Long bike rides

From: David Casseres (casseres@apple.com)
Subject: July Century -- Another Kind of Double
Newsgroups: rec.bicycles.rides
Date: 1993-08-02 17:45:45 PST

My July century, on Saturday, was a "double century," meaning the mileage and the temperature were both close to 100. I rode from my home in Palo Alto, California across the Santa Cruz Mountains to Felton and back. As usual, the back roads of the western slopes had some lessons to teach me.

At 8:30 AM when I left the temperature was already balmy, and as I went up Redwood Gulch it was warm. I didn't feel hot until I was at the summit of Highway 9 (2500 feet), but then I got to descend for a while.

I turned off to ride through Big Basin, where the road rolls up and down across the ridges, trending down into the basin. Here it was hot again, but every once in a while I'd ride past the mouth of some little side-canyon with a cool breeze still blowing out of it. I was in no great hurry and got back onto Highway 9 in Boulder Creek around noon. Here I stopped at a convenience store and ate a chocolate bar and drank a big Coke. Then I headed down to Felton to get some "real lunch."

I wound up at a burger stand that had outdoor tables, and ate a pretty decent burger and drank another big Coke. I figured I would get a chance to digest that while cruising over to Scott's Valley, but I wasn't counting on the steepness of ugly Mt. Hermon Rd. I reached Scott's Valley and found my way onto Bean Creek Rd. wishing I'd eaten something easier and lighter and, well, better. In Scott's Valley I made the mistake of not refilling my water bottles, which I had filled at the burger stand in Felton. It didn't seem like I had drunk that much.

Bean Creek Rd. is very pretty, to make up for Mt. Hermon. I rode along it as it rolled up and down through the trees, following a creekbed, and I drank water. Lots of it. I needed it to digest my lunch, and to replace the sweat.
I learned later that it was 99 degrees in Santa Cruz, a few miles away on the coast; this is really unusual, and it must have been a good deal hotter where I was.

At the end of Bean Creek I turned onto Glenwood, paralleling Highway 17 and occasionally catching a glimpse of it through the trees, until I reached Mountain Charlie Rd. I'd never been on Mountain Charlie before, and had heard that it's a lovely road. And it is, but that's where my troubles began.

Have I mentioned that it was hot? It got hotter. Mountain Charlie is an old road, layed out unscientifically right across the ridges instead of snaking along the contours of the land, so it goes up and down in short, steep pitches. Actually the down pitches are few and not so steep; this is a climbing road. It's mostly shaded but the trees are not tall and the shade is not deep; so the air is hot. When it's that hot and you're climbing that hard, you can't tell how hot is or how much you are sweating -- you --> -- just notice your water supply is dwindling.

The distance on Mountain Charlie is something between 5 and 10 miles, and somewhere in there, around 2 or 3 o'clock, I got my first flat. I pulled over to fix it and as I was taking off the wheel a cyclist came out of a nearby driveway and asked me if I had everything I needed. I told him yes, thanks; if my brain functions had not been already clouded I would have asked him for water. One of my two 24-oz bottles was nearly empty now.

I mounted the first of my three spare tubes (at least I was well prepared on that front) and started pumping. My god, that pump was hard to work. I couldn't figure it out. Was I that weak from the heat? Finally I got it pumped up "enough," finished off the almost-empty bottle (leaving one full one) and started riding again. About three miles later that bottle was a good deal less than full, and I felt I wasn't getting the benefit of the water. My stomach was still too clogged with that goddamn hamburger. I was thirsty and weak, and I stopped to sit down by the road in a patch of shade. I was sweating profusely; I wanted to wrap my arms around my knee but they just slipped off, until I took off my bandana, wrung it out, and put it between my knee and my arm. I sat there and just waited to feel better. I could hear water running! I looked, and almost smack in front of me was a little spring-house, with a pipe sticking out of it and a thin stream of water pouring out and into a wooden trough that vanished down through the trees. Between me and the spring house was a tall chain-link fence.

Well, after a little while I did feel stronger, and rode on up the road. And in a couple more miles, the muscle cramps began. They hit the leg muscles, both quads and calves by turns. I found that I could rub them away quite easily with one hand, while still pedaling. Or if the road was level for a bit I could extend the cramped leg all the way for a few seconds and the cramps would fade.

And in this fashion I limped along Mountain Charlie Rd., noting the time as after 3 o'clock, then after 4. Now and again I had to stop to unkink a particularly bad cramp or nibble a power bar. I hated eating, because it forced me to drink. There was no good place to rest, and the few habitations all seemed to have big padlocked gates across their driveways. I saw no people for a long time. I did see a small herd of deer, who watched me curiously as I went by. Then I came around a bend and suddenly heard the roar of traffic: Highway 17 again, and the end of Mountain Charlie where it joins Summit Rd. It was now around 5 o'clock (I think -- some of the --> -- details are blurred) as I turned onto Summit, immediately facing a steep climb. I was at around 2000 feet, and I knew that the high point along Skyline was around 3000. I had gone some 70 miles, with at least 20 yet to go. My bottle was about a quarter full, and it was still very hot.

