Here's a little story from one of my rides last week.
Some of you who are just getting back into riding shape, like me, might be able to relate to this. And if you're from San Diego, even more so. :)
Last week, on my way to meet Jon to spin with him up to the Gene Kelley ride in the dark, I wasn't quite sure I'd make our meeting point in time. Left the house in Carmel Valley, South of the 56fwy at 5:40am, doing my own private TT to get to the corner of Del Mar Heights and Hwy 101 by 6am. Texted Jon as I rolled out of the driveway and turned on Strava, "Leaving now, hope I make it!" I wrote.
It was quiet, not a car on the streets, not a soul out yet. I was alone in the dark, enjoying racing the conical pocket of light ahead of me emanating from my headlight. The occasional street light reflection shimmering on the surface of the road made it seem like I was riding on a frozen street, as it'd just stopped raining.
Speed and efficiency was key now, as I'd never actually timed the route to our meeting point. I was pedaling conscious circles, drawing on an imaginary chalk board next to my pedals, then standing up out of the saddle up the hill leading to DMH from the 56 fwy bridge, trying to keep smooth and not bounce. My freshly repaired rear wheel was suddenly rubbing the pad on the right side with each strong press of my right foot, so I stopped quickly to investigate, concerned that stopping would compromise my already slim chance of making the rendezvous point in time. Jon mentioned the night before that he'd be there at 6am sharp, and we'd have to ride tempo up to La Costa Ave in order to catch the team for the morning workout. I wasn't even sure I could hang with Jon riding tempo yet, much less consider riding with the group.
I couldn't see much in the darkness during my quick inspection, just dim reflections off the black wheel; there was no way to judge the wheel's condition, how badly out of true it'd suddenly become, or if my caliper was off-center. I had no time to spare, so I flipped up the quick-release on the caliper, jumped back on the bike and motored up the hill toward DMH, mindful that I'd just lost another minute.
Something about the moist, cool air, the darkness, the silence, was invigorating. I was late, unsure, riding quick, keeping a pace that was burning slightly, but sustainable. I felt great, pedaling with a smile that can only come from speeding through town in the dark, something I'd not done since high school.
My phone beeped twice along the way, and I knew it was Jon texting me back. I figured it probably said, "Better get there in time, I can't wait!" I didn't want to check it, didn't want to give up precious time. Didn't want to read a message that would challenge me more than I already was. I just needed to focus, and ride fast.
On the upper Carmel Country Rd segment the road flattens out, and it's a two-light shot North to DMH. I couldn't risk losing more time, turning down DMH would subject me to two, or perhaps three major intersections. A red light would kill my time for certain, and it'd be impossible to make the objective by 6. I made a quick decision to turn West a block early, blasting down a steep, curvy hill past the town recreation center and library. Reached back, and flipped the quick-release back down so I'd have a way to keep from flying over the handlebars at the intersection at the bottom. Rear wheel was making a slight grinding noise with each revolution, but I pedaled against it, developing some decent speed despite not knowing if there were holes, seams or other hazards on this stretch of roadway. I bunny-hopped a ridge in the pavement part way down, and got back on the pace, making the bottom of the hill quicker than I had during the daytime, or so it felt. (Turned out I was 8th fastest overall on that segment per Strava.)
Next, a quick sprint along El Camino Real to DMH, then to the climb up DMH and over the top toward a steep descent down to Hwy 101. I'd disengaged the QR again, and was climbing well, at least for me. Good cadence, not blowing up, feeling strangely fresh, even though I'd gone to sleep at 2:30am and woken at 5:20. After crossing the 5 fwy, that last little hill segment came and went quicker than expected. I'd run out of gears, but had great momentum. If I didn't make the meeting point in time, I'd still go for a ride by myself, I was feeling lively and happy. A great start to the day, or more accurately, end to the night.
Cresting the hill, I flipped the QR back down and against my better judgement, I pedaled hard down that steep DMH descent to the coast highway. What if I had to brake hard for an early commuter pulling out from a side street, would my rear wheel lock up, braking against the warping that'd suddenly developed? Would I make it to the end of the hill but not be able to stop in time, because the road was wet? What the hell time was it anyway? My Cateye has no backlit screen, so I had no idea of timing. But this was the final sprint, and if I had any chance of making it by 6am, I'd need to speed. I didn't go all out, but it was a spirited descent. Probably felt faster than it was, because of the darkness. The light cone showed aggregate, pebbles, cracks and spots of sand zipping by on the ground. Felt as if I was skimming along the road instead of rolling.
I braked early, scrubbing off speed 30 yards from the corner, just in case it was slick. Didn't want to end the morning early, and on my side. Or under a car. I pulled up onto the curb, in the green glow of the traffic light above. Slipped my phone out, and checked the time. 5:58. I was early, by 2 minutes! A small, proud moment enjoyed.
Checked my text messages. Jon's unseen answer was "Looking good". How the heck would he know? That was just Jon being kind and encouraging. What a great riding friend. I wondered if he'd already passed by and was on his way up the coast to La Costa. I texted, "I'm here", to which he replied, "Coming up hill". He was ascending the hill from Torrey Pines beach where Carmel Valley Rd meets the coast. I was relieved that he wasn't waiting on me, or gone. I waited until a faint headlight beam curved over the hilltop to the South. No, there were two. Jon had acquired an accomplice along the way.
They passed by me as I checked my rear wheel some more, unable to figure out why it was rubbing or out of true. I'd just replaced a spoke and had it trued three days previous. The other rider had SDBC kit and was slim, an experienced rider no doubt. I hopped back on my bike, reeled them in and Jon introduced me to Sam as I pulled alongside, half way through Del Mar. When we reached the flats on Coast Hwy, North of Del Mar Plaza, Sam and I were behind Jon by 30 yards or so, and he said, "Jon rides too fast for me" to which I replied, "Me too, but I've got to go, nice meeting you". Then I took off and caught Jon. We rode at a brisk pace through Solana Beach, and then caught two Swami's riders in Cardiff. The four of us rode two-by-two through Encinitas, and down the hill toward Encinitas Blvd. There was quite a bit of activity in downtown Encinitas, plenty of cars; the town gets up early for coffee and surfing. 40 yards from the light at Encinitas Blvd, the light turned yellow, and there were cars already lined up for cross-traffic. I was thinking we'd be stopping for this one, no way to make the light this far out. Jon and the other two Swami's stood on the pedals and sprinted. I thought, "Okay, here we go, this is how they kill off the new guys". :)
I got a late jump, so I made it through, but the light turned while I was two-thirds across. Glad none of the motorists had their foot on the gas early.
We spun up the hill and along the flats through Leucadia. I was talking with one of the other guys, Monte, I think his name was. Having a good conversation. It was looking like we'd not only make the group intercept, but I was feeling good enough that I might even try to tag along for a while. Well, for as long as I could keep up anyway. No matter what happened, I was glad I'd made the early meeting point, had a very fun ride in the dark, and everything else, in my mind, was icing. Then..."PINGGG!..." I pulled off the road and yelled up to Jon, "I broke a spoke, have fun!"
It was over quickly. I'd almost made it to my first Gene Kelley ride with the Swami's team. Almost.
I'll be back to give it another try sometime soon.