Wednesday, May 14, 2014
The Amazing Death-Defying Aaron!
The Amazing Death-Defying Aaron!
Sunday, May 11, tour day 8.
Even though we had all pedaled our hearts out on Saturday and deserved a much needed rest, that was not to be. The nature of this tour means we just keep pedaling, day after day (with a day off about once a week.)
Fortunately though, Sunday's ride was a very easy day; only 26 miles and much of it downhill. In fact, we descended down what's called 'Vesuvius' - a twisty road that drops down about 3000 in just 5 or 6 miles!
Since we weren't doing a lot of mileage Sunday, and we were all pretty tired, the group took it's sweet time getting up and getting out in the morning. The resort we were staying at had told us that they'd provide breakfast burritos! We were all looking forward to that. Turned out to be microwave breakfast burrito bowls by Jimmy Dean. I don't think I've ever been more let down by a breakfast. (insert sad trombone 'waaamp waaamp'.)
Once on the road, there was actually quite a bit of climbing to do to get out of the mountains. Apparently we were staying in a bit of a basin that we had to ascend out of before we could start making our decent off of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
On legs that felt like clay, but rested and more or less well fed, we set out for the day. The climbing wasn't easy, but knowing that there wasn't nearly as much of it was up-lifting.
Here is the death-defying part; the decent down Vesuvius is so steep that its not safe to just run it out (meaning: riding down the hill, without using breaks.) Additionally, the night before we were given the advice to not just ride our brakes all the way down the hill. Apparently (and this was new info to me) the rims of the bike can get so hot from braking that the tube can weaken and pop! And the last thing you want is to blow out a tire on a bike with 50 lbs of gear that's barreling down a mountain at 30 mph!
Now, armed with that information, I was totally paranoid about over-using my brakes! And the hill lived up to its reputation, it was wicked steep!
On the decent, I found myself definitely getting more speed than I was comfortable with, so I used my brakes, on and off, to bleed off speed. Then when I saw a flat-ish spot I decided to stop to let my rims and brakes cool off. At that point, I could actually smell the rubber, hear a change in the sound of the brakes, and could feel a change in the stopping power as everything got really hot. The bike did finally stop, and I pulled over for 5 min.
Then, rolling back down again, I did the on-and-off of the brakes some more while scoping out the next spot to try and stop at. When I did try to stop, the brakes just weren't getting it done! The bike was slowing, but not enough to come to a full stop. Then I could tell they were heating up, and around the bend the road dipped down again into another steep decent! I just cranked on the brakes harder and hoped that everything worked. I did manage to come to just barely come to a stop before the turn, and hung out there for another 5 minutes.
This went on twice more, although those weren't as nerve wracking.
If you've ever heard me tell the story of barreling down a mountain in Germany on rollerblades, you'll know this sensation of not being able to stop felt somewhat frighteningly familiar.
The ride down Vesuvius was the first time on a bike that I was actually genuinely worried. Maybe even a little bit scared. I think I was most likely fine, and I wasn't going to blow a tire or melt my brake pads, but it was better to err on the side of caution. And, this is a guy who just barreled down a hill (a different, safer, hill) at probably upwards of 35 or 40 mph, with a fully loaded bike! So I'm not easily rattled.
Finally, with Vesuvius in our rear-view mirrors, we rode the remaining 10 miles to our campsite. The ride was very pleasant, with some minor rolling hills and a very pretty view of the mountain to our left as we pedaled along a variety of streams and brooks.
The campsite for the night was a little place in the middle of nowhere that consisted mostly of camper vehicles that looked like they had set roots there permanently.
And that concludes the death defying part of the day.
The other part, for me at least, was that Sunday night was my night to cook dinner. We have a rotation of people cooking and cleaning each night, in pairs. I really lucked out in several regards; first off it was a very short day so I was in camp and set up with plenty of time. Then, there was actually a full grocery store nearby (there aren't always) that had all the ingredients I wanted for what I had in mind. And lastly, the tour leader (who was also my cooking partner) had an acquaintance in the area that drove us to the store! This was a lucky trifecta.
My thought for dinner was that I wanted to have lots of fresh vegetables. For the prior several days our meals hadn't had much in the way of veggies, either because they weren't available, or because the meal just didn't include them. My cooking companion and I talked about our menu the night before, and went entirely with my suggestion: a mixture of seasonable veggies sautéed in olive oil and served over pasta with a light marinara sauce, with some chicken as the main dish.
At the supermarket I was able to find yellow squash, broccoli, and 3 colors of peppers. It made for a nice mix of color on the plate. Then we did a camping cheat and bought some pre-cooked rotisserie chickens that I pulled apart and served as shredded chicken.
The veggies came out perfect, and the dish was a huge hit. I had one person tell me that it was the best meal so far. :-D
And, it must have really had an impact, because every meal since we have had more and more fresh vegetables, and several of the meals have even included sautéed yellow squash.
I was very happy that we could successfully feed 16 hungry bikers. And with the satisfaction of a job well done, I turned in for the night (and wrote the blog post for the day before, titled 'Help, I'm alive.')