Last post, I wrote about a guy who reached the end of his proverbial rope and kept riding. This is different than bonking. I certainly am not the guy to explain the physiological differences, but here is my layman approach. Reaching the end of your capacity means that you have just ridden all that you can reasonably do on that particular day. Your legs have nothing left; you are out of steam, out of snap, at the bottom of the tank, or whatever.
Bonking, by contrast, is when you run out of fuel for your body. You may have ridden more miles on prior days, or had harder rides. It's not that you were not trained for the distance or challenge, but instead you have used up all the immediately available energy. I have heard it said that you are out of glycogen in your muscles, although I don't know if this is the whole story. In any case, you hit a point where you don't just feel like slowing down, instead you feel like stopping, you feel like getting off the bike, laying down by the road and letting the process of ashes to ashes, dust to dust begin right there.
The French say that you have been visited by "the man with the hammer", which you then hear trans-morphed into a "hunger knock". In either case, when you bonk, you are functionally done.
On my ride to Steptoe Butte, I talked to Steev about bonking and said that it had been years and years since I had seriously bonked. I regaled him with a tale of the pre-cell phone days when I bonked on a ride on the old Palouse Highway. Everytime I ride up that hill I am reminded of the day that I was forced to get off of my bike and sit by the road. I had no food, no more water, no cell phone and I was at least a mile, probably two, to the next house. I was about 10 miles from home. I had been riding on absolute empty for miles and I finally came to the climb that I thought might end up being my final resting spot. I stopped my bike in a tiny bit of shade and sat down in the dirt and gravel off the side of the road. There was nothing on which to sit, no curb or rock, and no person with a choice would have sat down on this hot, dry slope. I was that person who was out of choices. After sitting there for about a half of an hour, I finally gathered enough mental and physical strength to get back on my bike and slowly, every so slowly, rode home.
Because of my size, and hopefully my discretion and planning, it had been a long time since I was that drained. At least a decade, almost two. But I managed to get back there recently.
I was looking forward to the particular ride. It is one of Rider 2's prefered rides - the Troika course. Heading up Thorpe, across the west plains to Medical Lake and then through his boyhood neighborhood back into town. It is about a 60 mile loop from my house and I had done this ride a couple of times already this year. I even blogged about it once. On this day, it was going to be one of the first rides where all of TTW was going to be together for a while, so I was looking forward to seeing the "team." I was feeling fairly good and while I am not the rider that either of my teammates are, I felt good about my ability to take a few pulls and hang in for a good ride.
It was not to be.
On the way up Thorpe I was actually in front of the group and someone complained about my speed up a hill. If you have ever ridden with me, you know how unlikely that is. I didn't go nuts, but I did take a few big pulls with Rider 2 (Hey Rider 2, did you realize you HAVE a small chain ring?). Twenty or thirty miles later, however, I noticed that I was getting tired after we crossed Highway 2. In fact, I found that my legs were leaving me on each uphill. At one point, Rider 1 had a broken spoke and I waited down the road knowing that there was a steep climb and I wanted to use the 1,000 yard advantage to keep up with the group over the crest.
Soon after that I realized that I was going to crap. I couldn't keep pace if the road tilted up more than 2 degrees. I caught back up a time or two and then we hit the bottom of Coulee-Hite Road. At that point, for some reason completely unknown and incomprehensible, my team-mates decided to bash in everyone's skull - figuratively speaking. As we hit the flat, slightly downhill run-off, Rider 1 ramped up over 30 mph. I thought to myself that if I could just hang on to the tail of the group for his pull, I would be able keep up when the next person inevitably slowed down.
Rider 2 decided to assert some authoratative leadership and continued with an extended, extended pull at the same or higher pace. Everyone in the group suffered, but I died. At that point, it was time to leave me beside the road to end my suffering in some peace and quiet. In a bit of faux-selflessness, I told the group to go on without me. It was meant as a plea for help. Instead, to my surprise, they said "great", they would go on without me. Left to my own, I did the only thing a self-respecting cyclist could do. I used my cell phone to call my wife for a ride home.
It will be a long time before I get into that spot again. I hope.