The cars were being really nice (a beautiful rarity) and gave me my own lane and tons of space.
I made it back to the path that I bike everyday, about 43 miles in.
It was there that I bonked.
I ran competitively in college. I’ve been an athlete for years. I’ve done triathlons, 10-milers, +20 mile runs. I have NEVER bonked like I did on this ride.
My body said “We simply will not go forward anymore”.
So I got off my bike, at the start of the route I commute on everyday, a route that is almost painfully familiar, and began to punch my thighs, trying to wake them up and get them going.
“I have to get home”.
I pulled an apple out of my bag and tore into it furiously, all while beating my quad with one hand. Other riders and cars drove by, but I did not care.
For the first time in my life (probably) I was completely unconcerned with how others were perceiving me. Go on and judge me for tearing into this apple on the side of the road while doing a small dance to bring my muscles to life.
So I got back on my bike. The wind felt brutal (~10 mph haha). I rode on. I can’t explain where I was during this time. The world was narrow, my eyes were fuzzy, I was not doing well.
When a walker passed me (I was riding so tremendously slow!), I got off again, parked my bike against a tree, and ate the rest of my apple.
I turned on some deep heavy metal music.
The Moment Pain Became Power
And I got kind of mad.
I was in a world of hurt. My legs no longer belonged to me. My face was burnt from the wind. Even the inside of my hands were burning from gripping for the brake!
It felt so dumb. It was such a deep sense of pain, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want this voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t good enough, fit enough, whatever enough.
I have had enough of that.
Enough of questioning myself. Enough of beating myself down before I can even try. Enough of being my own worst enemy.
For the first time, I wasn’t conflating fitness with my appearance. This bike ride didn’t care if I had six-pack abs, it only cared about my inner power, the strength of my mind in conjunction with my body.
And in the depths of this pain, I found strength.
I was in someone’s front yard, beating my quads again, and telling myself, “You will do this. Go as slow as you need. Just get home.” A few profanities were laced in my self-speech, and I hopped back on.
This time was different. I rode to the breaking point of this route (it’s a very long ~2% grade that seems easier than it actually feels). When the grade broke into flat, I knew I could make it.
I was setting goals — the next stop sign, to the coffee shop, can you make it to the next light?
The voice was silent. Even if it had been talking, I wasn’t listening anymore.
I rode the rest of the route home, my headphones telling me “Low Battery” (how I aligned with the device!) and my head down.
Close to my house, I looked down to see the meter tick on my watch — 49.98, 49.99, 50.00.
I ended at my normal “finish line”.
“Ha”, I said, “Very cool.”
I waddled my bike up the stairs, and then realized that I was in fact very tired and I very much needed to not be standing or carrying a bike or walking up stairs.
And I gave myself a small high-five.
And said, “I am proud of you.”
I am so grateful to have had a body that carried me for 50 miles. For having a safe ride. For having the space to do this, in such uncertain and scary times. For having the gift of time on this day, a true rarity for me, that I could set aside 3.5 hours to invest in myself.
I recognize the risks of what I did. The hospital system is completely overwhelmed here in Los Angeles. Even though I was careful, there is no such thing as “too careful” right now. Please stay safe and healthy, everyone.