AXC - The bike

AXC - The bike

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Crucible

 Monday, May 26, tour day 23

The experience of this trip can turn on a dime from perfect to pathetic.
Monday, the route threw everything it could at me in an effort to defeat me, but I persevered!

A few weeks ago, it was naive to declare the day 'the hardest day ever', because that seems to be redefined on a regular basis. Monday was one of those times. 

We knew it was going to be a long day and difficult day. An 81 mile day was by far the most mileage we've done yet. People in the group planned to tackle this by getting up and on the road early. I did not. I'm not a morning person, so I got up at my regular time, was a little more expeditious than normal, but got on the road around the time I normally do. 
The campsite the night before was in a bit of a 'food desert' so there were no stores to pick up breakfast and lunch fixins for the day. That was the first challenge. 
We hit up a convenience store/mini-mart at the corner on the way out, and made due with what they had. 

The day started off nice, but warmed up quickly. It had been cool and dry the last several days but that broke some time overnight and the heat and humidity were bearing down on me by 9 am. 

The prior few days had been really nice, with gently rolling hills that were barely noticeable after the hard climbing we've done. That changed on Monday though, and the steep Kentucky hills were back with a vengeance. Right off the bat, there was a hill so steep that we all had to get off our bikes and push them up the hill. That happened several times throughout the day, either because the hills were that steep, or they just came in such quick succession that my legs couldn't handle them! 

Written on the road at the top of the hill. 
Around 10 am I found a little greasy spoon restaurant and had 'second breakfast', which was wonderful. There's been a dearth of restaurants along the way, and when we do find them we've either already eaten, or the timing just doesn't work. But today I was riding alone and the timing was just right!

After breakfast I ran into some of my group about a half mile up the road, they had stopped for flavored ice, and were just getting back on the road, so I fell in with them and we rode on. 

Being Memorial Day, there was a lot of vacation traffic, and we were heading into a place called Rough River Lake, which was apparently a popular recreation destination. People were heading there with their boats and RVs. We ended up with a lot of traffic stuck behind us on a narrow 2 lane road going up a hill. This is a double whammy because we're really slow going up the hill, and the cars are stuck behind us and they can't see over the top of the hill for oncoming traffic to safely pass us in the other lane. So they're basically stuck waiting for us to get up the hill. One the one hand, it was good that there was a larger group of us, so we were more visible as a group, but it also made it more difficult for people to get around. For the most part, people were very patient and courteous, but there were one or two people who were not. The worst offender was one big RV that would rev it's engine every time it passed a rider - the exhaust belching out black smoke that totally engulfed us in toxic darkness. 

So far we have; Hill, heat, traffic and toxic exhaust. And that was all before noon! 

As the day wore on, it continued to get warmer, and the hills felt like they got harder. Stores were few and far between, so I stopped when the opportunity presented in order to get gatorade and something to eat. 

Then, it was noon, again! We crossed the timezone line and traveled one hour backwards in time! Great Scott! 
This was apropos, because time seemed to drag on, and felt like it flowed backwards as the miles stacked up and the hills were relentless. 

Adding to the rough day, I also finally started getting saddle sore. Nothing terrible, but on a day where I spent 9 hours on the bike, it certainly wasn't pleasant. 

Then, around 3 pm, as the hills wore on and my legs wore out, nature decided that we hadn't quite had enough yet, and the skies opened up on us in a heavy downpour. But the joke is on Mother Nature, because the rain felt great. The other riders around me stopped to don their rain gear, but I just tucked my phone away someplace dry and rode on in the rain. I was already soaked with sweat, what's a little more moisture going to do? Steam rose off the hot pavement, and I could taste the salt streaming down my face, but I wiped it away with the back of my wet glove and just smiled. 

Still, the hills didn't relent, and at one point I was barreling down a hill so fast that the rain was stinging my face!

The downpour eased up after about forty minutes, and another half hour after that I was just about dry! Which was the cue for it to rain, again! Then, the sun came out and I was riding in a sunshower, which was kind of neat and a little pleasant. 

After the rain let up the second time, the sun came back out and I was baking again. By then, I was only 10 miles from the end, so of course the hills ramped up, with several long, steep climbs to the finish. With just over 2 miles left, the last big hill did me in and I ran out of energy. I stopped and ate a Cliff bar I'd been saving for an emergency, drank a bunch of water and had the power I needed for one last push. 

