There I was hurdling down-hill at 50 miles per hour. The rain was striking my face like BBs shot from a gun. I was drenched from my helmet to my shoes, my leg muscles stung and my lungs were burning from the four mile climb I had just finished. Someone yelled from a support vehicle, “Come on, faster! You can do it!” Suddenly, reality struck. I was in the middle of a bike race called the Solvang Century during one of the year’s worst rain storms. I had actually paid hard-earned cash to enter this grueling event. Despite the terrible conditions, I was having a good time. At that moment I asked myself, “Am I crazy? I like this.” Many people would think I am nuts to ride one hundred miles in the rain wearing only a jersey and cycling pants (no rain gear). However, the feeling I got when I crossed the finish line somehow made it all seem worthwhile.
The day started at 8:00 a.m. when my alarm clock buzzed me awake. I went to the window of my motel room with hopes of seeing clear blue sky. As I peered outside with my sleepy eyes, all I could see were dark stormy clouds. It was drizzling and it continued to do so until a few minutes before the race. This intermission gave me hope that the weather would clear up. I had no such luck. I hadn’t even been riding three minutes of the race when the sky opened up and started pouring rain. As I pulled away from the starting line, memories of my warm motel room faded fast. I was completely drenched and remained that way for the entire race.
In the past years, the Solvang Century has been known for it’s beautiful scenery. Now, it is known for its down pours. There were some parts of the course (especially street intersections) that were so flooded the water was up to my knees. Other parts were so windy that I was almost blown off my bicycle a few times. The worst of all was when a group of us were climbing a very steep hill not only with gusts of wind against us, but at that particular moment the sky decided to hail! I have never known so much pain while riding my bike. Trying to stay in good cheer I yelled, “I paid to do this?” Everyone around laughed and for a short moment the pain was gone.
Even without the wind and the rain, the course itself was very demanding. It started out with some small uphills and downhills called rollers. This made up the first twenty-five miles of the race. After that point, the first rest and food stop could be seen. I was so cold and wet that I knew if I stopped there I would have stopped for good. So, I pressed on. After another ten miles of rollers and straightaways I looked up the road. All I could see was a giant hill that appeared to go on forever.
Well, forever turned out to be four miles long. At the beginning of the hill, I told myself that I was not going to let anyone pass me. I was determined to try to pass everyone in sight. About one mile into the climb another cyclist flew by me and kept going. After a pursuit of another eighth of a mile, I caught up to him. Though in pain, I stayed with him and realized that we were flying by every other cyclist around. I amazed myself because I had never been able to climb a hill with such speed.
Once we crested the hill, we passed by the second rest and food stop. The cyclist and I began to descend the other side of the hill. His support vehicle was right behind us yelling “Go! Go!” Well, he went. I, on the other hand, had never gone so fast (50 mph) on a bicycle before—let alone in the middle of a rain storm. I was scared to death! To my surprise, his support vehicle pulled up right beside me and a crew member said, “Come on! You stayed with him on the hill. Push it! You can do it, stay with him. You earned it!” So I pushed on and caught him and rode the next ten miles by his side. After that, I temporarily pooped out and he took off. To this day, I still don’t know who he was. I do know this—he’s a great cyclist.
After riding another eight miles of rollers I came to the last rest and food stop. For me, it was my first. My original plan not to stop due to the cold [and rain] was finally overcome by hunger pains. While I was there, I asked one of the attendants what the rest of the course was like. He said, “There are two small hills and the rest is flat.” This gave me an open invitation to eat lots of food (two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, three bananas, and six chocolate chip cookies). What a mistake! Unfortunately the “two small hills” turned out to be “killer” hills. I attacked them, as usual, but on such a full stomach I felt heavy and sluggish.
The rest of the ride turned up a few more rollers and a long straight away. The last quarter mile was a small uphill section surrounded by a drenched but enthusiastic crowd. The feeling I got when I reached the finish line made enduring the one hundred miles worthwhile. Out of three thousand starters, only eight hundred of us made it all the way. This essay is dedicated to the crazy eight hundred.
Note: I wrote this essay in 1987 for an English 1 class about a race I had competed in the previous year. Although I am mostly into walking/running these days, there was a time in my life when cycling was king. I figured I’d share it here with you to better shed a light on who I am and what things I’ve done as well as save it electronically because the paper its printed on is looking pretty old.