JDRF Ride to Cure Day (Lake Tahoe part 3)

Back to part 2...

2 weeks ago most of the West MI ride team and I were on our way back to MI and "real life."  I'm still struggling to process all of the awesomeness of the day on the saddle with friends and over 1600 other non-JDRF team cyclists making the trek by bike around Lake Tahoe (some riders were able to cut the journey by cruising across Lake Tahoe via ferry and meeting up with us at the lunch stop).

The hubby and I muggin'
After a quick breakfast and donning of ride kits we rode our way to the starting area "dark and early."  The JDRF riders were given a half-hour head-start on the rest of the field.  After a few minutes to congregate, hit port-a-johns, and sing the national anthem we were off.

The ride started on the Nevada side of the lake, but we were back in California within moments.  I believe about 2/3 of the ride is within CA lines.

For maybe the first hour I followed directly behind my husband and our teammate Linda C. (our team's head coach's wife) was immediately behind me.  Those early miles are really flat and a good warm-up before we started hitting big climbs.

Around the time the road started to tilt upwards Derek dropped-off to keep tabs on the riders back a ways.  This is more than I saw of him in Death Valley, which was nice.  On team training rides I often don't see much of him, either, since we tend to break up a bit and the coaches "sweep" and make sure that all of the team makes it back to our ride starts safely.

Near the top of the first climb several of our team were congregated to touch-base and take in some already amazing views, as well as shed some clothes that were rapidly becoming unnecessary as the sun started warming the air.  Since it was starting to get congested along the guardrail and cars were making their way through we got back on our bikes and started rolling towards the big switchbacks.

Now, before the ride a LOT was made of the challenges of these switchbacks...that a lot of riders would have to walk up portions.  I also suspected my lungs would protest badly, since they had felt pretty off on the EASY warm-up ride the prior day.  So once I started up the switchbacks I was loathe to stop.  I had a good pedaling momentum and was picking-off people who were struggling and many who started walking their bikes as soon as they hit the first upgrade.  I REALLY credit the bit of mountain biking I've done for having strong climbing legs.  And my lungs were surprisingly well-behaved, which surprised me.  But I was paranoid to risk stopping and having to restart if the asthma kicked-in, so I motored-up.  And I was surprised when I reached the top.  I had the impression that there were more switchbacks.

In some ways I regret not stopping and taking in the view more, BUT there is at least one notorious section of the switchbacks where we apparently were on sort of a narrow ridge with massive and steep drops on both sides.  I don't think my fear of heights would have had me tolerating that.  I suspect that really could have set my lungs off and paralyzed me with fear, some.  As it is, I didn't really look to either side of me while making my way up.  I was focused on the road immediately in front of me and not running into anyone.

At the top of the switchbacks there was an unofficial break-point with pit toilets.  Another part of the reason I made it up the switchbacks fast is that I had to PEE!  After remounting my bike for the trip back down the other side some guy asked me if I had any baby wipes (which is kinda funny, since I am the gal who always has a pack in her gym bag for quick clean-ups post-ride), since he had puked on himself.  Word of advice, dude...it's not a race.  If you are hammering so hard up the hills that you barf on yourself you are kinda missing the point of the day.

After the rest area we had a brief and STEEP downhill where at least one rider on our team managed to hit 55mph.  I rode my brakes down all of the big hills, in large part due to unfamiliarity with the course and later because we had cross-winds that were pushing us around with some unpredictability.  My Garmin recorded 37.5mph as my top speed.  Not the fastest I've ever hit on my bike, but fast enough for this day.

Our first official SAG stop was on a scenic overlook at Emerald Bay.  The Tour de Tahoe really put out an amazing spread.  I had a couple of the most amazing strawberries ever!  That's one bonus of being in CA--FRESH California strawberries.  I also had some delicious blueberry fig bars.  Totally hit the spot.

From this stop I rode out with Tom S. and his son, Ian.  I rode with them to the next stop. Most of the course between these spots was sort of downhill, if memory serves.

