Strava hosted their first ever Global Commute by Bike day on Tuesday, May 10. When I first read about it, I decided that I wanted to participate. I miss commuting to work by bike. When I lived up in Idaho, I worked about 15 miles away, and I commuted by bike about three times a week. I loved it. In the mornings, once I got out of the city, I was riding through gorgeous farmlands. Every day, I rode past a field of mint which always smelled heavenly. I would welcome in the morning on my bike. And even though riding home could be hot and miserable, I loved getting home and feeling accomplished. It also (perhaps ironically) helped me avoid the post-work slump that I get when I commute by car, commonly referred to in my family as the knock-down-drag-em-out-driving-home blues.
But when I moved to Salt Lake City, commuting by bike (at least regularly) stopped being feasible. My work is about 30 miles away via bike. Thirty miles a day is totally manageable. Sixty miles a day is far less manageable. I decided that National Commute by Bike day would be a great opportunity to experience that commute, even though it wouldn’t be a regular thing. So I scheduled my long ride for Tuesday with the idea that commuting there and back would likely last three and a half hours, which was the duration of my long ride. Usually, I wouldn’t split up a long ride like this, but it was for a special occasion.
Utah loves to play up its outdoorsy culture which makes it an awesome place to live if you are involved in any outdoor and/or active hobbies. Case in point, there is a paved bike trail that runs from north of Salt Lake City all the way down to the city where I work (and beyond!). After posing the question to my triathlon club, I determined this was the best route to take. Thirty nearly traffic-free miles before work? That doesn’t sound so bad! I was going to go on an adventure! I was going to ride through beautiful landscapes and welcome in the morning alone with my bike! And it was going to be totally awesome!
When I had mapped out the course a few days before, it came out to 31.5 miles. So I planned to leave at 5:00am and get to work around 7:00am, though probably a little later because of brief stops and such. I knew I wouldn’t face much traffic, so I thought my dead time would be minimal. On Tuesday morning, I set out and was excited to see a new trail and get in some good miles on a weekday.
Two hours and forty-five minutes (and 34.5 miles!) later, I arrived at work. It turns out that my assumption that following the main trail south would be completely intuitive was… well, a bit Pollyanna-ish. I made several wrong turns and had to backtrack several times within the first seven miles or so. It’s hard to navigate in the dark when you’ve never seen the area before. My terrible sense of direction certainly didn’t help. After one particular error that left me at a busy cross-road, frustrated with myself and with no idea where to go, I busted out my phone to use Google maps which I then consulted whenever I had a question about the route. For a while, this meant stopping every mile or so to pull up my route and see if I was heading in the right direction. Fortunately, my work hours are supremely flexible, so I knew the unplanned for time wasn’t a huge deal, even if I got in an hour or more after I had planned to. The frustration added a little stress to the morning ride, but the majority of the trail was so pleasant that it would have been impossible to be too terribly stressed.
My actual ride time was two hours and ten minutes. I faced some fatigue during the ride about an hour and a half into it (complete with crushing Ironman doubt!), but I got a second wind for the last half hour or so of the ride. I was feeling strong when I rolled in and was riding the high of 34.5 miles before 8:00am. And, since I had worked out all the navigation kinks on the way to work, I had no doubt that the ride home would go much more smoothly and be much less frustrating. I felt surprisingly good throughout the day. I wasn’t consumed with an insatiable hunger. I wasn’t terribly cold from the chilly ride in. And when the end of the day rolled around, I was ready to have a pleasant ride home, this time without the navigation mishaps.
I suited up, got on my bike, and was blasted with a truly vicious, likely sentient, headwind. It reminded me of a comment by Boromir in The Lord of the Rings as the Fellowship tries to cross Caradhras: “Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.“ The wind was an ill omen. The first few miles of my ride where there was nothing at all to break the wind were miserable, especially the miles that were uphill. Finally, finally, I reached an area with some buildings. The wind was more manageable and I was just watching for the entrance to the Jordan River Parkway trail.
