Tuesday, May 09, 2017

It’s funny how the world works. You spend your younger years learning life's lessons, screwing up and making bad choice. I used to think about how badly I would like to leave the town I grew up in and experience the world.

I did just that, tore my world apart, moved south, became a Game Warden (chased a dream, it is true what they say, the grass is not always greener...), got lazy, made excuses, grew apart from my friends, family, roots, and lost sight of cycling.

Then, something strikes you, an unexpected blow from a tangent of your life you had come to forget, but suddenly puts things in perspective. A slap in the face that fans a weakening ember within your gut, igniting a raging fire.

I got a message from Josh Beals, that Jay Heverly (a tough as nails bad ass) had passed away. Jay and I, we knew each other, we rode together a few times in college, and worked at Oswald’s Cycle Works for a time. We were not particularly close, but still, it was a jarring bit of news. It brought me back to thinking about the loved ones I had lost recently, that closeness that had turned to distance, the loss of my core values and roots. I looked in the mirror, and saw the lazy lump of a man staring back at me. The questions flooded into my mind. What values am I going to pass onto my children? How do I stay healthy and live a long life for them? And, how do I find happiness again? It took a year from that point for me to sort myself out, and come to a conclusion.

I thought back to a time when I was the happiest, hiking with my then fiancĂ©, now wife in Tioga County, destroying cross frames with Josh, listening to Death Cab for Cutie at the shop, and attempting to keep up with the crew from Oswald’s as we sprinted towards county boundary signs, or cramping up at the pizza shop and falling off the stool.

I need to get back into that personal space and cycling is the king pin to that main goal. Over the next few months, I am hoping to log my experiences coming back to cycling after a 5-year hiatus. Having moved back to Pennsylvania, I have begun exploring new places, I have new goals, and a renewed focus. I hope to write about my experiences over the next few months.

Goal 1: Ride from Camp Hill Pennsylvania to Lewisburg PA within the next three weeks.

Goal 2: Ride the old Iron Cross course in Pine Grove Furnace PA.

Goal 2: Ride a century in June.

Goal 3: Ride from Camp Hill PA to Wellsboro Pa, primarily on dirt roads at the end of July. 

Friday, May 06, 2016

Crush the Commonwealth 2016

Pre(r)amble - (if you’re in a hurry you can safely skip this and scroll down to The Actual Story)

CtC 2011 was my first try at a real long distance ride. I had no idea what I was doing. I had never done anything nearly that long, but at the halfway point I was mixing it up with the guys that went on to win it and set a new record (28.5 hours). I finished in 35.5 hours, having stopped to sleep in Chambersburg. I was so trashed when I was done, but I also suspected that maybe I had some talent for endurance. I learned a ton, especially that stopping to sleep had been a complete waste of time. I still felt like shit and the finish line was still the same distance away, only the clock was advanced by 5 hours when I awoke.

I knew I could do it faster so I tried again in 2013, still going the “smart” way, west to east, but not sleeping. I was hoping for 30-32 hours and ended up finishing first in 29.5. I was still wary of the east-west direction, as everything I read about it sounded heinous, so I skipped 2014. In 2015 I pushed the endurance boat out a little farther and did the PA Randonneurs series of 200k, 300k, 400k and 600k, followed by Paris-Brest-Paris in August. Carrying some of that fitness into 2016, I figured now would be the time to sack up and tackle CtC the dumb way. Plus the mild winter and early spring boded well for better-than-normal weather conditions. Still, I was a little bit scared. Headwinds are like kryptonite to a 130-pound pipsqueak like me. And 20+ hours of them would be sheer misery.

I started upping my mileage in February and piled on more and more all through March. In early April I was still putting in good work, but also wavering in my resolve to face the challenge. Then came the news that an old cycling friend, Jay Heverly, had died. Brain cancer. I knew he was sick, and I knew he was fighting. But then suddenly, poof, he was gone. A young, strong, active family guy struck down in a few short months. It was a stark, sobering reminder that our time here is limited and we better get out there and do the stuff we want to while we can, even if it’s just a stupid, long, painful bike ride. I quit my waffling and booked a hotel and a one-way car rental.

