Sunday, September 22, 2013

Oryx Challenged

A week ago Char and I completed the Oryx Challenge Bike Tour.

The Challenge you think you will face is not always what you think it will be.

I think this time I learned a little patience and more about what it means to be a part of a team.

The Oryx Challenge is an annual non-competitive bicycle ride in El Paso with a maximum route that covers almost a full 100km (62 miles).  I've ridden it for the past 2 years and this would be my third and final opportunity.

It was also the main event for which our little bicycle club had been training for over 3 months.  (That would be the "Imperial Bicycle Club", aka "Biking with the Brigade Commander", aka "I don't wanna do regular PT and I own a bike")

The Imperial Biking Team ready to go!
When I came back from the Death Ride in June, this was the next adventure in cycling.  It's what our group had been focused on during our multiple weekly rides.  We'd been cycling together, practising our pace lines and talking about nutrition on the bike trying to prepare ourselves for a 60 mile, out and back, scorcher of a ride.  Some of us were new to cycling, some were very experienced and some were right in the middle.

The Oryx Challenge course is one of my favorites.  There's not much room to get lost on the 100km route.  Ride off the installation, go east until you hit the turn around, then ride back to the start.  Sherriffs are stationed at every intersection to try and keep you alive, water and peanut butter await you on top of the hill that marks the turn around point, and even the climb up to the turn around really isn't that daunting if you've been in the mountains before.  It might be a Cat 4 climb near the top. 


Ok, so it's a 10 mile long climb to the turnaround point.

I had been doubtful at first when Char told me that she wanted to ride the whole 100km.  I wasn't sure she could really keep up with the group we'd put together.  But over three months of riding, she'd become quite the beast on a bike.  She could hold a paceline at 16mph in equal headwinds, pull her fair share on the flats and not cry about the hills, and had just completed a 62 mile ride the previous weekend without too much complaining. 

60 miles in and things got out of control.
Good enough for me.

But what we hadn't taken into account was just how much another decision was going to affect her ability to ride.

Yom Kippur is the Jewish holiday of atonement.  It involves a 24 hour period of fasting.  And it was the day before the Oryx Challenge this year.  We'd talked about skipping one of the two, for safety reasons, but Char was feeling strong and decided she would be fine if we made sure to plan good meals, get lots of rest and focus on our pre- and mid-ride nutrition. 

And I'm just insane enough to agree with her.

We gorged Friday evening, just prior to sunset.  Then we prepared what we thought was an extremely nutritious and sensible meal after sunset on Saturday.  Baked chicken, quinoa and a fresh veggie salad.  We did splurge on a brownie and ice cream dessert.  But then, you don't want to accidentally die one ice cream short, now do you?

Sunday morning I fixed a simple power breakfast.  Leftover rice and hamburger, scrambled with eggs and some fruit on the side.  We had our pre-ride snacks and drinks at the course.  When the "gun" went off, I felt pretty confident in our group's fortunes for the ride.

For the first 10 miles, we managed a solid 18mph pace.  It was a little tricky with all the wheel suckers trying to break into our pace group, but we managed to stick together enough to keep our newer riders sheltered on the lee side and out of traffic.

At about 15 miles in, the machine started to break down.  That's about where you notice the definite rise in grade as the hill draws near.  Then it's a solid 10 miles of climbing with about a 1,000 foot gain.

First off the back was Chelsey, next was Char.  I decided not to leave them behind to fend for themselves, afterall, this was a group effort and we'd spent too many hours working together not to finish together.  Joe, the ride leader, came back to check and I asked him to take the lead group and I'd stick back with these two. 

I will admit, it was painful to make that 10 mile climb at a fraction of the pace I could have.  I've really learned to enjoy the struggle and pain involved in a solid climb like that.  Watching the other riders, many that I recognized,  descending while we were still plugging along was both a little humbling and frustrating.

10 miles of straight climbing definitely took its toll on the whole group.
We stuck it out all the way to the turn around where I took a much needed latrine break and grabbed a snack.  The girls recharged and we headed back down the hill together.  There were two fun-sized riders coming into the turn around point as we pulled out.  There was nobody behind them.  In fact, there was nobody left coming up the hill.  That's when I realized how close to last place we were.  I know it wasn't a competitive event, but I still feel the competitive edge that drives me to try and push myself faster than the riders around me.  And this was a sharp lesson in humility for me.

On the return trip, at first we were flying, and I was a little worried about dropping them on the descent, but they stuck right on my wheel the whole time.  I was impressed with the time we were making together, but as soon as we hit a few spots with a slight gradient, or the headwind picked up, I felt Char falling off the back end again.  I tried to keep her tucked into my draft, to keep them both out of the wind and spinning comfortably.  It became obviously painful for them just to keep moving.  Even I was becoming weary, struggling to keep them both moving, to keep the three of us together enough to draft and save energy. 

After 4 hours of riding we crossed the finish line together.  By then the raffle prizes were all handed out, there was no beer to be found and most riders had already taken off.  But we were still together.  We finished the same way we'd started that morning and that was my most important lesson of the day.  That no matter how fast I want to go,  it's more rewarding to stay with my team.

I had to ask myself, what if I'd been the one struggling to keep up with the group?  Who would have come back to pull me along?  Although it was a lot slower than I'd wanted to ride that day, I was happier for staying with my teammates (especially 'cause I'm married to one) and seeing the whole ordeal overcome with them.

Next up is the Iron Soldier Sprint Triathlon followed the very next day by the 100 mile Chile Pepper Challenge.  This time I might be the one falling off the back.