Somehow, I missed it. I’m still not sure what happened. I was looking exactly where the map said it should be. Maybe I’m blind. Maybe the map wasn’t 100% accurate. I suspect I was expecting a paved entrance when there was actually a long-ish dirt path going down to the trail. Whatever the reason, I started looking for alternate entrances to the path, using an app on my phone as a guide. Finally, after rolling around one particular neighborhood for a good fifteen minutes, I saw a dirt path (although the word “path” is generous…). My phone said it connected with a larger trail, so I decided I’d brave the brush to get to the main, paved trail. I picked up my bike, cyclocross style, and started the cross-country trek. So there I was, ducking under branches, trudging through mud, and constantly checking my phone to make sure I stayed on the trail, all while wearing the full spandex cycling get-up and carrying a way-too-expensive carbon road bike. I finally reached the trail. At least, I did according to my phone. I looked up at the vehicle tracks in the mud in front of me and then down at my phone. I looked back up, just to confirm that I was not, in fact, standing on asphalt. The truth began to dawn on me. I scrolled farther left on the map and saw, to my dismay, that the Jordan River Parkway trail was quite a bit farther west. I had someone found my way to a random (completely unpaved and probably no longer used) vehicle path. “No.” I said, despairing. “Nonononononono.”
Being tired and hungry and (in general) stressed really makes situations like these seem world-shattering instead of actually kind of hilarious.
There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t just sit down and wait there until I died (although you better believe I considered it!), so I turned around and hiked back up that hill in my cycling cleats and carrying my trusty bicycle. I had just about given up on the trail and had almost decided to go with the shorter, but more traffic-heavy route back up to Salt Lake City. However, when I searched for a route home on my phone, I saw that there was an access point that I actually remembered seeing on my way down just another mile or so north. So, after digging out the mud in my cleats with a tire wrench, I headed in that direction with a healthy dose of pessimism.
Miracle of miracles, I found my way onto the trail. When I saw the sign reading “Jordan River Parkway Trail,” I swear I learned how the pioneers felt when they first laid eyes on the Willamette Valley.
There were a few small navigation errors throughout the rest of my ride, but for the most part, I was familiar enough from my ride that morning to find my way. Now that I riding in an area with quite a few trees, the wind wasn’t nearly so bad. Still, I was tired and hungry, and I couldn’t get home fast enough. I retreated into my thoughts, which soon took a turn for the worse. The barrage of insecurities that had started that morning picked up again, stronger than ever. If I couldn’t even handle a broken-up 70 miles, how would I ever be able to ride 112 miles followed by a marathon? I knew once I got home (and finished my half hour run!), I’d have about an hour and half before I had to go to bed and wake up to face yet another long, exhausting day. How could I maintain that until the Ironman? I was stressed and cranky and horrible enough already. How horrible would I be after three months? Maybe I just needed to drop out. Maybe I just needed to admit that it was too hard. I wasn’t ready. It was all just too much. I was a failure.
Somehow, these dark thoughts seemed to power my legs forward. Or maybe it was just a desperate, innate homing instinct. Whatever it was, over the last three or four miles, I was pushing a nice speed (17-19mph) despite the headwind, and even despite a slight incline for a large portion of those final miles. I got to Rob’s house and wheeled my bike in. “Good job! You did it!” he said.
Despite my horrible attitude just minutes earlier, this made me break out into a giant grin. “Sixty-nine miles,” I said, reporting the total mileage for the day.
“Sixty-nine? You aren’t going to go out for a few more minutes to hit seventy?”
“That bad, huh?”
I left for my run, and while I was gone, Rob made dinner. I got back and inhaled probably half a bag of pretzels while he finished up dinner and then sat down to a glorious, cheesy plate of pasta.
I had an adventure all right. But I think Bilbo Baggins had it right when he said about adventures, “Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”