Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Journey of My Own--Alaska

My last state....Alaska.....the end of my journey and as I sit in my tent the final night of riding the Golden Circle, I am serenaded by the soft pounding of rain on the tent canvas and the wind howling through the aspen.  My thoughts are many, but primarily that it would a cold, wet ride in the morning.  In that strange night 'sunlight', so common at the northern latitudes, where the night never really gets dark, I stare up at my tent top, willing myself to fall asleep.  The hours slide away, and dawn quickly approaches; I need to sleep.  The ride in a few hours will be steep, taking me up through the Chilkoot Pass and into Skagway.  I need to be well rested to meet that challenge.

Drip, drip, drip.

I toss and turn, tangled and uncomfortable in the mummy sleeping bag, so appropriately named, captive in its tight confines.  The knee I had injured in a crash earlier in the week, aches, pain radiating up and down my leg every time I move into a different position....and moving was no easy feat in that sleeping bag.

I must have fallen asleep at some point as the movements of my neighbors woke me as they struck their camps in preparation for this day's journey.  Slow to rise, I staggered to the mess tent in search of a cup of coffee.  Ah.....they know me well after 6 days.....they had it ready for me.

While others ate a hearty breakfast, I nursed my coffee, rubbing my knee.  I really didn't want to ride today.  My knee and back ached, I was tired, cold and grumpy. Because other rides this past week had not been that long or  challenging for me, I decided to forgo breakfast, and have more coffee instead.  That would prove to be a bad mistake; had I paid attention to nature, I would have noticed and heeded the frothy whitecaps on the lake by our campsite, indicating the force of the winds from the north.

The last to leave camp, I pushed my heavy hybrid bike the mile out of the camp site, up a 12% hill on a road of dirt and gravel; it was not safe to ride due to the deteriorated condition. By the time I had limped my way to the top, everyone else was long gone and I was sweating.  Even though it was sprinkling, I took off my rain gear; I was more wet from the perspiration created by my waterproof gear than I would have been from the rain.

Turning north, the wind nearly knocked me over.  It was blowing at 20 to 25 miles per hour, straight out of the north, which is the direction I would be riding all day. The climbing started almost immediately; the grades were long and moderately steep, but it was riding against the force of the wind combined with the grades that presented a challenge.

Though riding in a headwind can be physically challenging, it is the constant roaring in one's ears that is most disconcerting.  In this part of the country, the natives say the North wind will cause one to go crazy; they actually have a Native name for it saying as much.  It never lets up.

On and on I pedaled, alone with the wind and my thoughts.  Eventually, I could see the colorful spots of other riders in the far distance as they rode up the mountain.  Head down, I continued to pedal, soon catching one, then another, shouting words of encouragement over the roar.  Slowly, I catch and pass the leaders, continuing on alone, with my focus on completing one more rotation of the pedal stroke.

So immersed was I in my task, that I had to mentally shake myself to shift my focus from the physical work to enoying the beauty of my surroundings; I most likely would never be here again, and despite the wind and light rain, I did raise my eyes from the road and savor the glorious mountains and lakes, giving gratitude.

With climbing come descents....the glorious downhills that are the reward for working so hard to summit.  But with those northern gales, what should have been an exciting rush of speed and rest was, instead, more work to keep a steady pace.  There would be no rest on this ride and I was definitely feeling the lack of nourishment as my strength waned under the toil.

On and on I pedaled, averaging a mere 10 miles per hour, including the downhills.  The support van passed several times, going in the opposite direction to aid those behind me.  Finally stopping to check on me, I asked how much further to the lunch spot, (the cue sheets weren't very good and mileage on them was often off).

"Mile 28", they said.

I was at 25.... only 3 miles until I could rest and grab some food!  Thank goodness--it felt like I was pedaling through jello!  After a few more miles, my pedal strokes became even more labored and my speed continued to drop, despite the fact that I was working just as hard as earlier. Stopping, I discovered my rear tire had gone flat.....and with the lunch spot in sight!  A few unsavory words entered my mind, but were quickly replaced with the thought that there was no way I was going to stop to change the flat now.....I pedaled the remaining quarter mile on the tire as it was.  (FYI--There was enough air left in the tire to protect the rims).