We stayed that night at a volunteer fire house in Utica, KY, a town of less than 500. There was still very little around, so we ate dinner at the local gas station / food mart across the street. 
Then, exhausted, we slept on the floor of the fire house. But, the place was air conditioned, had a shower and even a washer & dryer. To us, it was like the four seasons! 

Exhausted, but having traveled backwards in time by one hour, we crashed for the night. Preparing to do it all over again the next day.

Thank you for reading!
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Two Days in Paradise

Friday and Saturday, May 24 & 25.

Before I started, when I would think about this trip, this is what I would daydream that the days would be like. These two days, this was what I dreamed. 

As has been the case more often than not, the prior days had been particularly difficult, with long mileage (back-to-back 70 mile days) and relentless hills. 
(See 'Kentucky Fried Cyclist', this post picks up immediately after that.)

Then we had a rest day in Berea, KY and it was like someone pushed a reset button. I just couldn't stop thinking that as I was riding, it was as if the rest day really was some sort of reset, and things just changed after that. 
The rest day was very nice, and laid back. Different from the last two rest days, where we were hustling and bustling around. Because the camp ground was so far outside of town, we mostly just hung around. I cleaned and lubed my bike chain, did laundry, slept in, ate well... it was just a good day. 

When I got back on the road Friday, I was fresh and ready to go. 
Right off the bat the day was nicer; at least 10 degrees cooler than it had been (thanks to the massive thunderstorms that rolled through), and the humidity was much lower. The day started at about 65 deg, and topped out at maybe 70. Clear skies with a few clouds to occasionally keep the sun off. Almost everything about the day was better in every way. 
The relentless soul crushing hills from the last few days had given way to gentle rollers that were not only easier, but actually kind of pleasant. 
The scenery had changed from coarse rocky hills to lush rolling greens. Even the roads were better, with terrific back country routes, great views and almost no cars whatsoever. 
Then the mileage was much lower as well, 50 miles on Friday and only 45 on Saturday. Heck, at this point 45 miles is like having a day off! I got into camp so early on Saturday that I barely knew what to do with all the free time!

Friday's ride was just plain gorgeous. This is the kind of day where I get on the bike, pedal, and when I look around I am just happy to be here doing this, and happy to be alive. 

There were lush fields that were so green it seemed unnatural, I took my sunglasses off to make sure they weren't affecting the coloration, and the green still seemed to glow. The fields stretched off to the horizon where they were finally broken by rolling hills, rich forest, or gray-blue mountains far off in the distance. The deep, rich blue of the sky was mesmerizing in it's beauty. The cloud formations constantly changing from thin whisps to rich textured layers. 

Occationally a passing airplane would fly over, it's contrails scratched across the sky while the passengers jet from some big city to some other big city. Whatever hustle and bustle the they were going to, the concerns of 'regular life' seemed far away and unimportant

These were the days I dreamed of. Repeatedly I thought to myself how fortunate I was to have all this, to be able to experience all this. To be outside on such a gorgeous day, riding my bike and feeling my heart beat strongly in my chest as I breath in clean air tinted with honeysuckle. Nowhere important to be, and no time I needed to be there. The view was endlessly breathtaking, and changed with every pass I climbed. 

The beauty and fortune of what I was doing threatened to overwhelm me, until I breathed deeply and just let it flow through me. To breathe it in, feel it deeply in my being, and then breathe it out. To repeat again and again throughout the whole day. To be alive, and to be living, fully and in the moment. 

And when we finally arrived at Harrodsburg, KY for the night, I thought the day was done, but there were still moments to be had. 
On the small Main Street there was an old 'Pharmacy' and soda jerk shop. Now converted entirely into a cafe, but with most of the original decor intact or restored. 

After dinner we went there and took over the back deck. I had a delicious brownie sundae. 
There are two musicians in our group, and often they will treat us to some music at the end of the day. On this day, the owner of the cafe lent his guitar to one of our gang, and the other with his ukelele, played for us while everyone enjoyed their dessert and drinks. Without a care in the world. 
The music flowed through me, and once again I felt my heart swell with the feeling of how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy these moments. I sat there, and was just simply, thoroughly, happy. 

Then on Saturday I got to do this all over again. The weather was spot on perfect for riding, the roads were ideal, as if out of a bicycling brochure. The view was unmatched, all the beauty that Kentucky had to offer. We finished the day in Bardstown, KY, and I went into the town square. The town was adorable, with an old country feel, but lots of people and vibrant shops and restaurants. I stopped and had lunch at a place similar to the night before, I had a burger and a milkshake that topped off the day wonderfully. And then later, for dinner, the group took advantage of BBQ grills at the campsite to grill up chicken, steak, grilled asparagus and more. A real treat that didn't go unnoticed. The campground itself was beautiful, and we set up our tents in a terrific and spacious grove of trees. 