The Actual Story - (sorry, this is still going to be kind of long and tedious, much like the ride it describes)

I loaded up the rental car and drove into Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon. I was a little nervous about getting around in the big city, but Google Maps had my back the whole way. Returned the car and the guy behind the counter scolded me for not bringing my copy of the rental contract. I was tempted to tell him that this is the 21st century and we deliver documents electronically now and his company should get with the program, but it was wiser not to rile him since he hadn’t checked the vehicle over yet. I walked my bike a few blocks to the hotel. My original plan was to box up and mail my street clothes back home but Sheila convinced me to wear some of the many ratty, raggy things I have and just throw them away. Smart lady. I looked like a ragamuffin checking in to the Hilton with my holey clothes and plastic grocery bag “luggage”, but whatever. I took a nap, got up and had a shamefully delicious, questionably nutritious fried chicken dinner and then went back to bed.

4am came all too soon. The trip to The Bell was quick, easy and stress-free, making the cost of the much-fancier-than-I’d-prefer downtown hotel worth it. I am loath to pay for luxury, but convenience I’ll happily shell out for. I was glad to see Gavin there, and PA Randos Patrick and Cecilie rolled up on a sweet, curvy-tubed Bilenky tandem and bearing a box of donuts. They weren’t going to Pittsburgh, but gave us a nice escort through town to the trail. We had a head count of 27, but a few of those were there to see us off and not do the whole thing.

crappy Tracfone pic of the start

When we got onto open trail some dudes got excited and ramped it up to 23-24. Silly to be going that hard that early, but never one to pass up “free” speed, of course I latched on. The group gradually got smaller and by the time we left the trail there were 7 or 8 of us. The roads were wet but we had a nice 3-5mph tailwind as forecast. We stayed together pretty well until one of the bigger hills on Rt. 23 split things and it was me, Gavin, and Jay from Pittsburgh at the front. We rolled together through Amish country to Lancaster, mile 80, getting plenty of horse shit sprayed up on our water bottles along the way. We made two stops there because the first place didn’t have a bathroom. It started sprinkling. I had been riding great going into Lancaster, but suddenly felt awful when we got moving again. The pace was just a bit more than I wanted to do, but I held on as best I could. Jay was super strong and Gavin was right up there with him. The rain increased, but it was one of those subtle drizzles where you go “I don’t need rain gear...I still don’t need rain gear...” then suddenly “Oh shit, it’s too late for rain gear” and I was soaked by the time we got to York, mile 103.

At mile 112 I finally pulled the ripcord and let Gavin and Jay go. Mile 118 I shifted down to the small ring for the first time that day. Mile 122 I saw their bikes outside a Rutter’s. I wasn’t quite ready for a stop, so I continued on. Jay rode by just as I was stopping in Arendtsville, mile 135. Gavin must have passed too while I was in the store.

I rode the next section past Caledonia State Park alone. The old Iron Cross race course used that stretch of Route 30 also and I reminisced about all the fun my pals and I used to have on those trips. Jay Heverly did one of those with us, and I thought a lot about him.

bunch of chilly dorks at Iron Cross VII, 2009

The festering hellscape of Chambersburg, mile 155-160, snapped me back to the present, requiring 100% focus to avoid becoming a hood ornament. At one point I was nearly clipped by a truck towing a boat that passed about 2” from my elbow. Then somewhere along there I saw a whole uncooked turkey, or very large chicken, behind the left front tire of a car parked on the roadside. I didn’t have much time or energy to ponder it then, but wtf? Gavin and I joined back up and gladly pedaled out of that mess.

He was still going stronger than me and dangled in sight but just out of reach all the way up the climb to Cowans Gap. It was good - made me push harder than I would have alone. He slowed up at the top and we cruised down the other side together. When we rounded a curve on N. Hess Rd., around mile 195, suddenly there was Pittsburgh Jay ahead of us. He must have bonked hard because he was creeping up that hill. As we passed, Gavin told him the turnoff to the old turnpike was coming up soon. He was already out of sight when we got there. I had an impish impulse to sneak down the road and leave him to find his own way but Gavin said it would be nicer to wait. He was right and I’m glad we did. We all got through the tunnels just fine. Someone has done a lot of work cleaning things up on the Pike 2 Bike. The pavement still sucks, but the tunnels themselves are much more clear than they used to be.

We took our longest stop, maybe 20 minutes, at the Breezewood Sheetz, mile 208. Gavin and I pressed on and Jay stayed to recover a bit more. That next stretch to Bedford was nice. Darkness was approaching. My clothes, socks and gloves were still slightly damp, but dry enough that I wasn’t too worried about staying warm overnight. But I was starting to fear how my skinny tires were going to do on the GAP.

my cheat sheet for places to resupply
We did a quick stop at Bedford, mile 228. The woman behind the counter at the convenience store asked what we were doing and when we told her it nearly blew her mind. She spread the word to every customer and they all wished us luck and safe travels. It was kind of nice to have some encouragement at that point.