Once in a safe location, away from the traffic and sheltered a bit from the cold wind and rain, I changed the tire; it was the rear one, of course, which is the more difficult of the two to change.  Inserting the tube, and re-inflating, I found it would not hold air.  Arggggh!  It was then I discovered that, in my fatigue, I had used the bad inner tube instead of the new one.  Arrgghhh!  By then, other riders were coming in......frustrated and tired, I knew it was time to just walk away,  and allow the support team handle it.  I was going to eat lunch and get warm.

Huddled in the warm van with others, I wolfed down a hearty soup, listening to the others talk about their ride. Cold, wet and tired, many were throwing in the proverbial towel, taking a ride to the top of the summit, where they would then ride down.  With my knee aching, my back in spasm and my saddlesores screaming, I wanted to join them.  My little internal voices were having quite a discussion about that.....

"Why push yourself....everyone would understand if you chose not to ride"
"But I would know I didn't do it"
"But what do you have to prove?"
"That I can..."

There is the point where one has to concede to physical exhaustion; I knew I was not there yet.  If I didn't continue, it would be due to mentally quitting. For me, this was a mental ride, not a physical ride.  Pushing past the excuses my mind was presenting, and with tears of conflict running down my checks,  I gathered myself, leaving the warm van in search of my bike.  This was a journey of my own; this was a journey of determination....a journey to complete because I decided I could and would.

Finding my bike was still being worked on, I watched as abandoned bikes were loaded on to the van for the shuttle to the summit and as a few other hardy souls left to ride the 20 miles to the top.  Finally, with my bike repaired, I left in full raingear.

A long, 6% climb and the now familiar headwinds greeted me immediately and I soon began to shed layers, despite the temperature falling into the 40's.  I was already wet, so I preferred riding in my shorts, jersey and armwarmers rather than sweating in the raingear. Unincumbered, on I climbed, acknowledging myself for 'sucking it up' and continuing.  This truly was a ride I had to do by myself and for myself.

Pedal stroke after pedal stroke, head down against the wind, I went.  By now, the big tour buses from the cruise lines were whizzing down the highway in the opposite direction, creating huge back drafts against which to ride, in addition to the headwinds.  I wondered what the occupants of those warm, comfortable buses thought as they saw me struggling up the inclines in the wind and rain....probably thought I was crazy....they'd be wrong; I was determined.

Eventually, I passed those that had left before me, shouting more words of encouragement as I went.  Tired eyes greeted me as all of us struggled against the wind and steep grades.   Alone again, I focused on my surroundings, and on maintaining my cadence without sacrificing my heart rate....this was a true test of putting all I had been taught to the test.

Finally, relieved that I was at the top, I rounded a curve, only to be confronted with the road snaking up an impossibly steep mountainside.  Unbidden, tears streamed down my face....  I wasn't done!  Did I have enough left to get there?

This is what I call my 'cry point'; it is the point where I have pushed myself further than I have gone before.  It is the point where I know if I continue, I am breaking through the barriers I have placed on myself, and on what I thought was possible.  I am not sure what the tears are about, but I have learned to acknowledge them when it cry point marks achievement and breaking past beliefs that have held me back. Tears mingling with rain, I rode on.

Anticipation is often worse than the actual event, and this proved to be true here.  Yes, that final climb was rather steep; yes, I was in physical pain; yes, I was tired, but I reached the summit without a problem.  I had overcome my old beliefs, my doubt.

This ride was, by far, the most challenging I have ever done, mentally and physically. Only four of us completed it. It  would have been far easier had I cycled with the others; we could have pace lined, protecting each other from the wind.  This, however, was a ride I needed to do alone.  This was the ride that changed my beliefs about my abilities, and mental fortitude.....this was a journey of my own.

Rain was a constant companion
Emerald Lake
The world's smallest desert
On the way to Chilkoot Pass

One Nation camp--making totem poles
Forever optimistic--sunglasses and sunscreen
Yes...bears do......
One of our campsites
Million Dollar Falls
The sun is out!

Foraging grizzly

Tribal shelter

Goldrush Ghost town

One of many waterfalls

Friday, July 13, 2012

Joining the 4H....Michigan

On to of the Wolverines..... land of the "Don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan"......

