When out on a bike it’s important to keep fed and watered, as Omar Lababedi reminds us in his tale of near collapse ahead of the last mountain.
Picture this. I’m a week into this ridiculous adventure. It’s 6 pm and I’ve been on my gorgeous Condor bike since sunrise. We’ve climbed three mountains with one more to go and only have 90 minutes before the sun sets for the day. The majority of the group, 10 out of the total of 13 tourers, is a couple of hours behind and waiting for the van to give them a ride back to camp. Vas, Luke and I are adamant we’re going to cycle the full 1,030km of the Bilbao to Barcelona trip and therefore have no choice but to climb the last mountain of the day - the steepest and highest one - in 90 minutes. For the first time in a week, I start getting that ‘bonking’ feeling.
Bonking happens when you feel your body is shutting down from sheer exhaustion due to lack of food or lack of water, or both. To ‘Bonk’ describes the condition caused by depleted glycogen (sugar) stores which generally results in a sudden loss of energy or fatigue.
I’d been quite good at keeping to the motto “eat before you get hungry, drink before you get thirsty” throughout the trip – not just because I’m a colossal gourmand -- but also for fear of ‘bonking’ on a hill (!). I had seen its effect on numerous cyclists in our group over the last few days and let me just say: it ain’t a pretty sight. First, your face goes completely white and you have to stop. You can barely stand so you sit down on the tarmac. Next, you’re vomiting and that’s it. You’re out for the rest of the day, sometimes for two!
Luckily, I had a spare caffeine gel in my jersey pocket. A condensed shot of sugar. Although it tastes a little metallic and is 100% unnatural, it’s a monumental lifesaver in such situations. One moment I couldn’t keep up with the boys and was genuinely starting to doubt my ability to tackle the final mountain; six minutes later, the caffeine and sugar kicked in and I got my legs back. However, it’s still a struggle as this is the most challenging day of the trip, covering over 140km and climbing over 3,000 metres. Vas, by far the fittest guy on the trip, cycles back to give me a pep talk in his Ali G accent: “Easy gears for the win”, “Keep ‘em spinning”, and my favourite, “You got dis!”
70 minutes later, we reached the Apex. This is record time for all of us. We jumped off our bikes, danced a quick celebratory dance, sipped our water, and donned our windproof jackets to buckle up for the down hills.