the agony

The Agony ride is an annual charity bicycle ride and fundraising event for Christian Encounter Ministries, a home and school for troubled youth. My friend Zoya invited me to ride the Agony every year for the past few years, but I’ve always had an excuse to not ride. Last year I ran (ok more like waddled) the San Francisco half marathon, but I told Zoya I’d rather have done the Agony ride. I forget what my excuse was the year before that. This year I didn’t have an excuse.

The ride starts in a town called Loyalton, which I had never heard of. When I searched for Loyalton the first page of results had the site “Loneliest Town in America.” I suppose that’s not a bad thing– I mean you’d want a bike ride to be in a place without much car traffic…

The ride starts at the elementary school in the lonely town of Loyalton, which also serves as the main SAG (rest stop in bicycle terms) area. There are two more SAG stops, one at Vinton and one at Beckwourth, which actually seemed even more lonely than Loyalton. In fact there’s literally nothing at Beckwourth– the ride organizers bring in trailers and RVs and setup a mini camp there. The entire Agony ride consists of riding to Vinton, then riding to Beckwourth, then riding back to Loyalton. You repeat this loop until 24 hours are up or you feel like giving up.

I had pledged to ride 200 miles, but I honestly wasn’t expecting to ride all those miles. The longest training ride I had done was maybe 50 miles, so I was fully expecting my legs to give out before the 24 hours were up, well short of 200 miles.

The ride starts at 1pm on Friday, but check-in starts at 9am. Loyalton is about two and a half hours from my house, so to arrive at 9am I had to wake up at 6am. I woke up, barely functional, not having slept well the night before. I had stayed up late looking for random bike gear, stuff like arm warmers and bike lights that I rarely use, so I have no idea where they’re stashed away. And I didn’t sleep well, I tossed and turned wondering if I was missing some important gear.

I arrived at around 9am. I was pretty tired, and I hadn’t even started riding yet. I ended up parking next to a guy named Chris. It turned out that it was also Chris’s first agony ride, and he had really only started road biking 3 months ago. I’m pretty terrible at chatting people up, but Chris was really friendly, and talking to him put me at ease. I didn’t really know any other riders at the event, so I stuck with him at the pre-ride lunch. We ended up sitting next to Beau and Aaron. It was also Beau’s first Agony ride, but Aaron had ridden it before. We asked him for advice, and his response was to basically pace yourself and ride at an easy pace at the beginning so you don’t burn out before the end.

That was sort of my plan. I planned to ride a relatively easy 15 mile per hour pace. I figured at that pace my goal of 200 miles would take 13 or 14 hours, so there was plenty of time to take long breaks at SAG stops and even get in a good 6 or 7 hours of sleep. The ride started at 1pm, so I figured I could ride about 8 or 9 hours until dark, then try to sleep, and then ride the rest in the morning. I didn’t really want to ride much at night, I wasn’t sure how many hours the batteries on my lights would last, and besides riding on unfamiliar country roads in darkness sounds kind of scary.

At 1pm the riders gathered to start. I lined up next to Chris. I figured we would at least start out at a similar pace.

Because we all started en masse the cyclists form a long line leaving Loyalton. But the line would soon break up as the fast riders move to the front. I had heard some riders say their goal was 400 miles– at that pace they’d have to average close to 20mph, which to someone who doesn’t bike maybe doesn’t sound all that much faster than the 15mph I was planning to ride, but believe me it’s a huge difference.

I ended up riding with Aaron, Beau and Chris, the only people who I had met before the ride started. At times we were joined by a John and another Mike, but the core of A, B, C, and me stuck together for the entire first day.

As I mentioned earlier, the Agony ride is a charity event for Christian Encounter Ministries, which obviously is a Christian organization, so I guess it’s presumed that most of the riders are Christian. While we were riding Aaron had asked what our favorite verse was. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite verse, but the verse that stuck out to me was from Ecclesiastes, which my small group had been studying. It’s “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”

The verse seemed relevant at the time. The route we were riding was completely flat, but at times there were stiff winds. After a certain point endurance cycling becomes more of a mental exercise than a physical exercise. It takes a certain mental resolve to keep pushing when your body is agony. Nothing breaks that mental resolve faster than riding against a strong wind. But because we were riding together and taking turns pulling (being the rider in the front), the wind wasn’t breaking my resolve. A cord of three strands is not easily broken; a group of four bikers riding in a line is not easily broken (by the wind) either.