Team West MI with full bellies ready to roll, again!
We lingered at this stop and when we went back out we did so with about half of our team in Tahoe.  It was really cool.  And we rode out with my husband for a bit.  I was really loving getting to see so much of him in this amazing place and sharing some of the same sights at the same time.  Our group stayed together pretty well until we rolled into the lunch stop at King's Beach State Park.  We lingered again here to get the entire team caught up (with the exception of our 2 hot-rods, Ross and Mark, who likely finished hours ahead of us).  At lunch we also picked-up our ferry-riding teammates who were fresh and eager to go.  Lunch featured great subs from a local sandwich joint, Red Vines licorice, brownies, chips, and other good eats.  Never have I done a supported ride with such a great spread at each stop.

Within about a half mile back on the road we hit a pretty long, relatively steep uphill.  That was kind of unpleasant after eating, but once we topped-out we had some pretty gently rolling terrain for a while.  It was going up this hill that we heard a good-natured heckle from a car headed down--"go, Lance!"  By and large the traffic on the roads in Tahoe was entirely respectful and careful.

Soon after lunch we rode back into NV and off of the busy highway for a bit through a VERY "1%" neighborhood in Incline Village.  These were the sorts of homes I envisioned surrounding all of Lake Tahoe.  In reality there are a lot of pretty modest homes all around the lake.

Eventually we met back up with the highway and this is where we found the part of the route that I found to be the most beautiful.  I really regret not stopping along the shoulder to take some photos (though I doubt anything snapped with any cell phone camera could do it justice).  We hit a scenic overlook, but it wasn't easy to access this with road bike shoes.

The waters here were turquoise and crystal clear just below the highway.  It looked like the Caribbean.  I want to go back and rent kayaks to float around in this little bay.

The high I felt after taking in this view would take me up the long (6ish miles, I think) climb immediately following.

I found the climb to Spooner Junction to be more difficult than the switchbacks, but this could have been due to it being later in the day, hotter conditions, and beating sun.  Midway up there was a SAG stop to refuel and empty our bladders (which was good, since the toilets at the rest area at the bottom of the climb were a true horror show.  It looked like something had backed-up in all of them.  Nasty!).  Onward and upward!

At the top of Spooner junction we had one last SAG stop, then turned right back onto the 4 lane highway that would take us mostly downwards to the start/finish.  Down...and not an easy down.  I have never ridden down such a LONG downhill.  And we had gusty cross-winds, so it was impossible to relax and enjoy gravity, since the winds were doing their best to blow me sideways into traffic in the lane to my left.  My hands were sore from feathering the brakes for miles and my entire upper body was achey from supporting my weight for so long without pedaling.

Near the bottom of this big descent we went through what everyone had dubbed "the wind tunnel," with good reason.

Here I caught up with several teammates.  Kaat and I waited for another couple of newer teammates (who didn't show after a long while, so we assumed they had taken an extended break midway down).  While standing here we saw a pick-up truck go flying through and swerve to miss a cyclist, then nearly rear-end a car in the left-hand lane.  Moments later a cop flew through the tunnel with lights and sirens blazing and a mile or two down the road we saw the jackass in the truck pulled-over.  I hope they threw the book at him.  His actions could have yielded an unnecessarily tragic ending.

Greeting JDRF riders until EVERY last one is done!  It's how we ROLL!
The remainder of the course was not nearly as flat as elevation profiles suggested.  There were at least 3 climbs in these last miles that had me cursing under my breath.  I'm sure it didn't help that the last few miles were more business/residential and we no longer had consistent view of the beautiful body of water and mountains that had kept us so blissfully distracted for the prior duration of our ride.

About a half mile from the finish Kaat and I caught up with teammate Tom M. where we waited for Linda T-P so we could all roll across the finish together.  As is West MI tradition, our earlier finishing teammates were waiting for us and we would join them to cheer the rest of our team across the line, as well.

A few JDRF hunks (hubby is 2nd from left)!
After we were all safely done (and by ALL I mean that our entire finished team waits until EVERY JDRF rider is safely back to the finish, not just our own, but anyone sporting the jersey from any part of the world.  Our West MI coaches always take it upon themselves to shepherd in our back-of-the-pack riders, too) we headed over to the post-ride BBQ to satisfy our hunger for food and for tales from the day.  Everyone was all-smiles and our team coach (also a national head coach) described the day as one of the best JDRF ride events that he has ever been a part of (and I think he's been involved with something in the neighborhood of 30).

