August 3, 2008

A good ride

Today's weather was absolutely glorious. Though August has just begun, there've been a couple of slightly cooler, slightly less humid days, and the cicadas have joined the crickets in the evening chorus, creating a vague hint of a bit of a feel that autumn is just around the corner.

I meant to do my work today --
but a brown bird sang in the appletree,
and a butterfly flitted across the field,
and all the leaves were calling me.
(Richard Le Gallienne)

So, of course I had to go out and play. I threw the bike on the roof-rack and cruised up to Fort Frederick State Park as my starting point for a late-afternoon ride on the C&O Canal towpath. I chose today to forego sunscreen (lots of shade on the towpath), decided at the last moment to leave my bike helmet in the car and ride bare-headed (shame on me), realized as I was getting on the bike that I had left my tire pump at home and, later on, forgot to zip my saddle bag after a break, which resulted in the loss of my multi-tool. So I was tempting the Fates in all sorts of ways. With my luck, I fully expected to end up pink-skinned, to crash and split open my head, to have two flat tires, and for every bolt on my bike to come loose.

It was great, though. My brain was quieter than usual, so I was able to focus on sensory experiences and random occurences as I pedaled along. I stopped for a break along the stone wall bordering Dam 5 along the Potomac River. Lying back to watch cottony clouds float across the blue sky, I felt sun-warmed rock beneath my back and a soft breeze brushing my bare arms and legs. One expansive, greyish cloud imposed itself between the sky and the river while I was relaxing there, and then decided to follow me as I got back on the bike and headed along the trail. Through the canopy of leaves, I could see blue sky at the edges of the cloud to the left and right, but it cast a shadow directly over the already tunnel-like, tree-lined towpath that created a feeling of impending dusk. Even though I had miles to go, I kept feeling as if it were time to turn around and head back. Fortunately I passed beyond both the cloud and the feeling. By the time I reached Williamsport, MD (which George Washington almost designated as the nation's capitol), the grey cloud had dissipated and seemingly taken every single little puffy white cloud along with it, leaving clear blue everywhere I looked.

There's an interview with Brandon Boyd from back when he was dating supermodel Carolyn Murphy, in which he mentions that she's from the Florida panhandle and that she refers to that area as "The Redneck Riviera". That description could also aptly apply to one short stretch of the C&O upstream from Dam 5. The towpath clings to a narrow ledge along a small cliff that juts out along the river. The park service has reinforced the ledge with concrete, and the locals pull up their boats in the river, then climb out and use it as a pool patio. Heading downstream on my ride wasn't so bad (looked like the photo below), but by the time I was on my way back upstream, there was apparently a party going on. Coming around the blind curve of the cliff to find that I suddenly had to maneuver through an obstacle course of beach towels, coolers, and bathing-suited bodies was quite a surprise. And the rural teenaged partiers were none too quick to move out of the way for a lycra-clad cyclist.

(Photo not mine, I snagged it from the slideshow on this page.)

But even the task of trying to swerve around lazy kids without ending up in the river contributed an element of fun to the day's ride. And it was good physically, too. I was hoping to get in a long distance today and was afraid I wouldn't achieve it because I was rolling along at such a brisk clip. I often wear myself out through inefficient pacing, and end up either taking way too many breaks or cutting the ride short. Professional bike racers talk of having good legs some days, bad legs others. Today was apparently a good legs day for me, as I managed to maintain a high gear and a respectable speed for most of the ride.

What it really seems to come down to, though, is not the legs but the feet. I've babbled before of how it's all about finding the sweet spot, the perfect cadence, speed, and effort to just go on and on. When you find that combination, it becomes hard to stop. Your hands and toes may begin to tingle and go numb, your pubic bone (and whichever accompanying gender-specific parts you happen to be packing) may end up mashed against the saddle, lactic acid may make your quads and glutes burn, and your brain may even begin to shout at you to stop... But if your feet have found that perfect rhythm, it's as if they take on a life of their own and will keep spinning that smooth round cadence until they carry you all the way to the gates of Hell (or Heaven, if you're less irreverent than me). But damned if it doesn't feel good!

I got back to the car after 30 miles round-trip, sans sunburn, with no knocks to my noggin, both tires still inflated, feeling great, but sadly lacking my multi-tool (which, though, gives me an excuse to visit the bike shop). The Fates were kind.

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