I slept wonderfully that night, and didn't dream of the perfect ride, I just had two days of it for real. 

Thank you for reading!
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Friday, May 23, 2014

Kentucky Fried Cyclist

Kentucky Fried Cyclist

After three days in Kentucky, I was fried. 
Used up and burnt out. 
Put a fork in me, I'm done. 

It seemed like it took forever to cross out of Virginia, but we finally entered Kentucky after a beautiful and restful night in a hotel at Breaks Interstate Park.

State lines are somewhat arbitrary assignments on a map, sometimes established by some river or notable geographic feature. The border between VA and KY was not this. So I had no real expectation that anything significant was going to change just because the license plates were different. 

That was not an accurate assumption.

Virginia had been hilly. We crossed the Blue Ridge Mountain section of the Appalachians, and that was tough. There had been consistent rolling hills and some real challenges. And yet, somehow Kentucky seems worse. The hills in KY are steeper, the terrain seems more... course. 

The ride into Breaks Interstate Park on Sunday was relatively easy. It was about 30 miles, and although the hills were challenging, they weren't back breaking. We got in early due to the short day and took full advantage of having hotel rooms and the spectacular view out the back patio. I sat on the patio, ate an orange, and just looked out at the view and tried to take it all in, let it flow through me. 

We needed a short riding day because the following day was a beast; 70 miles with multiple significant climbs. So we relaxed, had a good dinner and went to sleep in huge, infinitely comfy beds and slept like the dead. 

The hotel restaurant was closed Monday morning, so we got on the bikes early and headed out to find breakfast. 

The day started off fairly relaxed. We all knew we had a long, hard day ahead, but there was no urgency in the air. We made our way to some food, and grouped up and rode together for a while. 

The Friday before (the rainy day in 'The Road to Damascus') we had had a very long climb up a not-too-steep hill that took over an hour of just spinning our gears to get up. At the end of the day, we all congratulated ourselves for being noticeably stronger since the start of the trip, in order to get up that hill with relative ease. 
Well, we celebrated too soon. Yeah, we're stronger, but the hills are literally rising to the challenge. 

As the day drew on, the back country roads and long uphills started to wear on us. We spent an hour, at least, spinning up this one steep climb. I stopped once or twice to give my legs and my heart a rest and take in some fluids. The group was fairly spread out at this point. 
Then we bombed down the other side and rolled out a long road that ended at a beautiful little lunch spot that served ice cream and an assortment of foods. They didn't seem open when we first rolled up at 12:05, but then as a few of us gave up on the place and rolled out, they opened a window and started taking orders. Most of us got some ice cream, I got a 'slaw burger', which is pretty much what it sounds like. 

We took our time at lunch, and an hour later got back in the saddle. At 1pm, we were less than halfway to the campground for the night. 

Taking a moment to appreciate the wildflowers
The rest of the day blurred together. There were more brutal climbs, and more miles under my wheels. The day ticked away, and still I pedaled. 

The group got fairly separated by this time, and even the 2 other people I had been riding with had ditched me and gone ahead. I rolled into the little town of Hindman by myself around 8pm, a full 12 hours after I left in the morning (aprox 9-10 hours in the saddle). We were staying at a cyclist hostel in a guy's back yard. And it turned out this place was at the top of the steepest damn hill that has ever existed. I could barely push my bike up this hill on a good day, which was made all the more difficult by the day's long ride. 

It may not look steep, but I'm holding the camera level!
Finally at the top, exhausted, frustrated and hungry, the gracious host greeted me with a flurry of questions; what's my name, who am I with, and a few others that I just ignored. I asked for a few minutes to catch my breath and compose myself, and after being briefly taken aback, he gave me my space. 

There was cold pizza and cold water waiting for me there. I scarfed down several slices and started to feel vaguely human again. I set up my tent in the yard, and finally went into the house to take a shower. 

I slept well that night, and David, the host, had put out a fantastic breakfast spread for us in the morning.

Tuesday was another brutal day. Rumor was that it was less harsh and slightly shorter than the day before, but as rumors often tend to be, it was untrue. It was another 70 mile day, with nearly 7 peaks to climb. These were steep uphills with downhills so sharp that I had to use my brakes to descend  (as opposed to just running them out and enjoying the ride.) We counted the peaks as we rode, but that only reminded us how many more we had to go. 

