Sunday, November 14, 2010

Getting it done


My pursuit of an R12 award continues. To earn it, I will have to ride at least one route of 200k or longer each month for a year. This is month eight. The route is the Schuylkill to Delaware loop. It is 200 kilometers. I rode this route once before, but because that ride started at midnight, my memory of the first half of the ride is one of following a small pool of light along a road under a night sky. This time, I start just after dawn.

The first controle is the Limerick Diner. I arrive at 6:30 for a 7:00 start. Instead of my usual pre-ride fuel of two servings of oatmeal doused with ensure, I opt for a hot diner breakfast of two scrambled eggs, toast, home fries and a bowl of oatmeal. After finishing it all, I pay the check and head out to start. I feel almost too full to start a bike ride but I figure I will just start slow and ride through it.
Daylight savings time ended last night. At just 7:00, the sun is up. The temperature is in the low 30’s and the wind is gusting. The air is clear and sharp. I am swaddled in merino wool that is covered with a layer of zippered polyester - thin armor against the cold and wind.

As I head out onto the route, the usual feeling of anticipation escapes me. My work week was busy through Saturday. Monday will find me at the airport. And this is my Sunday. But I am here to do this thing, so I pedal on.

Turning off the main road, the route becomes semi-rural roads that pass new construction over acres of former farmland. Some farms remain. I feel like summer was just here, but the harvested fields bear silent witness to the new season, as do the cold and wind. My wool buff forms a balaclava that holds the warmth of my breath against my cheeks. My head is angled down into the wind.

The number on my heart rate monitor is higher than my effort seems to warrant. My training goal for this ride is to stay in an aerobic zone; with the exception of the one steep climb I know lies ahead. I suspect that the combined work of digesting the big meal and riding is causing the elevated reading but I stick with the plan despite the slower pace.

The big climb comes early on this route. It is not long, maybe a quarter mile? But it is steep. Last time, in the dark, I had to walk the last bit. This time I see the climb coming. I wonder if the riding, the hills, the stairs and runs I have done since will make a difference. As the road rises, I work my way down to the little ring in front and granny gear in back. When the gear options end, I focus on just climbing the steep. My heart rate monitor beeps to notify me that I have left the zone. The chirping beeps broadcast my increasing heart rate as I ascend. It goes just above 90% of max as I approach the crest of the hill. My mouth has the metallic taste that comes from hard exertion. This time, I climb the hill without stopping or walking. That part is done.

The second controle is a 24-hour Weiss supermarket. Along the way, I begin to feel less full. My speed increases but the early easy pace comes at a price. I arrive at the controle much later than I expect. I make a quick purchase, get a signature, and head off, hunched down against the gusting crosswinds.

I am not used to the cold yet. It seems as if we had warm weather just the other day. Although my layers are me keeping warm, the very act of riding in the cool sharp weather, the chill air on my face and in my eyes, tests me. I focus on moving forward and getting this done.

The third controle is the Yum-Yum Bakery. At mid-morning on Sunday, it is busy. I find a seat at the counter. Order hot decaf coffee and a muffin. The neighboring guests at the counter talk of deer in the roads and the societal causes of it. The waitress talks about her entry in a country music competition. The dress that the winner will wear was just revealed. I listen and linger over my coffee, feeling its heat through the paper cup. I ask her if the dress was her size. She laughs and says it will be.

Rising to leave, I notice the time. I lingered longer than I planned. I am behind schedule. I remount and set off. No longer overfull, and with the early hills behind me, my heart controlled pace increases again. I move through the wind. Soon I will cross the Delaware River and begin the long level stretch through New Jersey.

The bridge across the river is under repair. The north side walkway is open. A bridge guard sits in small booth and reminds me to walk the bike across the span of the Delaware River. A small group of riders gathers on the shore of the Jersey side just below the bridge but they are going north and I am going south. I continue to ride alone.

Bridges cross the Delaware River at three locations along the route. Each crossing comes at a Bridge street that goes through small towns with cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. Sweatered couples and designer kids stroll the clean sidewalks. One day, I will stop and visit these picturesque towns. Today, I ride through.

Downstream, I re-cross the river into New Hope, Pennsylvania. The Eagle Diner is the next controle. Now 73 miles into the ride, my appetite is back, especially considering that the next controle is about 40 miles away. Lunch at the Eagle diner is a repeat of my breakfast selections. As I compare the quality of the home fries, the man sitting next to me starts a conversation about riding motorcycles. This leads to him telling me about his recovery from a recent hospitalization that involved a 10-day coma and multiple surgeries and how he plans to rebuild himself from the physical toll it took on him. Then just before he leaves, he points to a spot just below his ribcage on the right, leans forward and quietly tells me that he was shot in a robbery attempt and that’s how he ended up in the hospital. I shake my head with what I hope to be the appropriate amount of shock and dismay even as I wonder why he is telling me this.

The route to the next control has far more traffic than the last time I was here. Then, it was the quiet of the early morning, now everyone is out and about. Traveling along the shoulder of the road, my main motivation is the thought I have passed the halfway point of this route and each mile brings me closer to completing the ride. Unfortunately, the heavy diner meal has the same effect on my pace. Note to self - a full stomach and a fast pace do not go together at all. I tell myself to remember that for the future, as I slowly climb a small incline.

The hours it took to get to the next controle were about getting to the next controle. No suffering, no joy, just willful forward motion. One day, this experience may come in handy.

The next controle is a Dunkin Donuts. I arrive after dark. In the bathroom mirror, I see the toll that the all day cold wind and drops of salty sweat have taken on my eyes. They are blood red. I splash my face with cold water and as the water crosses my lips, I taste the salt that dried on my face. I return to my coffee and two old fashioned doughnuts. Breaking each doughnut into quarters, I dunk them into the too hot coffee and slowly eat them piece by piece.

10 miles of night riding later, I return to the Limerick diner.I take the same seat at the counter and order dinner. I eat the french fries and pack the sandwich in a box. I completed the ride. Time to go. I haven't seen my family all day and I have a flight to catch in the morning.


  1. Great stuff Nigel, keep it up.

    Seth D

  2. Willful forward motion—yeah, we all know that one, I think. Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal...