breath·tak·ing

1. thrillingly beautiful, remarkable, astonishing, exciting

2. the one word that best describes what it’s like to ride down the coast on a bicycle

“I’m on a train up to San Francisco, gonna ride my bike down to San Diego.” That’s what my Uncle Patrick told me when I was a teenager. He was the “crazy Uncle,” the one who took adventures and sometimes barely lived to tell about them, the one who let us eat ice cream before dinner and go exploring in abandoned houses, who lives life more fully than any person I’ve ever met. Naturally, I wanted to be just like him. Since then, it’s been on my Bucket List to take that route on a bike, just like he did. As fortune would have it, I moved to California last year which brought me a little closer to that goal, and after seeing hundreds of my friend Molly’s pictures on Instagram of her cycling through LA and doing Tours and Races, I finally purchased my first bike in May. That’s a whole ‘nother story – let’s just say it was a monumental (or as a friend called it, monetmental) week. Two weeks later I had a different bike, a Specialized with all the right components and part carbon fiber and a bunch of other things I didn’t understand but knew they were good. I spent more money that day at UC Cycleryon the appropriate gear and other “necessities” than I did on the bike. I figured it was time to go big or go home!

As I searched various websites looking for information on cycling and where to even begin, I saw an advertisement for the Amgen California Coast Classic. Not only was this ride an 8 day ride from San Francisco to Santa Monica at 525 miles, it was a fundraiser for The Arthritis Foundation!Obviously this was fate! I only had three months to train, so I opted for the two day version from Buelton, just outside of Solvang, to Santa Monica at 150 miles. The first week on my bike was spent learning how to quickly clip in and out of the pedals (and of course falling several times), doing my first group ride with the SDBC, and exploring San Diego on two wheels. As I put my training plan together, I gradually increased each Saturday’s long ride by ten miles, starting at a mere “long ride” that first weekend of 27 miles. I felt great. I was killin’ it with weekly mileage and fundraising for the cause that’s so near and dear to me.

One Saturday morning in mid-August I had planned to do a group ride with the CCC riders who were also training, led by Ed Fields, a.k.a. “#2”, who has been doing the CCC for 12 years (since it began) and rides every day. Part of the route was Hill Street in Point Loma. I’d never ridden Hill Street – on purpose. It’s probably about an 8% grade… I just had zero confidence that I would make it even partially up. So, my brain talked myself out of that group ride and I set out at about 10 am to do one long route I knew of – from UCSD to Carlsbad and back, about 60 miles. Naturally it was a beautiful day out, perfect riding weather, but I felt weak. My muscles were just not cooperating with me and I was struggling from the get-go. I got to the bottom of Torrey Pines Road, five miles in to the ride, and I was already hurting. I figured I would turn around and just climb TP and see how I felt. What felt like an hour later, I reached the top, feeling like I would never want to ride a bike again to be quite honest. I was literally in tears. I texted Molly when I got to the top to tell her I did TP at 6.2 mph, and I felt like I couldn’t continue. She immediately called me. “You have got to go do the 60 mile ride, right now you need time in the saddle to prep for your ride more than anything. Do hill repeats during the week. That’s the only way you’ll get better.” Off I went, and when I was on my way back, after 55 miles already in the books for the day, I did that hill at 7.0 mph, chatting with another rider the whole way and feeling much stronger. Mental strength definitely carried me through that day, and I know I should have been proud/happy of my accomplishment but part of me was still beating myself up over going up that hill so slow.

Ed and I before we left for the ride in Ventura on Sunday morning.

That’s just one example of the strenuous, day long training that was required to be fit and ready for the CCC. Every time I got tired or struggled, I thought of the kids at the summer camp I worked at and that I was doing this for them, and I kept going. I had a crazy idea to start doing CrossFit again in mid-August, so balancing that, riding, and some health challenges that were holding me back from training as much as I really wanted to, plus a full time job, volunteering, and helping other people with their own goals was a lot to handle at once. My nerves got the best of me but on five hours of sleep, I drove to LA on September 14 and met up with another rider, Tony and his friend Farhana, and we rode up to Buellton together. We were greeted by some volunteers at the hotel and had an amazing kick-off dinner sponsored by Rabobank, which definitely got me excited and ready to go!

Even though this was a period of major excitement, we had to remember why we were doing this ride, and the dinner was a time to introduce two of the honorees for the ride. Each night of the ride, there was a different child who has some form of Arthritis chosen to share their story and remind us why our fundraising was so important! During dinner, there was a video featuring featuring Caitlin Ryan, whose father, Dave, was participating in the 8 day ride. I was in tears the entire time, as my story was not as severe as Caitlin’s but very, very similar from the age of two. She is an amazing girl who deserves a ton of credit for her positive attitude and how far she has come! This is why we ride.

Iconic Adventures then did a great job of explaining how the next two days would go, what to do if we needed help, if we got lost (which was impossible with their signs and chalk paint clearly marked), etc, and then it was time to sleep!

Saturday morning, Tony and his friends Bob and Lisa and I set out at 7:10 after a great breakfast at the campground and immediately we had several large hills to climb – about 2000 feet in the first 20 miles. I was finally feeling nearly perfect and ready to go. We did a nice warmup (it was pretty chilly out!) started out slow and when we got to the hill everyone had warned us about, I just focused on thinking “this is not hard” and that seemed to work as I made it to the top without much of an issue. It was a gorgeous foggy day, slightly chilly, and we were riding through Solvang past farms and then onto the 101. Not the safest route but definitely a major rush. After another longer hill on the freeway, I was extremeley excited to see a sign that said “6% grade next two miles” indicating a long decline. I sped down that hill faster than I’ve ever ridden before, scared shitless that shrapnel was going to fly up from the road and hit me! I spent some time riding by myself Saturday which I really enjoy as I was just taking in the scenery and loving life, meeting incredible people along the way.

