Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tour de la Campagne--Prologue and Stage 1

Prologue—Tuesday, July 3

I’m a little nervous, but only because I’m itching to get on the road. I finished my last training ride Sunday (a 35-mile trip into the Berkshires to practice hill climbing techniques), and now I’m resting my muscles. I don’t like the resting, but it is a necessary part of the preparation. There’s nothing to gain, and everything to lose, from training right before a long ride, but it screws with my metabolism. It’s like getting all wound up, but not releasing the tension. Still, I’d rather be antsy than injured.

My girls really get a kick out of their papa going cycling. Nieve thinks I look cool in my cycling shorts and jersey (ever the fashionista, that one) and SiSi likes to watch me do my pre-ride prep (put gear on the bike, get into my clothes, do equipment check, etc.) She gets very excited at the thought of riding her bike 400 miles (“when I get to be a bigger kid, right?”) I am excited at that thought, too, I guess. I haven’t challenged myself in this way in a very long time.

I’m really expecting to put myself to the test on this trip. It’s been a slow and laborious journey to get to a point of physical and mental fitness that will allow me to succeed, but whether it’s enough to do a trip like this, I just don’t know. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, though. Since Christmas, I’ve ridden over 800 miles in preparation for this trip. I’ve run, walked and lifted weights consistently as well, and I am finally beginning to reverse the effects of nearly fifteen years of bad diet and a less-than-active lifestyle. I’ve lost 30 pounds, which has been great, but I’m really more proud of the state of mind that has come from all that effort. For the first time in a very long while, I feel like I’m able to live a life that is nourishing to my body, mind and spirit. I’m feeling more powerful every day, too. I love that I’m beginning to remember what it feels like to run fast! Now that graduate school is done, I’m starting to feel alert and energetic, and not because of the coffee. Whether I end up completing this adventure or not, the yield from all this preparation will have been worth the effort.

I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t have any real expectations about my success. I could do very well (my training leaves me cautiously optimistic), but I’m not distressed by the possibility of failure. I’m doing this to find out what I’m capable of, not to have a particular result. Good adventures are much more about the journey than the destination, and this is no different. I just want to give the best I have to it, know inside that it really is the best I have, and see where that takes me. I wanted to do the same thing in graduate school, to demonstrate what my best really was. If it was good, then yay. If it wasn’t, at least I would know where I stood. It turns out people thought highly of my work, but that didn’t mean as much to me as the idea that *I* was proud of it. I have spent more time in my life than I have wanted on things that were less than true quality. On this effort, as with graduate school, I want to be able to say I did something I could be truly proud of.

Stage 1—Wednesday, July 4

It’s only 5:45am, but I’m up and futzing around putting things in order to leave. Yesterday, I packed all my gear, checked the bike over about 12 times and packed the bag that will go in the van, so I’ll have real clothes after the ride is done. I might look decent in bicycle shorts now, but they’re just not the kind of thing you wear around town all day.

OK. Everything’s ready. I’m ready. It’s all already ready, already! If it were just me here, I’d be on the road right now. I’d don my helmet, get saddled up take a deep, cleansing breath and, with no fanfare whatsoever, set out to do this thing. I’d do that if it were just me here, but it’s not. There is a house full of people that wants to see me off. I’m really flattered by the attention, and I’m grateful for their blessings, but it leaves me a little abashed. I’m not really good at accepting that kind of attention, and it’s a little unnerving to have everyone so interested in this trip. Maybe this means something to more than just me? Nah, probably it’s just curiosity. I can’t really think about that now, anyway. It’s too distracting, and I need to keep my head on what I know, not what might be.

I need to remind myself constantly that I know what I can do. I can climb hills. I can ride 75 miles, and more. I can handle the challenge of pushing myself beyond doubts and fears, misgivings and denials. I can live in the moment. I can keep a cool head in a crisis. I can read a map. I can read my body. I can totally. Fucking. Do this.

08h15: Finally, the rest of the house is up and I’m set to head out. I pick up my pack to put it on and I realize it’s heavier than I’ve trained with. It’s got some equipment I’ve added at the last minute and toiletries, so I sort of expected it to be, but I was imagining a few ounces, not what feels like pounds. Maybe it’s the extra food? Oh, well. It’s too late to deal with it now. I’ll have to work it out on the road. No problem, though. I can do this!

Caleb, Maeve and family come down to wish me luck, and the girls bring out their bikes as a show of support. There’s some chatting, a photo op with my groupies (right), and it’s time to go. The morning is sunny and cool, and there is a lightness to the air, despite the lingering humidity. It’s going to be a beautiful day to be on the road. I wave good-bye and pedal off.

The first 20 miles of this stage are familiar. I’ve ridden them numerous times and I allow myself to focus my attentions inward as I ride. How does everything feel? Are my muscles loosening up? Is anything rubbing that shouldn’t be? How’s my pacing? There are no issues, of course. Things are fine, so I just settle in and enjoy the experience. I come across a small group of women riders training for a triathlon, and we wish each other well. I also meet a woman out for a day ride on her mountain bike, and we chat about things for several miles before our paths diverge. By the time I stop at Haydenville an hour later to eat and apple and re-lube, I’m feeling really good about this trip. It’s only been 20 miles, but so far, so good!

10h15 (24 miles): The next hour takes me into new riding territory. I’ve never been on these roads before (the photo at left marks the farthest I've ever ridden) and it takes me a minute to find my way along the back roads I’ve marked on my map. I’m not taking bigger roads because, well, there aren’t any that go straight west. I have chosen to follow the older roads, the roads less travelled. They will take me into the heart of the Berkshires, where the first set of climbs awaits me. I’m not there yet, though. Right now, I have to figure out which of the innumerable forks in the road I’m supposed to take to get me there.

