The Year of living SAG-ily
This headline makes no sense, but like a SAG (Stupid Arbitrary Goal), it doesn’t have to.
Hey, kids, guess what? You can do a whole lot of living in 365 days. Do you know what else you can do a whole lot of in 365 days? Riding of the bicycles. Or one bicycle, you choose. I chose multiple bicycles—though not all at once—and I rode the absolute living shit out of them. Starting in mid-November, 2020, and ending on December 31, 2021, I rode like it was my damn job or something. Which, believe me, it is not.
“Hold up!” you cry, making the ancient form of a time-out gesture with your human hands. “That’s not 365 days!”
Good one, math dork. But no sense, no rhyme, no reason—that’s the magic swag of the awesome magic SAG.
Abracadabra! This is how 365 days became 411 days. It’s all so innocent, so dull, but if you really must know, here goes.
My first SAG goal ran from my birthday in 2020 to my birthday in 2021. There are your 365 days. Once I’d dispatched that first SAG like a bad boyfriend, I did the ol’ “Hold my beer!” trick, and set an entirely new SAG to knock out by December 31st, 2021 (except I quit beer during this time too, so maybe it’s more like a “Hold my sanity!” deal?) Well, guess what? I punted that goal, too. To the Horsehead Nebula. Light years, baby. Light years.
Am I being too braggy for ya? Too real? Too on the nose? In my defense, during the socially distanced pandemic times, I’ve spent a lot of time experiencing the pleasure of my own company and I just don’t know how to people properly anymore. Cut me some slack.
Anyway, I hope you will enjoy reading about my silly self doing silly things. What follows is my year (lie) in SAG along with photo highlights for those who hate to read but love to scroll. And now, I’m gonna have a good lie down. Feel free to pick up the SAG torch from here because truth be told, I’m totally pooped. Sagging hard from the year (inaccurate) of living SAG-ily.
Sample SAG sunrises (and one moon fall)
Although the SAG start date was my birthday in 2020, I didn’t invent this particular SAG until mid-March in 2021. That’s when it dawned on me that I would be turning 50 in November 2021, and that turning 50 is probably a big deal. Like, that’s a full half of a century, which is easily ridable if you work your way up to it, and luckily, I’d been working my way up to it for 49 years. Made it through qualies, no drama at all.
“I should probably do something special to celebrate this tremendous milestone!” I said to my fern, Fergus, upon realizing the significance. He had no suggestions and so I was left on my own to figure out what to do.
My first thought was cake. Confession: Cake is usually my first, middle, and last thought. All you need to know is “no mango” if you’re getting me a cake. I’m just mentioning that on the off-chance.
But let’s be honest: cake generally takes care of itself for birthdays, and it’s not that special. Even as a cake lover, I can admit that. So, I trusted in the presence of cake. What else? Anyone who knows me knows that every year, for the past 12 years or so, I ride 71 miles on my birthday. But I dunno—that seemed like a bit of a “been there done that,” yawn for a 50th endeavor. Not big enough. Not JJ McCrae-CRAY enough.
I needed to make my life logo BIGGER.
“Fergus, I’ve got it!” I said, puffing hot breath onto his sullen fronds. “I’ll ride 500,000 ft. of elevation gain in my 50th year on planet earth!” (I should confess here that I stole this idea off a guy named Kevin, but I am of the opinion that all art is theft and SAGs are pure art so fair play to me.) Not sure if Fergus approved or not, but the details were set.
The tally would start on my birthday in 2020, and finish the day before my birthday in 2021, which, as luck would have it, would be my ACTUAL 50th birthday in Australia, the land down under where I was born.
A Selection of SAG Switchbacks
Would I have chosen this goal if I hadn’t already been doing loops of Eureka Canyon, five days a week, from mid-September to the end of 2020? Who knows? I don’t know HOW my brain works, I DON’T QUESTION IT, and neither should you. But even with that elevation head start, I knew this SAG wouldn’t exactly be easy. So I did that only thing that made sense to me—I immediately started chasing it with much fervor and vigor and all ‘or’-ending words that suggest great energy and fluttering about while looking motivated.
Sand Point sorties, Eureka Canyon Noodle-ations, rando weekend elevation hunts—I built a spreadsheet to track them all. I hate spreadsheets, so this was akin to torture to me. But SAG teaches patience. SAG teaches perseverance. And I guess SAGs teach us how to use that most awful of buttons—the Excel function. This is how many feet you have, this is how many feet you have to go. Clicky-clicky-click.
