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No Fun

We are about halfway up to the start of the singletrack from where this photo was taken. It’s a brutal hill in any weather, but the July heat made it even worse.

Two miles of hot, dusty gravel road. One mile, at least but it felt like much more, not riding my bike, but forcing it up the hill beside me. We weren’t even five miles into our ride and I was experiencing a new “first”. I was not having fun. My cyclometer wasnt recording my mileage. I was carrying the Camelbak water pack; something I hate doing because it adds another five or six pounds to the already large amount of weight that is my body on the bike.  Sweat poured off my body like water in my morning shower. Dust coated everything; my body, my sunglasses, my contacts, my bike tires.  I wondered, feebly, what kind of effect this dust was having on my chain, crankset, and derailleur.  I knew this meant work cleaning my bike later; a necessary inconvenience, but one I wasn’t in the mood for. A quick glance at my sketchy cyclometer says it’s 105 degrees. It’s really about 95, but it feels every bit of 105 today.  “Why am I here?” I wondered to myself. ” This is not fun.”

I told my son I needed to stop and rest. By this, I did not mean get off my bike and haul it up The Hill Of Death. I was already doing that. I really meant I had to stop. Completely. Sit down. Take my helmet off. Breathe. Clearly something was wrong. I never, ever have to stop. Not on a ride. Not like this. And never, ever this early in. I was tired.  I was depleted.  I was mostly very, very hot.  I can ride in rain and cold, if I have the right gear.  I can ride at night, usually without much gear at all.  The one condition that stops me still on my bike is the heat.  I’m not talking about just a warm day that seems bad until the air from riding your bike cools you.  I’m talking about that still, heavy, oppressive heat that makes even breathing hard.  Regardless of the temperature on the thermometer, when this kind of heat hits, I simply lose all power.  Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m at the age where, most of the time, I’m experiencing my own personal summer anyway.  So, when the weatherman says it’s 95, I’m experiencing 115 degree temps.  I simply melt when this happens.

We rested for about 15 minutes then we muddled on to another location, where there was a rock I could sit on in the shade. This location was a hundred feet from the start of the Payette Trail around Applegate Lake. We practically crawled to the start of the trail, me spewing misgivings the entire way when, usually, I am the one encouraging everyone else onward.  We ventured forth, deciding to tackle the singletrack trail for a little while, then turn back.

Immediately, I knew I was in trouble.  I was riding my brakes almost entirely on the descent which characterizes the first half mile or so of this trail.  My bike didn’t feel stable under me, but I think that was due to the fact that this was very rocky single track and I have become accustomed to the solid asphalt of the road.  I was already tired and in no mood to exert the required effort that manhandling a mountain bike on a downhill requires.  Further, I wasn’t exactly excited about packing my bike up that hill, especially after the hill I already climbed.  I let my bike roll for a few more yards, then I called out to my son, who’d disappeared from  view.  A few moments later, he appeared below me, his bike and his youth handling this trail with far more success than I. I told him I wanted to go back and he, surprisingly, agreed with me.  We turned our bikes around, rode back up as far as we could, trudged the rest of the way to the top, then rolled down the dusty road that we’d just walked up.

Three unknown boys sit contemplating whether or not to jump off the rocks at Applegate Lake in Southern Oregon.

Later, while lounging in the sun at the swimming hole that we discovered at Applegate Lake, we were reflecting on this experience.  Last year, at about this time, we made this very same ride.  Sure, we had to walk up that initial road, but I don’t remember feeling quite so spent at the top of it.  I also don’t remember feeling nearly this apprehensive when tackling the downhill.  We have done this ride twice, with minimal mishaps.  Last year at the end of the ride, I missed on a switchback, landed on my back wheel and tacoed the thing.  This cost me two days of ride time while my bike was in the shop.  Not something I was especially thrilled about, but neither was it a traumatizing event that left me scared to ever attempt this ride again.  We speculated about the heat, the fact that we’ve become used to riding the road, the fact that on a day like today, the swimming hole looked far more inviting than the trail.  There are any number of reasons for today’s ride fail.  All of these factors could have contributed to the dread I suddenly felt heading down that hill.  I don’t know.  I suspect, more than anything, I am not in the same mental and physical place I was last year, and something deep within me knows this.  Somewhere inside, I sensed I wasn’t up for the challenge of this trail.  I was too tired.  I would likely make mistakes that even I, as a rookie mountain biker, would know not to do.  I was afraid of the consequences of such mistakes.  I’d spent enough time in surgery this year.  I wasn’t about to sign up for another visit.  Maybe I’m still experiencing a wee bit of radiation fatigue.  Admittedly, this week is far better than last, and last week was better than the one before.  I’m feeling like I do have more energy every day and I am accomplishing more, though not nearly what I hoped and planned to accomplish by this time in the summer. More than the physical drain, I just mentally didn’t have the strength and the determination to make that ride today and I knew it.  Deep in my psyche somewhere, I knew I couldn’t handle it.  I’m not sure what that’s about or why.  It could be I just like the smooth flying sensation of the road as opposed to the adrenaline-driven jarring ride of  the singletrack. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Whatever it is, I am okay with it.