When we got on the 101, there is a spot where the road narrows over a bridge. The California Highway Patrol came out and blocked off the right lane until 10 am. It was AWESOME. Eventually we made our way to a bike path heading in to Santa Barbara that was just gorgeous to ride on. I love that you get to see so much of what nature really has to offer when you’re out on the bike. I rode in to Santa Barbara with an awesome guy and super strong rider, and we were greeted by the CCC Volunteers as well as the honorees, children who have some form (usually more than one) of Arthritis. Spending time with the Honorees parents was such a valuable part of the day. We talked meds, experience, diet and nutrition, etc. Knowing that my story can help them is one of the reasons why I have become such an Advocate for the Arthritis Foundation. I definitely stayed at the Checkpoint for way too long because coming out of Santa Barbara I felt pretty weak and had to stop and rest and refuel for a good ten minutes before heading into Carpenteria. I slammed a Pro-20, full of amino acids and 20 grams of protein, and was off and able to catch up with Tony, Bob, and Lisa again.

One of my favorite places in California, Santa Barbara!

And this is how the day went: Ride. Eat. Spark. Rehydrate. Catalyst. Ride. Eat. Spark. Rehydrate. Repeat.

The terrain on the bike path in to Ventura left much to be desired for the buttocks, if you will, but the scenery made it worth it. Saw some guys kite surfing off the coast of Ventura which was so cool, adding that to my bucket list as well. We rolled in to the campground in Ventura at about 2:50. I didn’t have my Strava on but I’m guessing total rests were about 50 minutes-an hour, so that makes for a 90 mile day (a personal record) in about seven hours. Thankfully, I picked a campsite around the men to help me out with pitching my borrowed tent…

Monet-ism of the day: “Don’t worry about nailing the rain jacket down, if I get hot I’ll probably take it off.” Men: after a few seconds of silence and looking around… “It’s 55 degrees at night…trust us, you won’t get hot.”

I got a great neck massage, finally got to hang out with Sean and Tracy and all of the Playa Pushers, an awesome group of riders out of LA, ate a delicious dinner, drank half a beer, mingled, hung out with our honoree Lily Hicks and her mom, and was out like a light by 9 pm (pretty sure Lily stayed up later than I did).

The next day we only had 60 miles to do and thank goodness because let’s just say I definitely need to get a new saddle that is more forgiving! I found Allie, a lady I had trained with in San Diego, and rode all day with her and five other very strong riders. Right off the bat we had some STRONG headwind heading out of Ventura, but again breathtaking views. Rocks on the left, ocean on the right. My knees started killing me at about mile 20 but I really wanted to keep up with that group because riding with them was great so I busted ass and got it done. My water bottle almost ended up on the casualty list as I dropped it going 20 mph but thankfully Allie was behind me and stopped for it! Otherwise it was smooth sailing all day. We were also fortunate that there was a Triathlon in Malibu that Sunday, so one lane of the road was blocked off to traffic for a portion of the ride, which was nice.

The breathtaking view leaving Ventura heading in to Malibu. Incredibly beautiful.

Everyone kept saying the last day was easy with “rolling hills.” I have come to realize that “rolling hills” must be different for everyone because these were some tough rolling hills. Or maybe it was just over 100 miles catching up with me, but the day was definitely a huge challenge. Overall the first day we climbed 3400 ft, day two we climbed 1400 (ish). The most emotional part of the day for me was at about mile 40. I was at the back of the pack, trying to keep up with Allie and Monica, looking around at the beautiful houses and climbing two more tougher hills, looking out into the ocean and it just hit me all of a sudden that 150 mi and this experience was almost over. A couple of tears actually rolled down my cheeks…it was hard to believe that I bought this bike three months ago and committed to this event, at times thinking I wouldn’t be able to do it, and now it was all coming to fruition. The people I met along the way were so inspirational and some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Fighting for a cause important to all of us in one way or another, while challenging ourselves and having an absolute blast. All of the CCC riders regrouped at mile 55 and rode in to Santa Monica together and were welcomed by a huge crowd of friends and family, and that was it. We were done.

I am still so amazed at the entire experience, it’s hard to explain. I am definitely planning on doing the 8-day ride next year and recruiting any and all others who are interested. They call it the Ride of a Lifetime and that it most certainly was. You can register to receive more information or register for the ride here.

Some recognition needs to go out to many people:

Amgen, Rabobank, and all the other sponsors who helped make it possible.

The employees of the Arthritis Foundation that organize this entire event. Truly incredible work.

The volunteers who worked tirelessly to make sure we were hydrated, fed, and having a blast.

All of the riders for being such a fun group of people to spend two days with!! Especially Tony, Bob, Lisa, Allie, Monica, David, Stephen, Jubran, and Kenny. You all rock and I loved riding with you.

Iconic Adventures – what a great company with SUPER friendly and helpful employees. Seriously awesome!

Finally and probably most important, I want to thank all of my friends and my family who contributed to my fundraiser (I surpassed my goal and raised $540), who sent texts and messages of encouragement to me along the way, who believed in me, and who supported me through my short three month training. A special thank you to my roommate, Diana, for always inviting me to hang out but understanding that my social life was basically non existent during the training time, and being supportive anyway. Molly and Uncle Patrick for being my inspiration. My cycling friend Edwin for encouraging me and not killing me every time I told him I thought my bike was broken when I had a weak day (true story). My friend Jay, who was in horrible hit and run accident several months ago that put him in ICU, who is now back on the bike already, for being my constant motivation. And every person I met at the Joint Adventure Camp this summer – counselors and campers – for during every rough ride, I thought of you. Thank you for being my purpose. All of your friendship is cherished more than you know.

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