For Penny Fink, life is all about setting challenging goals and working hard to achieve them.
This has been a year of accomplishment for the 64-year-old bike rider who is proving that age is just a number and nothing can hold you back. In only her third year road cycling she set out to join the “1,000-Mile Club” by completing five double centuries (200 miles) in 12 months as well as the Climb to Kaiser – a 155-mile route in Fresno rated one of the 10 toughest rides in the United States. Fink didn’t just meet her goal, she surpassed it.
“I like the feeling of setting and achieving goals and I like being an example for women that all things are possible and that age is just a number, nothing more,” says Fink, a Highlands resident for 26 years until moving to Westlake Village six months ago. “Nothing’s better than creating and completing one’s goals.”
Having completed her first California Triple Crown last fall (three doubles in a calendar year), Fink embarked on a rigorous training schedule for 2013 and began her quest in March at the Joshua Tree Double Century. Next, she did the Hemet Double Century in April and the Davis Double Century in May. The following month she pedaled the Grand Tour’s Highland Double Century (from Hueneme to Malibu). In September she accomplished her goal at the White Mountain Double Century in Bishop and in October she added the Bass Lake Double Century for good measure.
“Most people like the downhills but I like the climbs, I love getting to the tops of places and looking out at the world,” says Fink, now a personal trainer and nutritional consultant who has several clients in the Palisades. “The beauty is something that’s always inside of you.”
Of 224 entrants for the Climb to Kaiser only 21 were women (Fink being the oldest) and only 11 female riders made it all the way to the top, an elevation of 9,200 feet.
“Not only is the ride itself difficult but the heat that day made it even harder,” Fink recalls. “The temperature was already in the 90s at 4:30 in the morning when it started. I passed by sprinklers that drenched me 15 minutes into the ride and I remember thinking ‘That feels really great.’ I think it got as high as 110 degrees. I learned the meaning of hot on that ride and how to combat it.”
The route takes cyclists from Clovis up to Kaiser Pass Summit in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It consists of 13,500 feet of elevation gain and ultra steep grades reaching more than 15 percent.
“To keep going at all the stops I had them pouring ice water down my body and I drank I don’t know how many bottles of water,” Fink recalls. “The key was ice water baths and drink, drink, drink.”
The most treacherous climbs on the ride were Big Creek and Kaiser Pass.
“Big Creek felt like I was doing interval repeats on Portrero Canyon,” Fink says. “It was never ending and most certainly the hardest climb I’ve ever done. Then you go on to Kaiser Pass and it’s just brutal after Big Creek. I was determined to finish after preparing all year and I’m proud that I did.”
Always a “gym junkie,” Fink worked as a Senior Buyer for Robinsons-May, commuting to downtown Los Angeles, until accepting an opt-out package after the department store chain was bought out by Macy’s in 2005.
“I asked myself ‘What would I do in my next life?’ and I thought ‘I’d be an athlete,’” says Fink, who competed in three-day eventing for 12 years until her thoroughbred Madison died, prompting her to find an alternative form of riding. “I couldn’t bring myself to buy another horse so I studied cycling and thought a realistic goal would be to do one century ride (100 miles) a month for six months. The first century I did was in Ojai and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do another one but the soreness went away in about four days.”
Born and raised in Southern California, Fink spent her childhood in Culver City and attended Huntington Beach High. She and her then husband bought a house in the Highlands in 1987 and Penny took her daughter Rebecca on runs in Temescal Canyon and Topanga. Now, Fink would rather be biking.
“I’m not fast — I can do a double in 17 hours but the really hard ones might take me 19 1/2 hours, but to finish is to win,” Fink says. “I ride an average of three days a week, about 90 miles each day. Last year I rode 7,500 miles. This year I’ll come close to 10,000 miles.”
Fink already has a goal in mind for 2014: completing the Death Ride in the California Alps, a course that begins and ends near Markleeville and heads up to the east side of Carson Pass. Online registration for the July 12 race opens today.
“I’ve heard others thought Kaiser was harder than even the Death ride, so now I have to try it and I can’t wait to sign up,” Fink says.”My next double? I’m planning to start in February and I’d like to shoot for maybe 10.”
What advice does Fink have for aspiring riders?
“You don’t have to be the best or the fastest, just find a place to start that is appropriate for you and set a reasonable and attainable goal,” she says. “It’s a journey worth the effort and time because the feeling of accomplishment is powerful and something that no one can take from us.”
Fink’s business card has a quote by American author and poet Henry David Thoreau that fits her to a tee: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
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