This past Saturday seven separate fools assembled on six Cyclocross bikes and one roadster to link together as much unpaved terrain as possible in West Seattle and surrounding environs.
These journeys are the result of hours upon hours of exploring “where does this go” paths. Stringing together these rabbit holes makes for an unusual, perhaps even contrived, route. We would be riding along a street and then slot through a narrow opening of chain link into an overgrown greenbelt or a narrow trail in a thickly wooded drainage. On the other side we would often emerge from an equally obscure portal. At one point I wanted to refer to the course as the escaped convict route. We weren’t quite jumping over fences and running through open doors of people’s houses, but it sure wasn’t riding along a bike lane either.
The early pace was as friendly as we warmed our legs in the rare July 4th sun. Soon we were careening down loose dirt and gravel under a shady canopy of trees. Even in the shade the humidity gave the air a density that literally hit us right in the face. The combination of heat and humidity was a double whammy that would take its toll over the next thirty hours.
As we made our way south it seemed our guide for the day, El Chefe’ was trying to earn the moniker “The Pied Piper of Pain.” He was the only one who knew the way and thus was solely responsible for our enjoyment or misery. Depending on your idea of humor his mood could be described as either playful or sinister. Some the trails had tree roots that required some rarely used bike handling finesse.
While we could ride with a social effort on the downhills and on most of the city streets but the climbs on dirt and even some of the paved climbs required significant wattage just to stay upright. The double digit gradients worn down our legs and the technical twisty trails made our arms and shoulders tired.
Two early mechanicals slowed our progress. While we gave thanks that we weren’t changing tires while shivering with frozen hands - the heat was beginning to take a toll. My bottles were empty and my food dwindling. “We gotta stop for more water,” I begged out loud all the while wondering why nobody else had spoken up. Did Leavenworth teach us ANYTHING?
Come on now................
We found some water and everyone topped off. We inhaled muffins from a coffee stand and were back on our way. The pied piper had more up his sleeve and we kept finding more and more ways to make our route more circuitous. At times we could see the Space Needle to the north which made our turns east and west all the more ominous. Another mechanical gave the ride a “Bridge too far” feel. As much fun as the ride was the combination of heat, dehydration, distance and climbing made the idea of being done pretty attractive.
By now the sun was high in a cloudless sky and our legs were coated with the dust of an assortment of urban trails. We had bushwacked through thick foliage and shouldered the bikes when needed. We had ridden through Hazard County and managed to avoid both shotguns and coon hounds. We had been through neighborhoods of the rich and neighborhoods of the criminally famous. We crossed over a dozen bridges. I had leaves hanging off of my right shoe. Another flat tire was the icing on the cake.
Don't try this at home. If you're in France, go for it !!
We crossed Holiday parade routes and held our own on the Joe M crit course. As our journey neared completion I could tell the heat had sucked the life out of us. We had ridden for five hot hours. Our route totaled over 1,400 meters of climbing. There was pain in our legs. We parted with minimal fanfare.
After my shower I stepped on the scale. Despite drinking five bottles of water and eating a thousand calories of food I was four pounds lighter than when I started. Dehydration was the flavor of the day. I drank and drank and drank some more.
It was only after my re-hydration was well underway that I realized how baked my legs were. It struck me that our bodies form a hierarchy of physical challenges to align with the greatest threat to our health. When I was thirsty that took precedence over everything else.
Tux also got in over his head and Hottie had to take him to the vet to get put back together. He is on the way to a full recovery.
After the best Fourth of July Barbeque dinner of my life I fell asleep oblivious to the fireworks around us. In a spirit of bravado I got up Sunday to meet up for the usual coffee and lies ride. I knew that in my depleted condition I wouldn’t think of mixing it up with the fast guys and a slow ride would exorcise the lactic acid from my legs.
Considering the warm sunny July day it was a freakishly small group that rolled out on Sunday morning. A late night of fireworks and adult beverages had thinned our numbers significantly. We picked up the Wizard of Coz and still were only four strong.
I’m not sure how it happened, but soon we were moving waaaaay faster on the west side of Mercer Island than we should have been. As we were churning along I looked down at my quads to see if there was blood coming out of my skin. My legs gave me a Whisky Tango Foxtrot message.
We stayed together past the big hill and then burned off one by one until only Big John was left. John doesn’t know what a recovery day is. He was laying down the law and all I could do was whimper.
On the way back John went off the front and I would like to say we let him go. In fact we could not have held his wheel if there had been guns firing at us. Coz, The Cheetah and I traded pulls and it hurt. Instead of sharp pain in my quads or hamstrings it was the dull total leg ache of too many miles AND too much intensity. As I swung my useless sacks of meat in circles trying to keep up a high cadence I wondered if I had an addiction to pain.
On the final island climb I got into a smooth but painful rhythm and passed Coz and The Cheetah. Since it already hurt, hurting more wasn’t much of a stretch. At the top I dropped my head and coasted down to the shade. It took an even greater effort not to fall onto the grass and curl up in the fetal position and cry. I looked at my gloves hands and wondered if the real reason cycling gloves leave most of your fingers and thumb exposed is so you can suck your thumb when you hurt this bad.
We dodged several gaggles of Freds as we made our way back to coffee. The procession back to the car post coffee was blissfully void of hard efforts. The damage, however, was already done.
Later as I watched the US Women take the World Cup I massaged my aching legs. I ran “The Stick” over my tender quads. I remembered doing the same with a metal water bottle in a hotel at the top of Alp d’Huez. That had been one of my hardest days on a bike. I worried about how my legs would feel on Monday when the full impact of the weekend would settle into my quads.
Although the Sunday effort had been hard the times were not fast. I had expected to see some results from the pain on STRAVA. This was not the case. It seems my suffering had just been for the “fun” of it.
The Saturday ride was nothing in comparison to Leavenworth. It was a hard ride but it was not epic. It was the Sunday ride that was akin to taking a hard hit to an already black and blue bruise. The hard effort on really sore legs just drove the pain deeper. My bones hurt.
Am I in such a rut and I will go and ride no matter the circumstances? Have I become so accustomed to pain that I either ignore it or dare I say even seek it? How is it I can embrace the sweet suffering of cycling and yet remain so slow? Like so many things in my life I expect I will have the answers only when it is too late to apply the late-in-coming wisdom…….