Sometimes, I get a stupid notion that I want to do something. Organized bike rides are usually fun or at least a chance to ride somewhere different. Biking new places is interesting and makes me happy. This ride was one that I had always wanted to try. With an event name, “Skull Valley”, it had to be cool. It would be hilly, but I could deal with that. Or so I thought. This “challenge” would turn out to be in the “I thought it was a good idea at the time” category.
Since I had been training for the hilly Santa Barbara Triathlon in August, I would supposedly be in somewhat good shape for this ride. The summer heat sucks out my energy, though, and most of the rides, I was miserable and tired and didn’t average more than twelve miles per hour. I optimistically thought I could finish in four and half hours based on my mediocre training speed, but the climbing elevation was estimated from 2900 to 5000, so completion time was uncertain.
These events always attract the demented cyclists who usually finish in half the time that I do. I never see these people after the start. If I was lucky, a few stragglers would accompany me to the bitter end. My plan was not to mosey too long at the aid stations, but not to kill myself either. Fifty some miles was a long way, since I hadn’t ridden that many miles in training.
The morning of the ride, I drove up in the dark. This was stressful, but I was too cheap to get a hotel. Living in Phoenix, I forget that this state has a whole lot of nothing once past the urban areas. I drove past empty country side. The roads were deserted, which was great because other drivers irritate me.
I blundered around Prescott, which isn’t all that big anyway, parked and got ready. The cold shocked me. What the hell was I supposed to do? I didn’t know how to dress and debated whether to wear a jacket on the ride. Phoenix had been in the high sixties to low seventies in the morning. Fifties was just strange after driving only an hour and a half. The ride started by the Prescott Courthouse. This part of town reminded me of the Midwest, with the tall trees that graced the square.
The ride started and of course I was in the rear. We had a police escort through town, which made me feel like I had to hurry. I didn’t want to keep the cops waiting. Usually, I don’t like to start out hard because I pay for it later on.
We climbed for eight miles. Was this hill ever going to end? I noticed a fair number of roadside memorials of crosses with flowers. I wondered how hazardous this two-lane country road was.
After the hill was a long descent for nineteen miles. I could live with that. The countryside was bleaker, like a high altitude chaparral with few trees. About mile twenty was Skull Valley. The town looked like it had a water source because it was so green. Tall, lovely cottonwood trees lined the road. Skull Valley was named for all the Indian skeletons white settlers found. A massive battle between two tribes resulted in numerous unburied bodies. Then the settlers had to deal with the Yavapai Indians who remained. Ultimately, another massacre occurred. Maybe the place is haunted with ghosts seeking revenge against the present inhabitants.
At mile twenty-six was an aid station. I got off the bike to use the porta potty. It was on a trailer, which meant I had to walk up a ramp. My legs were shaky. This did not bode well as I was only halfway through the ride and I needed functioning legs.
The aid station had boiled potatoes, which I liked, and sliced cucumber, which mystified me. Whose idea was that? Cucumbers have few calories, no carbohydrates and no salt. Basically, it was a useless food, especially for strenuous physical activity. Maybe it would be good if it was hot out, which it wasn’t.
The first half had taken me less than two hours. Maybe I would make the second half in about the same time and finish under four hours. Unfortunately, what goes down, must go up.
Someone told me that the rest of the course went downhill for six miles, then uphill for fifteen. This was utter bullshit. Maybe her version of up and down was different from mine. The climb started right after the aid station. The wind was picking up by this point and not to my advantage. After the turning point, when the route went north again at Highway 89, it really started to suck. The road was straight and monotonous. It looked level, but I was only going eight miles per hour. This was what cyclists refer to as a false flat, a particular evil phenomenon that played tricks on the mind. This was a discouraging affront to my ego and made me despair. At this rate, it was going to take three more hours to finish. I stopped at mile thirty-six to recover from my mental funk at the aid station. A bar was located in the back part of the lot. How tempting to just chuck it all and have a beer.
After that, the twisting road really climbed. At least it wasn’t so boring that I wanted to stab my eyes out. Normally, riding a bike up hills was fun, but this was more work than I wanted and it was exhausting. Just when I thought it eased off, it climbed some more, like some evil dream. It was almost humorous and certainly insane. At one point I saw the road in front of me steeply climbing the mountain and thought you have to be kidding! I kept waiting for a downhill to come that didn’t. I tried not to think about how much time I was taking.
The hills had some stunning vistas to take my mind off the pain. The mountains were rocky, with tall pine tree forests. The green valleys were far below. The road cut through the side of the mountain and the terrain steeply dropped off below.
At about mile fifty, the road finally descended towards Prescott. At a sharp descent, going thirty miles per hour, a side wind threatened to blow me over. I had to slow down. Even downhill was difficult. I finally rolled into the courthouse square. OH MY GOD, THAT WAS SO HARD. I saw the time, with all the stops, I was at 4:55. Really? That time was disappointing. Moving time without all the stops was 4:35. The climbing elevation was “only” 3,700 feet, but it felt like 5,700 with all the undulations. The 5,000 foot altitude probably didn’t help. Altitude is sneaky and tiring.
This ride was humbling and it kicked me in the butt. It was over my abilities and training. I couldn’t decide if it was a good idea in the end to do it, but it certainly was an “experience.” Experience as in I will never do that again.
Until I forget how hard it was and foolishly sign up for another round of punishment.