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.