WFRT Post Ride Blog

So the big day was on Saturday. I haven't really been able to bring myself to write this last log because I don't want to admit that it's over. I already miss my teammates and our training sessions. I'm going to do my best to describe the experience for you.

I didn't sleep at all the night before the ride. Maybe 2 1/2 hours. Maybe. I was mostly worried about the weather. Forecast said 20mph winds from the north. Not exactly what you want to be cycling into for 100 miles.
Got to Wrigley Field to check in at about 7am. There were so many bikes! We got a good T2 group photo in and then began to line up in the corrals. Group A was for people who anticipated finishing within 4-6 hours, Group B was 6-7.5 hours and Group C was +7.5. Alex, Dan, Coach Chris and I lined up at the back of Group A. We grabbed another assistant coach, Gillian, and waited for them to let us start. The horn went off and we began to ride into the Wrigley Field Concourse. It was sort of a mess in the beginning, pushing our way along with our feet rather than pedaling. We came out the front gate and headed up Clark St. The first 2 or 3 miles were very slow going due to the amount of cyclists and the lack of traffic control. Once we got a little further north speed picked up a bit, but that's when I had my first water bottle incident. I have 2 cages on my frame in which I keep a bottle of water and a bottle of electrolytes (usually Gatorade). I also have 2 cages on my seat post because I tend to go through more fluids than most people. My Gatorade cage on the frame snapped in half at about the 3rd mile. Alex came to my rescue (as he has during past rides) and put the bottle in one of the pockets of his jersey. We continued.
We were instructed to skip the first rest stop since it was only 13 miles in, so we kept rolling. As we were turning onto Sheridan Road, a group of XXX racers were riding by the opposite direction and I heard someone scream my name. My friend Michael was riding with them and just happened to pass by right in front of me. How serendipitous! We made our way back onto the street and not long after hit a patch of really rough road. I felt one of my water bottles fall off the back, turned around quickly to see that Alex was stopping to grab it. I wanted to shout back at him to leave it because I still had the other ones, but didn't get the chance. I slowed down to let him catch up and Gillian came by. That's when she told me I lost both of them, and he ran one over. Doh! I was down 3 water bottles in 14 miles. When Alex finally caught up he had all 3 of my bottles in his jersey pockets. Hooray!
At rest stop #2 we stopped. It happened to be at a bike shop so I ran in and bought a new cage for my frame. The bottle that Alex ran over was fine, just empty. I filled them all up, ate a banana and we were back on the road. This is when the winds became more apparent. I had committed to memory the general ride route and at which miles the rest stops were. I basically counted down miles, sometimes tenths of miles, until the stops. I was struggling by the time we got to rest stop #3, which was sponsored by T2. I knew I was going to see familiar faces and possibly get hugs, so I kept pushing. I fell behind our little pack for a bit. There was a point on the McClory Trail where Chris came up behind me, put his hand on my back and pushed me to catch up to the others. I don't know how many times I screamed "F@#$ you wind!!!" I was starting to have chest pains and was going through water quickly. I know we took longer than we should have at the rest stops, but it was the only way I could get my energy back up to make it to the next rest stop.
After leaving #3, we were 7 miles from the Wisconsin border. That's what I focused my next countdown on. We got a great shot in front of the Wisconsin sign, but it wasn't long enough to quell the cramping in my chest. I fell behind the group again. This time I was on my own for a bit. The winds were brutal. I came up behind a single rider and drafted off of him for a bit, but then he slowed down so I had to pass him. Every time there was a slight bend in the road instead of being blasted in the face by wind, I was nearly knocked off my bike. The chest pains became more severe. I was sure I wasn't going to make it to the lunch stop at mile 53. I started to cry. But then Alex came to the rescue, yet again. I saw him up ahead, slowed down and waiting for me. He let me catch up and then let me draft off him the rest of the way. The route headed straight to the lakefront along the most treacherous potholed road I have ever seen. Combined with the dangerous winds coming off the lake, we were only going about 8 or 9 mph for that last mile.
We got to the rest stop and took off our shoes (I was hesitant because I had a nightmare the day before that I lost one of my shoes at a rest stop and couldn't finish the ride). They served us sandwiches and cookies and chips, which was difficult to get down because I felt so lousy. My teammates kept reminding me to eat at every stop even if I didn't feel hungry, so that we kept our energy up. So I ate. After about 10 minutes my chest felt better, but my spirits were low. I couldn't imagine going another 47 miles like that. I was texting my brother and a couple other people because I wasn't sure I was going to make it. The longest stretch was before me (next stop was at mile 71) and I was incredibly disheartened.
We stayed at the lunch stop for at least half an hour, maybe more. Finally headed back on the road. I felt a bit more refreshed, but then we started hitting hills. There was one that I wanted to get off and walk, but Alex just shook his head. We slowly climbed to the top, only to be rewarded with a plateau. I'm still waiting for the downhill on that one! Other than the hills and the wind, there was not much that was eventful about that 18 mile stretch. We slowed down by a couple mph so I wasn't quite as exhausted when we got to rest stop #5. I sent out the warning texts: we were 16 miles from my mom's house. At the rate we were going, I told my mom and brother that we could be there anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. This is where things started getting interesting. Instead of becoming more and more fatigued, I found myself filling with excitement and energy. I was close to being home! Things were looking familiar. I felt a shift. We were just turning onto Chicago Rd in Oak Creek when another gust of wind nearly toppled me over. I screamed again, but then caught myself. I had this weird moment, maybe it was because I was becoming delirious from riding hard all day, but I remembered someone telling me to never resist anything because I am part of it all. And it was with that thought that my inner dialogue changed dramatically. I think I may have even said it out loud - I embrace the wind - and then started a new mantra in my mind, "I love the wind. I AM the wind." Over and over and over. Every time I felt myself becoming frustrated, I would double the efforts on the mantra. Pretty soon we were pulling into South Milwaukee, and I was visibly excited.
I started pointing out landmarks to my small group of T2 teammates - "That's where my great grandma lived" "That's where my dad's friend worked" "That's the Dairy Queen we used to go to when I was a kid." We were just about to turn onto Lake Dr, less than 2 miles from my mom's house when I heard someone shout my name again. My dad's best friend Dennis and his wife Brenda were camped out on a corner waiting for us to ride by! They snapped a picture and I started to lose my group, so I told them I had to leave. We had just passed the hospital I was born at (where Dan actually yelled out "Hi Vega's birth hospital") when a car pulled up and started snapping pictures. Dennis and Brenda chased us down to wave and cheer again. I told them to head to my mom's and we would stop to say hello and shouted out the address. I was probably glowing with excitement by this point. I'm sure it must have helped my teammates to have me suddenly rejuvenated and excited when we were at mile 86 or 87.
Then we saw them. My mom had signs and balloons on both sides of the street. There was a giant group of them on the side of the road. I barely saw who was out there - my brother Troy, his girlfriend Liz, Mom, mom's boyfriend Beaver, Grandma, probably Dennis and Brenda - but they were waving us on and telling us to head to the rest stop, just another couple blocks away. We got to the last rest stop and my friends and family started pouring in. Troy first on the bike, then Liz and my mom and grandma, Dennis and Brenda, and then Kory strolled over from somewhere in the park. I introduced them all to the teammates who were nearby, and Coach Chris. I was over the moon. I'm still shocked that I didn't start crying; I thought for sure I was going to be a sobbing mess (I've teared up a few times just writing this). I was too excited to be emotional. We hugged each other a couple more times and then I had to go. Troy decided he was going to ride with us for as far as he could, but that ended up being about 2 miles.
The last 9 miles to the stadium were through my old neighborhood where I was born (Bay View) and down Canal St. It was almost like I forgot I had ridden 90 miles to get to this point and felt more like I had just jumped on my bike from my brother's house and was headed to the east side or something. We passed my friend Courtney who had been riding by herself all day. I asked the group if we could slow down so she could ride the rest of the way with us. We climbed the last bridge and just as it crested, we saw the tents in the furthest gravel parking lot under the 35th St bridge. The last block was coasting down the hill and being directed into the parking lot by my friend Sean. As I turned, I saw Shana jumping up and down and screaming like crazy. I made it! I rode my bike all the way to Milwaukee!! I didn't even have my helmet off and a camera crew came over to talk to Alex and I. Just as I was finishing a sentence, Shana ran over and threw her arms around me. We stowed my bike, I put on my regular shoes, and then grabbed my camera. I wanted to be sure to catch the rest of my teammates coming in. We were about to walk over to the finish when Troy and Liz walked up. He couldn't believe that I had beat him there, and they had driven in a car. We walked over together and Troy snapped many pictures that my teammates are truly grateful for.

