I am not exactly sure what I expected. I just know that since the event’s inception eleven years ago I wanted to participate but was limited to sponsoring riders since I didn’t own a road bike. The used bike is new to me and BOY HOWDY am I ever a newbie at road riding…! The sport looks simple on the outside but like most things, there is more to it than meets the eye.
For example: I had no idea that road bike tires don’t hold air and should be checked before every ride. I don’t even own one of those tire gage pumps even though I have been a pretty avid mountain biker for nearly two decades. The new bike and I have only ridden together five times since spring but yesterday morning I had the event number “113” pinned to my brand new very 1st bike jersey and road out of Sacageua Park at 6:15 a.m. with a batch of friends after three hours of sleep. My bike felt sluggish. I looked down at my tires in the dim dawn light and decided I was simply feeling a bit sluggish myself – seriously – not even the sun was up fully. I hadn’t been on the bike for six weeks, I am always a bit slow to warm up and I was more concerned about how the seat felt since I knew it was going to be a long ride and the seat felt – well – it felt (which was my concern). Promptly distracted by the large Canadian Goose, my concerns were forgotten. The determined critter was running behind us with its beak wide open flapping its wings and waddling high speed – block after block after block. Seems the beautiful bird didn’t want to be left behind or was giving us a running ovation start?!!! How many centurion fundraising events start with a goose chase?!
We left Livingston and began the climb up the Bozeman Pass. I was grinning even then – finally I was going to ride for Payden and other Montana families faced with the gut wrenching challenge of a child with cancer. I rode with the warm fuzzy force of more than 30 people who pledged my ride during the short four-day pre-event fundraising campaign. How wonderful to have such good people in my world and the good fortune of a healthy body and new toy to put to a good cause! My generous sponsors blew past my $1000 fundraising goal. I was emotionally, physically and spiritually stoked (and still laughing about the goose).
The Pass wasn’t too bad. Everyone said the next pass was harder but the gorgeous rolly polly curved luscious and scenic ride through Jackson Creek was inspirational. The Bridger Mountains are a fantastic backdrop and setting. Not only were we riding in God’s country but God’s country also happens to be my back door! The temps were perfect. Gracious cloud cover subdued the sun. I rode long sections by myself and other bits with others. We were sharing the usually quiet road with dozens of trucks pulling horse trailers. Was there a rodeo somewhere? The “Poker Ride” sign at the Big Sky Ski Resort turnoff explained the horse trailer exodus. Big trucks and trailers are a bit scary for this novice road rider. A group of gal pals caught up with me on the climb up Battle Ridge Pass. We chatted and puffed our way up the pass then gorged ourselves on goodies at the rest stop set up for us at the top. While the gals zipped down the mountain pass without peddling, I pedaled full speed to keep their pace. Hmmmmm?! Maybe there was a technical reason the bike had been for sale?! I looked at my tires again but they simply looked super skinny and certainly not flat from my point of view besides it was infinitely more fun to suck in the view than to stare at the road or worry about my bike.
The road to Wilsaw in the Shields Valley is no less scenic than the Bridger Mountains we’d left behind. The Crazy Mountains loomed ahead while the postcard perfect countryside boasted beautiful ranches, silos, haystacks, patchwork fields, giant John Deere tractors and the Shields River. Breathtaking. Speaking of breath – I was panting. Val waved the SAG wagon over to have them look at my tires since she thought they looked a low.
Low?!! I quickly learned a valuable lesson about road bike tires. “ALWAYS check and pump before EACH ride” our local bike shop fella and friend Storrs told me while shaking his head. I learned that my tires should be at 120 pounds of pressure, which explains the sluggishness since they were at 30 and 40 pounds respectfully. Egads! More than 4 hours, two mountain passes and 60+ miles into the ride and the gift of properly pumped tires made me feel taller in my seat but more important: each pedal stroke was oodles more efficient. I also felt each little road bump more but it’s a fine trade-off when you consider the heavy -work-load option of biking on nearly deflated tires.
I could have kissed Val and our SAG wagon guru Storrs. Which makes me want to mention the overwhelming love I feel for all of the people who volunteer behind an event like this. Cheery people set up rest stops with fresh water and munchies at intervals. The SAG wagon fixed flat after flat followed by mechanicals etc. Professional massage therapists greeted us at Sacajawea Park to give free massages after riders crossed the cheering finish line. The energy people shared brightened a loving force and fueled our cause. The only thing that kept me from grinning stupidly throughout the ride was the threat of bugs in my teeth.
I learned quite a bit about myself, others and the sport of road riding. I took turns in the lead “drafting” in a pack of fellas while riding the final twenty miles in a headwind. Throughout the day we shared stories, laughs, panting, ibuprofen and encouragement during the eight hours on the road. Momma Nature graced us with cool temps and pummeled us with a memorable wee tantrum of big-drop rain right before the finish line. The scenery was out of this world. My fanny faired better than expected. The goodwill feeling stitched together by caring community put a perma-grin on my face. I wore the grin home, filled my clawfoot tub, poured a glass of wine and ate brownies while I soaked.
I don’t yet know the Blazing Saddles event fundraising total but my pledged contribution was more than $1700 for the Payden Memorial Foundation. Donations can still be made on my pledge page. A bright yellow jersey was given to me for raising more than $1000. The jersey has Payden’s sweet six year old signature printed on his hand print on the backside along with a drawing he did of himself on each sleeve. Sweet. Sad. Touching. Inspiring.
I imagine it will be a few days before I pull on my new jersey and ride. I guarantee I will have pumped up tires and an inflated smile to match.