The day was much the same as the one prior, brutal, long and difficult. The weather was slightly more accommodating, with a lower temp, some cloud cover and more of a breeze. Because we didn't ride as a group, we took it at a better pace and didn't stop as often. I managed to make it to camp just before 6p, which was a nice change. I wasn't as exhausted, and was in good spirits despite the fatigue, but the day was definitely difficult. 
We ate at a diner that night, and stayed in a grassy field behind a church. The church had set up a shower stall for cyclists that consisted of a shower-head attached to a hose. It was bone chillingly cold, but still nice to actually have a shower and our own little space in a pretty, peaceful fiel
Despite the 2 hard days in a row, I was feeling pretty good, upbeat and happy to have completed them. It wasn't easy, but at no point did I ever think I couldn't do it. Still, my body told me that it was well used and certainly tired. 

Sunrise over our campground
Breakfast the next day was at the same diner, and the staff there treated us very well. It was odd though, to be in a restaurant that allowed smoking inside. I'm pretty sure I haven't smelled a cigarette in 3 weeks. 

Wednesday was an easy day compared to the two before. only 52 miles, and without the hellacious climbs of the last few days. 

Yet, even with an easy day, the long mileage was starting to wear on me. There were small hills where I had to get off my bike and push it up. It was hard to tell if these were just very steep hills, or if my legs simple weren't up to the task anymore. (I think it was a mixture.) It was slightly reassuring to see others also pushing their bikes up the hills. Maybe it was a necessity, or maybe it was contagious, like a yawn. 

New definition of 'going green.'
52 miles should have felt like a reprieve, but it was not. I could feel that I was noticeably weaker, and without shame about it either. The body can only do so much. It wasn't only muscle fatigue, but also that I had used up all the glycogen in my muscles and pretty much every available calorie in my body. The prior 2 days I'd burned somewhere in the order of 7-8000 calories each, and didn't take in anywhere near that 

By the end of the day, I was riding alone, tired and ready to be done. And even so, I did a mental assessment and decided that I was still glad to be doing this trip and still enjoyed being on the bike. 

I got to camp relatively early, compared to the last 2 days, and just took a little while to sit and recover. There were good showers, a nice field to set up camp and dinner was at 6. We made breakfast burritos for dinner, I ate two! (about a half-dozen eggs total.) And I finally felt satiated, at least for a little while. 

We had finally earned a rest day, much needed. We camped at an RV park in Berea, KY, on the outskirts of town. We did some laundry and relaxed. The hardest days behind us. 

Around 10p, massive thunderstorms rolled in. I ran for my tent and got in just before the deluge came down, and then weathered the storm as my tent shook and the wind threatened to topple my humble abode. I'd never been in a tent in a storm like that and wasn't sure if it would hold up! It did, and I slept well. 
The next morning another round of storms rolled through and I was woken up to my tent being blown at a 45 deg angle and the wind howled viciously. Then, around 8 am the storm broke and I poked my head out of my tent to find a beautiful day with clear blue skies. 

We took the day to relax, did some bike maintenance, resupplied some necessities from a nearby walmart, and just chilled and put the last few days behind us. This was a great day off, and maybe even more appreciated for the extreme effort it took to get here. 
And despite the hard days prior, I was in a good mood, feeling energetic and ready to conquer the world... as long as there are no more hills involved. 

Thank you for reading!
Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think, or just say hi and let me know you've stopped by.
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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Two Week Touchpoint

I wanted to write this post at the actual two week point on Sunday, but have been so busy or so tired, it wasn't until now that didn't get to it until now that I've had the opportunity to type up all my thoughts. 

Right up front, this trip is a blast. I'm having a great time and am still very glad I'm doing this. 

Here are some thoughts on the trip so far;

For starters, I thought I had an idea of how hard this was going to be. Sure, that one day climbing the Blue Mountains I blogged about being the hardest day ever. It almost seems naive in retrospect (and that's only a week and a half ago!) I definitely jumped the gun on that 'most difficult thing ever' because much to my surprise, it kept getting harder! And it was hard in different ways. Sometimes the heat, surprisingly, sometimes the cold, the hills, the relentlessness of the trip, and more.

