Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loop around Lancaster


Driving into the parking lot, a bank's red digitized time and temperature sign alternately flashed 6:50 a.m. and 38 degrees. Leaving the car, the cold sifted through the thin fabrics of my windbreaker and tights to settle against my skin. I wondered if leaving the wool tights at home was a good idea after all. Ephrata was quite a bit colder than the neighborhood I'd left an hour and a half ago. 38 degrees. Glad to have my winter gloves and softshell vest, I loaded the bags on to the bike and headed across the street to the first controle.

The clerk at the gas station mini-mart recognized the brevet card before I could say a word and took out a pen to sign it. This must be a popular permanent. It took me longer to decide on a purchase than it took to get the card signed and receipt in hand. Not quite ready to eat just yet, I bought an OJ, tucked it into my rack bag and set off. 

Riding into the last of the night, the cool wind chilled my cheeks. I pulled the bottom of my wool buff up over my mouth and nose to form a balaclava. The captured breath warmed my face.

Motivation escaped me. The thought of a full day's ride seemed too much to consider all at once. I wanted coffee and slippers and an easy Sunday morning. 

Pushing back thoughts of warm blankets, I looked to the horizon for the first rays of light and pedaled on into the dark, willing patience. The route quickly turned off the main road onto the first of many roads that would thread through Pennsylvania farmlands now cast in shades of night.

The sky finally began to lighten. At its own unhurried pace, the sun rose, red and slow, silhouetting silos and coloring the world in a bright fall orange. The light stretched shadows onto the face of land.

It has been weeks since I last rode Esmerelda. I commuted on my utility bike. I rode most of a  brevet on a rental. But Esmerelda sat unridden.Now, sitting on the Brooks saddle, curved over her familiar lengths, hands falling just so onto bars and hoods whose final place took multiple re-positionings and re-wrapping to get just right, felt comfortable, powerful, simple and right.  I remembered one reason I do this. 

In the crisp morning light, the harvested fields of corn stalks appeared as sharp brown stubble. Warmth did not immediately follow light. My right foot was chilled through, numb with cold,  not the dangerous cold of frostbite, just cold. It would pass, eventually.  

The temps would rise that day. I imagined it would be at least thirty degrees warmer by mid afternoon, but the warmth seemed slow to arrive as though the earth itself was reluctant to greet the day. Through a languid morning on roads all but free of traffic, past quiet farms, I spun forward into silence.

At mid-morning, warmth flowed back into my toes. I wiggled them in delight, happy for the sensation.

The course turned toward the Susquehanna River and ran south alongside railroad tracks that ran alongside the river. Road and track and river, side by side off to the horizon, bordered by acres of green and brown.

The course turned from the river, back toward the farms and rolling hills.

A graveyard sits beside the road that climbs from the riverside. 19th century tombstones, time faded, weather worn, lean and sag and tilt like the broken stalks that cover the farm fields  after the harvest. I approach it from below ground level and then rise  above it on the hill as if the promise of resurrection had been fulfilled.

The rolling hills make for real rollers. Fast climbs on easy grades melt into long fast descents with open lines of sight on low traffic roads. Today, I am a raptor riding asphalt thermals on wide spread wings. This I could do all day.

Everywhere in Amish country seems to honor the sabbath. Corn stands stand empty in front of harvested fields. Wind blows unhindered. Couples, dressed in black, walk long stretches down rural roads. Even the cows are in repose.

The real climbs on this route come in the second half of the ride. No one hill is too long or steep, but they come in ascending waves, each building on the one before. My average speed drops as my legs accumulate the strains of effort. 

I did not do a full taper for this randonee. This is a training ride. This is not a race. This is a Sunday ride in the country. My legs do not hear these rationalizations. They continue the hard work.

Then, somewhere in the hills, it happens. Unfocused focus. Meditation of movement. Anima and Animus. That place outside of time where directed thought falls away. I am hunger and drive and thirst and movement, always movement.

Loop map and elevation profile

A herd of llamas recognize me. They gather to return my stare. Then, when I ride off, they run along the fence line with me until they run out of room to run, then they stand and watch me ride down the road, a human animal ranging unfettered.
At a tidy, tiny corner cafe in a small Pennsylvania town, I stop for turkey noodle soup, coffee and water. When I order, my voice is dry and hoarse. I take ice from the water and add it to the coffee and to the soup to cool them enough to drink. The waitress is friendly. She refills my water bottle and asks about my trip. She doesn't recognize the towns I name but remarks on how nice a day it is for a bike ride. I agree.

Just  after the 100 mile mark, the hills return to rollers. My pace increases in response. I ride to one more food stop, the penultimate controle, dine on breakfast burritos and add an energy drink to my water bottle. The store manager recognizes my card and offers to sign it. This must be a popular permanent. I remount to ride past pumpkin patches, horse drawn buggies, and preserved farmlands along the road to Ephrata.