Being a graduate of THE Ohio State University, it seemed only appropriate to stop in Toledo to revisit those years with my college friend and sorority sister, Leslie.  As college coeds, we didn't exactly get into trouble, but we did have a whole lot of fun.  Interpret that as you may......

Pulling in at about 1 pm, we picked up exactly where we stopped thrity years ago.....with a drink in our hand. Over many hours of visiting, we sipped Clamdiggers, savored Mijitoes, and languished over wine. We laughed as we reminisced of our college antics, (asking the kids to leave to room before doing so), cried for friends no longer with us, and shared events that had passed, but forever changed us.  We giggled like schoolgirls, reveling in a sisterhood unchanged by the years, planning a future Thelma and Louise getaway.  After many hours of talking and drinking, we finally retired at the late hour of 11 pm.  (We'll need to work on extending our hours if we are to be Thelma and Louise!).
Leslie in the car we cruised in during college. It still runs! What fun we had in that car!!

Dressed to ride Michigan, I came down the next morning. Leslie was slumped in a chair, with a cup of coffee, reading.

"Leslie,"  I said, "I'm hungover!"

That's the first 'H'....hungover

"Oh, thank goodness," she laughed, "So am I!  I was afraid you'd be fine and I'd be like this...."

"Nope....I just can't do that anymore and not suffer.  Guess we're getting old....older.",  I returned, wondering briefly why she thought I would be fine..... Things that make me go 'hmmmm'.

We drank our coffee and ate pastries in a post-drunken stupor, laughing at our inability to process alcohol and stay up until even midnight.  All too soon, it was time to go.

As I drove away, I was feeling poorly....very poorly. Knowing that dehydration is a big cause of post-alcoholic suffering, I sucked water from my water bottle every few minutes, but it was a lost cause.  I would suffer for yesterday's merriment. That's when the mental arguments began:  

Voice One: You don't have to do one would know.
Voice Two: I would know.....
Voice One: No one will know if you only do 10 or 15 still did it.
Voice Two: I would know.....shut up and drink your water.

A short drive later, I crossed over into Michigan....the voices started again.

Voice One:  You don't have to drive all the way to the Irish Hills to ride.  You can do it right here.
Voice Two: Now, that's the smartest thing you've thought all day.  That's a good idea.

So without a route in hand, I found an almost empty parking lot at a mega church, parked and went inside.  {{Ugh....I don't feel well.}} Ahhhh.....the air conditioning felt wonderful.  It was hot already---pushing 90 and the day was still very young.

That's the second 'H' ........'hot'

Finding some people working there, I told them what I was doing, got permission to park there and left an emergency phone number in case my car was still there tonight. (meaning I didn't make it back). With water bottles filled with ice cold water, I dropped in the electrolyte tablets and went to unload my bike.

Emerging from that wonderfully cooled building was like stepping into the hot, damp cloth of a barber.  The humidity was stifling; it felt like I was breathing the air of a sick room, with the vaporizer running full steam.  Beads of water collected on my face, sliding down like tears and my cold water bottles dripped with condensation.  

That's the third 'H' ........'humid'

Ready to go, I pedaled towards the exit, noticing another cyclist geared and ready to leave also.  I rode over and introduced myself.  After talking a bit, she, Denise, invited me to ride with her.  She was a triathlete out for a training ride.  {{Gulp... Hope I can keep up with her!}} She was only riding 25 miles, so the second 25 would be by myself. 
With Denise at a country store.
Off we rode through small town America.  It felt like a step back into time--a time of simpler pleasures and a slower pace.  The towns were still decked out in the patriotic finery from the Fourth of July and children cycled and played freely, without being tethered to an adult.  

Stopping at a country store, I purchased my favorite refueling drink--V8.  It's full of sodium and potassium to replenish that which I was losing through sweat and is also  full of good, healthy carbs for energy.  Because it isn't a sugared drink, the carbs will be absorbed more slowly, giving me a sustained energy boost instead of a big sugar spike.  As I purchased the juice, I asked the cashier if she had any vodka to go with it.  She howled with  laughter..... had she known of the previous day's imbibing, she might have not have found it so humorous.

