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.
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.
Sometimes the decisions you make alter the direction of your life forever. We make decisions every day. Most of the time we do this without thinking and these decision don’t dramatically affect the course of our lives. At other times, the decisions are huge and they change everything: whether or not to marry, to stay in a marriage or relationship, to take or refuse a job, to move from one location to another. When we are younger, especially if we happen to be making decent money and we don’t have children, reversing the impact of any decision is much easier. As we age, we may gain seniority in jobs, making it more difficult to relocate because doing so means taking a significant pay cut and/or losing some job security. When children become part of the family, their security, well-being, and safety, among other things, must be considered.
I’ve always wanted to live in a city. Not just the suburbs, but right in the city where you walked to the corner grocery, picked up the Met from down the corner, and really had no need for a car except when you were leaving town. I made some decisions early in life which, I think, may make my dream of ever living in a city an impossibility. At least, it may be impossible until I’m too old to be able to negotiate a move and adjusting to a new lifestyle. Now that I have children and a decent job with a level of stability, the likelihood that I will ever relocate, to a city or anywhere, is next to none. In these circumstances, it is easy for the adventurous spirit to feel a bit stuck.
Sometimes, even when we make decisions that take us away from our dreams, we still make pretty good decisions though we might not realize this at the time. Sometimes, our dreams and goals change or we add other dreams and goals into the mix. We then realize how our earlier decisions, which seem to be taking us away from what we wanted actually brought us closer to where we really wanted to be anyway.
The cost of living in a city, almost any city these days, is much higher than living where I currently live. Moving would mean a job change, loss of income and job stability, all factors I’m not thrilled about encountering. Health care services available in my area are outstanding and, for the most part, it is exceptionally convenient to get around almost anywhere by bike which is something I’m committed to doing as much as possible for as long as I possibly can. It’s a far greener and less expensive mode of travel. Quite frankly, I’m also a bit unhappy with the costs of vehicles and gas. Riding my bike is my way of protesting all of this excess damage to our environment. Plus, each mile I ride makes me stronger. I’m getting in shape. I’m training for old age which isn’t for cowards. The bike helps me get around, and combines my workout with my travel and entertainment, thus saving me time. I could definitely still ride in a city and I’m no stranger to that. The convenience of cycling here, though I don’t live in a city per se, makes me feel just a little less stuck in life.
Way back in the day, I did live in a city and I did live near a city. This city experience was short-lived and I’ve never gotten the city bug out of my system. Choices I made took me away from that life. Results of those choices keep me away now. Sometimes it makes me sad to think that as I age the likelihood that I may never realize my dream of being immersed in city life. There are days, and quite a few of them, where I don’t feel the least bit despondent about this. Yesterday was one of those days.
Southern Oregon, in my opinion, has perfect weather all year round. Winters are mild and snow rarely ever falls on the valley floor so riding year round is not only possible for the fair weather rider it is enjoyable if you have the right gear. If you like snow, there’s entry to experience most years just about 40 minutes away.
It rains in the winter and spring, like most places in western Oregon, but just when we are all just about ready to be sick of the rain, the sun emerges and bathes us in golden 80-degree brilliance which is perfect cycling weather no matter what time of day.
Throughout the year, there are only a few “too hot” days and not that many “too cold” days. Most of the time it is Goldilocks weather around here: just right. For a noob cyclist healing up after radiation treatments, who is about to reach that fateful half century date on the calendar, and who is working on getting shape via bike there really is no better place to be. Sure, it’s not the big city, but I think I’m okay with that. The decisions I made back in the day which took me away from city life and the ones I’m making these days which keep me here are turning out just right.
One of the things I love about Southern Oregon is the mild winter weather. On one of these delightful weekends, the weather was warm, reaching the low 60’s at times. I took advantage of this wonderful winter climate and managed to log 63 miles on the Fun Wheels. We normally spend our time on the greenway, but yesterday, I wanted to try something different. We headed for the open road. On a bit of a whim, we decided to see if we could ride all the way to Jacksonville and back.
The day dawned bright and clear, but soon clouded over. A quick check on The Weather Channel’s app told me that rain was likely beginning at 3:00. We decided to get in gear and get a move on before the rain prevented us from heading out. Our anxiety was wasted; we experienced mild weather and got in a great ride. We even stopped along the way for lunch.
On another such weekend ride, we headed in another direction over some hilly terrain to another nearby town. It was a windy day and there were moments when we wished we’d just stayed on the greenway because it is so much easier than the hilly stuff we experienced that day.
Most of the time, though, we stay on the greenway, mostly because we don’t really have to think much and our biggest decision is how far we can go in the time have. I’m sure this will change as time goes on and as we become stronger riders, but for now this works for us.