In the past, for triathlons and marathons that I've done, I always feel that I haven't trained enough. Usually I'm fine, and I'm just paranoid, although a couple times it was actually true. For this trip, I thought I was training adequately, and now it feels like it was completely insufficient!
For one thing, I needed to do a lot more hills, with the bike fully loaded. For another thing, I didn't know what 'fully loaded' really was. Oh boy do I have a lot of crap! Plus there's communal gear I have to carry. Every day as I'm dragging-ass up another hill, I do a mental inventory of all my stuff and wonder what I could mail home or even just throw away, and I feel like I need it all! 

Here's a number of things I assumed or thought I knew that I was off-base about:

For some reason I had it in my head that the trip started off a little easy and eased into the hard stuff. I was SO wrong about that! Maybe the first day or two was 'easy', but it got really hard, really quickly. And as I wrote in 'Help, I'm Alive!', one week in I was doing the hardest thing of my life! From there, the term 'hardest ride ever' was getting redefined every day! To the point that I'll try not to say it anymore, because I know it's just going to be made moot or lose it's significance.

Coming into the trip, I thought that electricity and showers would be at a premium. To the extent that I bought a solar panel to keep my phone charged, and left a few electronics at home because I didn't expect to be able to keep them powered. But so far we've had power just about every night. Tonight is maybe the least yet, as there's no outlet near our camp. But even so, I'm doing laundry and just plugged in at the laundry room (while I sit and type this!) Also, the solar panel is for crap. It takes all day to charge the battery, then that battery only gives me about 70% of a charge on my phone. It's also one of the heavier pieces of gear I'm carrying. I'm seriously considering sending it home, but a fellow rider tells me that power might be more scarce in the campgrounds out west. I'm going to hold on to it for now. (I've already carried it over the Appalachians, and that was the hard part.)
Showers was the other thing I thought would be scarce, but is not. Online I bought this pack of wipes called 'paper shower', and haven't even opened the package! So far I've had a shower every night of the trip. Granted, Wednesday night's shower was an experience, as there was no hot water (it was absolutely ice cold!), but it was a shower! Again, I'm holding onto the wipes just in case. 

On that note, we've also had regular access to laundry. Sometimes at laundromats in towns where we stay, sometimes at the campgrounds. One thing that didn't occur to me is that because I only have 3 sets of clothes, I have to do laundry like every other day so I can have clean clothes! On the up side though, I haven't yet had to re-wear a dirty set of clothes. Although my kick-around clothes (stuff I wear off the bike) I do often wear multiple times. 

One thing I had a tiny bit of concern about was how well I'd sleep and how I'd get used to sleeping in my tent, on the ground pad every night. To prepare for this, I had blown up my ground pad and slept in my sleeping bag in my bedroom at home. Every time I tried this, I couldn't make it a whole night before giving up and crawling into my real bed. The ground pad was too thin, the sleeping bad too constricting, etc. I was worried about this, but hoped I'd get used to it quickly. It took about 5 nights, and now it feels perfectly fine. I can sleep comfortably thought the night and feel rested. 
The tent is also starting to feel like home. I have my set-up down pat, and a place for everything in the tent so that it's not cluttered and I know where everything is. It actually feels kind of comfortable, and is a nice little retreat of my own space after a hard day of riding. 

Also in preparation for this trip, I downloaded a bunch of e-books to my ipad, hoping and expecting to get through a bunch of classics that I've been meaning to read. But so far, I haven't even opened the Kindle app once. 
I'm totally surprised by just how busy I am every day. For one thing, the riding takes a lot longer than I anticipated. Between the long mileage, the difficult hills, and the frequency that we stop to regroup or rest, the riding takes 2-3 hours longer than I thought it would. Then, once we're at camp we have to cook dinner, set up camp, and we do something called a 'map meeting' to review the route for the next day. Toss in a little socializing (usually involving beer), maybe do laundry, and before I know it, it's 10 o'clock and I'm ready to drop like a stone! I don't have nearly as much free time as I thought! And certainly not as much time as I want to write and update the blog! (Sorry)

The camping conditions are also something I didn't fully understand or realize what we would be doing. In two weeks, we've stayed a whole variety of differently places. The biggest surprise for me are the churches. Along the route, a number of churches have opened their doors to us as cyclist hostels. What that means varies from church to church, but mostly they let us stay there, and we can put our sleeping bags on the floor. Most of the time the church also has a shower, and a real kitchen. So we can clean up and prepare a nice meal. The other night we stayed at a church cyclist hostel that was just the lawn behind a church, and they'd set up a shower stall attached to a hose (that was the really cold one!) And one night we stayed at a church summer camp on their camp grounds. 