Twenty-five hot miles later, we were back at the church; it was time for me to say good-bye to my new friend and continue the final 25 alone.  Waving a final farewell, I headed north.  

It was hot; it was humid; I was still hungover. The roads were in horrible condition and a strong headwind started blowing, causing me to have to work harder and harder for each mile. 
Horrible roads.
What does Michigan do with their tax dollars?  Not road repair!
Notice the flag...headwinds strong enough to keep it straight out and snapping. And it was a big flag!

That's the fourth 'H' ........'headwind'

The voices started again...... and this time, Voice One was very convincing. Shushing the conversation, I pedaled.....and pedaled, but yesterday's fun was bearing down on me.  I had to quiet my mind and be present just in that moment.  Stomach rolling, head pounding, I focused, internally coaching myself.
"Can you go one more mile?"

Then I'd ride the mile.

"Can you go one more mile?"

Then I'd ride another.   ...and so it went for the last 10 miles.  I pulled into the church half a mile short of fifty. Being a large church, it had an enormous parking lot; so large, in fact, that one ride around its circumference made up more than the half mile I was lacking.

Tired, hot, but pleased with finishing, I was done.  I had ridden the 50 miles despite how I felt physically.  The toughest part of the ride was not one of the 4 H's; it was the battle I had with myself.  

Fields and fields of  golden wheat
This was a huge grainery. 
Look at this countryside, then see the sign below
'Island Resort'........where the heck are they going to get an island?
The flatness of the land contributes greatly to wind.  There's nothing to block it.
Flat, flat,flat.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Masses in Massachusetts

As already discussed in  What Would Duane Do?, the Cape Cod rail trail was swarming with people eager to ride, walk and run.  So many people were utilizing the path that it was reminiscent of the Oregon trail during the Great Migration!  There were people of every size, shape and age on vehicles of the same ilk. Even in the rain, the crowds did not diminish. So many people using this resource was wonderful sight to behold, yet one that presented hazards, as any high traffic situation.

The planners of the trail obviously anticipated such usage, as the trail was designed like more of a mini-highway than a rustic roll through the woods. Crisscrossing the many intersecting roads, riders and walkers had the right-of-way.  Road traffic had stop signs at these intersections, allowing the hikers and bikers to cross unhindered, (though it was wise to stop and check before crossing....not all drivers heeded the signs). There were even rotary circles...... ROTATORY CIRCLES.....on a bike path(!), with arrowed signs pointing to the various towns and sights. This signage reminded me of those in small European towns.  Pubs and restaurants advertised their establishments, with paved off shoots leading to their front doors and valet bike service.  The smell of frying seafood was tantalizing.

The trail runs 22 miles, ending at the beach.  Bikers with boogie boards and floats strapped to their bikes and backs flowed in that direction, like spring melt-off rushing down a mountainside. Ladened with their oversized burden, many were ungainly on their bikes as they pedaled in flip flops and swimsuits.  Children were plentiful, learning to ride with training wheels, as parents guided them. Older citizens rode adult trikes, often porting a small dog in a basket.  Fresh water beaches interspersed the trail, offering lockable bike racks and a cool respite from the riding.  And yet, despite all of this traffic, small bike groups, in full kits, raced up and down the trail, weaving in and out of the clumps of weekenders.

Awestruck is the word I would use to describe my reaction to this trail. There is much talk about the sedentary lifestyle of Americans, but this proves that the public will support and use resources like this...if available.  We need to see more of it!
Riders hitting the trail at one of the many trailheads...despite threatening weather
On the trail at last.
Audrey and Lisa from RI, who ran into me and provided comfort as I received the news about Duane.  Thank you.
Bikes parked as riders take respite at a restaurant.
Taking a break from riding.
Historical cemeteries.....
More cushioned dirt path for runners and horses.
What would a high traffic area be without advertising ?
Groups regathering and socializing.
Almost had the trail to myself....
Drink and ride??  Don't think so.  One of many pubs.
A rotatory circle!!
I kept thinking this said "Smile."  I was!
Pretty freshwater pond
Need a bike repair?  This trail-side bike shop can help.
Riders stop to chill and eat clams.
Lemonade for sale.....rain or shine.