Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bike Virginia Day Three: Nothing but Sunshine

Miss Piggy in Saltville

28 June 2015

"The first four miles, you're going to feel like you did at the end of yesterday's ride," Tom said.  "After that you'll feel great."

Of course I didn't belive him.  We were going to have to ascend 4000 feet in 46 miles.

He ended up being right.  We had a real dinner last night. We all got a lot of sleep, which helped. I did an extra round of PT before bed and another in the morning. I made my own coffee, the brown water provided by the hotel not being strong enough. The temperature had dropped into the 70s.  The air was dry, the sun was out, and the headwind wasn't much.

We started riding at 9:30 a.m.  All the fastboys and racergirls had apparently gone out at 8:00 with George Hincapie (none of us was interested in meeting him).  That left the regular folks, the people who look like us and are willing to talk and pedal at the same time.

Today's route was through a valley of rolling hills.  I spotted three Confederate battle flags, two of them on the same pole.  I don't know what these people think the flag stands for, but this description of southern heritage is what I think of.

In southwestern Virginia, even the cows are white:

More rolling scenery:

This cow posed for me:

Not counting on any cool days, I'd only packed sleeveless jerseys, so I pulled out one of the ones I bought on Friday.  Tom said I looked goth dressed all in black.  I asked him to take a picture.

This is me in my natural habitat, a Primal jersey. This is the closest I'll ever get to wearing a little black dress:

A herd of cows on a hillside:

More scenery:

At the rest stop in Saltville, Tom ran into his friend from work again.  Although he'd done the century yesterday, he and his group were out again today.  We decided to ride the remaining 15 miles together.

On the edge of town:

Tom and Tim had a lot to catch each other up on.  I found myself with a burst of energy at the same time that I could feel my legs beginning to get tired, which was a weird feeling.  I started to ride ahead, making sure that I could see Tom, Ron, and Tim in my mirror.  I don't know what happened to the rest of Tim's group.  I think some of them passed me early on.

The closer we got to the end of the ride, the more energy I had.  "I can smell the barn," I told Ron.  "I just want this to be over."  I was finally relaxed.  I hadn't realized how wound up I'd been all weekend.

I stopped one more time to get a picture of a white horse.  This one's for you, Larry.

 The four of us finished the ride more or less together.  We asked Tim to get a picture of us.

Then, as is becoming a sometimes tradition, I collapsed on the grass by Tom's car:

We hung out for a while with Tim and his buddies in their camp.  We exchanged biking stories and they gave us snacks.  I now know that somebody climbed Mount Mitchell in a unicycle. They were amused by the late Norman B supposedly having ridden over the Rockies on a penny farthing, and then contemplated what a mountain bike version would be like.

Riders were breaking camp, the next half of the rides being held from Tennessee.  The vendors were close to packing up, too, so we made another pass through the stalls.  The Primal jerseys were marked down even further, and Ron wanted to look through what was left.  There was nothing worthy in his size, unfortunately.  The Bike Virginia clothing was going pretty cheap also, so I picked up a vest (Primal, too, but that's not why I bought it).  On Friday, Ron gave me an old Bike Virginia jersey he'd picked up but that didn't fit him quite right.  Then there's the icky t-shirt I got for registering early. Add these into the mix and I'm coming home with 6 new pieces of clothing.

We each have one meal token left, but I'm really not into another slab of cold lasagna and bowl of brown lettuce.  It didn't take much for me to persuade Tom to eat some real food tonight instead.

Tomorrow we'll get an earlyish start for our drive back to New Jersey.  We'll caravan with Ron as the pinball as far as Front Royal.  Then I'll peel off towards DC to fetch Jack.

The fourth of July weekend will be the first that I've spent entirely in New Jersey since Memorial Day weekend.  Jack will be home, with no more long-term trips in the near future.  My life should be normal again, at least for a little while. The cats will be happy.


Perhaps I bought this jersey in honor of the wasp I startled last weekend?

I don't know about that, but I do think it's my new favorite.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Driving to Demascus

Now we know why the laminate our tags.

