IV Velo Club’s Yuha Desert Ride Against Cancer
Updated: Feb 10, 2019
I just rode the longest ride of my life and I’m not even walking funny! I feel strong and energetic and inspired! My first ride in a peloton, legitimate practice in the aerobars, and met a blind cyclist defeating the odds. This ride taught me that I can do anything! Bring on the Ironman!
I signed up for this ride a few months ago when I was still high from the half Ironman. That's when I met the enthusiastic Jesse Zermeno, a leader in the IV Velo Club. We talked about my brothers, the Ironman, who we ride with, and the Yuha race. He sounded confident I could do the full 70 miles instead of the 13, 20, or 46 mile distances, and I believed him.
But then I stuffed my face at Christmas. And then walking pneumonia. And New Years, and birthday parties, and rain, and a bunch of other excuses that are equally as lame (except pneumonia. That wasn't a lame excuse; that was awful). When race day approached, I’d ridden the trainer only a handful of times and it was pretty apparent that riding 46 miles would be torture enough.
Reducing my original goal was difficult because I don’t like to back down from a challenge, especially one I set for myself. I never believed my mom when she said an A- was good, or that if I hated swimming in high school I should just quit. I knew I was capable of an A, and I love-loved French fries so I studied harder and kept soaking my hair in lemon juice (where my blondies at??).
On the morning of the ride, full regret sank in. Why am I doing this? But instead of hitting snooze I poured my coffee (first good decision of the day).
Fortunately I live about half a mile from the starting line, so I rode there, coffee in hand. Unfortunately I forgot about the road construction where the intersection was dug down half a foot. So I start the ride covered in Jose's Vanilla Nut coffee (this is the best coffee ever, drink it with a French press and thank me later. Also sold at Costco. Also smells amazing sloshed on your bike, jersey, and gloves).
Pulled into the parking lot and saw Lauren, Preston, and Donnie, “how far are you going, Autumn?” “Just 46.” Then I spotted Ryan and Kady Jones, “46?” “Yeah, just 46.”
We talked about sticking together (did you know drafting can reduce your energy output by up to 40 percent!?) but I'm a nervous rider and still new to group-ride protocol, so I figured I'd keep a safe distance. I typically like 6+ feet of space around me to feel comfortable, and I swerve at least 2 feet when I take a swig from my water bottle. Consider yourself warned.
The race started and we settled into a peloton of about 15 riders going 18 mph. I’d never ridden in a group this big and I feared getting sandwiched between a rider and the road’s shoulder, but something strange happened: instead of freaking out, I felt calm and included. I'd met almost all of these cyclists on the road in the last half year and they felt like friends. We were a community sharing the workload to get to our destination. I was holding speed and even took a pull holding 18 mph. Booyah.
The tailwind and drafting made the slight incline feel easy and I couldn't believe my back wasn't giving me problems. Twenty-some-odd miles in, Preston falls back next to me and it goes like this:
“Hey Autumn, how do you feel?”
“I feel pretty good, I ate a lot of fettuccine alfredo last night so I guess I’m carbed up.”
“Cool, then ride the 70 with Donnie and me.”
“I don’t know, I haven’t been riding much, but I could probably be convinced.”
“Hey Donnie, work on Autumn, she said maybe.”
Donnie falls back, “Hey Autumn, ride the 70 with Preston and me.”
“I can’t hold your speed and don’t think I can do it alone.”
“We’re riding 16-18 mph the whole way, we have a Spartan race next week so don’t want to push too hard. You can draft off us!”
And that’s literally all it took.
The 46-mile group peeled off at mile 23 and all that was left was the three of us. Half a mile later Preston announced he was dropping behind me to pee on his bike. Seriously. He’s not kidding. This guy peed while running the Ironman half marathon and I'm just glad he gave me a heads up. He rejoined us and we rode the next 10ish miles talking about training styles, bike fit, riding form, and upcoming races.