A long time later I had reached the end of Summit (and it's such a pretty road -- I was glad to find I could still appreciate it!) and traversed a section of Bear Creek Rd. to reach Skyline, and began the long, gradual grinding climb to Castle Rock. Time for another flat tire! As I pulled the tube out I realized that on the first flat, I had not checked the tire to find the cause. Dumb! Well, now I found it: another of those tiny bits of needle-sharp stainless-steel wires from a steel-belted radial tire that has worn down to the belt. I couldn't pull it out, but I mashed down the end of it with a tire lever, and mounted the tube and tire, and started pumping. It was practically impossible to force air into the tire. What in the world was going on? I took the pump off the tire and tried working it. It was still almost unmoveable! I was out in the screaming boonies with dehydration, exhaustion, a flat tire and a non-functioning pump. So what did I do, muchachos y muchachas?

I pulled out my 16g Air Zefal CO2 cartridge and I inflated that sucker nice and hard in about two thirds of a second, that's what. So all you sanctimonious SOB's who scold me for carrying a CO2 cartridge, take note: that's what it's for. And no, I did not litter the roadside with it.

And then I ate two bites of power bar, washing them down with the very last two sips of water. It was somewhere around 6 o'clock and still very hot.

I knew I had to stop at a house and beg for water. Most of them still had big locked gates; one seemed to be having a party. In another house I could hear two people having a knockdown dragout yelling and screaming argument, so I decided not to knock on that door! Other houses had dogs... I bet if you live up there you get a lot of cyclists knocking on your door asking for water, or the phone, or whatever. But I finally saw a small, friendly-looking house right on the road, with a 12-year-old boy in the driveway, so I pulled in and asked if I could get get some water. He said he'd ask his mom.

His mom came out and said "Do you have a water bottle?" "I have two of them," I said, and she took them and handed them to the boy to fill, as I climbed off the bike and almost collapsed in the driveway with simultaneous, heavy charlie-horse cramps in both thighs and both calves. I managed to rub them away without being too dramatic (I was getting good at it) and the lady said "I know all about water bottles 'cause you guys are always stopping here asking for water."
"Well," I said, "I'm glad you're not too sick of it." "Oh, I don't mind at all, I got lots of water." She went back in the house and the boy came and gave me my bottles of water. I told him, "You're good people." He was very startled. "ME?" he said.

It didn't take long to reach the summot Skyline and cruise on down to Saratoga Gap and Highway 9. By the time I was down at the bottom of Highway 9, one water bottle was half empty. By the time I had pedaled through the flatlands of Saratoga and Cupertino another few miles it was almost empty and I knew I really wanted something... BETTER. Even though I was now only about 8 miles from home I pulled into a 7-11 and bought a great big Slurpee. Oh my god, that was good. I finished it off carefully, feeling that if I gobbled it I might get sick. In fact, I felt generally pretty fragile.

By now I was on my regular ride-home-from-work route, and I took it slow and easy, arriving at home at about 7:30, eleven hours out and back, 95 miles, 7200 feet of climbing. I had not urinated since the hamburger stand in Felton at 1 o'clock. When I took a shower, cascades of salt water ran down my face. When I weighed myself, I found I had lost some ten pounds in those eleven hours. I ate a good dinner and drank copious amounts of water, slowly and steadily, all evening. I went to bed and had great difficulty getting to sleep, both because it was still hot and because I was still cramping. Now in addition to the large leg muscles, I was cramping in the feet and triceps and even in the intercostal muscles along the sides of my ribcage.

The next day when I put my jersey into the laundry I found it stiff and whitish with dried salt. It was another very hot day, and I spent it doing nothing much except go buy another pump, eat small snacks, and drink fluids. The cramping was over but it left me with some very sore muscles -- I am still pretty sore today (2 days later), though it felt good to ride my bike to work. I've gained back 7 of the 10 pounds I lost.


I looked through some books to see what they said about dehydration, heat exhaustion, cramping, and so forth. I don't have a real first-aid book or any medical books, but I know that first-aid training rarely deals with the kind of experience I had -- they just tell you to avoid it! The bicycling --> -- books mostly just tell you the same thing, and tend to assume that either you're on a supported ride with stuff to eat and drink every 20 miles, or it's a short ride, or you have a car driving alongside with a guy handing you bottles of water, or you are riding in country where you can easily find a store or gas station when you need one.

The best advice I found was from (who else) John Forester, in "Effective Cycling." He says the cramping comes from salt depletion, and recommends that you provide yourself with a source of salt. He notes that this is very unfashionable advice these days, because salt is so "bad for you," but points out that a cyclist on a long hard ride loses enough salt to have trouble with salt in his eyes, to have crusts of salt on the inside of his goggles, and to taste salt when he washes his face. It only makes sense to replace it.

I know for a fact that I lost several grams of salt on that ride. So the next time I go for a long, unsupported ride all by myself in remote country on a very hot day, I will be very sure to carry some kind of salt source. Also, I'll make sure my bottles are filled at the bottom of every hard climb, not 10 miles earlier. Also, I'll be serious about not eating food that is hard to digest. Also, if I see the water getting low, I'll start looking for a door to knock on much sooner!


This was by far the hardest day I've ever spent on a bike. I don't hope to repeat it, but it's one of those rides that I'm sure will go through my mind over and over again for the rest of my life. I wouldn't want to forget any of it. It was so *interesting.*

David Casseres
Exclaimer: Hey!

Appendix, by Ilan Vardi

I also went out on a ride that day, but only up Old La Honda rd., so a total of 1500ft of climbing. However, my time was slower by 5 minutes and I was asking myself: "What's wrong with me today?" The answer being that it was close to 100F on the climb.

ilan's home page