At around sunset I took this picture of the silhouette of our group riding together. After 7:30 pm you can’t leave a SAG station without your lights. It was getting pretty close to that time. I figured I’d pick up my lights and arm warmers and then ride one more loop before calling it a night.

After we had finished our loop after sunset, it was pretty dark. But A,B, and C wanted to continue riding at least one more loop. I was pretty wary about riding at night, but with them I felt comfortable enough. I was worried about running out of batteries, and it turns out my fears were justified. I ran out of batteries halfway between the leg from Vinton to Beckwourth, but thankfully riding with three other people with powerful lights I was able to see well enough to ride to the Beckwourth SAG stop. Thankfully they had batteries at the SAG stop.

We arrived back at the Loyalton SAG stop at 4am having completed 4 loops together for a total of 152 miles. At this point I was exhausted and couldn’t ride any more. It turns out the rest of the group was too tired to move on too. At Loyalton there were sleep rooms, and we all found spots to turn in for the night. I thought it would take me a while to sleep, since my heart rate was high from riding, but I crashed–no wait, bad choice of words for a cyclist–I knocked out as soon as I lay down.

I guess I was the most exhausted, because I woke up a little past 7am and found that A,B, and C were already gone. I ate a leisurely breakfast, stretched, and hopped back on the bike a bit before 8am. At this point there was just under 50 miles left to reach my goal of 200, and I had a little over 5 hours to do it. Plenty of time. Whereas the day before I had spent the entire day riding with other people, I spent most of the second day riding alone. The area around Loyalton really does look like it could be the loneliest town in America. It’s an isolated valley, surrounded by the Sierra foothills on all four sides. Thankfully though, because of the way the ride is set up, you see people riding on the other side of the road pretty often, and you often get a wave or a cheer from them. Because I was alone I rode at my own pace, kind of slow at first, but as I started to approach 200 I picked up the pace, averaging between 18-20mph on my last leg before 200.

I arrived at the Vinton SAG stop with 202 miles on the odometer and a little over an hour left before the 1pm cutoff. I had met my goal, and I was feeling ecstatic. At the SAG stop there was one other rider, Jeffrey. He seemed pretty tired, but I asked him if he wanted to ride with me and try to ride one last leg towards the Beckwourth SAG stop.  We ended up not quite making it to Beckwourth, so we stopped on the side of the road when his alarm went off at 1pm. We were picked up by a support vehicle and taken back to Loyalton for the post ride meal and checkout. It turns out it was Jeffrey’s first Agony ride as a rider, but he was a SAG volunteer a few times before when he was a student at Christian Encounter Ministries. I was thankful that I got to ride with him for the last leg and hear his story. I had known that the Agony ride was for a good cause, but hearing real stories about CEM made it feel all the more worthwhile.

Here’s a picture of me (in front) riding with A, B, C, and John. Notice I’m sorta smiling. This picture was taken pretty early on. I’m sure I was smiling less and less the farther I rode. By the end I could say I truly felt agony, my whole body was in pain. But I could honestly say that I enjoyed myself as well. The camaraderie and support were incredible. Out of all the rides I’ve ever done this one had among the best food and SAG support, but more awesome than that was the fact that all the SAG supporters and fellow riders cheered each other on every chance they got.

My final total for the 2017 Agony ride was 213 miles. I want to thank all of my sponsors. In the end we raised more than $1000 together. To read more about the agony ride, you can go visit the Agony Ride website. And please visit the Christian Encounter Ministries website for more information about CEM.

foxy’s. finished. finally.

The Foxy’s Fall Classic Century is my hometown ride. I’ve signed up for it numerous times, but for some reason or other I’ve never finished the 100 mile course. The last time I attempted it, it was a bent rear wheel that prevented me from finishing the long course. Other times I ended up riding the shorter 100 km course simply because that’s what my friends were riding. It’s not a difficult ride. In fact, out of all the 100 mile courses I’ve done, it’s probably the easiest. There are no huge hills and none of the high elevation climbing that I had to deal with on my last two rides.

A walk in the park. Or so I thought.