There were a couple of really tough climbs on the way to Somerset. We stopped at the Sheetz there, mile 267, and Gavin discovered he had a rear flat. I ate a sandwich and cleaned a day’s worth of road spray off my glasses while he quickly fixed it. Then he found the front had a slow leak too. He topped it up and off we went. Somewhere on the dark road to Rockwood I slammed a pothole super hard and heard a loud “CRACK!”. I was sure I had pinched a tire or broken a spoke or something and was surprised when it continued to hold. In retrospect, I think maybe it was the tubeless tire burping and then the bead snapping back into place. We hit the dreaded GAP at mile 277 and were happy to find the surface firm and dry. We moved along as best we could, dodging downed sticks at 14-15mph. Neither of us was super talkative but it was still very helpful to have company.

The Pinkerton tunnel was open and once we were through there I breathed a sigh of relief that my narrow rubber wasn’t going to be a liability on the trail. Came upon a Coke machine at Ohiopyle, mile 305, and enjoyed my first caffeine in a week. I had cut out coffee the week before, hoping that caffeine would be more of a boost when I needed it, instead of just a dependency. It worked, especially when I grabbed a coffee drink at Connellsville, mile 322. It was about 3:30am and that was the perfect time to juice up to fight off the pre-dawn sleepies. A guy outside the Sheetz there asked what we were doing. We told him and he said “So you’re going through McKeesport?” We said yeah and he said “Are you packin’?”

Sometime before sunup my headlight battery died. I could have stopped and plugged in my external battery pack, but I just wanted to keep rolling, so I mooched off Gavin’s kickass dynamo setup. We rolled through McKeesport in the morning light and didn’t see any signs of the thugs we were supposed to arm ourselves against. It was a beautiful sight when the Pittsburgh skyline finally came into view and we knew we were nearly done. We crossed the Hot Metal Bridge, zipped down the Jail Trail, dodged around some streets closed for the 5k, and pulled up under the overpass at Point State Park at 7:40am. We had left Philadelphia a few minutes after 5am, so that’s under 26:40 total time. My Garmin showed 382 miles with around 24 hours of moving time and 2 ½ hours of stoppage.

winner, winner, chicken dinner
We shook hands, snapped a few pics, and agreed that was the very fastest we possibly could have done it. Of course, looking back on it now, it’s hard to resist thinking that with better planning we could have gotten through Lancaster a little quicker. And we didn’t really need to sit down at Breezewood. And the stop at Bedford and the Coke at Ohiopyle weren’t strictly necessary etc., etc. Maybe we could have trimmed off another 20-30 minutes. But then again, maybe not. Anyway, we were extremely lucky with the weather and I’m proud of the ride we did and happy we finished together and set a new best time.

obligatory  Point State Park fountain shot

Sheila was disappointed to not be there when I finished, but we just got done way quicker than I ever could have imagined. She picked me up shortly thereafter and drove home while I dozed. Now, once again, I owe her big time for supporting me on another of my goofy endeavors. I look forward to repaying the debt and helping her out on her next adventure(s). Now get out there and go after yours too!

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 - the Year in Review

Whoa! Has it really been a year and a half since the last blog entry? Well, it's not 'cause we haven't been out there riding bikes. Our gang has been doing all kinds of good stuff, but apparently I'm just not writing about it much. So I guess a recap of the 2014 season is in order.

It was a great year for me, riding-wise. Not so much racing, but gobs of great riding. I kicked it off by pedaling out to the First Day 5k at Hills Creek State Park, running that with Sheila, then riding back home. I slipped and fell on the ice both during the run and on the ride home. No major damage done.

Next up was the Fire & Ice cyclocross race in Danville. Held at night in January, this was a silly fun event that helped to get me out of the house over the past few winters. I don't think it's happening again this year. Sad to see it go.

let it snow

Then the weather turned really cold and I started doing a bunch of running. I was hoping to build up so I could join Travis Twoey on his CanyonMan DIY triathlon (20-mile paddle on Pine Creek, 30-mile run on the West Rim Trail, 50-mile bike ride) in early May. But I probably tried to do too much too fast and ended up with some nasty IT band pain.

