Thursday, May 17, 2012

It all hinges on a hot dog

A mind-altering experience can occur anywhere. On a remote road in the middle of Monterey County, for example.

In the suffocating dry heat somewhere in San Lucas Canyon, nothing is making sense. Why am I here? I never want to ride a bike again. I never want to SEE a bike again. What was I thinking, getting on a bike? I'm finished with double centuries, that's for sure. What was I thinking, I was trained for this? Both the hill and the heat seem to increase with each pedal stroke. I feel as small and powerless as I ever have my whole life.

It is not so much a philosophical crisis as a physiological one. Curable, at least in theory. A refresh of the ice in my Camelbak, an ice-cold Coke, and (most important) a couple of cans of V-8 and I am ready to roll. Full-sized cans!! :) This is not what happens, though...

Maybe the organizers of this event were counting on a cooler day. Judging from the lack of ice and cans of V-8 thus far, they were expecting 90 degrees, not 100. The riders don't have that cooler day, we have today. One of those heat-spike days that turns out to be 10 degrees hotter than yesterday and tomorrow. This is the day we have to climb through the canyon, breathing only under the shade of oak trees and suffering on into Lockwood at mile 145.

For me, physiology has a long reach, affecting thinking, feeling, acting. Those negative thoughts are like smoke signals from the brain. The content is not literally true, but their presence means something on its own. For me, I've learned these thoughts mean hyponatremia. As it swells, the brain sounds the alarm.

By Lockwood my stomach has shut down for good, gone acidic. I can barely stand upright. All that good food from earlier just sits in my stomach, unable to digest. They are rationing out some V-8 but it's too little, too late. Can't get the medicine down. Can't swallow any more electrolyte pills either. My black shorts are tie-died with salt marks.

Thanks to an identical experience 10 years ago on this ride, it's clear that continuing on the course is not an option. I won't finish. There are no stores out here to compensate for a lack of support. Persistent nausea is uncomfortable. Riding 70 miles without fuel is impossible. I'll have to get back with the glycogen that's in my legs right now and the clock is ticking. Time for Plan B.

Allan and Len are doing the Lowland Route, so I follow. It's only 200 miles, instead of 213 on the classic Highland Route. Less climbing, a faster finish. That's the ticket.

Astonishingly, at Bradley I am able to consume a hot dog, one slow bite at a time. With mustard and relish. They have run out of soda (!) and one volunteer brushes with death when he calls me tired and cranky. I give myself a little silent award for not telling him, try Googling the symptoms of hyponatremia, Big Guy. Thanks to the humble dog and despite the volunteer, I limp in to finish the ride.

Today is Thursday. Yesterday my body started letting go of the excess water, five days after the ride. Yesterday my brain also started backing down from its assault on every dream or hope I ever had. I can think in a straight line again.

And I'm thinking, balance is definitely underrated.


  1. It amazes me sometimes, these volunteers - as though they have no idea that we're biking ridiculous distances in ridiculous weather. Like it's a church social and we'll all be pie-perfect, somehow. Bah! I'm not going back to a few rides for just this reason. You'd think they'd go buy a few cases of V8 instead of rationing...
    I'm sorry you had such a rough day. It's good that you know your own signs enough to change your plans!

  2. When you're an event organizer, these things are no good:
    1. Best Case Scenario planning.
    2. Saying it's an 'all-volunteer event' to make the failures OK. If you're not paying for labor, get more volunteers to do an acceptable job.


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