Other places we've stayed include established camp grounds like KOA, where there are mostly RVs, and a little space for tents. These are nice as they have real bathrooms, showers and laundry. Some of these though have been little campsites in small towns, and are scaled down accordingly. One campground we stayed at we were originally going to camp in the grass, but the manager let us stay in the banquet/restaurant hall (that had long ago closed). This was a really nice reprieve as it was raining and extremely cold that night (it was on a layover day, so we stayed there 2 nights.) It was just fun and neat to stay someplace so unique and off-the-wall like that. It was simultaneously fancy, and run down. It felt a little like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. 
One night we stayed in a very nice hotel room with the most spectacular view, and another night we stayed in a grass field in a county park. 

I was also caught off guard by the weather extremes. I knew it was going to be warm, but I thought it would come on gradually and be really hot in June and July. I wasn't expecting 98 degree heat in early May. Then, in the span of just 7 days, it was in the 50s during the day and down to nearly freezing at night. I hadn't packed adequately for the cold, and did have one very chilly night and a very cold ride the next day. 

The group that I'm riding with is pretty great. There's a nice mix of personalities, but for the most part people are pretty chill. One the road the last few days, we've been playing leapfrog with a few other riders also doing the TransAm route, and we've gotten to talk to other people on the same trek. One couple we spent a few days with made me appreciate my group even more. The guy was a very big complainer. 'These hills are hard!' 'I bonked the other day!' 'I'm a cancer survivor, so I'm weaker than most.' 
Oy vey. It made me glad that we don't have any complainers in our group, just a whole bunch of can-do, go-get-em attitudes. 
One thing I decided early on was that I was not going to complain. Everyone in my group is doing the same difficult thing, and nobody wants to hear that *I* had a hard time that day. Particularly since I'm one of the younger people in my group!

A few other things I was expecting or was worried about was the physical toll all this riding would take. I am absolutely shocked that my saddle does not hurt at all, and has never hurt. My tush is just fine, thank you very much. Not a saddle sore, or hotspot, or even pain from sitting all day! If you had asked me what the #1 issue I was worried about, it would have been sitting on the bike seat day after day. So I am all smiles that that is a non-issue!

I was also expecting some sort of overuse soreness or aggravation, most likely in my neck or my shoulders, perhaps my lower back or even my hips from all the time on the bike. But nope, none of that either! My left knee hurt on day 3 or so, and I was a little worried, but the next day it was fine and hasn't bothered me since. I'm also surprised that my shoes are absolutely perfect. My feet don't hurt, they don't get too warm during hot days, I don't have any hot-spots that are rubbing or causing blisters. They're even pretty good to walk in. 
And even my legs are mostly ok. They're achy every day, and maybe more sore some days than others, but they don't hurt. I haven't gotten major leg cramps or soreness that I was expecting. I think it's still kind of early, so these things could still pop up, but I feel that if its all ok after two and a half weeks, it's probably good for the long haul. 
I am being very careful to pay attention to how I feel, making sure I drink enough water and take in enough electrolytes. I don't push beyond my limits to keep up with other riders or try to get to camp early. And I think this is all paying off. I'm in much better shape at this point all around than I was expecting, and I know I'm very fortunate that I don't have major aches, pains or issues. Other people in the group are complaining about their saddles, their shoes, some joint pain and other little things. I don't know if I just nailed the preparation, got really lucky, or maybe a little bit of both. 

Lastly, after two and a half weeks I'm still enjoying the trip. It is hard, damn hard. And maybe while I'm trudging up yet another hill I'm not exactly elated at the prospect, but I don't dread getting on the bike and pedaling each morning. I'm really enjoying just being outside, riding my bike, taking in the scenery and getting lots of exercise and sunshine. I'm also very happy and surprised to realize that I haven't gotten tired/jaded of the view. I look up and everywhere there are beautiful vistas. Rolling hills, mountains, forests. Even the little towns and cities we ride through are interesting in how different they are from what I'm used to, and different from each other. 

The trip is only just getting started, and it really is hard. People reading this are saying 'duh, of course its hard!' And I had a good expectation of what I thought it was going to be, but the difficulty has far exceeded my expectations. And yet, I'm also happy to find out that I can rise the challenge, conquer it, and still look forward to the days to come. 

Here's to more of those days, those challenges, and rising to meet them. 

Thanks for reading.

Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think, or just say hi and let me know you've stopped by.
Also, please sign the guest book, and if I don't actually know you, please let me know how you heard about this blog!

