Thursday, July 31, 2014

The 1K Ride

The ride start time was 5am—I was up at 3.30am. I packed the previous night, so all I had to do was stretch and suit up. No time for breakfast. No time to make lunch (my favorite pre-ride ritual). The starting point was in San Mateo, 45 minutes away, and I did not want to be late. When I arrived at the starting point, my rider coach was already there, bright and bushy tailed, and ready to ride. I gave him the release form, he signed the paperwork to witness the start of the ride, I filled gas—to get a the receipt with the start time for the ride, and we were off!

Northern California is the perfect place to ride 1,000 miles in one day. July is the perfect month to do it in. At 5.39am we crossed the Golden Gate bridge, at 6.08am, the GPS backlight flipped from dark to light. The sun rose gently, and I was thunderstruck by the beauty of the countryside. If such splendor existed on earth, I wondered what heaven would be like.

We rode the “twisties” in the hills, we rode the straight highway road, and we rode the gentle curves. We rode in cold weather, we rode in hot weather, all in one day. Growing up in India turned out to be an asset, I did not even notice the temperature swings till my rider coach mentioned it. We rode in traffic, and we rode with nary a living being in sight. Riding in the hills at night turned out to be much easier than riding the hills in the day. There was no traffic, we could see the road clearly—the roads had plenty of reflectors and both our bikes had strong headlights. It was an eerie feeling, I could feel the trees in the woods, I could feel the sea breeze, and I could feel the ocean, all in the darkness.

I discovered that Maggie at 95 miles an hour was steady as a rock in a storm. I could not believe how vibration free the ride was at high speeds. Lower vibrations means lower fatigue. From my heart, I thanked the engineers who designed and built her. She is a great choice for long rides. I am surprised I don't see more of her sisters on the road.

When I first heard about the 1,000-miles-in-one-day ride, I was immediately drawn to the idea. I don’t know why, but it did not matter. My goal was to prepare by slowly increasing the distance travelled till I built the stamina to ride 1,000 miles. Before you know it, I saw this invite on for a 1,000 mile ride for newbies, and without hesitation I signed up. So much for the grand plan to build up to it. This was the equivalent of jumping into the pool where the options are, sink or swim.

Does 1,000 miles sound like a lot to ride in one day? Yes, it is. So how do you ride 1,000 miles? Around 120 miles at a time. My rider coach had mapped out the route ( Thus, I knew that the route would hold few surprises. We had to stop every 120 miles or so so to fill gas, get a gas receipt to document the location and time stamp. The location with the time stops would be proof that we rode 1,000 miles in one day. So I knew this is not a non-stop trip and I would get breaks along the way.

All visions of a relaxed cruise evaporated after the first couple of stops. The cold reality was that we had to be on the go, and stop only when absolutely necessary. A brief stop for lunch and an afternoon snack was all the food stops we got. At each gas stop, drinking and ejecting fluid was a priority. Next time I will pack light snacks to keep my energy level up.

The vertical bars on the graph below shows the distance between stops for gas. The line shows the number of stops between each stops for gas. I completed the first 110 miles without a break (enthusiasm!). After that I needed one extra stop between gas stops, after the half way point, I needed two extra stops between gas stops.

The extra stops prolonged the ride time by a couple of hours, but I had no intention of being a hero, I was not looking to set a record or prove my stamina. I was going to take as many breaks as I needed to complete the ride. Heck, I did not care if I did not finish, I was going to give it my best shot anyway. Fortunately, my rider coach has the patience of Job, and was very accommodating every time I needed to stop.

There were only two of us, so I had my rider coach's full attention. He is an experienced long distance rider who knew how to tutor without being overpowering. I got the right advice at the right time, no more, no less. In the first half of the ride, he let me lead and that worked well. The traffic was light and Maggie devoured the road. In the afternoon, when the traffic built up, my inexperienced and erratic driving slowed us down. He offered to lead and set the pace. I gratefully agreed to have him lead. He knew my top speed was 75 miles per hour and he set his cruise control accordingly. I hung on to his tail light and we were back on track.

At each stop, my rider coach would calculate the time to finish. He would announce the estimated end time as a matter of fact, with no urging to finish earlier.  He set a target of 18 to 20 hours to complete the ride, but showed no sign of wanting to wind up early and get to bed. He was there to make sure I was safe and completed the ride. Period.

Riding long distances is hard work. My attention wandered and concentration wavered, and my body hurt. But the thought of quitting did not even enter my mind. All my energy went into keeping my wits about me. This made it easier because I could ride without worrying about success or failure. I knew I could and would stop if fatigue made it unsafe to ride. That meant my attention was taken up by monitoring my fatigue levels, not on success or failure.

Being in “the zone” and not worrying about success or failure is an unforgettable experience. I wish I could bottle that feeling and replicate it on demand. It is easy to be in “the zone” when the experience is new, the risks unknown, and the adrenalin provides the excitement and motivation. When the task at hand is not new, then boredom is the enemy. Pursuing new experiences as the only way to be in “the zone” is not scalable. More on this later.

Towards the end of the journey, I reflected upon the team work that goes into a long distance motorcycle ride. The casual observer may see motorcycle riding as an individual effort, the lone ranger on a quest for solitude. Starting with a wife who allows it, rider coaches who teach life saving skills, strangers who give energy in group rides, mechanics who tend to the bike, and the ecosystem of vendors who provide equipment, all ensure that motorcycle riding is not an individual endeavor. I resolved to show awareness, appreciation, and gratitude by riding safely and being a perpetual student of riding techniques.

It took a lot of preparation to ride 1,000 miles in one day. Regular visits to the gym, stretching, weight control, riding technique, research, planning, riding lessons, and practice runs were all part of it. Keeping Maggie in top shape, regular service, washing, and waxing, was not a chore, but a pleasure.

At the end of the ride, the silent nod and gentle smile from my rider coach was all the recognition I needed, as that was earned the hard way. Words are not needed. My friends cheered me on, whether they rode motorcycles or not. The knowledgeable people applauded the accomplishment, they knew how difficult this task is.

To my surprise not everyone was overcome with admiration. When I shared the event with my fellow riders on an email alias at work, a couple of them questioned my sanity. Fortunately, I was equanimous in my reply (I wrote back, "Long distance riding is not easy; it is not different from the challenge of activities that require endurance and stamina; it is not for everyone”). I took it for granted that my fellow riders will be open minded and embrace the idea, but in the end, I learned to accept that not everyone will find long distance riding appealing.

So why do it? The glib answer is, "because I can."

When the voice within says, "Do it", I follow my instinct. This is easy to understand for those who have followed their instincts, and very hard for those who have not. In the end, this is perhaps the best explanation for undertaking this audacious attempt.

Now what? Another itch has been scratched. Do I look for another itch? Or do I wait for an itch to develop? Was this an itch or something deeper? We’ll know soon enough.

You can track my motorcycle adventures on my Facebook page.