Now it's over. The training, the Saturday morning group rides, the anticipation. But I have hopefully gained some lifelong friendships and have proven to myself that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. While we were all at the game that night, the word started spreading that our head coach had said it was the most difficult century ride he had ever done. It turned out that the 20mph sustained head wind was punctuated by gusts of 25-40mph. He said directly to me that he would rather do an Ironman than ride that again. At least I know that any century ride I do after this will be less challenging.
That being said, I am aiming to ride the North Shore Century on September 18th. I was going to do the full 100, but may be accompanied by my brother for this one, so will probably only ride the "Diamond Century" (70 miles).
Other than accomplishing such a huge personal goal, I am filled with warmth knowing that what I did helped people. When I was struggling at the lunch stop, Shana reminded me that I was riding for people who can't. I thought of my friends and the people I was riding in honor of and was given a little more strength. This has been by far the most meaningful and powerful thing I have ever done. Not only did I help by raising funds for the AIDS Foundation, but I inspired others to get healthy and active along the way.

If you read this and feel inspired to contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS, we are accepting donations until October 31st.

1 comment:

Julie Hutmacher said...

YOU ARE AWESOME! You did a great job of capturing it all, Vega. Although I wasn't able to be there, I could visualize it as I read. You'll be able to look back on this blog for years to come and the experience will still be just as vivid and meaningful as it is now. Congratulations!

-Julie Hutmacher