By mid March I gave up on the running and got back on the bike with an eye toward maybe doing Crush the Commonwealth again. I put in some good miles, including an all-headwind century to State College in April, but couldn't quite bring myself the lather required to tackle CtC. That ended up being just fine though, because by all accounts the weather that weekend was heinous.

red eft

I did join Travis on the bike leg of CanyonMan, then did another century in May. Then at the end of the month I rode a 600k brevet with the Eastern PA Randonneurs. My biggest bucket list goal is to do Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015, so I wanted to check out that scene and meet some of the folks I'll likely be riding with a lot more next year. They were all great and I'm looking forward to doing the full series (200k, 300k, 400k and 600k) with them in 2015.

In June Sheila and I did a new event, the Liberty Blockhouse Festival bike race, on the tandem. That was a hoot. The course was winding, narrow in places, and loaded with punchy climbs - not ideal for tandeming, but still fun and challenging. I hope this one continues and prospers.

photo from the Wellsboro Gazette

We had a nice turnout for our 9th annual No Frills Century on July 6th. Then the big July event was the Twisted Spokes club trip to RAGBRAI. We had a blast - rode over 400 miles, drank plenty of beer, ate a ton of pork, and came back very tired.

yeah, that's me with the whip around my neck

Next up was the 12-hour Ole Bull Midnight Madness mountain bike race in August. I went solo in the Open Cash category and won! I was the only one in that category though, so don't be too impressed. But still, it was a good day in the woods. I did 7 laps, for 93 miles in 9¾ hours. I had time for an 8th lap, but without anyone there pushing me it was all too easy to pull the ripcord early. I was home, showered, beered, fed and in bed before the race officially ended at midnight.

In October we had our 2nd annual end-of-season last-hurrah we call Sausage Cross (wurst ride ever). It involves a camp-out session at Asaph, a big dirt road ride in the Tioga State Forest, and lots and lots of sausage. Despite some chilly and rainy weather, we had 24 people show up to ride and a fine, gritty time was had by all.

crossing sausages

My last event for the year was the Dirty Dozen in Pittsburgh. That one had been on my to-do list for quite a while and I was glad to finally get there. It made for a very long day, with a long drive in the dark at the beginning and end, but was totally worth the effort. It was a great ride - a casual, easy cruise around the city with a bakers dozen of super steep hill climbs sprinkled throughout. I'm sorry I waited so long to try it.

Canton Ave. - they say the steepest part is a 37% grade

So that's the gist of 2014 - many miles and smiles with good friends. And here's to 2015 - looking forward to new adventures and wishing you all the best.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crush the Commonwealth 2013

I did Crush the Commonwealth in 2011 and had a great time. I learned a lot too and knew that if I gave it another shot I could do even better. So my 2013 CtC started back in January. About 1/2 dozen extra pounds had insinuated themselves on my body over the last few years. I starved them off and got back down to a lean, mean buck twenty-five. I put in loads of miles in the cold, mostly alone, but sometimes with Jimmy and Josh. By the time April came around 4-5 hour rides on both Saturday and Sunday was the norm.

On Thursday Eric drove me down to Pittsburgh, deposited me at the Days Inn and left to spend the weekend drinking beer and mountain biking with John. I laid low in the motel room fretting over The Weather Channel and eating a GetGo sub nearly the size of my thigh. Slept like crap. I got up before the alarm at 3:50am, showered, ate a ProBar for breakfast, and headed to the Point. I wasn't sure how rideable my chosen route was going to be, but at 4:30am it worked out OK. I nipped around the west end of Mt. Washington, crossed the Fort Pitt Bridge and rolled up to the starting point with plenty of time to spare.

It was pleasantly warm that morning and the neutral ride on the new trail to McKeesport was peaceful and chatty. I learned that only half of the badass Tressler duo was there and that the rain wasn't supposed to start 'til around noon or 1pm. Then we hit the GAP trail and a few guys bolted off the front. I chased for a bit then backed off when it was clear that bridging was going to cost way too much. Gavin caught me and we both had the same idea: get to Rockwood and off the trail before the rain starts. We moved at a pretty good clip for a while. When we stopped to pee a group caught up to us. When they stopped to pee we kept going. We swapped pulls, making good time; going quite a bit faster than what was prudent, but it would be worth it if we could get to pavement before the trail got soaked. Gavin was very strong and a couple of times I wanted to cry uncle. Then I sat up to eat something and lost his draft. With a mouthful of cheese crackers I couldn't say anything and in an instant he was gone. I pushed on into the headwind alone.

