Sunday, March 29, 2015

The season starts anew.

March 28, 2015. 

Photo from
Spending four hours riding uphill into a freezing headwind gives you lots of time to question your decisions. Especially when riding solo. I pressed on, pushing through the harsh chill, even while relearning hard won lessons.  

Early Spring snow and ice postponed the start of the 2015 edition of the Blue Mountain 200K by one week. One week later, the morning broke cold and blustery. Two snack bars eaten in the car served for breakfast as I hurried to make the start. As I entered the Milford Bakery, the gathering of riders were completing the last stages of their pre-ride prep . Minutes later, they rode off. I mounted my bicycle and followed onto the course.

My preparation for this ride consisted of re-reading blog posts from the 2012 and 2014 editions of the ride and trusting in my ability to finish yet again. Other than that, I just showed up.

At the start, temperatures hovered around freezing. The snow and ice had retreated from the roads and fields but still lurked in the shadowed corners where the light of the lengthening days had not reached the last lingering cold places. It was March snow - crystallized, hardened and sharp - more jaded ice than the innocent fluffy softness of sledding and snow balls. 

From the quiet stretch along the Delaware river, I turned inland, into the open field that is one of my favorite places to experience sunrise by bicycle. This time, sightseeing gives way to riding in the drops and ducking into the cold wind that pushes back hard. I wore enough layers to keep the cold at bay but the wind siphoned energy from me nonetheless. To use Bill Olsen's phrase, my leg lacked "snap."

I push through and ride. I ride through the gritty town Phillipsburg, NJ, that sits under the railroad tracks, with its wooden row homes and the faded sign for the "Family Liquor Store" that makes me wonder what a family liquor store sells and to whom.

I cross the Delaware river into Pennsylvania grateful for the mandatory walk across the bridge and the chance to look up on the rising sun reflecting bright gold on the gilded signs of the deep green bridge. 

I climb past Lafayette college and suffer the memories of past climbs past Lafayette college done without the wind and the cold. Memories that omit the effort it took to do so.

I return to the scrappy farms of eastern Pennsylvania that grow food on the rolling terrain formed by the foothills of the Kittatinny mountain range. I ride through, breathing the faint earthy aroma of manured fields, listening to the discordant sound of the wind during long stretches of quiet persistence. And still I ride alone.

Finding a place of comfort eludes me. The bike fits fine but my mind ain't right. Memory tells me that this should be easier. I wonder if the 30 day biking challenge and off season lifting has led to my being over trained or under rested. I question my fitness and my training. How the hell can I expect to complete the 1230 kilometer PBP ride when this 200K is kicking my ass. I give myself pep talks to assuage the doubt - its early in the season - you have time - you've done this before. Then I remember breakfast, or rather the lack of it. I am behind on carbohydrates and bumping up against empty. I eat a Clif bar from my bag and soon feel a surge of energy. The realization comes to me that I have gotten behind the fuel balance and will have to dig myself out of this hole for the rest of the day. But at least I think I know what I need to do.

On the other side of the mountain, the course turns out of the wind. An earlier 30 minute "detour" of bonus miles means that I have no idea where I am relative to others on the course. I had overlapped with a few others at early controls but still I ride solo. I press on, thankful for the tailwind, despite the subfreezing cold.

The control at 80 miles is at the Delaware Water Gap bakery. The diner next door has hot food and indoor facilities so I eat there instead. After washing the sweat salt from my burning eyes and eating soup and oatmeal, my mood vastly improves. Sometimes willpower is chemistry - a simple matter of proper blood sugar levels.

Back on the course, Eric K. and Dan B. join me. We ride together and I am glad for the company. Eric's mood is light and conversational and it carries me along.

Then I flat. Luckily, the hole in the tire is easy to find and the tube change goes smoothly. I catch up with Eric and Dan at the next control and then off we go. 

I remember that one big climb comes before a long descent to the finish, and frankly, the thought of it intimidates me a bit. I've been able to hold the bonk at bay with a steady influx of carbs, but I know that won't be enough to make the climb easy. The climb comes on Turkey Hill road. I spin up in my granny gear at just enough of an effort to stave off implosion. Pennsylvania RBA Tom R. comes driving past. He rolls down a window and calls out. "Looking strong! You're almost to the top and then it's all downhill to the finish." His little white lie about how I look and words of encouragement give me a bit more motivation to grind out the climb.

Then, finally, I hit the long descent to the finish. The wind chill from the downhill seems to freeze the sweat in my cap to the point where I consider how long it would take to get forehead frostbite. But that passing thought cannot detract from the rising elation of knowing that I will get this done. Unlike this morning, this wind chill comes from my effortless flight to the finish, instead of hindering and draining me, it uplifts. A music theater song lyric pops into my head. "I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly." 

Every season starts anew. The weather carries no memory of years gone by and makes no promises of what it shall offer when. Any comparison between this day and another is a comparison between a memory and reality - deceptive and illusive. Set aside the comparisons. Let this day be this day.

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