The Ultimate Summer – The Ultimate Bonk

After ride hair.

After ride hair.

For the last week in Southern Illinois we’ve had an amazing, unbelievable run of of cool days.  High temperatures in the mid 70s.  Last year at this time we were looking at record highs every day.  Last year I was enjoying my final summer vacation from teaching, I did lots of riding but wanted to do a self supported tour.  Ultimately I didn’t because I thought it would be too hot.  This summer I’ve had class and work and been busy to do long rides, but I have gotten several shorter rides in.

Ride a 38 mile ride with Mom and Adam Saturday, got up super early Sunday and did a 5.5 mile skate and then sit down and thought long or hard if I wanted to get the mountain bike out.  When I realized it was cool, dry, my bike was working and my hand was all better I had no excuses, I had to go.

I got out my mountain bike for a group ride, the first mountain bike ride since April.  We did 24 miles and it nearly killed me.  I noticed really quickly how much lower and forward my mountain bike seat was, should be an easy fix right?  Check this out, when I parked for the group ride and was getting my stuff ready a new guy I’ve never met came over and said I had been recommended to him by the others to ask about trail side repairs.  The guy didn’t know it but he just dropped the punchline on an inside joke.  The  joke being that for about 5 mtn bike rides in a row I had mechanical problems, you start to get a reputation.  I manged to fix most things and ride out, but still its not good for your rep as a bike mechanic when your bike breaks on every ride.

Now this gentleman was asking me about what one should carry on a bike ride, and I said, “Well you should always carry a multi-tool, do you have one I could borrow.”  My bottle cage was about to fall off and I didn’t even have a multi-tool in my bag.  Thankfully Moe tightened up my cage.  I should have asked him later if he’d let me adjust my saddle but I was to embarrassed.

It took several miles but eventually my legs seemed to feel better on the mountain bike and I rode well for awhile.  Then came the dreaded bonk, a serious bonk, the kind of bonk that is dangerous.  We did two loops.  I had brought three 100 calorie pack cookies I stole from my wife.  I was out of food for lap 2, but I had lots of water so I figured I’d try to drink lots of water, conserve energy and ride at a “fat burning pace”  whatever that means.

It didn’t work.  About 6 miles into the 12 mile loop I was off the back and my body was telling me in every way it could that I needed to stop.  Blood Pressure was low from Hypovolema, mind was hazy hypoglycemia.  JW gave me a Lance Armstrong Honey Stinger Waffle thing that helped for awhile, but it was to late.  The bonk had set in.

A bonk is a strange thing. You can go ride your guts out and your lungs are burning, your legs are burning, and you feel like you’re drowning in your own sweat and still feel better then when you bonk.  When you bonk you’re not hurting, you’re body won’t let you ride hard enough to hurt, your legs feel fine, you’re not even breathing hard, yet every turn of the peddles feels like a titanic effort.  Your mind seems to be running at about half the speed as your surroundings.  Like watching a movie where every other frame is a black flicker.

I woke up today with pains in places where there have never been pains before.  My ankle felt like it had been kicked really hard, my left leg was stiff as a board, my shoulders were jacked up, my hands were sore.  Its funny but I always forget how demanding actual trail riding is.  I could do a 3 hour road ride on 3 100 calorie packs and gatorade, but that won’t work for the mountain bike.  I remembered about half way through that I had been taking a bag of orange slice candy and eating a piece or two every chance I could get.  That was like a 1000 calories.  I would mix up some ultra concentrated jet fuel in a water bottle, and eat a couple of real energy bars on a 20 mile ride.

On the way home I listened to a piece on NPR about people who push their experiences to the very edge of human endurance.  Walking to the North Pole, Descending the world’s deepest cage, rowing across the the Atlantic ocean.  One adventurer said, “I count down the days to the expedition, then during the expedition I count down the days until its over, then in a week I start counting down the days to the next.  I suppose in a few days I’ll be counting down the days until the next ride.


About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
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One Response to The Ultimate Summer – The Ultimate Bonk

  1. Steve says:

    Great story and I’m glad you lived to tell it. One of the things I like about cycling (or running or any other athletic endeavor for that matter) is it allows you to test your limits. The trick is finding the limit without going too far beyond it. Glad you made it back from your limit!

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