Then the rain came; not the big front that was due, but a little pre-storm shower - just enough to turn the trail to peanut butter. The last 10 miles took about an hour. I could see Gavin's fresh furrow clearly, but not any other tracks so the guys ahead likely timed it well. I bought snacks in Rockwood and enjoyed the pavement for a while. There was a bike outside Sheetz as I rolled through Somerset. The hilly stretch from there to Bedford was harsh - strong crosswinds and quartering headwinds for miles and miles. The heavy rain started while I was refueling at Bedford. I put on my jacket and set off into the deluge. It was warm so I stowed my gloves to keep them dry.

The rain had eased up and it was a good 15 degrees colder by the time I pulled into the Sheetz at Breezewood. Gavin showed up about 5 minutes later - guess I'd leapfrogged him at Somerset. I gobbled a Schmiscuit, tucked another warm one into my jersey pocket (that felt really good!) and left to get through the the tunnels and off the old turnpike before dark.

Climbing up the embankment, I could see only one set of tracks in the dirt. The first tunnel was in pretty good shape, but the second one was littered with debris. Just as I was nearing the end there was a startling noise, like an animal - something with claws - scrambling along the wall beside me. I sped up. It sped up too. I sped up more. When I shot out into the open it stopped. Then I discovered it had been the sound of my tubeless rear tire slowly losing air and spitting sealant. The cut was too big to seal so I put a tube in and kept going. The tire bead didn't fully pop up onto the rim in one spot, making the ride annoyingly bumpy, but it was working so I didn't want to take the time to stop and futz with it.

Cowans Gap was nice in the dark, with the peepers peeping and the smell of wild onions wafting around. The road into Chambersburg provided a stark contrast - nasty with trash, truck spray and roadkill. I got more Schmiscuits at Sheetz and kept moving. The climb past Caledonia State Park and beyond seemed endless, but the following descent in the dark on wet roads was pretty fun.

Strange, but East Berlin smelled like dog food - is there a pet food processor or some such there?

Though there were still way too many red lights, York was relatively easy in the middle of the night. I saw a bike outside the Sheetz there. I had just enough food to get to Lancaster, so I decided to slip on by. Sheila was staying with a friend in Lancaster and she got up a 4am just to come out to the street and cheer me on - she must really like me. We had planned to meet at the downtown McDonalds so I passed up a bunch of food options on the way in. But then the McDonalds was closed. Bummer. I had been looking forward to a warm Egg McMuffin and a hot coffee - my first caffeine in 5 days. All I had left was a Little Debbie oatmeal cream pie and just the thought of eating it made me queasy. I pressed on in search of something I could stomach.

The Turkey Hill east of town was a glowing oasis. I zipped in and resupplied. I wanted to pee too but a woman had the only bathroom tied up. I decided to just get rolling and hold it 'til I was out of town and could pee along the road somewhere. I headed east for probably 2 miles before it slowly dawned that something was wrong - there was way more sprawl than I remembered, and no Route S signs. Damn. I turned around and rode 'til there were signs again - right in front of the stinkin' Turkey Hill. I had been so focused on getting in there I totally missed the turnoff. That cost me at least 15 minutes and now I really had to pee.

The Amish country was lovely in the pre-dawn hour, and even more enjoyable once I dumped off about a half-gallon of piss - putting all the local draft horses to shame, I'm sure :). The birds were singing, the roosters were crowing, and I couldn't see any of the horse shit I was likely running though. I grabbed some food and a Coke at New Holland just as it was getting light. The roads were drying up. I thought about putting on the dry socks I'd been toting, but I didn't want to take the time. I was on track to beat my goal of 30-32 hours and maybe be one of the first few finishers. I'd been coping with wet socks for the past 18-or-so hours, so why not a few more?

I had to stop one last time to abuse the toilet of the Dunkin Donuts at Morgantown. Feeling grateful (and about 10 pounds lighter), I bought a coffee and a glazed donut even though I didn't really want either. I poured the coffee into my water bottle and continued on, trying to choke down that donut on the fly. I got through most of it, and held the last bite in my mouth for a long time. But I felt like if I swallowed it I was going to puke, so I finally had to spit the gob out on the side of the road.

