Lessons learened on a 100-mile bike ride

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kristin Uchimura
  • 341st Contracting Squadron
Every year, the Helena Bicycle Club hosts the "One Helena Hundred" from Wolf Creek: a bike ride for 100 miles or 100 kilometers along the Missouri River.

Wolf Creek is gorgeous Big Sky country just north of Holter Lake. The river meanders along jagged cliffs and hills filled with brilliant wildflowers. I registered naively thinking this would be a great way to see 100 miles stretching along the scenic river.

We heard the day of the ride was going to be a scorcher, so I wore a neon yellow fleece for good visibility layered over the rider top and spandex bike shorts. Yes, spandex. My body is not too keen on spandex, but those bike shorts saved my behind -- literally. LESSON LEARNED: Don't worry about looks, worry about function. Over the course of 100 miles, your body will thank you for the gel seat insert in those shorts, and it doesn't really matter what you look like in the long run.

That morning, I packed a Camelbak with 100 ounces of ice water, power gels and a helmet. Honestly, I am not accustomed to wearing a helmet. As kids in Hawaii, we did not own helmets and we loved drinking that cold, metallic-tasting water straight from the garden hose. We lived dangerously. But the Helena Hundred rules required helmets and I learned to love my helmet as the Hemi trucks whizzed by us at 70 mph along the Craig frontage roads. LESSON LEARNED: Your helmet might take some getting used to, but wear it! Helmets endure pavement and gravel much better than your head.

The Helena Hundred is well orchestrated and well supported. The Club had trucks and motorcycles patrolling the frontage roads to assist riders with flat tires or basic bike maintenance. I even saw a few folks relaxing with their bikes in the flatbeds instead of riding the whole way. A multitude of volunteers also provided three rest stops with an abundance of tasty treats and hydration.

The first 20 miles were spectacular -- a few rolling hills, bugs at a minimum, cool breeze off the river and a downright chill under the shade of the trees. Riders waved to each other, most were dressed in matching spandex, and they all had ultra high-tech, light, road bikes. It was an ethereal morning. I felt like 100 birds were serenading us along the way. Pure bliss. I felt like I could ride forever.

By noon, the sun became wildly fierce. After 30 miles, my legs started to feel the burn up the hills. Riders stopped in Cascade for a light lunch and a much-needed comfort break. From there, we could head south to complete 100 kilometers or head north for 100 miles.

On cooler days, I would have easily opted to complete the 100 miles, but for some reason, I started thinking of Operational Risk Management: hot day is getting hotter; legs feeling strong, but I was only at the halfway mark at the minimum; and oh, did I mention that I was the rookie biker with my mismatched spandex and bulky mountain bike outfitted with hybrid road tires? LESSON LEARNED: Know your limits. Bragging rights are only good if you live to tell!

After exercising smart ORM, I headed back south from Cascade. I did not see the river. I did not hear any birds. I did, however, feel the scorching sun roasting my dark helmet and I heard my rhythmic breathing synchronized with the cycle of my pedals. I sounded a bit like a Lamaze class with a few more grunting noises.

In my final 10 miles, my Camelbak ran out of water and I knew I still had a few hills to go. Since the sun beat down at least 90 degrees, my body was more taxed than I anticipated. At that point, I had two fleeting thoughts that had never crossed my mind before: 1) I could just hop in one of those trucks and be done. 2) What does it matter if I finish the 100 kilometers? I am dehydrated and my legs are burning.

LESSON LEARNED: It's supposed to hurt; anytime you challenge yourself outside your comfort zone with anything worthwhile, it may not be pretty and you may hit the wall of self-doubt and think it's okay to stop. Pain is temporary, pride is forever. Definitely know your limits, but also, dig in and keep going if you know you can. Besides, if this ride was easy, it would not be nearly as memorable.

Other than my Pollyanna-self wanting to see more Big Sky country, my goals for my first Helena Hundred were to cross that finish line and to not stop between checkpoints. I was determined to meet my goals and I knew I could push through the last leg. I zoned out all thoughts except breathing and pedaling. I paced myself up the hills. And then around the last bend in the road and on a slight decline, I crossed that finish line!

My definitive LESSON LEARNED: While 100-mile rides are great for testing physical endurance, exercising your mental toughness and commitment are your greatest allies through any "race" in life. Do not worry about your looks, do not worry about the professionals in their fancy spandex - this is your ride, this is your life, make it a memorable one and cross that finish line with pride.