Monday, February 13, 2012

I spent the weekend riding, for the first time, with the new team. We were in Florida for Miami's inaugural TdC - a ride that seemed particularly appealing given the Colorado snows in the weeks prior to my departure. I had envisioned cycling long, ocean-side stretches in temperate weather, the warm sun and a chance to get out and ride among good friends.

It didn't turn out quite like that.

I arrived at Denver International Airport for my flight to Miami with time to spare. I am punctual to a fault and, when it comes to flying, I prefer never to be rushed. An unexpected snow had fallen overnight, but my flight was still scheduled to depart on time. All good. I made my way to the baggage check with my bike well secured in its least, generally well secured. I had elected in haste the night prior to forgo zip-tying my chain. More on that later.


Bag check turned out to be a nightmare. The entire system had been knocked-out thanks to the snow, and the line at the counter stretched through the airport. I stood in line and waited...and waited...and waited. As the time approached 7:30, and with my flight scheduled to depart at 8:05, I still had still twenty or thirty people ahead of me. I was near panic.

Luckily, a woman jumped from behind the check-in counter, and called all those waiting to board the Miami flight to the front of the line. I managed to get my bike checked before 7:45, and raced toward the TSA screeners where I was, yet again, briefly held up by a teenaged boy trying to fly with a full-size container of Axe Body Spray. In doing the young man a true service, the canister of mephitic parfume was confiscated by an agent, and I made my way to the gate. By 8:02, I was boarding the plane and, by 8:05, we were taxiing to the de-icing station.  I settled in to my seat, and relaxed for the five hour flight.

Upon my arrival in Miami, I went to baggage claim in search of my hard case. It was nowhere to be found. I sought an agent, who informed me that all the over-sized bags on my flight were "missing." For the next twenty minutes, I watched as scores of men and women from baggage claim went racing about in search of surfboards and water skis, and my velo. Finally, they found it mis-routed to a different baggage carousel but in otherwise good order. I claimed my Trek, found teammate John Anderson, and we made our way to the hotel where a bewildered Bill Arnold was trying to figure out what had taken us so long.

The three of us made our way to a little Cuban restaurant for food and drinks, and tried to formulate a plan for the next morning. Local TT2 member Joe Trotter and his finance, Donna, met us at the restaurant where we finalized logistics before heading back to the hotel to assemble the bikes.

Note to self: There is a reason zip ties exist in the world. I managed to piece my bike back together, and was rather pleased with my capabilities in this regard given that I am neither inclined mechanically nor particularly proficient at bike repair. There was one glitch: The chain was hopelessly twisted, and I could not figure out how to get it back on the derailleur. I quickly invited the chivalrous Bill and John to give it a go. Bill was no less confounded than I...but John managed to work it out in a matter of seconds, and not without first laughing at the ensuing confusion.

With bikes assembled and a plan at the ready, we were prepared for an inclement morning ride. Florida had been in the middle of a cold-snap, and the forecast high was a mere 54 degrees. We were to set out around 6:00am, with temperatures in the low 40s. Making matters worse, gale-force winds were predicted, with gusts exceeding 17MPH. Not the sort of thing I had in mind when I signed up for a weekend in Miami.

As we waited at the start, I was regretting bringing only the fingerless gloves.

The ride commenced, and Bill, Joe and I fell into a nice pace alongside a group of local cyclists. I'd checked my sugars before we set out, and was hovering around 135. That's a little lower than I like to start, but good enough. We rolled along through city streets and Cuban barrios, zig-zagging a course through the heart of Miami. The beginning of the ride was filled with the perils of urban cycling: starts and stops at every light and intersection, debris from falling palm fronds as the wind ravaged the trees, and sudden loops that seemed to wind and backtrack in the opposite direction. At several exchanges, one group of cyclists would be heading up the road only to loop back the same way, passing those oncoming from behind.

After a good twenty or thirty miles, Joe made a stop to repair his handlebars which had slipped from position. Bill and I continued on until he pulled ahead of myself and a pack of other local riders. I cycled the next ten or so miles accompanied by a group of cyclists from a Cuban team sponsored by Ultra, and a woman with whom I talked about time trials at some length. It was good company and, in the heart of the pack, I was able to ride a bit of a draft so as to avoid the now pounding winds.

As we approached an intersection, one of the Cubans broke a spoke. In one of the more heroic roadside repairs I have witnessed, his teammates set to wrapping the spoke so he could continue to ride. I went ahead with the other woman, and we took turns pulling against the gusts.

As I approached a rest stop, I spotted Bill pulling out toward the route ahead. I called out, and told him I needed to stop only to check my blood sugar. I deftly stabbed my finger, waited five seconds...and saw the reading: 37! I had felt fine but, notoriously, I have poor hypoglycemia awareness on the bike. I grabbed a bar and a Chocolate9, and was on my way.

