Friday, November 25, 2011

Cold, wet, suicidal deer and (possible) concussion but I finished

It's been two and a half weeks since I attempted by first 200km brevet and I haven't had the energy to write about it until now. A brevet, for those who don't know, is an organized, but self-supported bike ride. Unlike Century Rides and even most Double Century Rides, there are no aide stations. You prove you did the ride by collecting information, cash register receipts and stamps along the way.

It's a bit more social that doing the same route by yourself but it can be no different than setting out yourself if you haven't got people who promise to stay with you and you can't find anyone riding at your pace.

I signed up for the ride with a friend and I thought we were going to ride together. It turned out we had very different ideas of what that meant and next time I will be clearer about my expectations because after the first 5 miles or so, I spent most of the ride by myself. At first I tried to keep up but the thing is, I really had no business being on that ride to start with and I knew it and I knew I had to pace myself so I stopped trying to keep up with much faster people than me pretty quickly into the route.

Let's back up:
I signed up for the ride in a wave of enthusiasm after I crewed on the Furnace Creek 508. I wanted to do a Double Century and had my eye on Solvang. But it's in March and I was sure I wouldn't ride enough this winter if I didn't do something different. So I signed up for this brevet and then I .... proceeded to not bike one single minute from that day forward.

Obviously, that wasn't my plan. My plan was to do a long bike ride every weekend and a spin class every week. But I was also training for The Goofy Challenge and that meant running. Lots and lots of running. I thought I could run three days a week and still do two bike workouts a week but I soon realized that I can't. I needed those other days off for recovery. Plus there was some rain. And life. And, next thing you know, it was time for the brevet and I was screwed.

So I figured I'd just take it easy on the bike ride. It was "only" 128 miles and I had done 112 just 10 weeks before with regular long rides of 80-100 miles every week for several months before that. I'd also been working out pretty regular for the six weeks leading up to the race, just not by biking. So I figured I had general fitness in my corner and vague memories of bike fitness and I'd just gut it out.

The morning of the ride, it dawned nice and ... cold and overcast. Rain was in the forecast but the weather lady (a fellow triathlete) said it wasn't supposed to start until 7:00 pm and it would be mostly to the south, around Monterey, and it wasn't going to be rain exactly... Since I figured I'd be done by 8:00 pm at the latest and we were in the Livermore-Tracy-Patterson area for most of the ride, I figured I'd be okay rain-wise with my bike wind jacket.

We set out and at first everything was great. I had people to ride with and I did get separated from my friend but I could at least see him and everything was pretty and I was on a bike and meeting new people and it was all good.

We passed the first "info point" which was a place we had to answer a question that was answered by a sign. This is when I realized I hadn't brought a pen! But one of the riders gave me one so that was good. I didn't stop to write the answer down because I figured I'd save myself some time and do at the next check point.

I was still being passed by riders and thinking I was the last one until another set would pass me and it continued that way until we got to the first ascent and descent. The ascent was pretty easy and I loved the descent.

I was sailing down it having a grand time when I turned around a corner and saw:

2 Ambulances
3 downed riders (it seemed)
2 cars
Several other riders and ambulance people helping the downed riders.

I said "Oh no!" but one of the riders gave me a thumbs up and there were so many people there I figured I could help the best if I just kept going and got out of the way. But I decided I should slow down a bit just in case. But not too much because I just love to fly down hills.

I knew I wasn't the last person because I'd passed someone on the descent but he caught up to me later and then I figured I had to be the last person. I got to the control point and realized I was not just supposed to write down the answer at the info control but also the time. The good news is that while I was futzing around buying things and peeing and re-organzing my stuff, two more riders showed up and they were still there when I left. Still not last!

I was starting to feel it in my legs at this point but I was okay and I made it to the next control only about 20-ish miles away by the time one of the people behind me caught up to me. I saw my friend waiting for me at Carl's Jr. so I split off from Germanic Dude who wanted to go to Subway and while I was eating my Fried Zucchini, Slowest Guy showed up. My friend and I decided to wait for him and we'd all ride together. But he was so slow we just couldn't take it so we ended up leaving him behind.

This part of the ride was very flat at first but we knew it had this big hill. My legs were starting to feel it from having gone about 66 miles to the 2nd control point. The long, straight part until the real hill was not fun because I was dreading the hill and also because I am just not good on the long, flat parts. Then my right leg started to hurt. Yeah, the UNinjured one. I took Advil but it still hurt a lot. I was so worried I was going to blow out that calf too and that made me conservative.

Then we got to the hill and the fact that I was completely undertrained kicked in and I was just not going up that hill pedaling.

I did as much as I could but I walked a lot. My friend walked less and soon was long gone. Slowest Guy never caught up to me though.

Then it started to sprinkle. Really? At 3:30pm? Great.

Plus all the walking was hurting my left leg. I was not in a happy place for much of this trip.

I finally got to The Junction on Mines Road and I made the cut off by about 16 minutes and I figured I was home free at that point. My legs were totally dead and we had two more climbs to go but it was all downhill and then flat for the rest of it.

