By Pico Triano
Young, inexperienced, riding under different conditions than I was used to, not properly prepared, personal habits; there were a whole lot of things working against me that day. Learned a few things along the way – maybe should have learned a few more.
Before enrolling in college my bike was my transportation. If I wanted to go somewhere, that’s how I got there. I’d even been planning a long tour to visit my girlfriend of the time in Pennsylvania. I was a last minute acceptance for classes that year and I hopped onto a plane with my suitcase and went. My bike didn’t follow me for a year. I didn’t get to ride much. The need for training and preparation never really crossed my mind much to this point because I’d always been perpetually in touring shape anyway.
Once I was back in the saddle, word got out that I was into cycling. I got a shout from Mark Dixon an Aussie. He wanted to participate in a big tour organized by Kangaroo Bags and he wanted a riding partner. Of course, I was game.
Mark had a car so we drove down to Ventura the day before the tour and camped out on behind some bushes just off the beach. We weren’t sure it was legal but there were several dozen more people doing the same thing. Either way, no one came to bother us and we got a fairly decent night’s sleep.
This was my first organized public bicycle tour of any kind. I have never seen so many cyclists in one place at the same time before. There were well over a thousand cyclists there. I’m not exaggerating either. When I registered and got my number, it was in the seven hundreds and there were just as many people behind me.
The ride started on the Pacific Bike Way and our huge peloton like mass of riders funnelled their way onto that. I’m sure the scenery was terrific but I was more interested in not colliding with anyone. I didn’t want to fall and become an obstacle in the road for that thunder herd.
As we went though, the riders strung out and there was more room to manoeuvre. Mark and I pretty much stuck together because we didn’t know anyone else there. At that point things were going quite nicely. The sun was blazing hot though and the air was very dry. I was chewing gum in rhythm to my riding, something I have never ever done again. Then I blew a tire.
I told Mark to just go on ahead. The route was well marked and there would be a big picnic for lunch when the group got to Santa Barbara. I pulled off to the side as the rest of the riders trundled on past. Never takes me that long to fix a flat but by the time I was back on the road only a few stragglers were still behind me.
I decided I would try to catch up with the main pack before lunch. Not a bright decision but had I been conditioned like I was used to, I would have got away with it. Under that blazing sun I pushed hard and just before lunch I was back up with the main group of riders. Didn’t find Mark until after we stopped for lunch but I had accomplished that little goal. Felt a few twinges in my quadriceps but didn’t think much of it.
After lunch Mark and I were back in the “peloton” heading back to Ventura. About halfway back is when my quads cramped up. Those had to be the worst leg cramps I’ve ever gotten in my life. I barely pulled over to the side of the road and dismounting without falling. I tried walking them off and it helped but I couldn’t get back on and ride. I finally threw in the towel. Mark rode to the end and came back with the car to pick me up. I walked what I could but I just couldn’t make much progress. I felt really bad. I expected more out of myself than that.
What did I do wrong? A whole lot of things. The result was that I allowed myself to get a little dehydrated and I let my electrolytes get too low.
- The lack of training wouldn’t have been so bad had I not pushed myself. I’m a slow rider. The pace of the main group was slightly faster than I was used to even without me playing catch up.
- Lose the gum. Chewing gum keeps your saliva flowing. Had I not been chewing gum I would have taken in more fluids because my mouth would have gotten dry faster.
- Drink lots of water but - if you are sweating a lot, you’re losing salt and other important minerals. They need to be replaced. I’m not a big proponent of sports beverages but they do help. There are other ways to replace those salts and nutrients.
- Ignoring what you body is telling you is a big mistake. Those first twinges should have raised a red flag. At that point I could have replaced some of the missing electrolytes and gone through some stretches. That might have been enough for me to finish the day.