It’s weird. Cycling has brought out a part of me that has remained hidden for fifty one years: I’m not sure what it is that pushes me to ride. True, I used to ride my Harley in cold, in rain, in 100 degree heat. But dressing up and letting a motorcycle pull you along is really not the same thing. I can’t stress enough how I’ve never exercised before in my entire life. True, again, I was in the military. So yes, there was a brief period where I was forced to exercise and a much briefer period following that where I did some exercising voluntarily. So, those times excluded – and they were very brief – my life has been blissfully exercise free.
Which is why I find it interesting surprising and confusing that the bike has brought out this side or slice of me. I’m not riding every day, but I am riding every fourth day or so. And if it were nicer outside, I might be riding every other day. And I enjoy it. I actually enjoy, for the most part, the most intense part of the ride – the climbing. My location provides a number of opportunities to climb.
Today was a brief respite in the series of winter storms that have been pounding us for two days with two or three more to come. So when 2pm hit today and it was not raining, I decided to go. It was warm and nice inside the house. I didn’t need to go out, at all. My Christmas shopping is done. I have food and coffee. Still, I put on my my bib knickers, my sweats and a long-sleeve shirt and sweatshirt. I added my beanie and helmet and my most insulated leather Harley riding gloves. These things go about eight inches up the arm. Warm. Thick socks. High top Nikes. Ready.
Here’s part of it – and if the idea that the desire to ride, all by itself, is confusing, then this is downright baffling: I’m trying to train for a race. Right. On Feb 10, there is a (34, 40, 60 or 100 – choose your poison) mile race. I’ve chosen to try the 40 miler. Given that I started riding November 4 and today was my longest ride to date and totaled 15.3 miles, and that I have six weeks to get ready and all those are in winter, I must be insane. Perhaps the gastric bypass is leaving my brain starved for fuel and it’s not operating correctly. Why else would I leave the warm house to go out in 33 degree weather?
Discussed the route with the better half. One of my ‘problems’ is going from zero to hero in no time. In my mind, at least. I also dislike doing the same thing over and over. So the idea of doing the bike trail yet again didn’t appeal. Longest ride to this point: 13.5 miles. 7 miles of uphill with 1800′ elevation change. On the plus side, not downhill. So the hero part picked a new route: 8.9 miles downhill, turn around, 8.9 miles back up. Go from 1850′ to 125′ and back to 2050′ then down to 1850′ at home. After a bit of Google Earth’ing, realized it was actually 11.9 miles down, then 14 miles up, then 2.1 down again. Hmm. SO suggests that there might be some other mis-calculations going on in my grey matter. I reconsider under threats.
New route is a partial of the previous new route. 6.2 miles down to the cistern (a good landmark). Turn around, climb 8.3 uphill to my turn around spot and 2.1 back to the house. 1850′ to 810′ to 2050′ to 1850′. A good day’s work.
Properly dressed, check the pressure. Tires are OK. Take off the little under-the-seat bag and replace with big rack bag. Out from the little comes fingerless gloves (into the closet they go) and multi-tool (that goes into big bag). Toss in tube, tire levers, slime bottle, big pocket knife (in case of wolves, bears or hobos), garage door opener, and …should be other stuff, but ready. Slip headlight on (finally get to try it out!) and tail light clipped onto back of bag. Iphone goes into SlipLock mount. Fire up tunes. Fire up riding app. Slip last glove on and go!
Ride down to Nunelly and realize it’s pretty bleak out. Big black clouds line the horizon – which is very, very close. Glasses fog up from breath. Pass the bank – 31 degrees. Up and over the small hump and down past the churches and to Pearson. Up the little hill there (in 6th gear!) and cross the road and meet the bike trail. Pop over the curb and down.
This time, after the fails when it comes to tunes, I’d set up in advance a couple of playlists. For whatever reason, the concept of “random” once again defies the abilities of either me or the device. I choose to blame the device. I’d selected the playlist called “hard riding”. Hard for the music type. Riding cause…I’m riding. Hard includes everything from Sammy Hagar (best of) to Iron Maiden. Random would have been nice but the gloves are on and the iPhone requires the human touch. Not going to happen so Sammy’s album “Anthology” begins with Bad Motor Scooter which moves into Rock the Nation and Paper Money. The entire downhill is taken up by the rest of the album.
Riding the trail is relaxing in terms of safety. The worst that will happen (barring running into a giant crane truck or a falling limb) is being in the wrong place when someone wants to pass. Maybe the threat of a dog is in there, too. Both leashed and unleashed dot the trail. Riding the city streets, on the other hand, is not relaxing at all. No shoulders or sidewalks and blind corners are the norm on Neal rather than the exception. Sammy does help as he rocks out Red and You Make Me Crazy. Cars whiz by my elbow. I’m going downhill at speeds up to 24 mph – in a 30 mph zone. The app says I’ve crossed the mile 4 mark. I wonder what the cars will do when I’m going 5 mph on the way back up. Sammy tells me This Planet’s on Fire. I agree.