Lately, I’ve noticed that every ride is different, even if the route is the exact same as the day before. Some days the ride is mostly effortless and I can ride forever. Even as we end the ride I feel as though I could go another 10 miles. On other days it is an effort to keep a 9 mph pace (slow for us) and it seems to take forever to settle into the right cadence. On other days, I never can find the right gear, though this happening is less and less. This Every-Ride-Is-Different phenomenon is exactly why I love cycling instead of heading to the gym. I like the gym. Don’t get me wrong. Strength training is important and I definitely need to do more of it. A trip to the gym always makes me feel a little like the hamster on its exercise wheel. When I’m on my bike, even a bad ride, makes me feel carefree and strong. Rolling out on two wheels helps me clear my head like nothing else does. I’m hoping my health and fitness last so I can enjoy My Life In Gear for a long, long time to come.
It was shaping up to be a disappointing Saturday. Face it, during the school year, for a teacher, the best and most wonderful day to ride is Saturday, weather permitting. Sunday rides have to be shortened due to getting ready for the week. Rides during the week must be shortened due to running out of daytime.
This Saturday, was beginning to look like it was going to be a wasted one where riding was concerned. The weather was perfect, but the night before, my Significant Other broke a spoke on his back tire. We both thought one or the other of us had hit a rock, but no, it was his back wheel. It shortened our ride that evening significantly. Since we were six miles out with no other transportation available he rode the six miles home on it. On the return trip I watched his rear wheel wobble more and more with each mile. We definitely needed to head into the Bike Shop for that repair.
To make matters worse, my bike was creating all sorts of annoying rattles, creaks and squeaks. In particular, there was this loud and very irritating click, click, click on every down stroke of my right pedal. My bike most of the time, is entirely silent when I ride, so I was fairly worried that it was complaining so loudly to me on this first ride off the trainer.
The combination of these woes, cut our ride short on Friday night. It also meant that our first objective Saturday morning was to get the bikes into the shop to see what and how serious the trouble was. We feared the worst, that our bikes wouldn’t be back out of the shop until Monday.
I can go into all the details of what exactly was wrong, but that’s boring for most people and I don’t yet have all the vocabulary to adequately convey what was wrong. In the end, what we thought was going to mean missing a weekend of riding really only ended up delaying our Saturday ride, by a couple of hours. The guys at Marty’s Cycle and Moore literally dropped what they were doing and fixed both our bikes right there on the spot. They didn’t have to do this, but we are so grateful they did. About an hour and $47 later, we were walking out the door with our bikes healed.
We wasted no time getting on the road, since we heard rain was on the way. I figured we still had about 20 miles to go to make our hundred for the week, so we needed to get on the road quickly. After some waffling about whether to take it easy on the greenway or hit the hilly road and head out in the country, we opted for the road. We definitely took the more difficult option. The roads between Central Point and Gold Hill are not for the weak. In fact, there are several really intense, long hill climbs on Old Stage Road between Scenic Avenue and the I-5. These climbs weren’t made any easier by the presence of a very strong headwind and the fact that we were riding hybrids instead of road bikes. Even in our marginal fitness condition, we would climb those hills faster on a road bike. Which, makes me really want a road bike very soon. This in turn depresses me, because I don’t believe that will be my reality for at least another year. But I digress.
We inched up those hills at a whopping 5-6 miles per hour. It was the toughest 5-6 mph I’ve ridden to date. Every muscle in my legs burned (this is good), I was fighting for every breath, and I even felt as though I might vomit at one point (yeah, that’s probably not so great). Then suddenly, about halfway up the climb, I hit the right gear and, crazy as it seems, I was able to almost rest while I climbed. I was still pushing hard, but I caught my breath and kept going. I felt a small amount of comfort when after glancing back I realized the Significant Other was suffering just as much as I was.
The downhill on the other side made it all worthwhile. Except that the headwind slowed our descent significantly. We were still having to push even when going downhill.
It was a crazy ride.
Upon arriving in Goldhill, we stopped in at a little dive bar called the Longbranch Saloon. It clearly was the place to be on a Saturday afternoon. We tied up our mechanical horses and stepped into the local watering hole to quench our thirst and gear up for the ride back.
Instead of coming back the way we came (read, we chickened out and tried to get out of facing those hills again) we opted for the Blackwell Road route home.
