I recently spent some days on the north-east coast of Florida and rented a road bike to take advantage of the long, flat, glorious stretch of road bordering the coastline called Route A1A. I do this every time I visit Florida. To ride on A1A is a release of all my pent-up desires, accumulated throughout the year, to just get on a bike and ride wherever the road takes me. It is something I am unable to do here in Trinidad, for fear of being kidnapped and raped, or of being hit by an ignorant driver who probably paid for his license and is clueless about sharing the road with cyclists. I arrived at the bike shop around 10am, a small, hole-in-the-wall establishment run by a middle-aged couple, both of whom looked as rugged as the mountain bikes they sold, with sun-kissed faces and oil-stained fingers. They were very pleasant, full of easy-going chatter, asking questions about my cycling and offering information about riding in the area. Such customer service was also a breath of fresh air and something I am unaccustomed to in Trinidad.
My goal of a 30-mile ride was changed when the couple suggested I ride out to a bridge and return, which would be 40 miles. “Sure! Why not!” I said, so excited to ride that I seemed to forget that I was only accustomed to riding hills. Lady Chancellor Hill and the occasional North Coast Road ride are all I feel safe doing in Trinidad. Knowing this from our conversation, the couple warned me that riding flats at a higher cadence was very different to riding hills. They joked that hill riders join their flat group riders thinking they can outdo them, but soon realise that they cannot keep up the higher cadence and fade to the back of the pack. “It’s an entirely different type of riding,” they said. I agreed, as muscles and energy systems in the body are under different kinds of stress. Hill riding requires more power endurance, while riding on the flats with a higher cadence requires more speed endurance. But of course, being thoroughly excited to just ride some open road safely, I swept this theory under the carpet and boldly undertook the challenge. Mistake number one! This in itself would not have been too bad. However, I declined a power bar when they offered me one to eat during the ride. Mistake number two! I reasoned that I would ride a leisurely pace of 20 miles per hour, not hugely demanding, and therefore 40 miles would take two hours. I know it is recommended that one should ingest some food after an hour of exercise; however I did not expect this exercise to be anything aggressive. After all, I was just “touring.” Mistake number three!
It was a lovely, bright day, and there really was not a cloud in the sky. I began the ride, thrilled to finally feel safe on the road in a designated bike lane and having confidence that no one would use it as a “shoulder” and an overtaking lane. Finally, I could just ride, worry-free! The first 15 miles were great! Cruising on the coastline at a surprising 25 miles per hour, the wind at my back, I thought I could most certainly do this ride in less than two hours. But by mile 15, I began to feel my legs tiring. Against my better judgment I continued to the bridge, determined to meet my goal, turned around and began the second half of the ride. This would turn out to be the longest 20 miles of my life! I was now pedalling against a headwind. My speed slowed to 15mph, and my 25mph ego deflated. I struggled. Fatigue in my legs turned to pain at mile 25. It was then that I began counting down the miles until my return to the bike shop, kicking myself for not taking that power bar. For the second time in my life I “hit the wall.” This occurs when all the energy stores in one’s muscles are depleted. The muscles can no longer function well as there is no more food in them to convert into energy. “If only I had taken that stupid power bar!”
At mile 30, I had no choice but to stop and rest. I took a side street onto the old A1A road on the beach, and spent 30 minutes recovering, enjoying the sea breeze on this lovely day. At least it was a pleasant rest! Feeling somewhat better, I began the last ten miles through which I struggled against the wind, slower than I would even like to admit. Humbled at the finish, I learned my lesson. The ironic thing is that I knew better. This was a classic case of “do as I say and not as I do.” From now on, I will be doing as I say!