All those numbers swimming in their little cells gave me something to aim for. Come July I was crushing this SAG like an honest-to-goodness grape. Good, right? WRONG!
No pressure to ride.
I started to slack off.
No threat of failure.
I started to sleep in.
I was so far ahead, it de-motivated me. Something had to change.
“You know what I need, Fergus?” I said to my little green potted friend. “More feets!”
“You know what I need?” he replied. “More goddamned water!”
“I always ride 71 miles on my birthday,” I said, ignoring him, “Why not ride 710,000 ft. of elevation gain in the year OF my birthday! Holy shit, what a great idea. I’m a GENIUS!”
I plugged the new SAG number into that dumb SAG spreadsheet and BOOM! I was already behind goal. So, so far behind goal. The panic came on in a rush and surged through the fear boiler room of my body. The number frightened me. According to the spreadsheet, I needed to average over 2,200 ft. of climbing a day to squash this new SAG.
My eyes were glassy and bright. My heart thudded away in my chest like a buncha bodies hitting the floor with the faints. I had choirs and orchestras and trumpets and the Rocky theme blaring in my head and it drowned out the naysaying sound of Fergus from his perch in the bathroom, saying:
“2000+ feet a day sounds aggressive.”
Never bring a fern into your life. Ferns are sooooo negative.
SAG BAAWs and Bikes
Strategy is everything when it comes to a SAG, and I knew that to achieve this goal I’d need to find some feet-heavy routes to start banking some serious elevation. While the Sand Point climb in Nisene Marks State Park was one of my favorites, there were just too many junk miles and not enough bang-for-the-buck feet involved. And my Eureka Canyon loop, while having more feet than Nisene, also had quite a bit of junkiness to it in terms of mileage.
My strategy was clear: I needed to minimize distance but maximize feet gained during the week, then throw in the occasional 10,000 ft. weekender. After some noodling around in RidewithGPS and routing various loops to compare elevations, I hit upon the Mountain Charlie Loop. While it was about the same distance as Eureka Canyon, by throwing in some local climbs—Rodeo Gulch, Granite Creek, and Laurel Glenn, for example—I’d bag an extra 1,850 feet of gain.
That meant 5,000 ft. per loop, five days a week, leaving anything gained on the weekends as a cherry on top of my elevation ice cream.
I’d like to pause for a moment here and doff my hat to the Local Legend wreaths on Strava. When they first launched I thought they were a bit meh. But they’re the perfect SAG motivator. For example, when you see that someone has a Local Legend on a climb like Mountain Charlie Road, and you’ve only got to ride it 20 times in 90 days to snatch it away from that person, well, I found that to be very motivating. And once I’d gotten it, I didn’t want to let it slip away so I would get up every day to add to it and put more distance between myself and the next person. Little battles on the daily with people you don’t know, who are completely unaware that they are in battle at all. That’s my kind of skirmish.
In the end, I rode my Mountain Charlie loop for eight weeks, five days a week, meaning June and July ended up being >100,000ft months. My elevation bank was filling up!
In August, I planned a road trip to ride some new turf and climb some new things. I camped on Figueroa and rode both sides, hunted down some great gravel routes near Santa Maria, and climbed a road in San Bernardino Forest a couple of times just to keep the numbers ticking over. The SAG tally was climbing slowly, while I was getting faster at going up.
When I got home after that trip, I decided to finish out the SAG on a mixed surface loop—Eureka Canyon, but ripping up Buzzard Lagoon and coming down the other side of Nisene as a dirt chaser. My friend Andrew joined me a few times on that loop and acted as my official photographer when, on September 27th, 2021, I passed 710,000 ft.
It was done.
All hail the SAG Slayer! I celebrated in the only way I know how—with Dunlaps Donuts, spelling out my accomplishment.
What did I learn? I dunno? Donuts are great post-ride snacks? Darkness can be really dark? Sleep is important? I don’t know if I learned anything, actually, but I can tell you that during this quest for SAG supremacy, I did the following:
- Invented an awesome route called Vertruvian Mansplain that looked like the Vitruvian Man (sort of), included 11,359 ft. of climbing (for real), and I don’t have to ‘splain anything about the man (he speaks for himself.)
- Saw a mountain lion ambling along in Nisene on the fire road, right near Sand Point. It was comforting to discover that my first instinct was not to whip out my phone and get the ‘gram.
- Had my first pandemic hug after nearly 15 months of social distancing. I hugged Andrew, my cycling bubble buddy, in a driveway. It was amazing!
