The morning was cool and cloudy, and a mild 70 degrees. About 10 miles from the coast, the clouds disappeared. The unfortunate thing about riding alone is that you have to do the "self-portrait" if you want any record of yourself. So here I am on the ride. And, yes, most of these photos were taken while I was riding. And listening to music. While sending text messages on my cell phone. Whatever. Interesting sights along the way included... a rattlesnake.. dead, thankfully. Although I got closer for a better shot, I still was not intrepid enough to turn it over. It was creepy enough without poking it with a stick. When I told DHS about it, I told him that, were I a fifteen-year-old boy, I'd have pulled out my pocket knife and cut the rattles off fo show my buddies. He turned to me, puzzled, "I thought you WERE a fifteen-year-old boy." Yeah, yeah, whatever. (bleh) One of the really great things about SoCal is that it is pretty bike-friendly. But this is ridiculous. I mean, now I gotta share the road with CRUISERS??!! Are they insane??!! So this is the "Honey Springs Road" ride. From the usual parking lot, it's a 45-mile trip that includes anywhere from 3800-4600 feet of elevation gain (such a great disparity because I've been quoted both, and I don't have an altimeter). But it's a booger bear. The first 10 miles are rolling hills along Otay Lakes Road, then you hit Honey Springs Road, which is a 7.7 mile climb with very little flat or downhill at all. You climb for almost a solid hour, with the incline being between 6-12% grade. When you finally get to the top of the climb, there's a short descent before you get to the Lyons Valley Road intersection, where you make a left. This will take you over a few rolling hills to the "little store." Any cyclist who has done this route knows the "little store" on Lyons Valley Road, mostly because it is the only place to get water or anything within about 40-60 minutes in any direction. They only take cash, but are very cyclist-friendly. If you're short a dollar or so, they'll tell you to just take what you need and pay them next time. Once you leave the store, it's time for the pay-off for that long arduous climb. I love this descent. It's fast, winding down and around in wide sweeping turns, with a view of the entire valley laid out in front of you. I suffer through that 7.7 mile climb just so I can do this amazing descent. It was hard to discipline myself to stop to take pictures, but I stopped a couple times. (Mom, if you're reading this, I only take pictures while riding if I'm on the flats or climbing.) (looking back at where I'd just come from - road winds back to the left, then up again to make a sweeping right turn...) and more winding descent... BWAHAHAHAHAHA!! The valley (Proctor Valley, maybe) There are a number of horse farms and hunter/jumper type obstacle courses. And horses, of courses. I like this sign: WATCH FOR HORSES. And the one that follows: WATCH FOR CARS SWERVING TO AVOID HORSES. While I was inland, the temperature rose from a cool 68* to a rather warm 96* (but it's a DRY heat). Much of the ride was spent in 90*-temperatures. You finish a ride like this, and you're not really sweaty, but you're covered in a thin white layer that almost looks like fine sand. It is salt, from the sweat that has evaporated on your body. Really weird if you've never been in desert heat before. And that's my ride. The first time I did the 45-mile Honey Springs-Lyons Valley Road loop, I was training for the Wildflower Half-Ironman with Team in Training. I was the weakest athlete on the team, and I'm not being modest. We started out on the climb, and this girl Sharon, who is one of the strongest females I've ever ridden with, rides up alongside me and wants to chat. Sharon: So, you just moved here? Me: Yep. Sharon: Where's you move from? Me: Jersey. Sharon: Really? Oh, that's so funny! My boss's sister just moved here from New Jersey. They just love it here. They got a house in Tierasanta. Where do you guys live? Me: Bonita. Sharon: Oh, that's a really nice area. You're close enough to everything, but still not in the middle of it. I'm living up in Clairemont. It's nice, I mean, there's really a lot to do. (silence) Sharon: So, what do you do? Me: Um, Sharon, (pant) obviously you've mistaken me (pant) for a much better rider... (pant) I um, (pant) I don't really talk when I ride. (pant) I need all the breath (pant) I can get. So... (pant) no offense. (I smile painfully.) Sharon: (surprised, but not necessarily offended) Oh. OK. (she rides away to find someone a little more chatty) I find out later that people in California would never be so direct. As I ride along today, I remember that conversation and smile. I had just moved to California, a traumatic move from the East Coast, where I left behind some great people, great memories, and a piece of my soul. I knew no one in California, and had cried across 5 states leaving the East Coast. I joined Team in Training in San Diego before I even moved out here, knowing I needed something larger than myself to keep me from falling headlong into self-pity, keep me from wanting to anesthetize my pain with alcohol, and keep me on a strict schedule of vigorous workouts. I sought to do a half-ironman, for the simple reason that I had completed the run and bike distances once before, having done the Dallas Half-marathon and Salisbury (MD) Century ride the previous fall. What I failed to realize was that the events I had done were all flat, and Wildflower is known for its hills. There are people who will do a full Ironman, but will not do the Wildflower Half. I had no clue. I remember riding part of the course the day before the race with the rest of my team, trembling inside, realizing the enormity of what I had got myself into. I ran away from the group twice that evening to go cry. Just before dinner, I go to my beloved coach and mentor Nico, an incredible athlete originally from France, for encouragement. Me: Nico, um, I need a pep talk. Nico: (furrows his brow) What eez a "pep tok"? Me: (deep inhale) It's where you tell someone who is very afraid, "You can do it." Nico: (furrows his brow again but smiles this time) Laura, you do not need a pep talk. Of anyone on this team, you may not be the strongest, or the fastest, but YOU have the SPIRIT to finish this race. (silence) Me: (keeping back tears) Nico, for someone who doesn't know what a pep talk is, you just did an amazing job. I will keep those words of encouragement in my heart forever. It's one of the most incredible things an athlete could possibly hear from her coach. Today as I ride out Honey Springs, with the blazing sun beating down on me, on this ride I never would have thought to take by myself, I remember my coaches and friends who encouraged me, and I know that I'm here in large part because they invested themselves in me. It's important to remember this, that none of us is just himself; we're all pieces of those who have touched our lives. And perhaps this is why I love cycling, because I've been so enriched by the people cycling has brought into my life. Funny, I didn't start out with the intention of writing anything more than a ride report, describing the route and the scenery. But really, there's so much more to a ride than the route.