Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, April 21, 2014

Roads less traveled can be fun

The gentlemen’s club that is occasionally known as my cycling team is planning a different flavor of odyssey this year.  Our epics have spanned the spectrum from the Peloton of Discovery, to the French Alps and everything in between.  This year our intention is to adopt an all terrain theme by combining paved roads and dirt/gravel roads as we pedal from here to there and back again utilizing the most obscure routes possible.

As preparation for that adventure I am starting (better late than never) to increase my mileage. A recent training ride with KB on road bikes included a long section of dirt road. This, in combination with the smell of the spring classics in the air has inspired me to search out and include dirt and gravel whenever possible.

It was in this idyllic state that I undertook the infamous Pipestone - Elbow loop this past weekend.  My road bike was outfitted with moderately bulbous tires (tyres for my British readers).   I departed in the cool early morning with the expectation that warmer temperatures would greet me further into the ride.
My unusually awesome Pactimo arm and legwarmers kept the morning chill out and I was comfortable as the mercury was close to forty when I set out.  After a few familiar miles on pavement I turned and began the climb. The grade kicked up to and my chain responded by ascending the rings on my cassette.
It has been said that one of the criteria for being a redneck is if the directions to your home include the phrase, “when the paved road ends.” I took a deep breath when I turned off the pavement.  I always smile when I turn up the illogical aspect of any endeavor. 
The climbing continued but now included the excitement of an occasional momentary loss of traction. Having to think about traction, and shifting your body weight accordingly, provided a temporary diversion from the physical pleasure of a double digit grade climb. 

The grade peaked at sixteen percent and seated climbing was out of the question.  The steep section wasn’t too long but I would I if I said it was short you would call me a liar. When the grade lessened to ten percent I unzipped my jersey and drank in the cool thin air.
As my distance from the pavement increased, the quality of the road decreased proportionally.  At the same time the scenery was opening up and the views were breathtaking.  I was trying to be careful to avoid any sharp rocks and potholes but I also wanted to look around and take in the flora and fauna.  I finally decided just to stop every now and then and look around after my initial attempts to look away from the road proved unwise.  
Pipestone canyon narrowed and the road turned to singletrack and a mountain bike would have clearly been the weapon of choice. Tapping my Cyclocross skills I pressed on and a minute or two later I was back on double track.  I was still picking my way along feathering the brakes as I descended through thick trees avoiding rocks and ruts. 
As I emerged from the trees the quality of the road/trail/path picked up and continued to get better as I rode through fields, eventually reaching a trailhead and then on to a graded dirt road.  A second sustained climb, this time with a headwind, greeted me as I continued my journey.  The deserted road and my bike were quiet; the only sound was the wind.
Me and the wind
This has been here a few years..
Pausing for a "Rapha" moment
Soon I was on a loose descent making my way toward familiar pavement.  
Once on the pavement I was able to get into a nice rhythm and soon I was flying. The speed was a big contrast to the off road section I had just completed.   I took a small hill in the big ring and felt strong.
When I turned onto a busier road the car traffic seemed odd.   Before I could get used to the traffic I was once again on a less traveled road. This road followed a river up canyon.  After eight kilometers of uphill rollers I again left the pavement for the more adventurous alternative of Elbow Coulee.
This was the road I had ridden with KB not too long ago. While I missed his camaraderie; I paid more attention to the scenery.  The road was smooth enough that I could afford to look around.  I spotted a handful of spent .22 casings by the side of the road.  I watched as ducks swam away from me and could hear and see geese heading north having finished their winter vacation in warmer places.  The bright yellow of wild Arrowhead balsamroot sprinkled on the hillsides signaled that spring was here to stay. I handful of deer stood frozen, watching me, as I rode past.
After an initial climb the road rolled slightly up and down such that I watched my altimeter to find the highpoint along the road.  Soon I was descending toward pavement and roads I know well.

The last few kilometers were a kaleidoscope of emotions.  The ride had been so much fun I didn’t want it to end. I was, however, tired from the effort and ready for lunch. Though tired, in many ways I felt like I could ride forever.  I had been away from my visiting son and felt like I was cheating him by being away. Like so many things, it is often good to finish wanting just a little more.  It makes the next time a little sweeter.

As I rolled up and finished my ride my body and bike were just like my mind, dirty and happy.  It was a good day.

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