Mile 5 is more downhill, now out of town and in the ‘hills’. Ranchland extends on both sides as far as the eye can see. About sixty feet in the fog. Mile 6 is announced and I’m keeping my eye out for the cistern. I’d promised to make that my turn-around and by the time I’ve reached it, I’m quite happy I’d agreed. The cold is something at 20+ mph. I spot the cistern and look for a turn around spot and Sammy croons Two Sides of Love. I downshift and flip a u-turn.
There’s another aspect to leaving the trail. The trail is built on a railroad track – which naturally limited the angle of attack. Trains don’t go up steep hills willingly and inclines are limited. When ‘scaped for bikers and hikers, incline is kept in mind. As such, even though climbing often exceeds 300’ per mile, it’s smooth and steady. No such restrictions cover the pavement meant for motor-powered vehicles. Fittingly, Sammy sings I Can’t Drive 55 as I begin the climb. Immediately, the lack of concern for people-powered vehicles becomes apparent. The incline is much steeper than anything on the trail and is possibly matched only by the climb at Old Skyway. That was optional – I chose to do it. This is mandatory – otherwise I’m pushing for the next 6 miles. Down to 1st and start spinning.
The app comes on to goad me and make fun of my progress. When did I switch it to ‘nag’ mode? Since I did not ‘clear’ it, it is telling me I’m behind my previous pace. Note to self – CLEAR the app. I don’t need to know I’m running slow. I can see I’m slow. The app says I’m making 5.5 mph and averaging 19 mph. That’s cause I went down 6.3 miles and I’ve climbed… about 800 feet. Mile 7 is announced. Tunes switch to Testament and “Practice What You Preach” – one of my favorite Testament albums. And it has nothing to do with me being friends with the lead singer, Chuck Billy. I enjoy their first three albums very much. The fourth too, but a bit less. And a lot less as time has gone on. “Formation of Damnation” is a return to form, but I’m more mellow these days. I find I don’t like new metal – even if it sounds like old metal. Old metal is familiar, has memories attached. New metal is often just noise.
Chuck attacks the title song and I keep climbing. I try 2nd gear and quickly switch back to 1st. No new mile markers are announced by the app. I’m actively looking for a place to catch my breath. My plan is usually to find a bench and rest, sitting on the seat. There are no benches along the street. The incline increases. My desire to find a spot to catch my breath does, too. Envy Life plays in the headphones. I’m envying breath. A side street appears and I aim for the curb. I miss by a couple inches and instead fall less-than-gracefully to the gravel. Since it was slow, and I’m numb, there is no pain outside pride. I pretend like it was intentional. The bike is held up by a pedal and gets no scratches. I rest and grab my water. This is perhaps the longest break I’ve taken in all my rides. On my ass. In the gravel. In someone’s front yard. At least the lycra is hidden by sweats this time.
Chuck sings Blessed in Contempt while I lounge.
He starts Greenhouse Effect as I pick myself and my steed up. Breathing rate controlled, I start back up. Mile 8 is announced. I detect snickering. Might be my imagination.
Road levels out a tiny bit. It’s slightly less than straight up now. I try 2nd again. The wind laughs as I go back to 1st. Again. Testament belts out The Ballad and I am looking for a resting spot again. A convenient side street presents itself. I make the curb this time. I look like a pro to no one looking at all.
The album switches again. Motorhead and “Ace of Spades”. Again, one of my favorites (which makes sense since I created the playlist). Lemmy abuses the title track and the road abuses me. I keep the climb going. I can see the end of the the now hated Neal. A quick right turn there will send me north up the bike trail. As Love Me Like a Reptile plays I make the firm decision that I’ll get to Pearson and, if need be, push it over the steep part of the hill. Then I can ride down to Clark. And push it another 2 miles back home? No. My firm decision changes. I’ll get to Elliot, then…same thing. All east-west roads have a very steep rise in between the trail and the road home, Clark. Lemmy tilts his head back and scream/sings We Are The Road Crew and I firmly decide to go to Central Park and THEN turn right to head home.
Before any of these can go from decision to reality, of course, I must make it to – and past – Pearson, which I’ve still not reached. I cross Foster and Lemmy, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clark and Filthy Phil Taylor play Jailbait. I cross Pearson. As I enter the trail again, a notice a few drops falling. Uh Oh. I read somewhere that if you ride in inclement weather you are a badass – period. I am now a badass. Mile 10 or 11, I can’t remember which, is announced. Since I’m back up to 6 mph, the app has ceased to taunt me. I am not forgiving and make solemn promises to kill the programmers. The rain increases dramatically as huge lightning flashes light the sky. My focus is downward and watching as water drops flash by my 600 lumen headlamp. The occasionally hit the front and sizzle a bit. Cool. A sad sack walker shields his eyes from the lamp. I’d not adjusted it prior to leaving – I’d not thought about anything outside keeping myself seen from the front. I rasp an apology as I pass.
