Sometimes I get lost in the monotony of my daily routine. Wake up, ride, work, eat, sleep. Repeat. Riding everyday and racking up hundreds of miles a week can make it an arduous process to ascertain meaning from all that saddle time. Like Sisyphus pushing an immense boulder up a hill for eternity, I too ascend mountains only to come back down, then ride up again. Why would I choose to punish myself that way? Even when I am fully conscious of the specific goals I’m working toward, it seems like a massive amount of work for such minuscule rewards.
It took a special ride with two buddies to remind me why I love cycling so much. I got an invite from a college friend and training partner to attempt to ride from his house in Somis, CA, to Santa Barbara and back. This 130-mile ride would have about 10,000 feet of climbing and would literally take all day. It didn’t fit into my training plan. It was a two-and-a-half hour drive just to get his house. It sounded like quite an ordeal. But it was exactly what I needed to pull me out of the black pit known as the winter doldrums I seemed to be trapped in.
So we set out on an adventure of epic proportions. And I don’t throw that word around lightly because it’s one of the most overused words in the cycling lexicon, but I feel justified using it to describe this trek. About five miles in, we descended Balcolm Canyon Road, a nasty 20% grade that’s been featured in several editions of the Tour of California. I took a mental note that I’d have to ride up this monster in about seven hours at the 125-mile mark of our ride.
It was a classic Southern California winter day, which obviously isn’t all that wintery by the rest of the country’s standards. The air was crisp without being cold and the sun played hide-and-seek behind ominous clouds lurking to the north. We rolled along, through Santa Paula, Ojai and past Lake Casitas to the biggest climb of the day that will serve as a KOM in this year’s Tour of California. We descended into Carpenterita, gawked at the mansions in Montecito and eventually limped into Santa Barbara, desperate for some real food and a bit of rest.
After stuffing our faces with paninis, cookies, brownies and espresso, we started to make our way south. About 100 feet after leaving the sandwich shop, my friend’s seat bag miraculously popped off his saddle and stuck between the chain stay and rear wheel, causing him to skid to an unceremonious stop in the gutter. Neither of us could believe what happened, but luckily he was fine and we laughed off the bizarre crash and pushed on.
We ticked off the miles while cracking jokes and chatting away, all the while taking in the majesty of the surrounding mountains and wilderness. This is what got me into the sport and why I continue to live the lifestyle I do. I also love to compete and push my limits, which this ride certainly accomplished, but the camaraderie and the potential to explore the unexplored are the reasons I proudly call myself a cyclist.
At the 100-mile mark, we realized we would have to jam home in order to make it before dark. That was a difficult thought to process. The last thing you want to do is ride fast after six hours on the bike. As we approached the climb up Balcolm Canyon, my friend bet me $20 I couldn’t ride up it in my big ring. So of course I had to try, but as soon as we hit the steep part of the climb, I admitted defeat and dropped into the little ring. I hate loosing bets like that, but I took solace in the knowledge that there’s no way in hell anyone can ride up that thing in their big ring.
We rolled back to the house just as the sun set behind the avocado and citrus orchards that fill the region. It was the longest ride any of us had ever done, a seven-and-a-half hour escape from reality. While the consistency required to be a competitive cyclist can occasionally feel like a Sisyphus-sized burden more than a privilege, I’m grateful for experiences like this to remind me what cycling is all about.