My friend was waiting for me and wasn't ready to leave so he waited while I ate my chili. But then he started to get impatient. I didn't want to go because my legs were still trashed but it was dark and it was completely raining. It was a misty rain, enough to make the roads wet, but not too miserable to ride through.

So we took off and we had to about three hours to make it by the cutoff. This seemed completely doable to me so I wasn't concerned when I had to walk up some of the second hill. Until I looked at my watch and realized I was averaging 9 mph over the entire trip. To get in by the cutoff, you had average 9.4 miles per hours which seemed like a ridiculously long amount of time when I first signed up for the event but now I was in danger of not making it!

I knew I'd make up time on the descent but I also knew I wouldn't be flying down as fast as I normally do due to the dark and wet. So I started to RUN my bike up the hill. I rode when I could but my legs didn't have that in them. I guess I could run my bike because I'd be training my run.

Eventually I got to the top of the second hill, my friend long gone, and the road completely dark and wet. I headed down and it was a very interesting experience.

I have never driven my bike at night before except one time when I got caught out without lights but had street lights. I still made Mr. Mac come get me because it was too dangerous even with the street lights and I was too far from home.

So this was the first time using my lights. They were not strong enough. They were mostly okay but this road had no street lights and was in the mountains. So there was pretty much no ambient light either. I knew my lights were less than adequate but I was still unemployed at this point so I was waiting for a Sports Basement Shopping Party with the 20% off discount to buy the super-duper lights that people who do these sorts of rides mostly use.

Between reflectors and the white painted line, I was actually doing okay at seeing where the road would go and I was not feeling out of control or that I had to slow down to a crawl.

I did almost hit a deer. It was on the side of the road and got started by my lights. So it very cleverly jumped out in front of me and then froze. I was pretty cold by this point and my fingers weren't working that well and I didn't really react to the deer but luckily it unfroze and ran to the other side of the street fast enough that I didn't hit it.

That was close, I thought. What I should have thought was: you are tired and cold and not reacting quickly so you need to be more careful. But I still felt in control.

Except, suddenly, I was heading toward the middle line in the road. The road didn't seem to be that curved. (Looking at the map later, it wasn't.) But obviously it was more curved that my speed could handle, so I started to pump my brakes and try to slow down so I wouldn't cross it. I still wasn't out of control. I wasn't skidding or slamming on my brakes or otherwise in a panic. But I could see I wasn't going to slow down enough to not cross the line.

I was almost slowed down enough and I figured I'd cross it and then immediately cross back over. I could tell there were no cars anywhere remotely near me but I was annoyed about crossing the line on general principles as it's not safe and I try to ride so I don't need to do it.

So I braced myself to bump over the reflector and .... I hit it sideways and go into a skid... I think: crap!

I also think "oh well, my ride is over" but I think that happened later.

Then I'm down on the ground and I can't move. I'm lying on the other side of the road but out in the road not in the shoulder and I can't get up. I urgently tell my arms and legs to move. I can tell there are no cars for a long way (you can see their lights from pretty far away) but I don't want to take any chances because I'm on a curve and no car is going to expect someone laying on the road so even with reflectors and lights, I'm kind of a sitting duck. My Garmin goes off and the light goes on and I think that it's 8:00 pm (when the Starbucks at the end of the ride closes) and I think "Guess I'm not getting that Soy Hot Chocolate").

But my legs and arms start to move again and I get up and start assessing the damage. I can tell I've skinned my right knee and elbow because they sting. I can't tell how bloody they are because I have on leg warmers and a wind breaker and arm warmers and no blood has seeped through, at least not that I can see in the dark. I also have a sore spot above my left knee. Plus, my head hurts. A lot.

I then realize I have spilled the entire contents of my Bento box all over the shoulder. I pick up what I can see and am annoyed again because I was saving wrappers so I could calculate my calorie burn and now I've probably lost some and some pretzel M&Ms are probably gone from the opened bag, but who knows how much.

I look at my watch and realize I can still make it by the deadline! I start to cross the road when I realize I've also lost a bike bottle. So I start swinging my handle bars around trying to find it in the dark. I give up and cross the road. Then I see it on that side. It went one way while I went the other! So I go over and grab it and get on my bike and take off.

I am going down the hill and riding the brakes because I really don't to fall again and it start to really rain. Drops not mist. And the temperature drops "like that" at least 10 degrees.

I start to freak out a little at how fast I'm going downhill so I end up stopping. I wonder if I can get down the rest of the hill. I have no idea how far I am from where the road levels out. I think I will be okay if I can get to the flat part.

As I am standing there trying to get myself under control, an RV comes by and stops. They say Slowest Guy is still behind me (I can't believe he hasn't caught up by now!) and I tell them I crashed and they say they saw that (what? how, there were no cars passing me when I was lying there??) and offer me a ride. This is when I realize I have only 19 miles to go and about an hour and 45 minutes do do it. It's all flat so if I can average 15 mph, I should be okay!

I do ask them where does Mines flatten out and they say about a quarter of a mile from where I am. How embarrassing! I didn't need to stop at all! So I get on my bike and take off. And just around that corner much less than 1/4 of a mile, it's flat!

The rest of the ride was bit surreal.