- Rode what would be my last ever ride with Brad, though I didn’t know it at the time.
- Rode a 202 miler on the day of Unbound with just over 18,000 ft of gain.
- I cooked numerous versions of banana nut loaves and pecan butter cookies and used them as pocket snacks. No regrets.
- I climbed the equivalent of Everest almost 29 times.
- I started PR-ing my pants everywhere. Faster and faster. It was crazy. Nothing really hurt anymore, so I just went for it.
- 38 lbs. of old Janeen fell off somewhere on Eureka, or maybe it was on Mountain Charlie Road? Doesn’t really matter. I basically ditched the small-dog-sized invisible backpack I’d been carrying for years and climbing got way easier.
Am I bragging? Yes. And I say all these things because if we don’t toot our own horns they remain un-tooted and that would be a darn-tootin’ shame. I am proud of all of this.
On the day I hit 710,000 ft. on the fire road in Nisene, right before what I call the Paris Yew!baix section (which is boringly called Little Moab on Strava), I was noticeably fit. Seriously, I had never been as fit as I was on that day at that time when I completed my elevation SAG. My legs didn’t hurt, climbing felt way easier, and was rarely out of breath. It ANNOYED PEOPLE. “Finally,” I thought gloatingly to myself, “I am the one who knocks!”
“You never used to talk when we climbed,” said Andrew, when I asked him about the difference between Old Janeen and New Janeen. “Now you won’t shut up!”
Sisterhood of the Traveling SAG
That ended it, right? The year of living SAG-ily? Yeah… Sike! Not by a long shot. Because, Houston, as you can probably guess my brain had a small problem. I’d finished my SAG a whole month and a half ahead of schedule and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Was there some kind of rule that said now my SAG was done I should kick back and sleep in? Was this my “that’ll do, pig, that’ll do” moment? I didn’t know what to do, so I did the only thing that made sense: I consulted the SAG bible/guide/rule book (which exists only in my head), and read the three words that would detonate my legs moving forward. Those three words?
STRETCH SAG TIME.
10,000 miles by end of the calendar year, 2021, aka “The Haymaker”
I never stretch, so the idea of setting a stretch goal wasn’t exactly natural. Sure, I was still riding—I predicted I’d have about 810,000 ft. by my birthday, and would completely blow my original goal target out of the water—but it felt a little like pointless idling. On October 13th, 2021, my noodling ways came to a head.
“This isn’t enough,” I thought, pondering the thought of a stretch goal. “What else can I do? A million ft. by my birthday? Is that possible?”
I wheeled out the Excel and plugged some numbers in. The answer to that question was a resounding, “Nope.” It was a shame really because if I hadn’t slacked off in January and February (before I’d ever set any goal), I could’ve done a million feet. But with only eleven weeks left in the year, it would be impossible.
“But hmmm, what if…?”
Eleven weeks. Eleven weeks and if I started throwing century haymakers I could get my first ever 10,000-mile year. Jab, punch, uppercut!
3,448 miles in eleven weeks—how hard could that be?
I know now that the answer to this question is: hard. I’m talking about ‘two to three centuries a week with a bonus ride thrown in’ hard. The two to three (preferably three) centuries benchmark was just a random decision I made because I wanted to account for weather issues and get it over and done with, ASAP. Plus, that many centuries a week sounded like a challenge. Fun. Exciting. It made me wonder what those centuries would do to me over time.
Fun fact: The problem with switching from an elevation SAG to a distance SAG is that the approach and priority are completely different. Before, all I cared about was the most elevation with the least distance. Now I needed a nice and easy 100 miles on the FLATTEST route I could find. I pulled up all my centuries from the past.
Going South toward Monterey would bring the flat, but it would also bring a whole lotta ugly with traffic snarls and shitty shoulders. But riding up to Half Moon Bay and back, well, that’s one of the most beautiful rides you can do and the shoulders are pretty wide and accommodating. So I chose that route as my main squeeze. I dubbed this route the “Moon Streaker” because the whole point would be to do it fast, up and back, like a streaker at the cricket tryna get across a pitch during a lull.
The plan was set. All I had to do was execute.
Scenic SAG Snapshots
Did you know that riding a century takes time? And despite all appearances of being a woman of leisure, I have work to do and bills to pay, and noodling around all day on a bicycle is fun and all but it’s hard to type while changing gears with gloves on. My three-century a week plan left me in a bit of a pickle with the time management side of my life and balancing ride time with work. Now, admittedly I do set my own schedule with the typing words for money lark, but I also have some sort of weird work ethic (thanks Dad!) where I like to be somewhat available if a client needs me.