27 June 2015

We were in Damascus, VA three times today.  The Bike Virginia route pamphlet wanted everyone to start from the 4-H campground.  From there, one would ride in the rollers of the pink route, then either head towards the summit of Whitetop mountain on the Orange Route (74 miles total).  Or, from pink, one could take the blue route up a long, slow grade into Tennessee, through Cherokee National Forest. Or, one could combine all three and finish with 105 miles.

Not us.  I wanted to be able to say I'd been in Tennessee.  We'd already done some of the Pink route when Tom added miles on Friday.  We wanted to ride as many miles as possible, within reason, before the rain hit.

"We're driving to Demascus," Tom decided.  That's where all three routes came together.  He said "Driving to Damascus" so many times that I had to play the song for him and Ron on our way back from dinner last night.

We all turned in early, but I couldn't fall asleep.  The air conditioner kept cycling on and off, and then somone started snoring.  I gave up and put in a pair of earplugs.  I figured I'd still be able to hear my phone's alarm iat 6:30 in the morning.

I was wrong.

I was wrong for 7 minutes, during which neither Tom nor Ron bothered to turn it off nor wake me up. Instead they just laughed until I drifted out of whatever deep sleep I'd been in and heard the thing.  I figure I'll be hearing about this for a year or two.

Anyway, when I opened my eyes, Tom was peering at the radar.  He figured we'd be able to get at least the orange route in before 11:00 a.m., when the first band of heavy rain would come through.  "We'll drive to Damascus, park there, do the orange route, and wait in Demascus for the rain to stop.  Or we can call it quits there."

Tom had put The Fear into us:  there would be a monster ascent somewhere in the first fifteen miles.  Last night, when Ron had said, "My legs hurt just looking at this."  I had chosen not to look.

We were on our bikes at 8:45 a.m.  The roads were dry.  The sun was out.

We rolled through grazing land:

I stopped to say hello to some cows.

The orange route's far point was at the summit of Whitetop Mountain.  The rest stop was almost, but not quite, at the top of a monster 2-mile, 1100-foot ascent at a steady 10% grade.  This was preceeded by a baby monster that we all pretty much forgot about once we hit the real thing.  I dropped into my granny gear and found a slow cadence.  I decided not to bottom out; I wanted to save a few gears in case things got worse.

The three of us plodded along, getting passed by fastboy after fastboy, and by one fastgirl.  Hill Slugs in da house!  I watched the riders ahead for signs of a change in grade.  I saw one person dismount and other pass him.  Another rider called it quits as I passed him.  

My back hurt.  I wasn't going to stop to stretch it.

I have a triple up front and mountain bike gearing in the back.  I'm not allowed to stop.  

I turtled along at something close to 4.5 miles an hour.  I hoped for the best every time the road curved out of view, but nothing ever looked like the top.  After several forevers, a turnout for an overlook appeared.  The view was astounding, but I wasn't going to stop for it.

"I'm stopping here," Tom called up to me.

"I'm gonna keep going."  I'll steal his picture when he posts it, I figured.  The road turned another corner, and there was the rest stop, on an outcrop with the same view.

Naturally, the first thing I did was pull out my cell phone, take a picture, and send it to Marc with the message that we'd made it to the top of the mountain without being rained on.  Naturally, as soon as I put my phone away, the rain began.

"You just have about a mile more to the top," one of the volunteers said.  "Then it's mostly downhill for fifteen miles."

So, back into turtle-slug mode we went, this time in something more than a drizzle and less than real rain.  A well-meaning Bike Virginia volunteer had stuck a sign by the side of the road.  "5 miles to the top," it said, and was followed by a smiley-face.

5 miles?  I don't know if I can hold this for five more miles. I guess I have to.  But that's not right.  The rest stop is almost at the top.  I looked ahead at the three riders who had passed me.  They were disappearing over a lip.  Not 5 miles; 0.5 miles.  "Is this the top? This looks top-ish," I said to a rider next to me.  She agreed and sped off.  I slowed down to make sure that Tom and Ron could see me raise my fist in the air in victory.