Post ride we cleaned-up, hit the hotel's complimentary happy hour, and then attended an emotional, celebratory dinner to close a wonderful weekend of reward for months of fundraising.  One of our own teammates won the young rider award.  He was very deserving of this honor.  At 14 he has been battling this disease since he was < 2.  He was such a vivid reminder of why we work so hard to raise so many millions of dollars as an organization.  He is always all-smiles, but it's a brave face that no kid or adult should have to wear.  With every ride we get closer to the day when these folks won't have to.


Tourists in Tahoe (Lake Tahoe part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

After our tune-up ride and showers we headed out to find lunch and get to know Lake Tahoe better.

Several of us found a nice Mexican restaurant (Peppers was the name of it, I think) at the base of the Heavenly ski resort gondola, while others noshed at a pizza joint nearby.  I had a delicious shredded pork burrito loaded with beans and lettuce and veggies on a whole wheat tortilla--good eats!  It was perfect weather for eating el fresco, so we sat at a table outdoors and watched the gondola cars going up the mountain and returning to the base.

It's such a long way up the mountain!
As soon as we finished eating we all met back up to take the gondola upwards.  This trek had me both thrilled and scared shitless...I do NOT do heights well.  My entire family suffers from some pretty serious fear of heights and vertigo issues.

Our friend and teammate Jason was just as freaked-out as I was.  Derek and Kaat got a kick out of our whimpering and hyperventilation!  Jason has skydived (skydove?) before, so it was sort of ironic to me that the gondola made him so tense.

The views from the gondola were pretty amazing...huge rock formations jutting out at all angles, blue skies, twisty trees toppled over while still living trees grew at seemingly impossible angles.  I enjoyed the trip up to the overlook platform until I made the "mistake" of turning around to look behind me.  Holy crap, that was a scary vantage point!  I spent the rest of the ride to the top sort of hunched-over and refused to look behind me.

Midway up the mountain we were able to exit the gondola and check out the view from a platform that circled a peak.  Now, this platform was VERY large and stable, but I still would not go anywhere near the railing.

Brave souls leaning on the railing - Kaat, Ross, Linda, Heather, Michelle
Before exiting the gondola car we were coming in hot on another car filled with other West MI teammates.  Jason had a moment of hilarious panic as he thought a rear-ending of their car was imminent and hollered "Oh, god, STOP!!!"  We're still laughing about that over a week after the fact.

After we'd had our fill of viewing Lake Tahoe from way above we re-entered a gondola car to ride further up the mountain to the main Heavenly ski resort (I'm not entirely certain, but I think maybe the only way to access the resort is by gondola.  I never saw evidence of public road access by car).

The resort area was pretty surreal...it didn't really feel like we were on top of a mountain, since the resort is nestled in a small valley.

Because I'm a dumbass I was talked into a $10 chairlift trip that would bring us closer to the very tippy-top of the Heavenly ski resort.  Now, I have been on chairlifts before, even big ones in CO. Those really didn't scare me in the least--because they have like 10'+ of plush snow below and I'd be covered in several inches thick cozy ski attire.  On this particular chairlift ride there was nothing to protect my fragile body from a far fall from the chair onto BOULDERS!!!  Every time the lift would stop our chair would swing and pitch sort of forward...oh, shit!

At the top of the chair we got off and wandered around a bit.  We didn't go very far, but I think there are runs on the back side of the mountain, too.  Someday I will have to look at a resort map to get a better feel for how big Heavenly was.  I'd really love to ski there, too.  We haven't downhill skied since before DS was conceived, so probably almost 13 years ago.  I really enjoyed alpine skiing, though.

Hiking around on top of the mountain really was a lung challenge, though.  We were somewhere in the neighborhood of 9k feet and I felt it.  We didn't stay up there long before taking the chairlift back down to catch the gondola to the base, again.

My smile is totally fake...see the flexed tendon of terror in my neck?!
It's almost enough to distract from my lack of defined chin and jawline.
If I thought the chairlift up was terrifying it didn't compare to the trip down...oh.  I have never been on a chairlift headed downwards.  And now I could see the ground AND really felt like we were going to tip off the front of the chair as we were moving forward at a downwards angle.  I had a death-grip on the bar in front of us with one hand and my other hand was gripping the seat.  It's funny in hindsight, but I was really wishing that I'd chosen to hike down, since there were people doing that--SMART people!

