I'm in Moab right now, hanging out for a week or two, failing to get much work done (despite good intentions), but at least I'm spending a lot of time riding, running, and eating. Yesterday I rode for 12.5 hours and slept for 11.5 hours.
People always ask me what goes through my head when I ride for days on end. While riding yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with my legs. Or perhaps I imagined having this conversation. The mind wanders in strange directions when riding solo all day through the desert. Anyway…
Four hours into the ride, my legs were feeling sluggish, despite the mellow pace. I'm sure carrying two gallons of water wasn't helping matters, but 125 miles with no good options for acquiring more water makes that much a necessity. After riding in perturbed silence for a while, I finally spoke up.
"Hey guys, what's the deal here? You should have warmed up by now!"
The morning sun warmed my thighs through my black shorts and leg warmers, feeling pleasant compared to the cold wind blowing through my jersey. After a moment, the left leg replied: "We're just trying to figure what's going on. You haven't gotten up so early in the morning to ride in a while."
"What, did you forget last summer already?" I asked.
"Last summer? Oh yeah…last summer. I don't think we've completely forgiven you for that. We don't appreciate being cannibalized because you can't eat enough real food."
Then the other leg finally chimed in. "Yeah, we're still a little angry. Besides, you didn't really eat all that much this morning."
We crested a small rise separating the canyon rim we had just followed from the bench high above the next river bend. I slowed briefly as my eyes surveyed the vast new landscape that just appeared, including my first view of two towering sandstone spires to the south. The cottonwood-covered canyon bottoms behind me disappeared, but it did not cross my mind that I would not be seeing them again.
"Well I apologize for last summer. I didn't really know what I was getting into. But this morning I gave you a big bowl of granola. And I just gave you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich a few miles back! "
"Ooh. Peanut butter and jelly.," mocked the right leg. "Besides, you never know what you're getting us into, which usually means undue pain and suffering for us."
"Blech. No one wants peanut butter and jelly," agreed the left. "We want corn nuts!"
"Yeah, corn nuts!"
"Holy crap. Are you guys serious?" I asked, somewhat in disbelief. Corn nuts usually aren't on the menu until afternoon. And here it was, barely 10 am, and the legs were making serious demands.
"So if I give you guys some corn nuts, you'll start going a bit better?"
"Of course!" replied the legs, almost in unison.
"Fine. Corn nuts it is."
I stopped to extract a bag of salty morsels from the bottom of my pack, shoved a couple dozen in my mouth and crunched on them for a while. After a few more mouthfuls, I closed the bag, hopped back on the bike, and bumped down the rocky canyon two-track navigating a circuitous path around the precipitous head of a slot canyon.
"Happier now?" I asked the legs.
Within a few minutes, the trail headed up a gradual incline to a white bedrock bench a few miles away, and I started to feel the confidence of strength returning to my legs. Little did I know, the legs would keep working for almost eight hours more before fatigue became too strong for even corn nuts to mask. Distant mountain ranges would come and go from my view, nearer cliffs would stretch tall in the afternoon sun and then shrink away as the cold, dark grasp of evening strengthened, and my legs would spin countless more revolutions.
"Now what can we do about this headwind?" I inquired with a wry smile.
"Try giving it some corn nuts!" joked the left leg.
I had all day on the bike, and this was the only thing that went through my head I remember well enough to repeat. It's a shame I can't make my head do anything productive while I ride. But perhaps that is the beauty of all-day rides.