These are some of the pictures I've taken over the last couple weeks that I like, or that stood out for me. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

The road to Damascus

May 15 & 16, trip days 12 & 13.
(Note: pictures are all at the end of the blog post. It was raining a lot, so I didn't take many.)

Don't you have the sense to come in out of the rain?

Apparently not.

I knew it was going to rain on this trip and that I would have to ride in it. I mean, obviously, we're riding for 93 days, so there will be days in the rain. The surprise was that it took so long before it happened. Then again, maybe all the rain was saved up for this one day.

We knew it was going to be raining that day. The night before we were staring at the weather apps on our phones (modern 'roughing it.) The forecast was calling for 3-4 inches of rain over the course of the day. That's quite a lot.

The night before, we were sleeping in a beautiful Presbyterian church, and the rain came down so hard outside it woke me up, more than once. And when I got up in the morning it was still coming down in buckets. But, by the time we all got our stuff together, loaded our bikes and were ready to head out the door, it had tapered off to a persistently annoying drizzle.

One of the interesting things about this trip and the people in the group are how we all prepared for various different situations. We have different tents, sleeping bags, more or less stuff, etc. And the rain gear was a good example. Some people were decked out practically in head to toe condoms. With $200 jackets, rain pants, helmet condoms that made them look like brightly colored mushrooms (or Princess Peach from Super Mario), and even waterproof shoe covers.

I had taken the minimalist approach. I had a jacket.
And the jacket, it did nothing!

Ok, that's not true, it was better than not having a jacket, but it was soaked through inside of an hour.

And it rained all day. For one thing, it was a welcome reprieve from the heat of the last several days. And although it was chilly out, it wasn't outright cold. I rode in my regular bike close, plus this not-as-waterproof-as-advertised jacket.

Another element to the day was that my stomach was very queasy that morning. No food appealed to me, and I just felt ill. So I wasn't particularly looking forward to riding in the rain.

After about an hour though, it turned out to be mostly a non-issue. It drizzled, it was suitably annoying. Occasionally it picked up to more than a drizzle, occasionally it stopped altogether.
I was soaked through pretty well. I got chilly here and there, mostly when we stopped for too long. But otherwise, once you get used to being out in the rain, it's really not a big deal. Once you're totally wet, you can't get any wetter, it is what it is. And like I said, I knew this was going to happen, so just deal with it. Pedal on, like I'd been doing.
Was it worse than the horrible heat or the steep hills? Not really worse, not better either, just different. A little miserable, but also a little interesting because it was different. And, like I said, it was a reprieve from the intense heat of the week.

Somewhere around mile 15 of another long day we came up on another hill to climb. This one was something like 6 or 7 miles uphill. It was a relatively gentle grade, maybe 6 or 8%. Not nearly as bad as climbing the blue ridge mountains, but more consistent. It just went up and up and up. I put the bike into a low gear and just spun*.

*Spinning is a term for pedaling in a very low gear. It's "easy" because your legs spin at high RPMs while you go at a paltry 6 mph. Sometimes slower if it's really steep.

Having the consistent uphill was an interesting twist on the uphills, and actually kinda nice. I could just stay in one gear and go. It didn't seem too hard, and although I wasn't making good time, I wasn't suffering either. It felt like maybe 2 hours, and very could have been, because there were parts where I couldn't have been going more than 4 mph.

The rain persisted on and off, and at this point I barely even noticed when it was or wasn't raining. The group I was riding with had spread out pretty far at this point because of the long uphill, and there was no obvious place to stop for a rest or to regroup, so we all just kept going. I didn't see anyone for a while, and it was very solitary. That was ok. Just me in my own head for hours at a time. It's fun in here. Sometimes.

Despite the rain, it was a surprisingly clear day. I made sure to look up and take in the scenery around me. The hazy light and rain made things seem greener. Since we were going through a mountainous region, there were lots of streams and creeks all along the route, and they were all swollen with the prior evening's downpour. They were interesting to look at, with mini-rapids rushing over tiny boulders. The constant rush of the water was the only music I had all day. (And it really made me have to pee, often.)

After we finished climbing forever, there were some really fun downhills. A few of them were pretty long, and gentle enough of a slope that I could run them out without worrying about getting up too much speed.

At the bottom of one downhill, a couple people in front of me had stopped at an abandoned shop to sit and eat our packed lunch. A few of us stood under an old awning, wanting to get out of the rain for the short time that we could.

I started to get cold pretty quickly and went on ahead even though other riders were still hanging out.