I don't know how long it took us to fly down that mountain, but it felt like five minutes.  At the bottom, where it wasn't raining at all, I turned around to look at the sky at the top.

As promised, it was almost all downhill from there on the road to Damascus.

The rest stop was teeming with fastboys and skinny women.  I felt completely outclassed.  And somewhat fat. I knew, without asking, that these powerhouses were riding the century.  There weren't enough cars parked here to prove otherwise.

We plopped down on the grass.  The guys ate the beans and rice served by the volunteers.  I engulfed my PB&J, plus half the diluted coffee I'd poured into my second water bottle in the morning.  We checked the radar; rain was heading straight for us.  Never mind that, because we were heading for the blue route.  "We're going to get wet," Tom said.  I rolled onto my stomach to stretch my back while another rider gave us the low-down on the slow, low-grade ascent into Tennessee.  "It's beautiful," she said.

And it was.  We were under trees most of the time, so, while we did get wet, the trees kept most of the rain off of us.  The road was newly paved, and a steady 3 percent grade.  I had to call for a rest halfway up because my back was aching again.  My shorts were wet, too.  We had gone nearly 40 miles at this point; i usually get my second wind at 40 miles.  If it was going to happen today, it needed to happen now.  It didn't seem to be happening.  My back still hurt.

After a brief 9% grade, we reached the rest stop:

Ruritan!  Could it be the name of the stream we'd been following all the way up here?  That would be seventeen kinds of awesome.

I sent a text to Sean and Dale with a picture of the sign.  "They talk funy down here," I wrote.

Sadly, no.  Raritan.

I found a tree branch and hung from it for a slow count of 30.  The pain was gone.

We stood under the roof of the picnic area until a downpour stopped.

After a short climb back up the pre-rest stop hump, it was all downill.  Tom supposed we could ride the next ten miles without pedaling, but we didn't try.

This time we stopped for pictures:

That's a Raleigh sign next to the bike:

When we arrived again in Damascus, the sun was shining.

We crashed out on the grass again, chatting with a handful of century riders.  Again I felt like a slacker.  I felt as if this ride were the equivalent of me in a room full of Princeton students.  I rolled onto my back and did my PT stretches.  I was licked.  "I feel as if I should have been doing the century," I said to Tom as we walked back to the car.  "We could have," he said, "And it would have sucked."

Team Synapse:

The sky darkened as we drove the eight miles back to the hotel.  We had barely time enough to get our bikes indoors before the rain came.

We cleaned up, ate anything in the hotel room that wasn't nailed down, and drove to the center of Abingdon in search of chocolate.  We found a bakery and bought some things for later.  We crossed the street and had dinner on the porch of an old house turned restaurant.

Back in the hotel room, Tom opened his mapping software to announce the post mortem gleaned from his GPS:

60 miles (which we knew), with 7000 feet of climbing (which we didn't know), 4500 of which were in the first 33 miles.

Tomorrow we have 45 miles with 4000 feet of climbing, although Tom, in his optimistic manner, is promising it won't be as bad as today.  If nothing else, the high temperature for the day will only be in the 70s, and there won't be any rain.

I'd best get on my back and stretch again.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Bike Virginia Day One: The Extra Abingdon Loop

26 June 2015

First, I have to say this:  Antonin Scalia, spare us your spittle-flecked invective and go cry into your American flag.  Gay marriage is the law of the land; deal with it.  So is Obamacare; deal witht that, too.


For 7:00 a.m. it seemed dark outside.  I checked my email; at midnight, Marc had written to tell us that he would not be meeting us in Abindgon.  The weather forecast factored heavily in his decision.  

Never mind that; Tom had declared, "Wheels up at 8:30," so I had to get ready.  I was halfway into my bike clothes (my rainbow-tie-dye jersey, suitable for a blue girl in a red state) when I heard something outside.  I peeked between the curtains to see torrents of rain.

It would be so easy right now to call Jack and tell him I'd be a few days early picking him up from DC.  I checked the Abingdon forecast for myself.  50% chance of rain there today, 80% tomorrow.

Tom, though, was unabashedly optimistic when I knocked on his door forty minutes later. "We'll check the radar when we get there," he said.

