I had wanted to experience a memorable ride on my bike for some time and decided several months ago to take the plunge by signing up for the Tour de Palm Springs. The 2011 ride was the 13th Annual and it was expected to draw 10,000 riders and raise over $200,000 for local Palm Springs charities.
At 54 years old, I knew I would have to log many miles to prepare to ride over 100 miles in one day. I had ridden as far as 75 miles in a day on my mountain bike and had gone 60 miles on my road bike. I really felt in good riding condition since I rode 450 miles in January.
The day had arrived, up at 3am and left the house at 4am. My son Sam, his friend Matt and I arrived at 6am with plenty of time for the 7am start. Unloaded the bike from the car, gave it a final once over and went to the check-in area. I felt excited yet confident about the quest I was about to embark on.
With about 15 minutes to go before the start of the ride, they asked the riders to line up near the start. I was ready to go and found
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myself in a sea of bikes. It was about 50 degrees, so I wore a shirt under my jersey and gloves. I made sure I breathed deep and slow to keep calm. At exactly 7am, we were off. It was slow going the first couple of miles with a crowd of bikes and the stop lights on Hwy. 111. We were required to obey all traffic signals and that is one thing I hadn’t thought about. Starting, stopping, clipping in, clipping out…I wanted to ride!!! After we got off the 111 and headed up through the windmills, the riders thinned out and we climbed up through the west side of Desert Hot Springs (DHS) up Worsley Road.
I hadn’t found anyone I wanted to pace with, so I let my mind wander back to my many visits to my grandparents’ home in DHS in the 60s and 70s. Smiling in my mind about the many memories, I thought of how my grandpa used to pay my brother and me $5 for every lizard we caught and brought into the house where our grandma would yell at us. That used to crack my grandpa up!
The first SAG stop was at the 15 mile mark. There was a brass band playing the Beach Boy’s hit, “Help Me Rhonda.” I took off my undershirt, but kept on the gloves. Total stop time was about 5 minutes.
We turned onto Indian Ave. and worked our way back down to Dillon. There was some downhill in this stretch and it was welcomed. Once on Dillon, the second SAG stop was only 12 miles from the first. Needed to dump the gloves, got a PRE drink (thanks, Steve Kane,) a banana and some M&M peanuts. Ready to go again. We were on Dillon for many miles and I finally found someone to pace with. I followed a gal who was keeping a pace I liked and I was finally really moving. There was some slight climbing for the second time in the ride. I thought of the late Bob Hefner, whose bike I was riding and up off the saddle, I rose to grind past several riders. Bob was giving me energy and smiling down with pride. We came to the top and had a nice downhill run where I blew past bike club riders with ease. Bike club riders are the guys that dress all alike, shave their arms and legs and follow each other way too closely. BTW, I saw four accidents and all of them involved bike club guys. Coincidence? NO! Stop following each other so closely!
Third stop was at the 51 mile mark at Travel Centers. I was feeling fantastic! I called Sam to let him know where I was and got his voicemail. He and Matt had caught the bus and went to the mall to eat breakfast. More M&Ms and tried a glucose drink. I should have stuck with the PRE as the glucose tasted like I was drinking lime sweet tarts. Yuck!
The next leg started out slow and bumpy. As we passed the Thermal Post Office, the road got better and the speed picked back up. I had left my “pacer” friend out on Dillon and was on my own for the rest of the ride. Still feeling very good at mile 71, I rolled into Fritz Burns Park.
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Time for more water, a banana, a sandwich and of course, some M&Ms. How did the ride organizers know how much I like those? It was here I realized how warm it had become. It was now 80 degrees and if you are riding hard, it gets to you. Stay hydrated.
Out of the park and more climbing to get up onto Eisenhower. This leg was the one that seemed the longest. It was 19.5 miles, but felt like 30. I knew I had enough in my tank to make it to the finish as long as I properly pace myself. Last stop at Lowe’s for one more cold water and I have 11.5 miles to go.
Called Sam to get the camera ready and rolled on. If you’ve ever watched the last part of the last day of the Tour de France and see the riders riding with no hands, drinking champagne, you’ll have a feel of how the last miles felt for me. There was no champagne, but I knew the end of the ride was near. I knew I would make it and I was relaxed in mind and body, but also euphoric.
After 7.5 hours, I hit the finish line. I had done it! Check that one off the bucket list! What a great day and a wonderful accomplishment. What now? Would I do it again? Maybe not this one, but I had flyers on my car advertising other Century rides. I’d like to try one on my mountain bike.
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I learned a lot from this ride about patience, pacing and riding in traffic with other cyclists I saw all kinds of bikes. There were road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, tandem road bikes, tandem mountain bikes, a tandem beach cruiser with a child carrier on the back and a “roadie” with a dog wearing goggles in a backpack. The ride organizers should be commended for how well organized everything was and how perfectly placed the SAG stops were. I’m looking forward to my next Century ride!
A special thank you to Wendy the “Bike Fairy” who helped make this dream possible.
Jeff Markell – U.S. Air Force Veteran – NMLS 224196
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