Thursday, February 11, 2016
Before I made the trip out west, I decided I would like to ride SSAZ in memory of Chris Schilling, who was an insanely dedicated single speeder, and all around great giving guy. I had not been riding my single speed much, actually hardly at all, but SSAZ seemed to be the right time. It is a laid back gathering and I would have no pressure to finish or keep any sort of race pace. I could just go out and ride for Chris. It was me, him and one gear in the desert. Hopefully there would be other enthusiasts to keep me company or at least be a carrot on a stick.
The night before I got a sneak preview of the course profile and although I did not let anyone know, I did have some doubts that I could finish. I figured I would just try it, and not sit home and say "I can not do it". We began at 9:00. The first 8 miles were a flat neutral roll out on pavement and then we were instructed to remove our front wheels for a lemans start. Then 35 or 40 similarly crazy people raised their front wheels in the air before we were let go up the mountain.
Right from the start I was telling myself I had the wrong gear. Standing, sitting, standing ,sitting until my back hurt so much that I just stayed seated. I did not think I could keep the pedals turning that slow, but I managed to keep going and stay mostly seated. The hill went on for what seemed like forever. It took me so long to climb that I had plenty of time to accept the fact that I may have to bail at the rest stop. "Was I a jerk for thinking I could do this?" went through my head, but I kept going.
When that climb was done, my back felt fine and I quickly forgot all those negative thoughts. I can not say the rest of the ride was any easier. It was actually harder with a few forever hike a bikes and a gnarly downhill that I walked way too much, but I was in to finish and pushed through navigating the scantly marked route. I stopped many times to look around for blue tape and check my cue sheet. I really enjoyed the adventure of doing most of it by myself, and it was on trails that I had never ridden.
I knew the route was supposed to have 4900 ft elevation gain and when I reached 4700, I had the feeling that I was so close, but the climbing kept coming at me. Every time I crested the top of a mountain, I expected to see the city and all I saw was another mountain. My garmin read 5200 feet before I saw civilization. I wish I could say it was an easy ride down, but the last trail was pretty gnarly. I finally rolled back into camp at 3:56pm and noticed that my teammate Marianne was the first female to finish.
This was by far the hardest ride I have done in years. Physically spent, yet functioning and thinking clearly, all with a smile on my face. It felt perfect to be riding my single speed bike for Chris! Then we drove home and the sun set like it does every other night, just another amazing Arizona flag sunset.