Back in my marathoning days I didn’t consider myself in shape enough for a 26-mile race until I had run 21 miles comfortably. The first time was usually brutal. But the second and third times were almost easy. Somehow the stress from that one brutal effort re-set my body for the task ahead. (In every marathon I ever ran an invisible bear jumped on my back at around mile 23. Preparation can only get you so far.)
With my bike tour less than three weeks off, I decided to push my body this weekend. Today’s ride was designed by my friend Colin. He rides in suburban and rural Montgomery County Maryland and examines GIS data on places to ride. He concocted today’s 48 mile ride that included secondary roads, neighborhood streets, gravel roads. single track (dirt paths that are only a foot or two wide) through grassy fields, and nasty, rocky, tree-rooted, hill single track in the woods.
After a stop at Dunkin Donuts for proper ride fuel, we headed out on suburban roads. Colin, Ian, Kevin, Austin and I were met there by Jeff. Traffic was light and the pavement was smooth. Not a problem. The roads became more rural. Colin pointed us to a grassy field. Off we went. The grass was so high I could barely see the single track that wound through it.
Whenever the single track went into woods, we’d be surrounded by green and covered in shade. But trees have roots (I ought to know) and paths have rocks. Never having done this sort of riding before I exhausted by grip and my forearm muscles trying to control my Cross Check. An additional problem was the fact that the second to easiest gear on my bike wasn’t working. It turns out this was the perfect gear for much of the riding we were doing. The lowest gear often caused my rear wheel to spin. The next available low gear was too hard to mash on the steep rises.
I persevered and thought I did a pretty decent job. Riding on single track is much more tiring than road riding. Even when you are gliding you are expending energy dodging bumps and negotiating dips and turns.
At one point we followed a trail along the side of a lake. It was truly beautiful. I thought I was doing great. I encountered a three tree roots in a row and didn’t have the momentum to get over them. I fell over sideways. The undergrowth and a well placed large tree limb cushioned my fall. Only my pride was hurt. A few minutes later Jeff fell.
Colin made an executive decision to re-route us, or perhaps I should say re-root us. As we bombed along the path seemed to get hillier and rockier and have more and more tree roots. I am pretty sure that much of this had to do with the fact that I was worn out. I spent an embarrassing amount of time walking because I simply couldn’t power my way up steep short climbs with a bumpy surface.
I was actually worried that my saddle might break. It kept making popping noises because I was not unweighting my butt when I went over the bumps.
The last few miles were on paved streets and this felt incredibly easy. We had to do a minor repair on Jeff’s gears which were partially disabled during his fall. Colin reached down and bent something and voila the gears worked again.
Our pre-final destination during the ride was a brew pub in Gaithersburg. We got there and saw the sign on the door that said it was closed for renovations. What a sad sight to see six grown men cry.
We recovered our composure and found a Tex Mex restaurant with a patio. My god the beer tasted good. And the salt and oil on the chips was heaven.
The last 2 1/2 miles back to the start were uneventful. When I got off my bike, I felt like I had ridden 80 miles.
I really envied the mountain bikers we encountered on the single track sections of this ride. As tired as I was, I was having a ton of fun, but their bikes with wide tires, wide handlebars and big gear ranges would have made it much more enjoyable still.
When I finished I looked at my Instagram feed. I saw a picture of my friend Emilia who had just ridden over 60 miles to Harpers Ferry WV along the C&O canal towpath. She was all cleaned up and wearing a sundress and smiling. I cracked up. I looked like I’d been dragged through the woods. Which I suppose I had been.
Tomorrow I will ride the Reston Century or as much of it as my body will tolerate.
I made a Flickr album of the ride.