On a century ride I typically bring along an assortment of gels, bars, powders (gatorade) and (electrolyte) pills to get me through to the end. Having done several harder rides this year, I guess I was overly confident or prideful in my endurance and fitness, so I didn’t bring any of that stuff this time.

Ahh hubris. I like this definition of hubris I found on freedictionary.com: an excess of pride ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin. Sounds about right. That bit of hubris in not bringing any of my normal nutritional supplements almost did cause my ruin.

The ride started out easy enough, through familiar territory between Davis and Winters, on roads that are completely flat. On the edge of Davis I found myself in a nice paceline, which I rode with all the way to the first rest stop.

Photos5The first stop was pretty well stocked, with the normal century ride staples like baked goods, salty snacks, and various fruits. I loaded up on cookies, since, well… I love cookies. And during a long bike ride like this is really the only time I can eat as many as I want guilt free.

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The second stop was a water only stop. There were no calories at all, except for Cytomax, which I hate the taste of. So I filled up on water, and wished I had eaten more cookies at the first rest stop.

Between the second rest stop and the third rest stop is where I could have used some of the gels or bars that I normally bring. Somewhere around mile 40 I was starting to hit the wall, I was seriously starting to run low on energy. Cyclists call it bonking, I guess because a bike hitting a wall tire first would make a ‘bonk’ noise as it bounces off the wall. All I had on me was a granola bar that I had picked up at the first rest stop. I wolfed it down, along with some water, and slowly made my way to the third stop.

Photos6The third stop was the lunch stop. I rode into the stop completely drained, but for some reason I didn’t have an appetite. I could barely stomach a sandwich, some chips, and half a banana. On most rides lunch comes with sodas, but for some reason all they had was V8 and more Cytomax. I ended up chugging a couple of cans of V8. Surprisingly, it really hit the spot. There’s a good amount of salt and potassium in V8, which I hoped would take the place of the electrolyte pills I would normally be popping to prevent cramps.

IMG_20131019_121215After lunch was the climb to Lake Berryessa. I’ve been to this spot many times, but never have I been so happy to be here. I was happy because despite still being 35 miles from the end, this was the home stretch, it was mostly just downhill and flat all the way back to Davis.

6D6T6897They had a camera posted on the descent from the lake, and thankfully they provide the photos for free.

Photos7The final stop was at Lake Solano Park. Here they had sodas. I chugged two cans, and filled my bottle with another. The candy bars boosted my blood sugar a bit more, and V8 again replenished my electrolytes. For the first time since the first rest stop, I was starting to feel energized again.Photos8

The awesome thing about Foxy’s is that for pretty much the entire ride you can find a paceline. I found one between every set of stops, but I got dropped by all of them except for the first one that I rode into the first rest stop. I think coming close to bonking so early in the ride killed my endurance. Even after being re-energized at the last stop, I was dropped by my last paceline, which was unfortunate, because several of the riders (in the purple jerseys on the right pic) seemed to be part of an interfaith cycling group that I would’ve liked to have joined. I looked for them at the end of the ride, but I couldn’t find them– they had probably finished dinner and left by the time I got to the end.

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I finished the ride in just under six hours. But I can’t help but think that if I had been better prepared, I would’ve done much better. There were good pacelines above 20mph the entire way– if only I didn’t get dropped by then I could’ve finished in close to five hours.

IMG_20131019_145555The pasta dinner at the end was tasty, but I didn’t have an appetite. I could barely finish the lasagna and pasta and ended up tossing the salad in the trash. That’s very uncharacteristic of me… usually I’m famished at the end of any exercise.

Photos9I thought something was wrong with my body, but after a few hour nap I was back to my old hungry self again. I ended up hitting Fuji’s for a friend’s birthday (happy birthday Fan) and regained most of the calories I had burned on the ride.