By 8:30 the rain had let up, and we hit the road for the two hour drive.

In Abingdon there had been rain, lots of it, in the morning.  But now, as we prepared to leave, the roads were dry.  At the registration desk, a volunteer commented on my jersey.  "It's a rainbow in celebration of the Supreme Court decision," I said.

"What decision?"

"They ruled in favor of gay marriage."

Her face went blank, but the volunteer in front of me said, "They did?  When?" She was beaming.

"About an hour ago. Gay marriage is the law of the land."

"That's great!" she exclaimed, and put up her hand for a high-five.  She guided me through the heavy ride packet: meal tokens, wrist band, route descriptions, bike tag.  T-shirts were outside.

Headquarters for the weekend portion of Bike Virginia are at the 4-H grounds.  Camping is in the rear, parking is out front, vendors are in the middle, and food is off to the side.  This early on the first day, the lot was still relatively empty.  We figured the forecast would keep a lot of people away.

We didn't get started until 11:30.  Tom had worked in an extra ten miles, more hilly than the rest of the route. But, as it turns out, his extra miles were the most scenic.

An antique shop with an unusual sign:

I like this hill:

Mountains in the distance:

A long fence on a flat stretch:

We rejoined the masses, and I stopped for one more view:

Then there was the little hill with the big traffic jam.

The roads here are narrower than we're used to, and the drivers more polite.  There are no marked shoulders either.  So when a rider is plodding up a hill, the drivers don't go around.  They wait.  Soon enough there's a line of traffic mixed in with a line of cyclists, and nothing is moving more than a few miles an hour.

I did the thing I do on Princeton's campus when pedestrians and people in golf carts are behaving like imbecilies:  I went around, in the way that someone from the northeast goes around.  In this situation, polite drivers are more hazardous than hurried ones.

There was one more cyclist-induced traffic jam before we reached the rest stop.

I inhaled the PB&J I'd packed (I made half a dozen sandwiches before leaving NJ), drank some Gatorade for the first time in years, remembered why I stopped drinking Gatorade, and asked a volunteer where I could find a bathroom.

She pointed.  "Go up the stay-ups," she said, "and you'll see the building."

Stay-ups? Oh! Those steps over there.  "Got it.  Thanks."

I should mention that there was a donation table for the local volunteer fire company, which is all well and good, except that said table was selling Civil War bullet casings.  Somehow I kept my mouth shut.  Also, so far today I'd seen only white people.

We had about seven more miles to go.  This included yet another cyclist-induced traffic jam, this time involving a dozen riders and one long, empty, flatbed trailer that Tom suggested we could hop onto.

I stopped one more time for pictures:

Around the corner I saw a Confederate flag.  Fortunately, it was the only one on the route.

Even though we finished with a few tenths shy of 32 miles, I felt as if I'd gone 60.  The heat and humidity were way up.  Dripping with sweat, we wandered over to the vendors.  I came away with three new Primal jerseys (they don't usually show up this cheap).

We're sharing a large hotel room eight miles from HQ.  It fits us and our bikes quite well.  There are two queen beds and a sofa bed.  I was a late addition to the room, having canceled my own room reservation after not being able to find anyone else crazy enough to do this Bike Virginia thing. We cleaned up, snacked, contemplated tomorrow's routes, and went back to the campground to spend one of our meal tokens on dinner.

View of the camp in the evening:

Hey!  A Tomassini Tecno, just like Beaker! I met his owner, too.  We love our Tomassinis.  I love mine better because mine is electric blue and has no logos.

In the dining hall, Tom met someone he used to work with, someone who is planning to ride the 105-mile route tomorrow.  I instantly felt deficient.  "I can do a hundred miles," I told Tom after his friend had left, "But I can't do them here.  I mean, I could, but I'd be miserable."

On our way home we stopped at a drug store and bought junk food.

Now we're off in our own digital universes again, Ron with his iPad, me on my blog, and Tom jiggering the Bike Virginia routes on offer to cobble together a metric that will probably kill us.

If it doesn't rain.