That next stretch, 23 toward Phoenixville, was torturous. I had little strength left, so there was no rolling those rollers. It was all grind up, coast down, grind up, coast down. Repeat ad nauseum. I was so fried I missed the turn onto Coldstream Rd., even though I already knew that was a potential problem spot. Then I got tripped up by some other wacky signage near Valley Forge. Those screwups probably cost another 15 minutes. But I finally made it to the SRT and ran for home.

By "ran" I mean limped along at 16mph with a squeaky chain and a still-lumpy rear tire going thump-a-thump-a-thump. My judgment and reaction times were off, causing me to nearly clobber a few joggers, but I finally got to Kelly Drive. Traffic was mercifully light that time of day and I made it to the Bell and checked in at 10:36am. I wasn't sure how I had stacked up against the others, but was happy to have beaten my time goal.
Tom Oswald at the Liberty Bell
At the Liberty Bell

Sheila was waiting there for me and drove us home. It felt amazingly good to brush my teeth. I spent the afternoon alternating between snacking and napping, ate dinner, then slept for another 12 hours. The next day I was hobbling around like a 90-year-old man. Then when I saw on the website that I had been the first one done it put a little spring back in my step.

Chapeau to everyone that tackled this thing. You all are tough! It was especially cool to see three women start and finish well. Also, thanks to Eric, Adam and whoever else helped put it together. Your hard work is appreciated. I hope to ride with you all again sometime.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Super Moon Misadventure

by Sheila -

Rolling over in bed this morning, I was shocked awake by the pain in my hip. As the world came into focus, I felt the ache over my whole body. Like waking from a dream, I was trying to put the pieces together. What was going on? Like a flash I remembered and smiled. If I remember, then I don’t have a concussion.

One can never pinpoint the exact beginning of a chain of events, but I’ll start with yesterday morning. Up at the ridiculous hour of 6:30 to get ready for the class climbing trip. At the trailhead at 9. The long hike in, a day of climbing, and then a long hike out. All went well despite not fully recovering from the climbing course the weekend before. A tweaked knee and a couple of sore joints in my hand, so I took it easy out on the rock. Conscious of the day ahead, I focused on calorie and water intake and did really well staying on top of that. A great day for climbing and a great group on the trip. Couldn’t have asked for better weather. If that was all my day had in store, then I would have fallen into an exhausted sleep with a smile on my face. But yesterday was supermoon.

On the way home from climbing I ran the weekly grocery errand, necessary but not really what I wanted to do next, as a nap sounded much more appealing. In the store I was overcome with yawning so intense that each time one hit, I was paralyzed for a few seconds as my whole body participated in its desperate cry for a nap. Once home, I curled up in a blanket burrito and rested a bit. Oh sweet nap, how you eluded me. At least resting for a few hours in a puddle in the floor was a little rejuvenating. And I built up enough gumption to go out to visit with the supermoon.

Tom had planned a full moon bike ride at Pine Creek. I told him the day before that I couldn’t commit to going until after the climbing trip. I was a maybe. I wasn’t sure when I’d be back from the trip or what state I would be in. When the time came though, I thought ‘I’ll be tired for a day or so afterwards, but it will be so awesome seeing the moon in the canyon”. So I told Tom if he drove and loaded the bikes on the car, I’d go. There was no way I wanted to be lifting anything over my head at that point in the day. I stayed in my blanket burrito until the last minute, threw on my cycling clothes and packed my bag. It is an indicator of my exhaustion that I packed my pyjamas for my post-ride change of clothes.

When we got to the trailhead, I finished suiting up in the car. I sat there in my bike shoes and helmet in the residual warmth of the drive over waiting for others to show. Only one other person showed and we hit the trail. Not long into the trip, a few hundred yards, we turned back to inflate her tires which were I-left-my-bike-in-the-garage-all-winter low. Tom to the rescue. Tires pumped we headed out. If only we had thought to bring the pump with!

If you haven’t ridden in the canyon at night, I suggest you give it a try. Even though the moon wasn’t yet flooding the canyon with light, visibility was such that we didn’t need our lights. Riding in that low light is a bit disorienting. You can’t see the terrain or the horizon. The shadows all look like bears waiting to come nibble on me. Riding by feel and enjoying the company we start discussing how strange it is to ride at night. I’m all wobbly. With not enough visual cues, I overcorrect for every slight feeling the bike gives me. I’m like a little kid just learning to ride again. And then the noise starts. A low whop whop sound that is clearly one of my wheels doing something. I pull up next to Tom and his professional ears pick up what I am beginning to suspect. I have a flat front tire. Dead flat. 4 or 5 miles from the car. No pump.

