May 21, 2001
The Century That Lasted A Month


Two minutes into the ride, I knew I was in trouble.

The trail wasn't especially steep.  Basically it was one of those gentle inclines that sort of go on forever, sloping up and up and up, without dips or breaks or the occasional sanity-saving downhill. My thigh muscles, still feeling dangerously abused from the previous day's fourteen-miler, starting making noise immediately. The trail was narrow and cluttered with joggers ... all of whom, I imagined, could hear me huffing and puffing like a creaky carburetor as I strained past them. Plus it wasn't 10 a.m. yet, and already the temperatures were inching into the 90's.

I thought I was going to die, right there on the Moraga Trail.

David was cruising several bike lengths ahead of me, innocently unaware of my mounting distress. This was an important ride. All I needed was to log five more miles -- five quick, easy, I-can-do-this-in-my-sleep miles -- and I would crack my first 100 mile mark. Furthermore, I would be cracking that mark in under a month. I bought my little red Schwinn on April 21st, one month ago today, and we have been meticulously tracking our rides and our accumulated mileage, ever since. 

Granted, this wouldn't be a true "century." I wasn't riding the one hundred miles in a single day: it had taken me THIRTY days of sweat and swearing to get to this point. And it had come in bits and pieces: five miles here, ten miles there.

But it's still not bad for someone who until recently hadn't been on a bike since the Nixon Administration.

We'd loaded the bikes into the Subaru before 9 a.m. on this particular Sunday morning.  Originally we'd set out for Wild Canyon Road, where we hoped to do some trail-riding in the Berkeley hills. ("The TOP of the Berkeley hills," David reassured me, when he saw me peering anxiously at the mountainous terrain spread out in front of us. "It's all flat trails at the top, I promise.") But when we got to the top, the parking lot was already crawling with joggers and cyclists, preparing to participate in someoranother charity race. It was a madhouse. David was disappointed, but undaunted.

"We'll just drive over to Moraga," he said decisively. "There are some good flat rides there."

He has been riding this countryside for forty-plus years, and he knows all of the area trails and bike paths like the back of his hand. I said fine, that sounds like a good plan.

Fifteen minutes later we were unpacking the bikes in front of the Moraga Safeway store and setting out for the trail.

It took me less than a quarter of a mile to realize that David's idea of a "good flat ride" and mine are quite different. It wasn't just the inclines that were killing me, though: it was also the heat ... the relentless sun beating down on a treeless path, with no shade for protection ... me, stoopidly dressed in dark colors and long pants: fine for breezy Alameda, a heart attack waiting to happen in Moraga ... and, above all else, my shrieking thigh muscles (accompanied, in this *duet du douleur,* by an equally noisy tailbone). Still, I doggedly continued pedalling for another ten minutes or so. I was hoping that maybe I just hadn't warmed up properly, and that eventually I would hit my stride -- that I would reach that 'sweet spot' I've heard about, when physical ability meets physical demand -- and the ride would finally start being fun.

I think I can, I told myself. I think I can ... I think I can ... I think I can.

But it was no use: I was clearly the little train who can't.

I stopped and shouted up the trail to David. Actually, it was less a "shout" than a pathetic bleat for help. But he heard me, and he circled around and rode back to where I'd come to a dead stop, in the middle of the trail. I was sort of draped across the handlebars of my bike, wondering if I had time to make the dash into the scrub brush, or whether I should just vomit on my Reeboks and be done with it.

"I'm so sorry," I panted. "I hate this already." 

"Then we'll just go back," he said cheerfully. He wasn't annoyed with me. He wasn't angry. He wasn't disappointed. He didn't give me the big irritated Frowny Face that some men might have given, under similar circumstances. (That look that says You are such a waste of my time.) Instead, we simply turned our bikes around and coasted all the way back down the incline, David in the lead and me following right behind, like a faithful if exhausted shadow.

"Let's stop at the grocery store and get some juice," David suggested, once we reached the bottom of the hill.

I stood watch over the bikes as David ducked into the grocery store. Well, that was pretty embarrassing, I thought, feeling faintly disgusted with myself. Realistically, I knew that I'd done the right thing by calling a halt to the ride when I did. This wasn't the first time I've had trouble when we've been out riding: there have been plenty of times when a ride has called for more than I had to give. Still, I've usually found that if I just slow down and take my time and keep pushing,  I get through it eventually. This just wasn't one of those times. This ride was beyond the scope of my present abilities: I knew it immediately, and I was right to call it off before I hurt myself.

But I still felt sort of lame. In more ways than one.

David emerged from the store a few minutes later, carrying two ice-cold bottles of Odwalla. He took one look at me -- standing there looking all forlorn and embarrassed and guilty -- and he burst into laughter. It wasn't mean-spirited, God you're such a wimp laughter ... but affectionate, God I love you, you big dummy laughter.

"Kiss me right now!" he ordered, and our bike helmets klunked together as he planted a big noisy one, right on my lips.

By the time we got back to Alameda, thirty minutes later, my mood (and my heart rate) had both dialed themselves back to normal. I ran into the apartment and changed out of the oppressive dark clothing, into something lighter and more comfortable, and we headed over to the Navy Base for sixty minutes' worth of cool, easy, non-heart-attack-inducing riding.

And somewhere between the USS Hornet and Seattle Street  ...  the odometer quietly clicked over the 100 mile mark.

Later that afternoon, at lunch, David and I toasted each other with Diet Cokes. He went on and on for a few minutes about how proud he was ... what a big achievement this was ... how glad he is that we're making these changes in our lives ... blah blah blah.

"Next month?" he said. "One hundred and twenty-five."

My thighs were already screaming in protest ... but I ignored them. Instead, I nodded and said, "OK. You're on." As long as we're not riding in fudking Moraga, anyway.

And as long as there's an occasional downhill, along the way.

two years ago: an offer i can't refuse

throw a rock