My son and I spent the rest of our day enjoying the water.  That was much more fun.

My son’s bike with mine behind it. Dusty.

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Suddenly Summer, But Some Sad Stats

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There were rumors all week that this weekend would sport some glorious weather. I almost didn’t want to get my hopes up because the last several weekends boasted predictions of sun, but the actual weather, while rideable, proved somewhat disappointing. Further, it rained consistently all week long. I wasn’t holding my breath.

I am not a fair weather cyclist nor am I wimpy when it comes to riding, but I decided pretty early on in this cycling venture that a career as a downhill racer was something I was just a bit too old for. I tried some trails. I even braved some single-track around a lake in the mountains near where I live and I was actually getting the hang of it. Mountain biking and downhill definitely have their positive points, especially if you are a thrill-seeker. It just took me one good spill, where I missed a turn on a switchback and ended up coming off the bike, to convince me that I was leaning toward becoming a roadie. (This was the same ride that drove home the importance of being in the right gear and underscored, yet again, that timing is everything. Shift into gear before you hit the incline.) I ended up putting the bike down in thorns and rocks and landing on top of the bike. This put the bike in the shop for a new wheel which took out two days of riding last summer.

Mountain biking definitely increases my odds of needing repairs on the bike, at least while I’m learning. This is something I have no patience for. I want to just get on the bike, put my head down and ride. Coming off the bike, for any reason except food and beverages, is annoying. The fact that I am pushing 50, less agile than I used to be, and very unskilled when it comes to technique, means that mountain biking is also potentially life-threatening. Of course, any kind of cycling has its risks, but for me, it seemed clear that road was probably going to suit my temperament and patience level better than the trail…unless the trail is relatively smooth.

So, while I’m not courageous enough to try to excel at technique on the trail, I’m certainly willing to ride in just about any conditions except snow, ice or standing water from torrential rain. The weather forecast, for the most part, is irrelevant. But there is just something about riding with fewer layers of gear on. So, I found myself hoping again that this weekend’s forecast would be as predicted. It was, but in spite of the beautiful weather, our riding this weekend was pathetic.

Friday morning the weather was a bit spotty, but by Friday afternoon it was rocking a nice 70-something degrees. We were delayed in getting out due to tube replacement and repair, but we still got in 17 miles. One of the tube repairs didn’t hold so toward the end of our ride the SO had to keep stopping to pump up his tire. That was frustrating, but at least we could roll home instead of walking.

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Saturday dawned clear, exactly as forecast. Sadly, due to being out in the middle of the night because of an emergency with one of our cats, the SO, was not feeling up to hauling himself out of bed at 7, in order to repair his tire and be on the bike by 8 so that we could meet up with the Velo Club for the 23-mile ride we’d planned on. That was pretty disappointing because we couldn’t ride later due to having a number of things planned. Saturday ended up being a wasted day where cycling was concerned.

Saturday evening we entertained a good friend at our place. The SO picked up a bottle cheap red wine and we barbecued hamburgers, sipped wine and sat out on our back deck in the shade of cedars and talked for hours. I think it was midnight before we turned in.

Cycling Tip # 348: Too much cheap red wine and a late night will ruin all chances for a morning ride.

Sunday dawned bright and clear. I, on the other hand, couldn’t even wake up until ten. It was another couple of hours before my head stopped hurting and I could get moving. I was determined to ride, so at about 1:30 in the afternoon we rolled out.

Cat’s Cycling Tip #487: Cycling with a hangover is painful.

Okay, I didn’t really have a hangover. Wine, of any kind, just doesn’t agree with me anymore. I end up with a massive headache and a sluggish feeling for a good 24 hours after, even if I only have one glass. Though I had no headache nor nausea, I was feeling that sluggish feeling and this made the riding a challenge today. Add in the fact that it was midday and 86 degrees, and I had the makings of a grueling ordeal instead of my usual enjoyable time on two wheels.

We decided to just slow things down and not push. The effort of pedaling was challenge enough. By about mile 11, I was beginning to feel much better, still weary, but much, much better. The rain began to fall during our last mile and a half. Big drops. Hot rain. It felt great.

We ended up cycling 39 miles for the weekend which is dismally pathetic, in my opinion considering it was such perfect weather.

I’m already looking forward to next weekend.

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Mountain Biking Around Applegate Lake

Chad and the Applegate Recreation Area Sign. This is about a quarter of the way around from our starting point.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
~Friedrich Nietzsche

These were the words going through my head yesterday as I, for the second time in six months, attempted to ride my Ariel Elite on a 15 mile mostly single track trail around Applegate Lake outside the small rural town of Ruch in southern Oregon.Truly, if you are an adrenaline junkie, mountain biking tops any theme park or horror movie devised. But wait, there’s more