So anyways, after many attempts, I have finally finished the 100 mile course of the Foxy’s Fall Classic. And I learned a valuable lesson. Always be prepared, even if you think something’s so easy that you don’t need to prepare. Oh yes and one more lesson. Pride/hubris is a dangerous thing. It led to the downfall of Greek heroes, and it almost led to the downfall of this Korean-American cyclist.

edible pedal 100

This weekend I rode in the Edible Pedal 100. I only found out about this ride a few weeks ago, so I ended up paying a pretty hefty late registration fee to enter this ride. But in the end it was worth it– it was a pretty awesome ride.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ride started right around sunrise from Bower Mansion Park, which is about halfway between Reno and Carson City. From there we rode south towards Carson City.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANevada is mostly desert, but as far as deserts go, this area is pretty nice, and not bad for riding.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn fact the scenery was quite nice in some parts. It was quite enjoyable, even though the fact that we’d be climbing over these huge mountains was constantly on the back of my mind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABetween the second and third rest stop I ended up in a really nice paceline, which conserved a good amount of energy for the climb ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the start of Kingsbury grade, the climb that I had dreaded all morning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter what seemed like an eternity of climbing, I stopped for a breather at the side of the road. Then I looked up. “Holy shit…” I don’t swear a whole lot, especially when riding (since I usually enjoy biking) but that is what literally came out of my mouth when I saw the climb ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo it turned out that the part ahead that I was swearing about– that wasn’t even the halfway point of this climb. At 6,000 feet of elevation, there was still another 1,300+ feet that we’d need to climb.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is how I felt about the climb to Daggett Summit. It was brutal, without a doubt the hardest climb I’ve ever done. There was a sign across from here that said it’s a 9% grade for 8 miles. Ridiculous. The descent from Daggett summit was really short– only about 3 miles that were over really quickly. But it turns out that was a good thing– since any elevation lost here we’d have to gain when we climbed back over Spooner Summit to get back to Carson City.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe part of the ride between Daggett and Spooner summit was my favorite. At some points during the section the road was right on the shore of Lake Tahoe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a pretty cool tunnel during this section (which was kinda scary to ride through.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn my way up Spooner summit I started to get hungry, so I took a break here. It was a nice spot. I sat in the shade and stared at the lake and watched the cars go by while I refueled with my Honey Stinger waffle and Powerade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was quite happy at the top of Spooner summit, since that meant the hardest parts of the ride were over, and there was a huge descent into Carson City. The descent was pretty crazy. Thankfully the road surface was really smooth and the shoulders were clean. But there were these huge drainage gates in the shoulder, which were marked off by cones, but they were so big that they prevented us from riding in the shoulder at all. So I ended up in the right lane riding down interstate 50 at almost 50 miles an hour. By the end of it my hands were cramping up and if I could look underneath my gloves I bet my knuckles would have been white.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe elevation chart for this ride’s pretty insane. As you can see the climb to Daggett Summit is a monster. There’s nothing in the Davis/Sacramento area that could prepare us for a climb like that. After the descent from Spooner summit there’s one last climb– that one last climb looks tiny in comparison– that’s the kind of climbs we have in Davis/Sacramento. Cantelow, the hill I train on most often, is about that size– around 800 feet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo that last climb doesn’t look that bad. But for some reason there was a stiff wind blowing against me the entire way, which made the climb a lot harder than it should have been. More or less the rest of the way back to the finish line was against a stiff headwind.

edible pedalThe Edible Pedal 100 was the toughest ride I’ve ever done. But I think I’d do it again. Except for the brutal climbing I enjoyed everything about the ride. The food was really good, with tons of tasty homemade snacks. The post ride meal was incredibly tasty as well, and the support staff was really friendly. I think I just need to do more training on hills and at high elevation before the next time– it’s a good excuse to spend some time in Tahoe mountain biking.

crater lake century

This weekend I drove out with my friend Ray to Oregon to ride this year’s Crater Lake Century. Along the way we stopped in Medford to grab dinner with Osmond, who happened to be in town visiting some friends he met during his time in Rochester.

the ride started at the fort klamath museumThe ride starts at the Fort Klamath museum, which was a military outpost established over a century ago.

entering the park. massive amount of climbing from here to get to the rim.The century ride starts out with a loop on some roads around Fort Klamath before heading into Crater Lake National Park. I thought the initial 30 mile loop was kind of pointless, if I do this ride again I think I’d sign up for the metric century ride and cut out that portion of the ride and head straight for Crater Lake.

made it to the rim!The ride up to the Crater Lake rim was long, but not quite as bad as I expected it to be. The beautiful view when you get to the rim makes it all worthwhile.