Sigh, no awesome night riding in the moonlit canyon. The end of the night had just begun and still the moon hasn’t peeked over the canyon rim. But I can’t really go on, so I turn around to start riding back. Tom, ever the gentleman, offers to trade front wheels with me. I say no, I’ll be fine. He laughs a knowing laugh under his breath and says he’ll ask again in a mile or so. But I do fine. Wobbly still, and I wonder how much of my earlier sloppy riding was a slowly flattening tire.

We start joking about the night. Dark, exhausted, flat tire, no wonder I can’t ride straight. The only thing to make it worse would be if I had a few beers in me. Of course perhaps all these factors are counteracting each other and keeping me upright! All was well and we were riding back in light spirits, a little disappointed with the ride cut short but beginning to see moonlight on the far canyon wall. There were even a few moments of our moon shadows on the trail ahead of us. Next time, we need to start the ride an hour later. Oh well we say, it could be worse.

One must not tempt nature so loudly. In the dark, I miss seeing the edge for the bike path and my front wheel hits the loose gravel that is the drop off to the horse path. Just so you know, a flat tire is not the best choice for staying upright in such a situation. As my bike is sliding out from underneath me, Tom, who had been following my line, hits the same gravel. Had I not been in his way, he probably would have just ridden down to the horse path and been fine. But as it was, I was partially off my out of control bike that was right in his path and rapidly becoming both horizontal and parallel to the trail. We all know that noise that bikes make when they collide. Imagine that now.

I love my clipless pedals. They make riding so much easier. I try to convince others wary of trying them that they are worth the learning curve. And during that curve there is always that time or two when we clip out with the wrong foot and fall over the other way. So I am amused when I think of my feet automatically unclipping as I was thrown from the bike. I hit my hip and upper arm, at least that is what hurt when I lay there doing a self-assessment before I moved, rolled onto my back and just lay there.

Tom runs over and ask if I’m ok. He apparently managed to not get ejected from his bike. I told him I was fine, had hit my side not my back or head, and was just getting myself together. “Catch your breath” he said, and I did just that. A lay there feeling my body, feeling my heart, feeling the ground underneath me. “Now this is why you wear a helmet on the rail trail” I say and laugh as I peel myself off the ground and dust off looking for a tear in my beloved cycling knickers. I haven’t yet looked at the bikes.

First thought is my handlebars are bent, then I see it is just the brake hoods. Then I see the handlebars are no longer in line with my front wheel. I laugh to myself. This will be great! Not only do I have a flat tire, but the wheel will be pointing an inch or so to the left. This will be an ‘awesome’ ride/walk back to the car. Tom is busy looking at the rest of the bikes. One of my pedals is stuck in his front wheel, but he can’t remove it because one of his brake levers is caught in my front wheel. Please don’t ask how this happened. I was busy falling at the time.

Once Tom separates the bikes, he goes to work straightening and checking, as I laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. Perhaps we should be more prepared next time we attempt this adventure! Straightened out, we hop on the bikes and head back to the car. I’m sore and know it will hurt tomorrow. Having seen neither myself or the bikes in anything other than moonlight, I don’t know what the real damage is. Tom is now riding ahead of me (smart man) with his light on (at my request) and I can see dangling handlebar tape. He has lost his bar end plug. Not a big loss for us, but I feel a little bad about littering.

By the time we are packed up, and I’ve changed into my pyjamas for the drive home, I can feel the onset of all-over aches, including a headache. It feels like what I always thought of as growing pains. When I was a kid I would get these non specific aches in my arms, legs, hands and feet that would only feel better if I massaged them or wrapped them tightly in ace bandages. I felt these coming on and wondered again, what they were all about. So I ached until I got home and hoped that some food would help me feel better.

Once home, with the final disaster of the day averted (we remembered to not drive into the garage with the bikes on top) I poured myself a tall glass of chocolate soy milk and noticed I was shivering cold. Ever the gentleman, Tom warmed up a cinnamon roll for me while I wrapped up in a blanket and got the shivering under control. He brought me a couple Aleve, I ate my snack and crawled into bed.

The day after and I am worn out. Part adrenaline hangover. Part overexertion. Part recovery. While tired and sore all over, the only pain I can pinpoint is the bruised hip. The rest is some mix of the adventures of the past 24ish hours. It seems I’ll recover, but I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to look at my bike.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Race Course Map

Today was a Good Friday indeed. I didn't have to work and I got to ride my mountain bike. I decided to start mapping trails with the GPS whenever I ride. So here is a Google Earth file of the first half of the race course with picture at all the major intersections.

