Monday, September 27, 2010

The Dam Loop

If you're from Austin and you're an avid cyclist, you know "The Dam Loop."  There are a few minor differences between various routes people take.  There are several different starting places.  But, generally speaking, "The Dam Loop" is an Austin cyclist route of passage.  If you haven't done it, you aren't a real cyclist.  Until last Sunday (9/19), I was not a real Austin cyclist.

I have a friend at work (GT) who is an avid cyclist.  He's a total nut.  He completes multiple century rides every year.  His normal Sunday bike ride is commonly over 100 miles.   He often rides the Dam Loop as a leisurely "off day" workout after work.  He has all the bike toys and gear and averages in excess of 20 mph over crazy hills and even crazier distances.

GT has been pestering me to ride with him for YEARS.  I've never done it.  My standard excuse has been that there is no way I can ride those Austin hills or keep up with him on my hybrid bike.  I finally got a new road bike.  Excuse gone.

I've still put off riding with GT.  He's fast.  He's in killer shape.  He's got 15 years on me, but he can totally smoke me on the bike.  I knew he'd stick with me if we rode together, but I hated the idea of holding him bike while I struggled up the hills around Austin.  I kept coming up with excuses.

After much badgering and my learning that my boss had finally joined GT on the Dam Loop excursion, I decided I needed to bite the bullet and make the trek myself.  I need the time in the saddle.  I need the workout.  I need to log the miles.  I need to get better on hills.  The Dam Loop is the perfect way to improve my overall fitness and my performance on the bike.  I need to do this ride.

I didn't know the exact route we would take, but I knew we'd be biking on 360, FM 2222, 620, Bee Cave Road, etc.  We'd bike across Mansfield Dam over Lake Travis.  I've driven on all those roads.  I've seen many cyclists on all those roads.  There are tons of hills - long hills - steep hills.  40 miles is a pretty long way on a bike - especially for me.  I have ridden 40 miles on my bike - once- three years ago. 

I was pretty nervous about the whole endeavor.  I wasn't looking forward to being slow and holding GT and MK back.  I wasn't looking forward to the possibility of not making it up a hill and giving up to walk.  I'm not comfortable standing up and pedaling up a hill - which is pretty much required over these hills.  I vowed that I would make it up all the hills and through the entire ride or die trying - I would fall over before I would pop out and walk up a hill.  I'm a little on the stubborn side.

I was pretty worked up about the whole thing. I'm reasonably sure I was more nervous about this normal Sunday ride with a couple of friends than all the races I've ever done.  Pretty silly.

At some point I had the conscious thought that maybe this wasn't quite the humongous deal I was making it out to be.  Maybe I had it built up so much in my mind that it wouldn't be all that bad.  Yeah.  That's it.  I'll keep telling myself that.  I made the mistake of reading this article before the ride.  Not smart.

So, I got up before the ass crack of dawn Sunday to meet everyone at Steiner Ranch Blvd and 620 at 7am.  I had to leave my house at about 6:15.  I don't do early.  I think that might have been the hardest part.

I parked my van on the side of the road, met GT and MK and we headed out.  This is approximately the route we took:

The Dam Loop

At the end, we detoured into my boss's neighborhood, stopped briefly at his house, then got back onto the main route and headed back to my car.

We stopped at a nice convenience store about 12 miles in and got Gatorade while enjoying the amazing view from the patio.  We stopped again at MK's house about 30 miles in.

The total route was 40 miles.  So, here's how it went.  I was SLOW.  The hills were hard.  We avoided "Tumbleweed Hill" on 2222 by way of River Place Blvd.  I was happy to avoid a steep downhill with lots of traffic and no shoulder, but the price for that was one REALLY steep hill in a residential neighborhood that got my heart pumping.

The views were spectacular.  It was a beautiful day.  The hill going up 360 to the Bee Cave exit was pretty tough, but I just kept moving my legs as fast as I could to try to keep my cadence up and make it up the hill.  I was feeling really good - smug and confident - until we detoured to MK's neighborhood.  Those residential hills winding from the main road to his house were brutal.  Stopping at his house took away my momentum and really slowed me down.

By the time we got back on 620 from our little detour, I was tired and my legs were feeling it.  GT warned me that the worst hill was yet to come, but I blew him off.  I had no idea that I had parked my car in the absolute worst possible spot.  My van was at the top of the longest, steepest, most grueling hill of the entire route.  I just kept moving my legs and tried to keep going forward.  There's no granny gear on my bike.  I was in the lowest possible gear.  I still couldn't make my body work correctly to pedal out of the saddle.  I just kept moving my legs.  I contemplated popping out and walking, but I could see my car - I'd come way too far and was way too close to stop now.  I just kept moving my legs.  I slowed down to the point that I was briefly afraid I was going to just tip over from sheer lack of forward momentum.  But I kept moving.

Thankfully, the last traffic light was green when I got to it.  If I'd had to stop, I'm not sure I could have made myself keep going forward on that incline from a dead stop.  I made it to my car.  Then my brain completely shut off.

I was tired.  I was shaking.  I couldn't think.  GT had to hold my bike and help me get off.  Then I couldn't find my keys.  I couldn't really talk.  He help me get in my car, load my bike, etc.  He headed home.  I just sat in my car a little while, not really trusting my brain enough to pull into traffic.  I finally got it together and drove home.  It seemed like a really long ride home.

I'll do the Dam Loop again, but I WON'T park my car in the same place.  I'll get that worst hill out of the way early rather than at the very end.  I'll keep riding and hopefully get faster.  I might never be as speedy as GT, but even as slow as I am, I feel like a real Austin cyclist.

Now, I've just gotta log the miles in the saddle, get faster, get better on the hills, and get ready for my very first century ride - I'm thinking Spring 2011.

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