Words by: Shanna Sauer
The Belgian Waffle Ride: A 140 mile adventure of mixed terrain with 10k+ of climbing. While not for the light hearted, the excitement of the challenge was as palpable as ever, especially for the 45 women who registered for the Belgian Waffle Ride.
With the grueling course set in the sweltering heat of San Diego’s North County, all were relieved to be met by cool and crisp weather, especially those of us spoiled by the cool riding weather in the San Francisco area. Let the pre-race rituals begin: Vest or no vest?; tire pressure debate; and a final espresso shot at the Rapha Mobile Cycle Club followed by that last minute porta potty stop.
This year the event organizers gave women their own wave start. The 18 mile neutral roll out was fast, comfortable, and classy–it’s not everyday the CHP hold traffic at intersections for a pack of badass women cyclists! Once rolling, we began to relax and talk, soon realizing that many of us had mutual friends.
Early on the lead group broke off the front. Knowing the course held another 120 miles of tough terrain, I stuck on with a solid pack of 15+ women who instinctively began working together, resulting in some of the best pace-line work I’ve experienced. It was one of my favorite parts of the day.
It was only a matter of time before the men in the later waves caught us. I watched as some of the women took the opportunity to jump on while I and others held back. It was one of the best decisions of the day.
For the next 50 miles, I rode with a tightly knit group of two other women: One from my team Vive la Tarte Cyclocross and the other from the Women’s Clif Bar Team. As we started climbing, I started cramping. The girls soft pedaled with me until I could spin it out and try to eat. Magically, the cramping went away.
As it happened, eating would be my biggest challenge of the day. I couldn’t swallow my usual banana, nutella and sea salt sandwich (I had 5 in my pocket) without setting my gag reflex off. For the first time I threw up while riding. I took the chipmunk approach the rest of the day and while it was nasty it worked to get the calories in along with the many, much appreciated coca-cola hand ups from the fantastic BWR volunteers.
Of course when we hit off road sections the excitement began! We rolled upon crashes, saw bloodied wounds and broken bikes. We were low on fluids at times but thankfully our good luck continued. We held a solid 17-18 mph average for the first half, aka “The Wafer”.
Honestly, the second half (miles 70-140) is mostly a blur. We started into a fierce headwind, heads buried, and needing to pee. We reached the point on the Del Dios Highway that turned us onto dirt and eventually lead us to the rock bed hugging Lake Hodges where we found inspiration. I also found a nice place to pee along some cactus on the trail!
The conditions meant that riders separated to take care of their own personal nutrition and rest needs; for many miles I was alone. I kept dreaming of the waterslide at the finish. Yes, a waterslide! Wheels of fellow riders came and went. Finally, a small group arrived at a moment of second wind and I jumped on. My legs were delighted for the break and I hope the others felt the same by scooping me up in their pack. I was with them until the base of the final climb, Double Peak.
As I started the ascent, my legs began to quiver and were on the verge of cramping. As the gradient got steeper, I began to wobble. I felt tears coming, and thought I was going to tip over just as a woman ran over and gave me the push. It was all I needed, the push of confidence that I could conquer this, which I did.
The finish was every bit as sweet as it should be, including a fun, twisty, dirty descent. I knew I was there, and I was flying! Done. Finally back. Waterslide time. Bad Ass Ale Earned. Final time 9 hours, 10 min. My goal of top 10 women seemed silly when I realized I had improved my time by just over an hour from last year’s shorter course. Challenging myself physically and mentally, tested my resilience to overcome and achieve whatever I put my mind to. This is why I put myself in the face of suffering and fear. And I loved it!
I couldn’t have asked for a better day in the saddle! Thanks to the inspiration from all the terrific riders, my teammates on Vive la tarte Cx and the many BWR volunteers.
Shanna Sauer lives in San Francisco, CA.