First, there are some really rude people in Livermore. This guy is coming in the opposite direction from me and he starts LAYING on the horn. Why? I'm not in his way in anyway. I have lights on my bike. I am clearly visible. Yes, only a moron would out riding their bike at 8:00 at night in the rain and cold, but what's it to him? Apparently, a lot as he was clearly angry and it freaked me out.

Then I'm getting to where Mines deadends and there is no one behind me so I can easily get into the left-turn lane without worrying about dying when this other care starts to lay on the horn. He's coming for me in his big pickup and I think "he's going to run me over" and I race through the intersection just as the light turns red so I went through a red light!

I'm not happy at this point and I'm shaking a bit because I could have been hit by a car and also I'm afraid that pickup is going to come after me. But he doesn't. I think he turned right. Which means, once again, I wasn't in his way or bothering him in anyway. He was just a jerk.

Anyway, I collect myself and I'm heading towards Pleasanton and I'm getting back to 9.4 mph average and I am cold and it is raining but I think I'm going to make it. It's going to be tight but I should be okay and then another car honks at me. But it was more of a gentle honk and then they pulled into the shoulder ahead of me and wave me down. I'm thinking "just let me go, I'm on a time schedule" but it turns out its' Rob, the ride leader!

The first thing he says to me is: Where's Slowest Guy? So I tell him he's behind me or he was when the RV stopped and I tell him about the crash and that the RV saw him. Then I realized I am completely shivering and I must get on my bike or I'm going to die so I tell him I have to go. And I go.

The rest of the ride is uneventful except I couldn't get two lights to turn green for me and I was sure I'd miss the cutoff because of it, but I get to the Starbucks and the volunteers are sitting outside and they say "you made it!" and I say "but did I make it before the cutoff?" and they say "by 7 minutes."


So then I find out I'm supposed to have signed my receipts and I need to write down the answer from the info control on the way into town and my fingers dont' work and I'm shivering and they give me a blanket and a hat and take of my soaked wind breaker and my reflective vest.

It at this point that I realize my reflective vest was shredded. My Camelbak was open too. It's possible I didn't zip it up well enough but I think the impact made it open up. Inside is a plastic baggie that's shredded and the cap of the pen I borrowed is shattered too.

My friend is waiting for me and I tell him there is no way I can ride my bike back to BART to his car but someone there offers us a ride.

Somewhere in this scrabbling around I figure out another friend of mine was one of the volunteers! Hi, Jobob! I think her husband was the one who drove us back to the car because apparently he was there too.

I get home and I'm telling my husband about it all and he inspects my helmet which I thought was fine (which means I'd have to throw it out even though it looked perfectly fine) but it turns out it was cracked straight through. You couldn't tell from the outside because the vinyl cover was only crinkled a bit but that really scared me. That could have been my head!

In fact, if I hadn't had a helmet on, I would be dead. I think this is the first time that I have really realized that biking is dangerous and I could die doing it. I mean, I knew it intellectually before, but I was still in "but nothing bad will happen to ME" mode until I saw that helmet.

The next day, I was incredibly sore. Like I'd been run over by a Mack Truck. Or what really happened: I hit the pavement going about 15 mph. My head hurt too but every time I'd think about going to Urgent Care, it would ease up and I'd think I'd be okay.

Monday I woke up okay but once I drove to a job interview and got through it, my head was killing me and this was 46 hours after the big bump so instead of driving home, I drove to Urgent Care. The doctor I saw said I had no signs of a concussion or a cracked skull but I did have signs of swelling and probably had bruised my brain. She recommended ice, ibuprofen and gave me strict orders to not workout until I'd gone 24 hours without a headache. Then I scheduled a follow-up appointment with my PCP and went on my way convinced that I'd be back to running by Thurs. or Friday at the latest.

But by Thurs. I was still having headaches. No more swelling through. My PCP said I probably had blacked out and that's why my arms and legs wouldn't move. Plus, I'd figured out that a lot of my memories of the time before and after the crash did not match what I saw on my Garmin. So they were scrambled. This made me suspect the same thing.

I mentioned the 10k I had signed up for Sat. and she said: Absolutely not! So now I'm 3 for 1 for Mermaid events this year. Sigh.

It's now been 2.5 weeks and I'm much better. However, my head does bother me by the end of the day. I had to bag on my 10k Turkey Trot and now my marathon in a week and a half is in jeopardy too. I haven't run in 3.5 weeks and I went on one bike ride this past Sat. when I was feeling better and I got a headache on it so I haven't done anything since then.

I'm sort of worried that getting back on my bike after the crash made everything worse and that I may not be able to do the Goofy Challenge in January! I can tell you, if I had realized I'd blacked out, I never would have done it! But at the time I was thinking:

I'm in the dark and the rain on a hill with a narrow twisting road with no cell phone access. I have to get down to where it's warm anyway and by the time I have cell phone access, I'll be so close to the end point, that I might as well go for it.

It made a certain amount of sense but I was missing the "you have a concussion" piece of information that would have made it not make sense.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Slowest Guy did eventually pull into the checkpoint with 1 minute to spare! So, no DNF for either of us and I didn't even finish last after all I went through.

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