I spent the next twenty or so miles chasing Bill. Bill is made to cycle. He is long and lean, and he can generate a lot of power over distances. He trolled along patiently until, just before the halfway point and at a series of exchanges, Joe came riding up to us. He spun around, and the three of us went on toward the 50 mile rest stop.

Joe told us about a guy he met along the way, who was doing his second century ride after having been diagnosed with diabetes. The two men had ridden alongside one another for a stretch, talking and sharing stories. There is always a common thread amongst those who have this disease, buried in the narrative of how we came to diagnosis, and what it has meant in our lives.

Bill and Joe had much greater dominance against the wind. One of the guys with whom I train recently did a study on muscle strength and power, looking at the watts generated during endurance cycling and running. Peak power was about 60% lower for the females when comparing absolute values, despite the fact that all of the men were heavier. Men had generally faster finish times and higher power outputs. I was thinking of Kent and his study as I watched Bill and Joe, folded over in the saddle, powering through the gusts as I was literally trying to just hold my line.

At the same time, I could see my teammates turn and look back...check in...make sure I was not dropped. At one point, I looked at Bill and said, "It's all good. Just go for it!" The two men, ever the gentlemen, smiled.

"Not until you check your sugar. We need to know you are okay. Then we'll drop you."

Good teammates. I am truly lucky to ride with such great guys.

I checked. 115. Good number. I grabbed a banana to keep from falling too fast, and we pulled out. I rode the next ten or fifteen mile stretch with a local Miami guy. We chatted for some time about his cycling and his father's diabetes, how his dad had not been able to take control and how he found his way toward cycling as a mechanism by which to avoid the diagnosis delivered his parent.

At this point, I caught back up to Joe, and rode a few stretches with him yet again. Bill, by this time, was far ahead of us. Joe and I would lose sight of one another for a bit, and then find each other again as we moved along the road.

During our respective rides, all of us noted that we experienced long durations of cycling without another rider in sight. It is an eerie feeling...and an unusual circumstance when riding this kind of event. Usually, you have another cyclist in your line of sight at all times. Two, three, or even a small peloton of other riders. The size of this ride, however, and the relentless challenge posed by the wind, the flats with no breaks from pedal stroke and the different capabilities of each rider caused us to spread out along the course. For mile upon mile, each of us cycled alone, worrying we had missed a turn or overlooked a road marker...waiting to see if we caught glimpse of another rider. With no one else to challenge the wind, and with the curiosity of being alone on this sort of ride, these were the hardest stretches of the course.

At the 85 mile mark, I could feel my blood sugar falling. I had one Choclate9 left in my saddle bag, and debated on avoiding the rest stop in hopes that it would supply enough carbs to get me through the next 15 miles. I checked one last time, saw the number (52) and knew that I needed more fuel. I took advantage of the rest stop ahead, had a banana and a couple orange slices, and made my way through the final stretch.

The descent into Key Biscayne was lovely. The view of the ocean was magnificent, and the tree lined beaches looked inviting despite the cold. Still, I was ready to be done.

John Anderson had finished the Metric, and was already resting peacefully back at the hotel. Bill and I were frantic to return and pack the bikes so as to make our 5:00 flights home. With less than two hours to get on a plane, we jumped in the car and headed for the hotel. The disassembly was a bit frantic, and I was grateful for John's expertise. We managed to get the bike packed in a matter of a few minutes. I threw off my kit, tossed on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and ran to meet my airport shuttle.

Yet again, I was faced with the prospect of missing a flight. The ticketing agents in Miami were confused about the process of checking my bike, and the TSA line was long and slow. I managed to get to my gate with four minutes to spare, but without any food. All I'd consumed all day long was a series of bars, Chocolate9, bananas and oranges and a peanut butter bagel. I knew I would have a delayed low, and I knew it was likely to come on the return flight.

So it was.

I took my seat on the plane, and immediately ordered pretzels and some M&Ms. Three hours later, I was devouring both after I tested at 46.

I was greeted at the baggage claim by my husband and my kids. Henry spotted me first and gave me a wide grin. Midori came running up and threw her arms around me. Despite the short nature of my excursion, I had missed the three of them terribly. A kiss for my husband, and we headed to supper.

In all, I felt like it was a good ride. I stayed on top of my lows, which is hard since I have such diminished awareness when I cycle. Next time, I will probably cut my basal insulin a little further...maybe to 1/ prevent the drops. Generally, though, I felt physically good. The four of us had some great conversations with some wonderful people, too, and did our part to show that diabetes can be a lifestyle and not an impediment to success. And, of course, I was grateful to spend the weekend with my teammates, whose generous nature and willing spirit kept me moving forward over those 100 miles. (A special thanks, too, to Joe's fiancee. She graciously drove us to and from the ride, and supported us all throughout.)

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