At the 35ish-mile support stop, we saw Jesse manning the station and he yelled “IS THAT AUTUMN!?” so I wasn’t the only one shocked to see me here. I saw food and I was super hungry so I stuffed it all in my mouth. I couldn’t stop. I ate three halves of PB&J Uncrustables, half a tangelo, half a banana, and a large oatmeal raisin cookie (I cut that in half too but went back and ate it all). We hit the road and if you can believe it, the wind changed directions giving us a tailwind home!
We got to the Oasis, the last big hill, and I got dropped! These guys are beasts on a bike and they powered up this hill like they were fueled by diesel while my nutrition plan was to drink hot chocolate with a cookie every night before bed. I reached the top and a man said “don’t worry, it’s all downhill from here” so I must have looked like a wet dog.
I spent the next 25 miles chasing after Preston and Donnie. I held 18-20 mph and wasn't taking breaks, but every time I looked up, they looked smaller until with 10 miles to go, I couldn’t see them at all. That’s about when the wind changed directions again to a slight headwind. It killed my spirit and ruined my speed. Through the chaotic noise of wind passing my ears, I let myself sulk in how much faster I’d be if I was drafting, but then tried to reroute my focus to something more positive. This challenge was going to make me stronger!
I said over and over in my head “just keep spinning, just keep spinning” and while I am my own worst critic, these solo sports have taught me to be my own best motivator too. With 3 miles to go I turned North and the noise went completely silent. It’s a beautiful thing when you ride with the wind. You can hear your breathing, your pedaling and the tires rolling over the asphalt and it’s peaceful. You feel one with the road and that’s the hippiest thing I’ve ever said. My speed picked up to 20-22 mph. I was about to finish the longest ride of my life and still had energy left in the tank!
I came up to an awesome tandem road bike and slowed down to sneak a picture. I told them their bike was awesome and pushed on, not knowing they stayed pretty close to my tail the rest of the ride. Back in town, I heard my name and saw Jose Moreno directing bike traffic. "Hey Autumn, how far did you go?" "I did the full 70." "What!?" He jumped on his bike and followed me to the finish line just to talk about it and that made me feel special. Seriously the nicest guy you’ll ever met.
At the finish line I saw Blake, Crosley and Blythe waiting for me with high fives. Cros was showing off her hand-brakes and no one could believe she learned to ride a bike at 2.5 years old.
I found Preston and Donnie: "YOU DROPPED ME!” They looked slightly sorry, but that wasn't what I was going for. “You guys pushed me really hard! I would never have gone as fast as I did if I wasn’t trying to catch you guys, thanks!” And I meant it.
On my way home, I saw the tandem rider with her bike and she called out, “hey, it was nice riding with you!” I stopped to ask about her bike and she told me about an incredible group in San Diego called the Blind Stokers Club. They ride tandem road bikes with a volunteer on front and a blind rider that she called the engine on back. They all have different back-stories, some blind from birth, others from accidents or disease, but they refuse to let blindness strip them of feeling the wind in their face.
Riding blind on a tandem bike must require a lot of trust, but I realized that this community of cyclists have been nothing but trustworthy. On my first night ride, I was struggling in a headwind trying to get home and Jose slowed down to pull me. When I fell clipped in at an intersection (ouch), the IV Cyclists group was passing by and rushed to see if I was ok, calling attention to the lane so I wasn't run over. And when I stopped to check my sensor in San Onofre, a stranger stopped in case I needed help with a flat tire.
Cyclists are a community. They’re helpful, kind, and encouraging. They remember my name, ask about my family, and encourage my progress. They have highway clean up days, support charities, and advocate for safer riding conditions. They’ll even be your eyes on a bike for two because they love this sport and they want everyone to experience the joys of cycling.
Don’t make excuses, get out here and join the fun!
Do you like reading race recaps? Check out my Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells La Quinta experience! And subscribe below to follow this mama's journey to completing my first full Ironman, November 24th, 2019!