Google Earth Track

Monday, April 02, 2012

On Crashing My Bike

On the Monday before Thanksgiving back in aught 11, I crashed my bike on my commute home. One minute I was thinking about picking up my son. The next thing I remember was sitting in the backseat of a pick-up truck talking with a woman who, with her husband, found me unconscious in Ore Bed Rd. The ambulance soon arrived, Lilace and Gloria showed up, and I went to the hospital. (I made sure Lilace had my bike, though I didn’t check it for damage for three days. I must’ve been hurtin’.) Three milligrams of Dilaudid, a cat scan, some x-rays, and a sling later, I was on my way home. The diagnosis: a concussion, fractured clavicle, possible broken ribs, severely contused elbow, and road rash. (Turned out to be three broken ribs.)

I haven’t been to the hospital for a bike crash since I was six or seven. My Mom took me then. We lived in Mississippi, and I was riding my neighbor Malone’s ragged bike down the hill beside our house popping wheelies, imagining I was Evel Knievel, my hero at the time. (I still have my Evel doll. It’s in my office at school.) Malone rode my sweet yellow Schwinn with ape-hangers, banana seat, and rear slick. Mom sunbathed in the front yard. One trip down the hill, I pulled back on the bars, only to watch Malone’s front wheel exit the front fork and bounce down the road. Since I’m (still) not Evel, I couldn’t hold that wheelie forever. Fork, meet pavement. I launched over the bars, landing on my face and chest. My cut-off jeans didn’t protect me like Evel’s leathers protected him as I slid to a stop on my bare chest. I must have screamed, because Mom appeared instantly beside me. My chest was solid road rash, prompting my younger brother to exclaim later “Jimmy scraped his titty off!” and my left arm dangled uselessly.

Hence the visit to the ER. X-rays (no broken bones!) and tetanus shot later, and I was on the way home. (My Dad learned of my crash while putting for money on the 18th hole at the local golf course. He sank the putt and came to the ER.) I was back on my bike later that day.

In the intervening years, I’ve ridden thousands of miles of roads and trails in several states. I’ve raced all kinds of races on all kinds of bikes. I’ve witnessed all kinds of crashes, and crashed a few times myself. Given all that, I find it amusing that my worst crash to date occurred due to a rookie mistake on the commute home on a road I’d ridden many times—not paying attention. Not paying attention cost me six weeks off the bike and around ten weeks of not riding outside, the longest break I’ve had from riding in nine years. Adding insult to injury, it was a mild winter, too. (Last winter, I rode regularly, including possibly my sweetest moment—meeting my cyclist buddy Jared, I on my bike, he in his car, in the dark, his car’s thermometer reading seven. Because of those rides, I didn’t thaw out until June.)

Since my crash, I’ve gone back and forth about what it means. On one level, it means nothing. I wasn’t paying attention, smacked the ground, end of story. On another level, it reminded me that I’m a part of a special community here. The outpouring of support boosted me through the worst physical pain I’ve ever experienced. As some of you (unfortunately) know, breaking ribs is not good. Clearing my throat hurt. I worked actively to avoid sneezing or coughing for weeks. I forbid my kids to say anything funny. But your support helped dull the pain as much as Vicodin and Percocet. (The gifts of beer helped, too.) I also have a renewed appreciation for modern medicine and donors, an appreciation I’d have preferred remained theoretical. My clavicle required a steel plate, ten screws, and cadaver bone to piece back together. I am now part cyborg, part zombie, though my taste in flesh still runs to the porcine. I do find myself wondering from time to time about the identity of the dead guy in my shoulder, but I figure if he was willing to undertake the ultimate in recycling, he’s all right.

Mostly, I missed riding. Now that I have a few miles back in the saddle, I realize how much riding connects me to the world outside. I can keep track of the red-winged blackbirds, the red-tailed hawks, the red efts, and the spotted salamanders, the water level in the creeks, the cycle of growth and decay that occurs each year. I keep track of which houses are for sale, where the gas wells are being built, and where barking dogs run after me. I connect with friends I don’t see much otherwise, and I connect with the little boy trapped in a 45-year-old body pretending he’s Evel Knievel. I am reminded that the world is bigger than me, which gives me hope.