Last weekend I rode the Bike MS Arizona. This ride started and ended in a town called Cottonwood, AZ which is located in the Verde Valley of Arizona, about 15 miles south of Sedona. The first day of the ride was supposed to be my first century, the route scheduled for 105 miles. The second day was scheduled for 49 miles.
A couple days I checked the weather for Sedona and was informed that Saturday (Day 1 of the ride) was going to be unseasonably cold. In fact, some freak storm was going to be coming through that day with morning temperatures forecast in the 30s and a 60% chance of rain. While I was disappointed that the weather wasn't going to be perfect, I was actually somewhat happy that it wasn't going to be too hot.
I stayed in Prescott which turns out to be 15 miles as the crow flies from Cottonwood, but 50 miles to drive. Therefore, to make the 7:00am start, I had to be up at about 4:45am. When I woke up, I looked out the window and saw that it was a) still pitch black, and b) snowing like crazy. I was sorely tempted to go back to bed for another hour and just plan to ride the 68 mile route instead, starting an hour late. However, I bucked myself up, got ready and headed out.
As I left Prescott, I was happy to see that as I got further from Prescott, the snow thinned out until by the time I was halfway to Cottonwood, the snow was gone. As the sun started to come out and the thermometer on my care started to inch up above the freezing mark, my morale improved. Perhaps things would warm up a bit and the ride would be cool.
I checked in at about 6:30 and learned that the long route had been shortened to 94 miles. I was slightly disappointed as this would not be a century, but on the other hand I was really worried about the massive climb that they had cut short, so I was also relieved. I got myself bundled up (long sleeve polypro undershirt, cycling jacket, Smartwool socks, Smartwool knee warmers, and running gloves over my cycling gloves) and headed to the starting line. I'd estimate there were about 300h people ready to ride, but I'm horrible at estimating this sort of thing so don't take my word for it.
They started the ride at 7:20 and off we went. I'd been training with my heart rate monitor for the past 4 months, so I planned to keep a close eye on my HR to make sure that I was not getting into the red zone. I was therefore pretty unhappy when I saw that my HR was not registering on my watch. I was even more unhappy when nothing I did could get it to start working. Oh well, I'd have to ride without it. Just one more little problem for a day filled with problems. The first 15 miles of the ride was pretty easy, and got us to the first rest stop with little drama. The sky was overcast and there was some rain, but it was not too bad, and we were hopeful that we might have a decent ride after all.
At the first stop, I refilled my bottles with Gatorade and scooted out in a hurry. One thing I tried to do was keep consuming calories constantly in a concerted effort to avoid bonking, a problem that I had in the Tour de Tucson in Novemember. In addition, I was making it a point to not dilly dally in the rest stops. Instead, I'd get in, grab a bite, refill my bottles, use the Honey Bucket, then hit the road.
At about 20 miles the road started going up, and we were approaching the beginning of the big climb. This thing made me nervous as it was about 11 miles of climbing with an average grade between 4 and 5%. At about 24 miles, we came to the second rest stop. This didn't seem to be too surprising as the last Bike MS I did had rest stops about every 10 miles. I did my rest stop routine (food, bottles, Honey Bucket) and then headed out. That's when I learned that this rest stop was the turnaround, and not a stop before the big climb. It turned out that there was snow and ice on the road not too far ahead, and the race had been shortened again. It turned out that they chopped about 14 miles off the already shortened ride because of the snow.
I bombed back down the hill, at one point hitting 38 mph. I turned north and made it to the 3rd rest stop. Things were going well with the exception of the ocassional rain and temperatures in the 30s, but overall, not too bad. After the 3rd rest stop, we made our way north and west, at one point riding on Interstate 17 for about 3 miles. There was some climbing, but nothing too difficult, and made it to the 4th rest stop. This was about 50 miles into the ride. This is where things started getting ugly.
After this rest stop, we turned north and started climbing up to Sedona. The wind started picking up at this point, blowing at about 20 mph, and it started to rain steadily. It was about 15 miles to Sedona, and each mile it got colder and colder. Soon, the rain turned to sleet, then as we entered Sedona it turned to snow. It was becoming a miserable death slog, and we were about 20 miles from the finish.
The 5th rest stop was at a bike shop in Sedona, and stood out because you could actually go inside and sit down in the warmth. It was here that we ate lunch, the classic PBJ with chips and Gatorade. After eating, it was time to head back out (reluctantly), but the organizers actually stopped us from leaving because the snow was coming down so hard they must have been worried about visibility. After about 10 minutes wait, they let us leave and the death slog continued.
We headed west to West Sedona, riding mostly up hill for about 5 miles in a steady rain/snow mix. Finally, we made the turn south which meant we were finally heading back to Cottonwood. In addition, I was excited because the last 15 miles was mostly downhill. Unfortunately, this is when the wind really made things difficult. Yes, I was riding downhill, but with a 20 mph wind right in your face, there was no relaxing. In fact, on the downhill ride to Cottonwood, I found I had to pedal to keep from slowing down, even on the downhills. Not much relaxing there. In addition, the sleet picked up, and the supercooling effect of going 15 mph into a 20 mph wind made things REALLY cold.
At one point it was so bad that I pulled into convenience store and just stood in there for 15 minutes just to get out of the elements. It took a herculean effort to get back on my bike and make the push to the finish line. It was at this point that I rode right past the last rest stop without even seeing it. I finished the last 10 miles or so wondering where the last stop was!
Finally, after about 7 hours or so, I finally arrived back in Cottonwood, and thankfully had a relatively short ride to the Verde Valley Fairgrounds where the finish was located. I pulled into the park a tiny fanfare of 5 or 6 volunteers who drew the short straw and had to stand out in the cold and hand out medals to the riders as they came in. The area where the post-ride celebration would be was nearly deserted as no one, and I mean no one, wanted to stick around unless they had no other option. I went straight to my car to get the heck out of there and put the whole fiasco behind me.
I finished after about 7 hours and 20 minutes, with a significant amount of time standing around in rest stops and convenience stores. I don't know how many calories I burned because of my HRM malfunction. In addition, my iPhone went dead, so I didn't get a MapMyRide out of it. However, here is someone else's route: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/83901123.
On the whole, it was the most miserable experience I've ever had on a bike. That said, it was certainly an adventure. Would I have done it if I'd have known what it was going to be like? Probably not. On the other hand, it's unlikely that a ride will ever be any worse than that. In addition, I now know I can suffer through some pretty aweful stuff and keep on going.