Bite The Bullet gives way to The Chase is Better than the Catch – one of the standout tracks on the album, in my humble opinion. And I cross Elliott. Along with the change in tracks is my change in turnaround spots. I’ll make it to Rocky Road. As described in prior posts, that’s the one spot I can take where the east-west portion of the trip can be made with only a small hump in between the trail and Clark. And as Bille gives way to Wagstaff, “Ace of Spades” gives way to “Iron Fist”. Lemmy and company do the title track and launch into Heart of Stone as I turn onto Rocky and the app announces I’m not behind previous times anymore. Not because of my blazing speed – no. Simply because I’ve gone further than I ever have before – mile 14 is recorded. I finally am heading downhill again.
Between Elliott and Wagstaff, I rode through torrential rain and hail. I had to stop to take my phone out of the mount and put it in the bag in back. My hood filled with hail, which opened it further, allowing it to also catch freezing rain. That dripped down my back. My legs and feet are drenched, soaking. My beanie is completely soaked, dripping into my eyes. I took off my glasses, too, as I couldn’t see with the fogging and water. Strangely – I’m not bothered. Either I’ve actually HTFU or, which is far more likely, I’m so numb I’m not really noticing.
As I go down Rocky, I usually hear tell from the app of high speeds – 20+ mph. There’s a white coating of hail on the ground. Lightning and thunder actually drown out both my 600 lumen headlamp and Lemmy gently suggesting we all Go to Hell. And suddenly the tunes are gone. I’m much more concerned that I’m going to hit black ice than I am that the only sounds now are my heart beating and the thunder. I’ll worry about that at home. Suddenly the app comes on and tells me I’m going 12 mph and I’m at 14.3 miles. Huh. so the phone and headphones didn’t die. Maybe one or the other is protesting my choice of musical accompaniment. Again, bigger things to worry about. Mini-rivers run along the road. Cars pass by my elbow, running through the rivers and splashing a bit more on me.
No one coming at Wagstaff so I don’t slow down and turn east. Down to middle ring and 3rd gear. Pedal hard. I can hear my breaths and my heart. Both sound good. Down to middle ring and 1st. Up over the corner and it’s all downhill on Clark from here. The road is white with snow and hail. The sidewalk is brown and white – pine needles, cones and snowplow residue. It’s pouring. The app says 15 miles and I’m going 14 mph.
I make the light at McDonalds and the woman who should be crossing in front of me from the side street – she has the green – is instead texting her bff about how it’s raining. Or maybe her mom about how she’s a DUMB FUCK! Put the damn phone down and drive you stupid…. sorry. I yell at her as I cross in front of her. She has her window down partly but DOESN’T EVEN NOTICE. Doesn’t notice me. Doesn’t notice the green light. She goes on to kill seven in their mini-van cause she needed to text her aunt that her dog pooped. Or whatever it is that driving-texters find important enough to text each other about. I secretly wish her bloody stools and wisdom teeth pain on Christmas eve. Instead she’ll probably get a new phone.
I make the west turn onto my side street at a crawl. No sense in sliding across to the ice-covered pavement to a crunching death on the curb on my own street. Probably end up being video’d by the texting bitch at the light and my dying lycra-covered ass ‘trending’ on YouTube two hours later. None of that happens because I take the turn slowly. My last turn onto the court. I glide up to the garage.
1:48 time riding. 1900+ feet of elevation change. 15.45 miles ridden. 1002 calories burned. Two Motorhead albums plus one Sammy Hagar. Turns out my helmet bumped a button and killed the tunes. Last trip, the helmet kept summoning my digital helper Siri. I’m gonna have to find a different way of wearing these things. Numb fingers freed from soaked gloves, I press the opener. Headlamps and tail lamps off. Route saved on app. App ‘cleared’. Garage closed.
I’m happy. I say that at the end of every ride and I mean it every time. Some weird thing has taken over. I’m stripping off wet clothes, soaked clothes. Ice drops from them. Ice. Shoes and gloves are soaked completely. Dripping. Even underwear – under sweats and bib knickers – are soaked. And I’m happy. Stupid endorphins.
Can’t wait to do it again.
(A note here: I’m going to be moving these posts to my other blog: Ascending to Paradise. I will dual post for a while and leave a link to the other site. This blog was never intended to hold my cycling and I don’t want to bore you with other interests. Please wander over to the other location and please subscribe, comment or browse. Thanks)