I’ve heard that one of the cycling rules of the road is that you always have a map and a repair kit with you. At minimum, you should know where you are going, shouldn’t you? We had the repair kit, but we had no idea where we were going. All I knew was that if I took Blackwell Road in far enough it was going to come out somewhere near I-5 and Central Point and I could probably find my way home from there. The SO was following me blindly, trusting that I knew where we were going. Little did he know…
Blackwell Road proved to be just as challenging as Old Stage Road in its own way. The climbs weren’t as steep, but they were longer. Trying to avoid the work, and really wishing by this time that we had some more level terrain to deal with and no wind, we turned onto Tolo Road. Around the corner, there it was, another hill and beyond that one, another. At this point, my entire body felt like mush and I wondered seriously if we were going to make it home without having to get off and walk…or call for help. Just as we wondered if we should turn around and head back we saw Scenic Avenue in the distance and knew we were within 3 miles of home. From the intersection ahead, the ride was going to be a nice downhill ride leveling off once we reached town. We knew we were going to be okay.
We rode the hardest 25 miles we’ve ever ridden since beginning our cycling adventures. We hit our highest speed on a downhill of 29 miles per hour, which means we were flying on our bikes, and dead if we’d fallen. We returned home tired, but happy, because we’d pushed ourselves way out of our comfort zone and succeeded.
We stepped up to a new level in our riding. Hill work is now going to be a regular part of our riding. It has to be. There’s nothing more painful at first, but it is so rewarding when you crest that hill knowing you still have gears left to shift and energy left to ride.
When we got home, I turned to the SO and said, “You know, that was a really hard ride. How many people do you know that could have stayed with us on that? I think, other than the guys at the bike shop, I know about two. Those two would have dusted us, but other than that…I can’t think of anyone who could have done 25 miles uphill both ways like we just did.”
Not too bad for an ole fat lady pushing 50.
I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a brief couple of years in the early ’90’s. During that time I fell in love with the Southwest and with Byrd Baylor’s books, The Way To Start A Day, being one of my favorites. This last weekend, due to school budget cuts, ended up being a three-day weekend. Since we had Monday off and since rain was forecast for later that afternoon, the Significant Other and I decided to try something new. We avoided the ease and predictability our beloved greenway and ventured forth on the open road. It was an excellent choice for so many reasons. I’ve documented our ride in words and pictures, with Baylor’s book as my inspiration. I’m calling this The Way To Start A Week.
The way to start a week
is to get up early on Monday morning while others sleep,
and greet the sunrise with a smile and a cup of coffee; cream, no sugar.
Revel in in the cloudless blue of the early morning sky,
feel the chill March morning air,
inhale the fresh scent of dew and cedars.
Give thanks for being alive and having the ability to enjoy it.
Take your time dressing, but not too much time, the day awaits.
Find your favorite bike shorts and
slip on the Bontrager tights that were well worth
the hundred bucks you spent on them.
Slip into the cold weather gear given to you by a friend
since she saved you hundreds
and extended your riding season significantly.
Fill the water bottle,
grab the camera,
select the playlist,
and with your favorite riding buddy, find a road you haven’t traveled before.
As you ride, be glad that you can.
Even if it is cold. Even if it is hard, with the cold air biting through your
Balaclava, freezing your nasal passages and numbing your fingertips through gloves.
After about a mile stop,
take some pictures,
and take off the first outer layer.
Things heat up fast on two wheels.
After about 4 miles, stop for more pictures, a water break and to take more pictures. You’re in no hurry.
Decide to head to a historical old town.
It isn’t far now.
You’re over halfway there and feeling good.
The hills that you could climb a year ago are nothing to you now
You’re stronger and less fearful.
The occasional car whizzing by no longer intimidates you.
You can do this.
And you enjoy it.
select a place to enjoy a leisurely lunch while gazing out the window at passersby.
Laugh and enjoy the fact that you have overcome
caring about how you look in public places when
wearing padded pants
and sporting helmet hair, though you still quickly check
the rear view mirror of the nearest car to make sure
you don’t have bugs in your teeth.
During your meal, you laugh and smile,
enjoying delicious sandwiches with thirst-quenching beverages.
The miles make them taste all the better.
You observe the retired ladies, dressed up for lunch…
they must be in their 70’s or 80’s.
You think of your grandmother, who always dressed up
It’s not a given, but you’re on the right path.and you hope you live long enough to do the same.
so you decide to live life…
to the fullest of your ability and today is part of that plan.
On the way home, you skip the easy road,
and you opt for the one ahead
that sports a rather long hill.
You take it.
You make it. And you’re not even riding your fastest bike.
A year ago, you had to walk up stuff less daunting than this.
Not this time.
You feel the burn…
you inhale each breath and
experience the pounding of your heart
Nothing feels better.
You’re healthier than you were.
You’re happier than ever.
You are your own person.
At the top, you celebrate this realization.
You take in the valley you call home.
The rest of the ride is almost entirely
You’re riding in the right gear,
no matter what the road
and it is an exhilarating adventure.
This, you whisper to yourself as you ride up to your home,
is not just how you start a week…
It’s how you live a life.
That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
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