See how mean my husband is, all relaxed and stuff while I am staring forward directly towards my impending demise?!

The gondola ride back down was less scary, relative to the chair ride.  Jason was still sorta freaked every time the gondola car would rattle along over the wheelie deals on the towers.  I am certain that he and I both lost a few lives on that trip (though he did let go of the lift chair to take that photo above, so maybe he's not as big a freak as I am, heh).

Team West MI has glittery balls...on our helmets!
Once down we did a bit of souvenir shopping for the rugrat and then returned for our ride-eve dinner and traditional helmet decorating party (it makes it much easier for us to spot our teammates during ride day and is just plain fun).  Special jerseys were handed out to the top individual fundraiser and we learned that our team was the top fundraising team of all teams represented at the Lake Tahoe ride.  We also got to meet Curtis, who is the ride director for the entire Tour de Tahoe.  He has made it his mission to give as much promotion to the JDRF as he possibly can.  The official Tour de Tahoe t-shirts (given to all 1800 riders, in addition to the JDRF riders, who made up < 1/10 of the entire field) all have a huge JDRF logo on the front, which is pretty neat.  Hopefully his promotion of the organization will bring more new riders on for 2013.

After we finished decorating our helmets we made our way back to our respective rooms for a good night's sleep before the big ride day.

On to part 3...


1 Totally Surreal Week Ago... (Lake Tahoe part 1)

At this time last week (Friday, Sept. 7) we were somewhere between here (MI) and Lake Tahoe, CA on our way to our JDRF Ride to Cure weekend.  I couldn't tell you exactly where we might have been.  It was noonish in CA.  Our flights were mostly uneventful, aside from our 2nd of 3 flights being late and only having 12 minutes to get from the jetbridge of flight 2 to flight 3 ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SAN FRAN AIRPORT prior to take-off.  We found the shuttle that would take us there faster and an assistant on the bus radio'd ahead to the pilot of the plane bound for Reno to wait.  We somehow managed to make it there with 5 minutes to spare.  I'm way impressed with SF's airport, as a result.

Members of the West MI JDRF ride team
+ 2 dudes from another team
Waiting at the Reno airport was another shuttle bus to take us the rest of the way to Tahoe.  Several of us grabbed takeout from a burger joint in the airport, since our short layovers had prevented us from eating solid food since early AM EST.

The drive to Lake Tahoe from Reno was really beautiful...even moreso than the drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley last Fall, perhaps.  We also got a preview of the massive and long downhill that would greet us towards the end of the 72 mile Sunday Tour de Tahoe ride.  Even in a vehicle there were some vistas that gave me a bit of mild vertigo--yikes!

After arriving at the Tahoe Embassy Suites and settling-in we were hit the hotel's happy hour briefly, then were greeted with a JDRF welcome reception complete with chili and other snacks.  Most of the team then reconvened at a nearby brew pub for some more substantial dinner, though DH and I were by this point kind of sick of snacky foods and craving greens.  We split a chicken caesar salad and enjoyed beers to wash it down.

By this point it had been a very long day and we headed to bed for a good night's sleep before our warm-up ride in the AM to make sure that everything on our bikes worked well.

Most of the West MI JDRF Ride to Cure team
(that's me in the front, 4th from left)
Prior to our warm-up we had breakfast in the hotel.  This was no cold continental breakfast, but had scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, hot oatmeal, and an omelette station, in addition to cold cereal, fresh fruit, and yogurt.

The warm-up ride was really short, under 3 miles, so several of us did 2 "laps."  It was astounding how winded I felt from even the smallest hills, thanks to the elevation.  This did NOT bode well for the following day, I feared.  My biggest fear leading up to this trip was the effect of elevation on my wussy, asthmatic lungs.  Ride day with its ~4k feet of elevation gain could be a really long, painful one for me if the warm-up was any measure.

West MI riders mid-warm-up
(yours truly on the left)
On the bright side, even if my lungs were totally uncooperative I would at least have the amazing views to distract me from my lung dysfunction.  There are worse places to feel less than spectacular and have a good excuse to take one's sweet time.

Once we cleaned-up post-ride it was time to find some lunch and play tourist.

More to come...