There was still a lot more ups and downs to go, but these were more interspersed, although they did start to blend together after a while. I got to ride with 2 riders that I haven't spent much time with, because they often ride alone. It was nice getting to talk to them and spend a little time with other people in the group. They were very friendly and welcoming.

Now we come to the part of the ride that was the talk of the day (and the next few days, too.) In the rolling hills, at the valley between two hills, I was riding with a woman from the group who was a little ahead of me. A dog had popped out from a hidden residence along this long stretch of hilly country road.
Dogs have come out and run up along side us several times already on this trip, and while we were always cautious, nothing happened. That streak ended here. The dog was chasing my fellow rider, but when I came up on them at a faster pace he abandoned his current prey and chased me. Well, I stood up out of the saddle and have never pushed harder up a hill! I thought I passed the dog by, when suddenly my bike slowed down, as if I'd just gained 50 lbs! The dog had bitten into my pannier and wasn't letting go! After a moment that seemed a lot longer than it was, he let go. Then he went after the other rider, and grabber her saddle bag too! He let go after a moment, and we rode on. Both very shaken and letting the adrenaline come down. I, at least, counted myself lucky that A) he bit our saddle bags and not our legs, and B) he didn't pull me over and cause a crash!

Then we realized that there were 8 other riders still behind us! And I had no cell reception to warn them.

At dinner, and back at camp that night the dog was all the talk. He had chased everyone in the group, and had gotten 7 out of 11 of us. (A few others didn't see him.)
In fact, he had actually torn my pannier! A tooth puncture hole, plus a one inch gash. He'd managed to tear holes in 5 other peoples' bags as well, and even almost took one of the riders down! (we met up with a pair of other riders doing the TransAm, and they reported running into the dog as well, and also had torn panniers to show for it.)

We talked at length about how to handle dogs like that, and many people in the group bought 'Halt' anti-dog spray in town the next day. Word around the bike community is that there are a lot more dogs in Kentucky, so we're all a little on edge.

But, meanwhile, back to the ride. It didn't end there!

After the dog attack, we rode on with more rolling hills. Then, finally, there was one long run out, the last gasp of the mountain as we rode into the town of Damascus. It was about halfway down this hill that the sky opened up and just dumped on us. It was as hard a rain as I've ever been in. And I was barreling down the side of a mountain at 20+ mph in this monsoon! I was mostly ok though, I never felt unsafe and visibility wasn't really affected, but I was getting pretty cold.
Towards the end of the run-out I saw the two riders I'd been with huddled under an awning of an abandoned building. I joined them there, and finally donned my rain pants (a little late, but at this point they were more for warmth.)
We rode the last 2 miles into town.

Once there, they rode on to camp, and I sat down in a little BBQ place to get out of the rain, confident that the other riders behind me would spot my bike and come join me. Sure enough, they did, and after a little while we had a group of 8 or so drinking beers, eating BBQ and talking about the killer dog!

The rain did finally let up, and we rode 2 miles to camp.
Originally we were supposed to set up our tents there, but the camp manager gave us some shelter and let us stay in an unused restaurant dining room. It was very fancy with nice floors, chandeliers and smelled of old wood. It was very interesting, and just a neat place to hang up our helmets for 2 nights.
Because the next day was a Layover day, we had a little more time here.

The Layover day.

Friday we had a day off from riding, and got to explore the little town of Damascus, Va. It's a town of maybe 400 people. But on this particular weekend there was something called 'Trail Days'. The Appalachian Trail runs right through this town, so they do a weekend event every year where hikers plan to arrive and hang out. Like 5000 through-hikers descending on this little town. I got to meet a lot of them and hear about their adventure. They're a different sort, but share the same sense of epic adventure, and they were just as interested in my journey as I was in theirs.
For Trail Days, the town gets a lot of hiking/camping companies to come out and set up booths with their wares. I walked around and saw a lot of neat stuff. Apparently hammocks are really big this year. There was a whole hammock district.

This was a nice layover day, and much more low-key than the last one in Charlottesville. I got to rest, do laundry, update my blog, and meet interesting people. The only negative is that there wasn't a good meal to be had in Damascus. Even the pancakes in the morning were disappointing. Ah well, not everything can be perfect.

It was at least (mostly) dry on that Friday, and it was very interesting to see a different kind of extreme adventurer. But I will tell you this now, I have no intention of hiking the AT. Nothing about that appealed to me. But, I still mean to hike the Inca trail up to Maccu Pichu some day. Then again, one adventure at a time, so I'll focus on finishing this trip.

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