No pain, no gain.

So far this has been a year unlike any other. Similar to the winter of 2016-17 when we also had a series of atmospheric rivers plow through northern California, this year our drought prayers were answered with double-fold irony: we’ve had so much rain that only the hardy go out to ride and when they do they’re confronted with washed out roads, downed trees blocking roads, and lots of mud and pools of water whose depth is uncertain. San Francisco to date has had over 29 inches of rain when the average year nets just 19 by now; SF averages less than 23 inches for an entire year. In Contra Costa we’ve received well over 47 inches to date when usually we get about 35. If we receive more than 50 inches by June 30, I would not be surprised given how prolific this rainy season has been. By the way, although Seattle and Portland have reputations for being rainy cities, but did you know that the annual average rainfall for Seattle is 37.5 inches? Portland is just 36 inches. And this year both have gotten just 40 inches to date. This has been a wet year!

That few of us are venturing out for rides is not news especially since our rains have been mostly constant and steady. In previous winters the rain wasn’t a serious deterrent for me and even this January despite my intentions to use Fulgaz and ride in the comfort of my living room, I just had to get outside and I rode 23 days rain or shine. I was expecting that I would continue.

But then life intervened and I couldn’t ride because of other responsibilities. Usually when I’m under stress going out for a ride has been a welcome relief and reinvigorating for handling life’s other travails. But not this time. And with the rains whatever incentive I had to get out just vanished in a puff. So almost a month went by and I did hardly a lick of a ride and whatever strength and stamina I had eked out became a faint dream. At my age it’s important to keep moving because every recession in fitness is just another ratchet downward no matter how hard I try to resist and come back.

Last week Roger and I finally went out for a (re-)inaugural bike ride, just a “stroll” down and up the local MUP. It was 25 miles and we rode it at a leisurely pace. No problem. That night Paul pinged me and asked if we’d like to go for a ride the next day. He too had been unable to ride, and since Saturday was to be a dry day with the rains returning on Sunday it was going to be the only day to get out. Both Roger and I felt alright (= not sore or tired) so we delightfully agreed to meet him. My left brain was telling me it was probably a mistake; my right brain was telling me how nice it would be to go for a Different Spokes-ish ride. Paul is a relatively new member who also lives in the East Bay, so it would be a good chance for us to get to know him a bit better. He’s also in our cohort, ie. as old as the friggin’ hills.

Paul was going to take BART to Orinda but he surprised us by riding over Wildcat instead. I thought, “Hmm, that would be more than I would be able to do if I were just starting to ride again”. We took him on a ride that we do often, which is out to the back part of Walnut Creek on lightly travelled suburban roads to some “hidden” hills in Danville and Alamo and then back to Orinda. It’s about 35 miles and although it has hills, they are short and not too steep. It’s a ride that we normally would consider a ‘light’ ride but with enough hilliness that you can make it as hard or as easy as you want. If we did it at an easy pace, it should be no problem.

Paul had never ridden out that way even with Grizzly Peak Cyclists, his other club. He was a bit lost in the morass of suburbia even though it is far more varied than the cookie cutter homes in Daly City, for example. Admittedly we were taking a lot of “roads less travelled” with lots of turns and cuts through cul-de-sacs that make the route confusing the first time. We had a nice time and I was surprised at how calm my legs felt despite having ridden the day before and after a month of inactivity.

On the way back my legs very quickly became tired and I slowed down. A lot. My leg muscles felt completely exhausted, as if I had ridden a century yet it less than 30 miles—at an easy pace no less! Riding two days in a row—never a problem in the past—this time was turning out to be massive overload. Just a couple of miles from home both my legs locked up, spasming uncontrollably. I pulled to curb but I couldn’t even dismount. I had waved Roger and Paul to go ahead to the coffee shop just before I cramped up. All I could do was stand there and not move. After five minutes my muscles had not calmed down. No matter which way I attempted to move, muscles would lock up like a vise. Eventually I stumbled onto the grass and sat down trying to find a position to stop the cramping. After minutes of agony I called Roger and asked him to come get me.

On a long ride I would have brought a small bottle of pickle juice in case of cramps. (You didn’t know pickle juice can help with cramps?). But this was a short ride so I hadn’t. I also had consumed all my water. Roger and Paul arrived and tried to help me. But the cramps were unrelenting and exquisitely painful. Roger went home to get the van because there was no way I could cycle up the hill to the house. Paul, who suffers from dehydation on rides, had some electrolyte pills. I gobbled three of them and more water. After about 15 minutes of struggling I was eventually able to stand and walk very slowly to a cul-de-sac where Roger could pick me up. Paul was very helpful in escorting me in case I fell victim to cramping again. But I didn’t. Roger arrived, we said our farewells—next time we’ll get coffee after a ride, Paul!—and headed home.

I never expected that starting cycling again would bring about such suffering. Each time I have to take an extended break from cycling or exercise, I feel like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill only to see it roll back down. In this case it was like Sisyphus pushing a rock uphill and then getting leg cramps!


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