A Recap of My I-11 Bike Ride Experience
On Saturday, July 21, 2018, I joined several of my friends and more than 500 fellow cyclists for the chance to ride on the new Interstate 11 outside Las Vegas before it opens up to vehicular traffic in August. The ride, expertly organized by the Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition, began and finished at Veterans Memorial Park in Boulder City.
I arrived by 5:30 a.m. and luckily secured a parking spot next to an acacia tree and a short distance from the registration and mini-festival area. With predawn temperatures in the upper 80s and humidity over 20 percent, I knew this ride was going to be a hot one. I would certainly enjoy the park’s lush shade trees and spaces, the splash pad, and flush-toilet restrooms later that morning.
After gearing up and meeting up with friends, we posed for selfies and photos while chatting about the upcoming ride, the route, and the scenic views waiting to reward us for our efforts.
The ride got underway around 6:40 a.m. Our tight little group waited for an opening to move out. I, however, quickly lost sight of my friends because of watching out for other riders who seemed too close to me.
Yeah, I don’t have much practice riding next to or among other cyclists!
I pedaled easily through the park, following the snaking line of riders onto Buchannan Blvd, and turning right. Passing the Southern Nevada Veterans Cemetery, I spotted a man kneeling at a gravesite. Small planes flew overhead to land at the Boulder City Municipal Airport. I heard the engines of helicopters warming up as my widely-scattered peloton headed toward I-11. A hummingbird zipped by, and a bumblebee paced me.
The well-maintained roadway suddenly changed into a rough patch of asphalt, streaked with cracks and worn holes. The once elongated line of fast-moving cyclists quickly slowed, bunching, shouting and jostling to avoid flying water bottles and wheel-to-wheel clashes.
Tip: Bikes don’t have brake lights! When cycling with a group, you gotta pay close attention every second and not be distracted by helicopters and bumblebees.
Moments later, I veered right and up the off-ramp to access I-11. I pedaled easily to the top and let out a “Whoop-whoop!” in immense satisfaction. I finally felt some improvement in my ability to ride uphill…without changing gears, grinding the pedals, or losing my breath…even on such a small distance and grade as this one.
I adjusted the bike’s gears and then settled in for what looked to be a long but gradual climb. Tour helicopters buzzed overhead on their way to Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Two ravens, perched upon fencing, watched the cyclists go by. I cautiously pulled my CamelBak insulated water bottle [$] from the cage for a long swig. Much of the ice had already melted. In my jersey’s back pocket was a second bottle. I figured the once frozen-solid water was by now half thawed.
My plan was to ride 12 to 15 miles, entirely dependent upon how I handled the rising temperatures and how quickly I felt I was going through my water. This was not a race nor a supported ride. Whatever I had with me would have to suffice.
My pace seemed excruciatingly slow but my pedaling cadence maintained a consistent rhythm and I didn’t change gears much during the first few miles on I-11.
I tried something new.
To more effectively deal with my annoying “When will this end?” thoughts when going uphill, I kept my eyes a few lengths ahead on the roadway. I would also watch passing cyclists, noting a number of e-bikes and fat tire bikes, and to looked right to take in vast views of the desert lit with early morning light.
By staying in the moment and noticing the world around me, time sped up. I crested that grade in what seemed to be moments instead of minutes.
The roadway stretched on. I shook off the numbness in my hands, and wiped the sweat off my palms onto my shorts. I chanced another drink from my water bottle, and successfully secured it back in the bottle cage on my bike’s down tube. Two women and I seemed to take turns passing each other. We even chuckled about it.
Close to my Garmin’s four-mile mark, I felt that all-too-familiar twitchy sensation of muscles wanting to cramp up…an issue I’ve been struggling with the last few weeks. I breathed away two small spasms – an upper thigh and along the left side of my rib cage. I started looking for a gap in the median to make an easy turn around. The access appeared passed mile marker 6 just as the roadway curved into a wonderfully tempting downhill.
I paused there at the median, taking a drink of water and admiring the view. About a dozen cyclists slowly climbed the hill from the valley below. An older man cursed with each breath as he continued to grind his way up the road. When a gap opened up, I mounted up and rode off but staying to the left of the rumble strips. When safe to do so, I rode over them – ouch! – and over to the right side of the road.
My upper left thigh spasmed, forcing me off the bike. When it eased a bit, I began walking and pushing my bike. I took the opportunity to suck on a Honey Stinger Gold Energy Gel [$], and drank more water. The CamelBak bottle was now nearly empty so I squirted some of the remaining water through my helmet and onto my head. Gosh, that felt good! I guessed the temperature was well into the 90s.
A number of cyclists asked if I was okay as they passed by. Whether I gave a thumbs up gesture or shouted, “Just a cramp!” I always said “Thank you!”
I climbed back on the bike for the last two hills. Just as I was about to look far ahead, a little voice inside my head shouted, “Don’t look up or you’ll bonk!”
Uh, where’d that come from? Oh yeah, a not-so-subtle reminder about that trick I tried earlier in the ride.
I thoroughly surprised myself by doing what I told myself to do. I kept my head down, eyes just a few yards ahead, trying to ignore how hot I was getting, and trying not to worry about getting another cramp.
I also distracted myself by watching other cyclists and scanning the desert. Would I see a jackrabbit, cotton tail, or lizard? Probably not, given the hot temperatures and all the cycling activity.
However, I was rewarded with the sight of dozens of ravens gathered at a roadway construction site, perching on trucks and equipment and bathing in standing pools of rain water.
When my bike quickly picked up speed, I looked up to see I was now on the sweet downhill toward the off-ramp. I kept pedaling to keep my muscles engaged, and to savor the cool air drying off the sweat on my hands, arm and face.
I stopped for some shade and a quick break at a nearby parking lot at the cemetery. There, I drank from my second, fully-thawed water bottle, caught my breath, and shot a quick funny-faced video for posting on Facebook.
Back at the park, I loaded up my bike then relaxed for a little while in my car and enjoyed fresh red cherries and icy-cold water from the cooler. Later, I walked over to the splash pad and doused my head with water.
Oh man, that felt soooo good! And just as much fun as spending time on a bike!
Thank You, Southern Nevada Bicycle Coalition!
A big thank you to SNBC volunteers for their work in organizing a fun, safe ride that I will remember for a long time! I also appreciate their permission to use and share many of their photographs here. Learn more about their mission and work at snbc.org.
Garmin Says, Surprise! You’ve Improved!
- The first long slow segment: Started out at 10-11 miles per hour, slowed to a little more than 6 miles per hour before the crest. I calculated the grade to be about (a measly) two percent. Apparently, I’ve improved more than I give myself credit for because I was actually faster than I felt, and rode this segment non-stop.
- The second shorter climb: Averaged 8 to 9 miles per hour on an estimated three to four percent grade. Again, a faster pace than perceived, especially given how hot it was.
- Total distance: Between 12 and 13 miles. I truly didn’t think I went that far!
- Total time: About 2 hours from start to finish, much longer than I imagined but then the time includes the water/rest time at my turnaround and again at the cemetery.
The tracking isn’t 100 percent accurate. I didn’t start my Garmin Forerunner 15 [$] until I was already on I-11. At the turnaround, I started it again and ended the tracking at the park.
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