Waxahachie Rally Review

June 26th will go down for me as one of the absolute scariest days I’ve ever had on a bike. It did not start out that way, but it definitely ended like that, and it led to a serious lesson on limits and riding with your heart instead of your head.

It all started actually on Thursday, when I dropped my wife off at the airport for a short trip up to Seattle. She was concerned about the heat and humidity down here, and wondered if it was the smart thing to do to actually go out and ride in this stuff, when the Cycling Center of Dallas studio was a fresh and comfortable 72 to 78 degrees fahrenheit. I initially showed determination to ride the 75 or 100 mile, since I hadn’t been out in a few weeks, but almost hourly I began to waffle over the next two days. Would I? Wouldn’t I? Should I? and the perpetual question… “Will you be ready for this?”

This was answered at 5am on the 26th, when I woke up early, prepared my bike, car, and a cooler, ate a SMALL breakfast, and headed out. Looking back, it was already too little, too late. I had eaten well the day before, but had not adequately hydrated, and I KNOW, as a coach, that hydration is something that is chronic, not acute. There were a whole host of warning signs that I should have picked up on, including: a twitchy calf the two days before. Not enough sleep. A twitchy eyelid that was related to fatigue and mineral imbalances. And perhaps the most important warning – I brought my Camelback bladder, but not the Camelback itself. They say that it’s often not the last mistake you make in a chain of events that leads to catastrophe, but the little ones that pile up before that. This was true on this day and others in my cycling past.

We rolled out with between 4 and 5 bottles apiece, bars, flasks of carbohydrate, and light, almost still air. It was 83 at the starting line. After maybe 5 miles, we were down to a small group of less than 40 cyclists, and as we rolled around some beautiful roads and countryside, I began to feel almost euphoric. My climbing was spectacular, and my pulls were steady and solid. Farang Ghadiali was working hard at the front, and along with some other Williams Cycling riders, we alternated pulls and worked together like locomotives sharing the load, to pull the train of riders behind us. One time, after an inappropriate but unintentional gap on a hill, I came back to the group to sort of apologize, and one of the other Dallas Racing Works riders piped up – “Dude, we got nothin’! It’s too hot!” So I controlled my pace after that and stayed with the group.

Coming up to the 50-mile mark and the water station located there, we began to notice salt rings and empty bottles all around. We were down to about 20 riders, and we just sort of knew at that point that we needed to hold off and refuel. However, as I began to dismount, my LEFT HAMSTRING (that’s a new one for me) cramped up and I gave warning that I was going to perform a controlled crash in the grass. There were laughs all around, but I noticed that I did NOT need to void my bladder, summed it up as dehydration, and took advantage of the station’s pickle juice and Powerade. Four cups of pickle juice later and 2 bottles of Powerade, along with 4 complete refills, we all remounted, and for a while, things got better.

This lasted maybe 20 minutes though, and by the time we got to the 75/100 mile turnoff, I made a conscious decision to abandon my attempt at a century today, and head for Waxahachie. Temps on the road were above 100, and the wind was beginning to kick up a bit, so hopefully we would have a tailwind along highway 77. But somewhere outside of Italy, TX, my speed began to drop, my cadence began to slow, my vision began to wobble, and my speech was conflicted. My good friend Curtis Palmer took one look at me and said, “You need to stop. You look awful!” I drank what I could, but eventually I let the small group I was with go ahead, and began what I would call the “Death March” to the next feed station. My average speed ended up being around 12 mph, and my average wattage was in the 150’s. Right before the 65 mile feed zone, I remember all vision in my right (weak) eye turning purple, and it was all I could do to climb a good line and not waver or be a risk to motorists at a crawl. I rolled in to the station, where the volunteers immediately began applying ice packs, spraying me with cold water, and choking more fluids down my throat. Finally, they pulled up a pickup, put my bike in it, turned the AC on full, and put me in the passenger’s seat, and began to drive me to the finish line.

The trip was surreal. I remember talking to someone on the phone, looking at the other riders as we passed them and wondering why I wasn’t riding with them, and blaming it on a mechanical. Finally, I got to the Baylor medical trailer, where they put my bike down, lay me down head down and feet up slightly, and injected me with a liter of Dextrose and Saline fluids. The bag took about 30 minutes or more to go in, and while it was entering my bloodstream, I remember the cool feeling, almost like radiator coolant, going up my arm and in to my body. After about 10 minutes, my head cleared and my vision came around, and I started to actually get a sugar buzz! I shot pictures of my arm, thanked the crew, and when another MICU took off with sirens blaring, I didn’t think anything of it. I just assumed it might be someone else in trouble with the heat, like me. As it turned out, there was a small line of folks who needed treatment in the Baylor wagon, and the sirens I heard were a response to a call from the 50-mile feed zone that a cyclist was actually having a heart attack! “Bicycle Bill” from Ennis was later airlifted to Baylor Dallas, where he received a stent in his chest. He is expected to make a full recovery, but it was definitely a close call.

After the injection, I saw a scale in the cabinet, and asked if I could weigh myself, since I knew what my pre-ride weight had been. Now, here’s the really scary part. At 5am, I had weight 153lbs. AFTER all those bottles of fluids (8 total), and AFTER that 6 pound injection of an IV, with NO urge to empty my bladder, I weighed in at 151. So somewhere in the first two hours, I lost a TON of fluids. My replenishment rate for water, salt, and carbs, even at two bottles of drink per hour, was inadequate. I was unprepared, and the euphoria I felt in the first two hours was based solely on my breakfast carbs, and my on-bike carb solution, which I later realized had been diluted from 6% down to 2%. Water alone wasn’t adequate to keep my body cool. I rode with my heart, and NOT with my head.

I read today that June was the hottest month on record, locally and nationwide, as was the heat index. I literally rode the salt out of my body, and put myself deep in to a position of stress that almost led to panic and maybe a stroke. In this heat, it’s absolutely critical to adapt, prepare, hydrate, and replenish your energy as much as possible. I don’t know if the Camelback would have made a difference, but an extra 72 ounces, cold, with sugar solution in there, would not have hurt. Once again I’ve learned my lesson, and I can only thank the gang that I was riding with, and the expert volunteers at Waxahachie, for their assistance on this hot, humid, day of rallying.


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