Why is it that in New England nothing is ever properly marked? I think it’s charming when I drive around my own part of the world, but when I’m trying to get somewhere on a bike (and trying not to be about it all day), it sure can be a pain in the patoot! I take one that felt like it was right (sometimes it just comes down to feel when the map doesn’t show what it should) and suddenly I’m cruising down this nice downhill. It makes me instantly nervous. I’m heading into the mountains. There’s not supposed to be a lot of downhill riding. I mean, if this turns out to be the wrong way, I’m going to have to climb back up to the top of this damn 2-mile hill!

12h45 (43 miles): The turn worked out, thank the gods! Now, I’m in the Berkshires, heading toward Blandford. I left Huntington just a while ago after a brief break for some water and grease up (see pic, at left). The climbs have become longer and much steeper. I’m standing in the pedals in places, and the weight of the pack pulls on my back and hips when I’m up out of the saddle. It is an accepted fact that, as you continue to ride, you get stronger and better able to climb hills without getting out of breath. That’ll be great in New York, but right now is when I need it. I’m getting my ass kicked a little, here! All the training I’ve put in and the first day’s ride is giving me trouble. How embarrassing. Good thing no one is around to see this.

I'm also glad no one was around to see this when it happened (see photo, at right). Why does the bike look like this, you ask? Well, the cause is a piece of glass this big--[]. That’s right. That's how big it was. My whole cycling life, I have never had a flat caused by glass. I have ridden over broken stuff more times than I can count. Never have I had one so much as scrape a tire. Now I'm sitting here at the bottom of a hill witha piece of glass you wouldn't notice if you stepped on it that has somehow managed to embed itself so deep in my tire that it punctured the tube. Unbelieveable! I won't take the time to repair the flat. I have a new tube in my pack, so I'll just use that. I can take time tonight to repair this one, and it'll be faster, easier and more comfortable that if I sat here.

The best way to find a puncture in a bike tube, if you never learned this during childhood, is to immerse the tube in water and look for the air bubbles. To do this on the side of the road is, to say the least, more irritating than to do it in the comfort of a hotel room with a sink. Also, the best way to repair said puncture is to buff the area, coat it with rubber cement and wait for it to dry before applying the patch, then put the . This doesn't take but a minute or so for a small hole like what I have, but I'd still rather do it while watching cable in a hotel room than I would sitting on a guard rail.

I set to work changing the tube. I'm pretty quick at it but, as I'm cleaning up and repacking things, I notice that it's starting to cloud over. I knew when I got up this morning there was was a chance of rain, but it’s looking pretty certain at this point that I’m going to get wet in a bit. Crap!

Riding in the rain sucks. It’s dangerous, too. The roads get slippery on skinny, smooth road tires and cars have a harder time reacting to cyclists because they can’t see them as well. I have reflectors and a light on the back, which help my visibility, but these roads are narrow and winding. I stop when the rain starts (in the middle of a climb—grrr!) so I can take off my sunglasses and stow the music. I brought my mp3 player with me on this trip. It has a radio, but it’s also loaded with 80’s hits! Just the thing to entertain while cruising along on a bike for 7 hours or more. I’ll need to be at my most alert right now, though, and that means making sure I can see and hear everything, even far away. It would not do to be in an accident on the first day, would it?

Now, to get back on the bike and get to the top of this hill…

14h55 (58 miles): Oh. My. God. I am so sore! I cannot believe how much it took out of me to get to this point. More than two hours to cover less than 15 miles?!?! Yes, it was all uphill at a nice 7-8% grade, but that was so much harder than it needed to be. And I still have another 10-15 miles to go. It’d better be all downhill from here…

16h55 (72 miles): I stopped in Monterey (61 miles, I forgot to take a picture), on the west side of the Berkshires, so I could get out of the saddle, stretch my legs and get a bite to eat. I was just too wiped from that climb to go much further, even though it turned out to be an easy ride. While I sat and ate my last apple and finished off a bag of pretzels, I had the chance to meet another cyclist on his way to Boston. He set out from Hyde Park this morning, and was looking to get as far as Springfield before it got too dark. We shared stories and advice while the rain clattered off the porch roof of the Monterey General Store (closed, according to the sign, so the proprietors could go see fireworks). It was just the thing I needed to remind me that I would get though the day. I wonder if there'll be fireworks tonight.

I tenderly mounted up again and finished the last 12 miles in good form. The rain even stopped just as I turned the corner to head into downtown Great Barrington. I checked in to the Day’s Inn, took a nice, long shower and washed out my riding clothes. This bit of laundry is a necessary ritual because dried sweat and salt can do awful things to lycra (in addition to making it smell horrendous). Apart from that, though, I had 20+ miles of road mud on everything, and I would never have been able to stand trying to put them on in the morning.

I’m in my spare set of clothes now, and I’m hungry enough to eat a horse. It’s only a short (rainy) walk to downtown from here. I’ll have to get provisions for tomorrow: Power Bars, pretzels, fruit and trail mix, as much as I can fit in my pack. Then I’m off to find some supper. I wonder if there’s a bar or a Mexican place. I’m feeling like nachos. A lot of nachos.

1 comment:

Kizz said...

This was well timed, it reminded me to check in on the Tour. It sounds like a great trip so far, I'm looking forward to hearing about the rest of it.