This explains why I would get up at 4 AM to be out the door to Half Moon Bay by 4:30 AM just so I could be back home by 11 AM and still be available. This is called “Squeezing a Century In” and I don’t recommend it long term. It really messes with you.
In some ways, getting up that early made doing the centuries a little easier. The first couple of hours in the dark meant the miles just disappeared without me noticing. But having the deadline of when to be home, and the familiarity I got from riding that same route so often, created a clock-watching (and landmark watching) monster. I would start to know just how late I was running simply by what I was looking at. “You’re only just at the lighthouse?! The sun’s already up. You’re usually farther by now. What’s wrong with you?” That kind of thing.
Eventually, I settled into a routine: Two centuries during the week, and one on the weekend, with a slightly longer route and a later roll time for that weekender—like 6:30 or 7:30 AM. Breaking it up like that helped, and the Saturday one soon became a fast favorite, primarily because I started a habit of hitting Dunlap’s Donuts as I rolled out of town to pre-game one plain glazed, plus shove a cronut and blueberry glazed in my handlebar bag for later. You might be noticing a theme. Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do?
I’m sitting in the desert right now and I can tell you that the stretch SAG ended up going right down to the wire. I wanted to get out of town for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, so knew I had to try to knock it out before December 20th. I failed at that. When I left town, I still had just over 350 miles to go and a cold Mojave desert in which to find them. I am happy to report that I found them and it is done. A bit anti-climactic, I know, but I squeezed in a final century on Christmas Day, the majority of which was on a closed Route 66, and a few days later finished up the SAG riding through the Mojave on a very frigid day. I felt strangely, wonderfully, and blissfully content on that ride, and also rode farther than I need to, just because I was feeling good. It’s good to finish things. It’s good to finally see the finish line and know that you are once and for all, final bids in, all done.
Could I have done this goal with more ride days and fewer centuries? Sure, I guess? But when you look at a number that says you need to average 48 miles a day, getting them out of the way in big chunks seems a preferable way to do it.
And now, as in the first SAG, a few observations.
- Riding two/three centuries a week makes you very hungry. All the time.
- Riding two/three centuries a week also turns you into a braggart. I’ve done 36 centuries this year (including one double century), and 26 of those centuries have been since October 14th.
- It’s not the distance that gets you with century after century, it’s the boredom. No, not boredom, that’s not the right word. Sameness? It’s a huge mental challenge. When you’ve checked off 60 miles and you’re 40 miles from home on Highway 1 and it’s a straight line there, there’s no getting around it—you’re still 40 miles from home. That can really grind through your mind, and the only way to get past it is to grind out of your mind, into your legs, and out via the pedals. Honestly, I have always considered myself to be quite mentally tough on a bicycle, but some days were a real test of my mental fortitude. “WHY CAN’T THIS BE OVER!?” I’d yell into the wind which, by that point of the ride, was always a headwind.
- Dynaplugs are the best invention, ever.
- Once you start waking up at 4 AM on the regular, you will wake at up 4 AM every day, whether you’re riding or not. This will make you very good at getting a lot of writing done before people are even out of bed.
- You can get fit. Then you can get fitter than fit. And then you can get even fitter.
- Afternoon naps are amazing. And post-ride naps. You will never have enough naps.
- Even the most scenic and beautiful route, when done enough times, will become dull and monotonous. Dramatic cliffs, miles of gorgeous coastline, lighthouses, crashing waves—yawn.
- It is possible to get 11,955 miles from a chain. Maybe even 12,000 is possible for Blurple? I dunno. That last 45 miles feels like I’m pushing my luck just a little too far and here’s an irritating confession: I have all the parts to swap out the drivetrain. Don’t roll your eyes at me. But guys, seriously. 11,955 miles! What a chain! Dead set legend.
So, there you have it. My year (and a bit) of living SAG-ily. I say farewell to it and bring on 2022, though I’m not sure what it will hold for me in terms of SAG action. I predict donuts will be involved, and if I want to keep living that #glazedlife, I’m going to have to keep riding my bike. What a sacrifice that will be!
Oh, and speaking of tooting one’s own horn, I wrote a little thing about “The Way of the SAG” over at The Pros Closet, about how to create your very own if you don’t know where to start. Because much like Grease is the word for your drivetrain, SAG is the way for your soul. And that way is, in a word, awesome.
See you on the road.