Saturday, April 9, 2011

My First Bonk

If you've ever experienced a full-blown bonk during a bike ride, it needs no explanation.  If you are lucky enough to never experienced the pleasure, the definition of bonking is that you run your glycogen reserves down to dangerously low levels which results in extreme fatigue, sometimes accompanied by nausea and impaired mental acuity.

At one time, I thought that I had experienced a bonk, or two, in my day.  But then, on a ride I took from our house in Pataskala, Ohio, I found out that I had been mistaken.

I took off from the house with the intention of doing a 25 mile out-and-back that I often did on a weekend afternoon.  The LeJeune was freshly tuned up, the day was gorgeous with temps in the mid-70s and blue skies, and I was ready to ride.  I took off from the house with a bottle of water on the bike and a few Fig Newtons in my jersey pocket, as was my habit for that particular ride.

When I got to my normal turnaround spot, I was feeling good.  I had enjoyed a tailwind for most of the ride, and I was not ready to go home.  So, instead of turning around and heading back north to the house, I turned east and headed toward a loop I had looked at on the map, a few times, but had never ridden.  It looked like a pleasant 50 miles, so I figured a gorgeous day such as the one I was enjoying was the time to check it out.

Road maps are funny things.  They can give you a lot of information, such as the direction to a point, the distance between points, the location of towns, etc.  But, they generally don't show the contour of the land, or predict the direction or strength of the wind.

As I rode east, the terrain turned into rolling hills.  None of them had any real big elevation gain, but there were a lot of them, each small elevation gain adding to the next.  Then, the tailwind I had enjoyed on the way out became a quartering headwind, and the temperature began to climb.

By the 35 mile mark, I had long since eaten all of my Fig newtons, and I was running low on water.  I saw no sense in turning around, as I was only 15 miles from the house if I continued on, and 35 miles away if I went back.   Looking back on it, I now know that I was beginning to lose a bit of my mental faculties due to the lack of sugar in the blood:  There was a store 5 miles behind me where I could have doubled back and replenished my water and food.

But, I pressed on, determined to finish my 50 miles.

At about the 60 mile mark, I realized that I must have missed a turn.  I should have already been home!  But, again, it seemed logical to me to just continue on rather than turn around and find the intersection that I had accidentally passed.

Eventually, by blind luck, I found my way back to Pataskala.  It only took me about 3 times of riding past my house to finally remember to turn down my street .

Once in the house, I drank about a gallon of water and wolfed down some pb&j.  Then, I went upstairs and lay on the floor in the bedroom, with my feet on the bed, hoping that would let the acid flush from my leg muscles and prevent cramps.  Unfortunately, when I decided to get up and use the bathroon about 20 minutes later, I couldn't get up.  Every time I moved, something cramped.

I was stuck on the floor, and I was really beginning to need to pee.  All the water I had drunk, trying to rehydrate, was going right through me.

Luckily, Valerie came home from shopping before I had to wet my pants, and helped me get up.  I was still a little loopy, and had a hard time explaining to her what was going on.  She thought I was stumbling drunk, at first, but finally came to understand what I was telling her.

"That explains why your bike is lying in the driveway, I suppose, " she said.

I've only bonked like that once, or twice, in all the years since (most notably on the climb to the 50-mile turnaround in the Leadville 100).  I've been pretty intent on avoiding making a real bonk a regular thing.



  1. Gee - And all this time I thought bonking meant something else. No wonder people have given me weird looks!

  2. It can have a quite different meaning, outside of the bicycle world!

  3. Thankfully, I've never experienced the symptoms described. Thankfully, I've never experienced a heart attack or stroke, either...

  4. Another one of your stories makes a direct connection with my own experience. I remember trying to drive away after a road race, and I couldn't go more than 45mph because everything was happening too fast for my brain to process. Weird stuff. Fortunately, I had sense enough to stop for a Coke, pushed the seat back, and layed down until the sugar kicked in.

  5. Great story. I think a lot of people say they "bonked" to mean they were tired. It's definitely more than that, as you describe. I've had a couple of bonks, I guess, but it's not a word I use lightly.


As always, sorry about the word verification. It's a necessary evil, unfortunately.