I was expecting the first significant hill. I wasn't expecting the second one to hit me just around the corner. Or the monster climb up Route 27.
I certainly wasn't prepared for the chilly downpour that soaked me to the core, covering my sunglasses with water to a point that it was difficult to see and caused puddles and road grime to splash up my back as I rode.
Yep, Sunday's ride was definitely a character-building one.
Character building. That's what us runners and cyclists like to say to validate ourselves. It makes us seem just a little less crazy when we brave the elements, take on a seemingly impossible distances or wake up in the wee hours of the morning to train.
We'll appreciate that run or ride. Someday. One of my favorite things to tell new runners struggling with hills is that they'll appreciate those hills on race day. Good training, right?
My plan for Sunday's ride was simple. I didn't mind doing a decent distance - say, 30 to 40 miles - but I didn't want a challenging ride. Nice and easy. Meaning, I wanted a flat ride, no crazy hills.
I thought I shared this plan with TC.
Then again, it's entirely possible I didn't properly verbalize it. Maybe I just didn't convey my overwhelming desire to give my body a bit of a break after a tough training week - track on Wednesday, 6-plus mile run on Thursday and an 8-mile run (followed by a hard strength and stretching clinic) with my team on Saturday. Oh, and I had two 30-plus bike rides scattered in during the week.
My body was begging for a break. But it was Sunday. The weather was good - or at least it started that way. I couldn't do nothing. An "easy ride" would be okay.
I sat at the laptop next to TC and mapped out what I thought would be a good ride on some familiar (and flat) roads. TC raised some concerns about traffic in a certain section and I happily heeded his advice - cars and bad drivers still terrify me! The quieter the road, the better.
He suggested a route he'd done at least once that would bring me through towns east of Manchester - Auburn, Candia, Deerfield and Hooksett.
TC had to make a stop at the bike shop (in the opposite direction), so we planned my departure to give him a 25-minute headstart. If all went as planned, he'd meet up with me along the route. Somewhere. If he didn't find me or the timing was off, it wasn't the end of the world. I enjoy a good ride by myself, too.
The scenery was beautiful. The route brought me around Lake Massabesic, where I saw kayakers and boaters floating on the near-still water. I saw dads fishing with their sons. I saw people reading books by the shore. A perfect Sunday in June.
I followed the road through Auburn, past sprawling farms up and over Bunker Hill. (I'd been expecting that one.) Not long after I made the turn onto Route 121, I was hit with a steep pitch. I watched my speedometer drop to single-digits. I clicked through my gears and pedaled forward. My legs burned. I was forced into my Granny Gear as the hill continued to climb.
I may have uttered a curse or two up the hill - none directed at TC, of course, although I do specifically recall the following thought going through my head on the way up: Boy, our definitions of 'easy' sure are different.
Huffing and puffing, I made it to the top and eventually to the first turn. The road was perfect - rolling (but not overly challenging) hills, little traffic, beautiful farmland and trees.
Unfortunately, it didn't last too long. I got to the end, made a series of turns (including one wrong turn that caused me to pull out my iPhone to use the GPS map to get me back on track) and onto Route 27. Hill after hill.
Just as soon as I'd finish one hill, another one was staring me in the face. They were long. And they were steep. At Mile 20, just as I crested another hill that caused me to go back into my Granny Gear, I pulled to the side of the road. I unclipped and took off my helmet. I leaned my bike against a rock wall.
I knew I had 15-20 miles left to go. I didn't have the energy to take on another 15-20 miles of hills like that.
I pulled out my iPhone again - this time not for directions. I sent a text message to TC: I think this route is a bit above my ability. :(
Eventually, my breathing got back to normal and I stopped sweating profusely. I downed an energy bar and some drink and climbed back on the bike. To my surprise - and pure delight - I'd made it to the highest point of the ride. I spent the next few miles coasting downhills. It felt great.
Until I looked at the sky. A dark cloud loomed ahead of me - the kind of summer storm that pops out of nowhere on humid days. I was riding right for it.
Sure enough, the drops started to fall. At first, it wasn't bad. It actually felt a little cooling and refreshing. Then the drops came harder and harder. It was the first time I'd actually ridden in the rain.
I really don't mind running in the rain. Riding in the rain? I'll pass. It's a whole different situation. It's cold. It's hard to see. The raindrops feel like little needles coming out of the sky hitting your bare skin. I'm not ashamed to be a fair-weather rider.
The unexpected hills made the ride less than ideal. The rain made it nearly unbearable. I just wanted to get home. I pedaled faster. Soon, I approached a street that could serve as a shortcut. I hesitated.
No, I thought, I told TC I'd be on this route. I better stick to it - just in case he comes to find me or something.
I pedaled onward, sticking to the original route. The rain came harder. And harder. And harder. Drops covered my sunglasses. Cars splashed me as they passed. Ugh.
Stealing an old motorcyclist trick, I stopped under a highway overpass to get a break. I looked at the sky, doubtful that I could wait it out. Plus, I was already soaked. I hopped back on after a brief break and pedaled on - now only a few miles from home.
Just as I coasted into the city, the the sun started to break through the clouds. I pulled into my parking lot and maneuvered my bike up the elevator and into the apartment. I heard the shower running.
TC had beaten me home. Turns out, he'd also thought about taking the shortcut. And had actually taken it! (Lesson learned for next time - rain trumps planned routes.) We had a good laugh, wrung out our clothes and relived our individual less-than-ideal rides.
It's surely not a ride I'll forget. I set out for an easy, relaxing bike ride. What I got was 38.5 miles of character-building hills and a downpour.
When I posted that statement as my Facebook status, one of my TNT teammates eagerly reminded me that I'll be glad I trained on those hills on race day. Ah-ha, using my own words of wisdom against me.
Sometimes I hate when I'm right.