one of many amazing viewpointsOne of the many viewpoints along the rim. I thought the ride would be pretty easy once we reached the rim, naively thinking that the ride around the lake would be flat. But I was dead wrong– there was way more climbing ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALunch was sponsored by Subway (Eat Fresh!) This was quite possibly the greatest lunch stop (or at least the most scenic) of any bike ride I had ever done.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture from Cloudcap Overlook, the highest point of the ride, and apparently the highest paved road in Oregon at just under 8,000 ft high.

the view from phantom ship overlook.The last rest stop on the rim was at Phantom Ship overlook. While I was sitting here resting, I overheard one of the ride volunteers saying that we still had about 3,000 ft of climbing left. At this point I was pretty tired, so climbing another set of hills sounded like a daunting task. But we continued on, and found that the hills weren’t as bad as that ride volunteer was making them out to be. Before long we were coasting our way down towards the finish.

post ride dinner.The post ride meal was catered by a barbecue joint called Wubba’s in Klamath Falls. It was definitely one of the better post ride meals I’ve had.

post ride dessert. home made peach cobbler and freshly made ice cream.They even had dessert, which was fresh baked cobblers and freshly churned ice cream.

Just over a year ago, on a road trip to Crater Lake with Gid and Ray, we saw some cyclists riding up to the rim and thought, “Wow, it would be really awesome to ride around the rim.” This weekend I finally got to ride the rim, and you know what? It really is quite awesome. Harder than I expected, but really quite awesome and definitely worth the effort. It ended up being among my favorite and most memorable century rides, right up there with the STP.

I brought my GoPro camera so I decided to do a time lapse of the rim portion of the ride. I mounted the camera to my helmet and set it to take a picture every ten seconds. If I do this again in the future I gotta remember to turn off the camera during lunch and when entering porta-potties.

strawberry fields 2013

Of all the century rides I’ve done, the Strawberry Fields Forever ride in Watsonville is probably my favorite. This Sunday was my fourth time doing the ride. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis year I did the ride with Ray, Richard, and Kiefer, and we decided to camp the night before. Originally I had planned to book a campsite at one of the state beaches close to Watsonville, but by the time I had looked for campsites they had all booked up. I ended up booking a campsite at Henry Cowell state park, in the redwood forests above Santa Cruz. The campsite we ended up at was tiny, pretty much the only place where we could pitch our tent was right next to the car. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found an ice cream place while driving towards the beach. It looked pretty popular, kinda like Mitchell’s in SF, where you have to take a number and wait pretty long. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA And we did a quick walk at the boardwalk to burn off those ice cream calories. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrepping hobo meals for dinner. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAsians taking picture of food. strawberry Last minute tune ups and ride testing. IMG_20130519_081711The ride starts at a high school in Watsonville, then heads into the forests in the hills surrounding Watsonville and Santa Cruz. It’s quite scenic, riding uphill through the forests, my blurrycam shot doesn’t do the scene justice. IMG_20130519_091832Reaching the peak of any climb is great, but it’s even more awesome during a century ride, since you get to put all that gravitational potential energy to use, flying downhill for the next few miles. Plus the scenery is nice. IMG_20130519_130647The ride is called ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ because during the last half of the ride you ride through strawberry fields, and they seem to go on forever. IMG_20130519_144340We got to the lunch stop a little after the scheduled closure time of 2:30. Thankfully they still had food left.

At this point I was thinking of ditching everyone and riding at full speed to the end, to try to make it by the course closure time of 5:30. But we ended up riding together in an easy paceline. On our way to the lunch stop we had picked up another rider named Gary, who continued to ride with us after lunch. So the five of us rode together at an easy pace through the strawberry fields.

A few miles after lunch Richard started to have stomach problems, so he ended up calling the SAG wagon to pick him up. As we waited with him, we told Gary that he didn’t need to wait for us, after all his friends were already at the finish line waiting for him. He said he would wait with us because, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Often on long rides I find myself lost in thought. And so I thought about those words, it’s the right thing to do, and about my attitude earlier. I really was planning to ditch everyone. And for what? Fresh baked pies and strawberries and cream?

It made me think about why I enjoy century rides. Sure the food’s good on this ride. And the scenery is beautiful. But I think ultimately it’s the shared sense of accomplishment that really makes the ride worthwhile. Cycling is an individual sport, each person makes it to the end of a ride on their own pedal power, but it’s much easier and enjoyable riding together.

I forget that sometimes.

And so I’m thankful for that reminder.