Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mountain Biking!!!!

OMG!! What a rush!!

For the past 3 or so years, I have played around with the idea of mountain biking.  I would never commit to it nor was I total convinced that I would want to do it as I always had a big road biking goal looming in the near future.  For the first time I don't have a major road cycling goal, so now is the time to give mountain biking a try.  If I break my arm, then, oh well, I break my arm.  It wouldn't mess up any major training.

So, for the past month, I have been trying to make arrangements to get to borrow a bike to take to the trails.  Well, a borrowed bike never happened, but I did find a used one on Craig's list.  So I took the plunge and bought it before I had ever ridden it in the dirt!  I decided that if I hate mtn biking, I could probably sell it pretty easy.

This weekend was the Magee Lungbuster Mountain Bike race and festival.  I really did not know what to expect, but it would be this weekend I would get to try my hand at riding a bike with big knobby tires in the dirt.

Somehow, I was able to talk Jay into taking me out Friday afternoon.  The mountain bike trails are not far from the house and we drove over to them.  There were several people there doing the last minute preparations for the weekend.  Jay and I rolled out of the parking lot and into the wooded trails.  I am on my new red and black Specialized Rockhopper a little trepidatious.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  First the trail is single track.  This means only wide enough for one bike to get through.  There are trees everywhere.  Trees to the right of me, trees to the left with just a small dirt track that is only about a foot and a half wide.  Not what I was expecting.  The trail is also not flat - at least not in many places.  To realize that this piece of property is less than 5 miles from the house and is as wooded and "in the middle of no where" astonished me.  It is strikingly beautiful.  There is one section that the mtn bikers call the cave - it is actually just a carved out area, but one would never imagine this small cut out (in sandstone?) to be just a few miles from my house. 

So, we set out and head up.  I have not figured out how to use my gears yet.  They are somewhat different from my old Specialized road bike in that you have two small levers to push in opposite directions to change gears.  I am keeping my eyes right in front of my tire - probably no more than 1-2 ft out.  We are climbing a somewhat steep hill and all of a sudden the blue tape marking the course is right in front of me.  I should have been turning to the left, but did not even realize I was suppose to be turning.  Womp!  Down I go - haven't been on the bike more than 15 minutes and I have already hit the dirt!  Amazingly, it did not hurt at all.  I jumped up and Jay and I analyzed my mistake.  I should scan a good way in front of me as I check out the terrain right in front of me.  This is something I had to do on fast descents on the road bike during my cross country, so once I figured out I did not need to look right at the front of my wheel, I was able to anticipate turns  better.

From that point we would ride up and down and up and down.  My heart was pounding with excitement and I was breathing as hard as I ever had.  I was red lining big time.  I did not have on a heart rate monitor, but I guarantee I was at or over 185 - my theoretical max - not once, but most of the time. It was exhilarating!  At one point we see deer running along in the woods not far from where we are riding.  Squirrels squirt across the dusty dirt trail regularly.  My biggest difficulty was really sharp turns - especially when they are trending up steeply and there is a tree in the apex of the turn!  Many of these turns I would have to unclip and walk up a couple steps to be able to get through the turn.  My second issue was getting back on the bike after coming off during one of the turns.  I would not be in the right gear to get the traction I needed and then immediately start climbing again - especially if there were roots in the trail.

We rode for about 2ish hours and Jay estimated we rode 5 or 6 miles!!!! HA!!!! We also rode again on Sunday afternoon.  I was a little more apprehensive at the beginning, unclipping in some areas of the trail I did not have any problems with on Friday, but the longer we rode, the more confidence I had.  I still was unable to climb the hill with the really sharp turn with the tree in the apex, but I got further up the hill before bailing.  I also fell twice, but this time I either over cooked my turn and lost footing in the pine straw or lost traction in a turn and my back wheel slid out from underneath me.  Neither fall was bad - I guess they were not really falls at all - just skids in which skin touched the ground briefly!

Mountain biking and road riding are worlds apart.  watch out for that tree, ugh brake, pedal, push up this steep short hill, stand up to take the descent, brake, pedal, brake, yikes close tree, sharp turn, tree!  I was constantly in thought keeping Jay in my vision, trying to look past him, but scanning the earth in front of me.  It will be hard to learn to navigate through the trails without riding with someone for a while.  It is easier not having to do the navigation totally on my own.  I guess I need to have him ride behind me during the next ride for a little while so I don't get too accustomed of having someone to follow.  Both cycling disciplines are amazing ways to exercise and be outside in our wonderful world.  It is just fun right now to do something a little "off the paved path"!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now What?!!


I will admit that I am still having issues with goal setting since I have been back from my Transcon.  I am a person who needs goals - requires goals, otherwise, I just seem to flouder around without any purpose.  My problem is that I just don't know what I want to do athletically right now. 

My passion is touring.  However, I just found out that I can't self support tour with my CA2 - it is not recommended to mount racks on this carbon bike.  So, to tour, I will either have to get my Independent Fabrication out of the moth balls, put my Corsa back together, or borrow Dougs Giro.  So, Friday, I got the IF out of moth balls and took it in to get a few parts repaired.  I will see how I do on the IF before playing with the Giro or Corsa.

Next, I am just bored.  If I am not touring, the next "goal" for me in cycling would be ultra racing.  I just don't want to have to train as hard as I will have to to race.  Plus, if I were to race, I would want to win and my competitive nature is not a nice one.  I don't like my attitude when I have to "be the best".  Why race if you don't plan on winning?  I am the type of person who tosses the monopoly board if I am not winning.  Although, I hope I can be more mature than tossing Boardwalk and Park Place across the room, do I want to put myself through that frustration on a bike?

I could continue my randonneuring.  I am still riding 200 and 300k rides somewhat frequently.  The pursuit of doing my cross country trip and the fear of riding at night has curtailed my riding the longer brevets - the 400 and 600k rides.  I have not completed or even attempted a 400 k on the recumbent.  I am much faster now and have better lights. Pat and company finished a 400 k last night - somewhere around 3 or 4 am.  Yuck!  They made great time finishing it in 21 hours - 6 hours to the good.  I just don't know that the pursuit of pushing yourself to ride as long as possible is fun to me anymore.  I used to love, and still do love to answer the question "what is your longest ride" with 257 miles!  But, do I really want to do that now?

Is it time now to experience some other athletic endeavors?

Mountain Biking:  I have always wanted to try mountain biking.  I never have as I have always had some other goal looming in the future.  I was afraid that the day I tried mountain biking I would break something and not be able to complete whatever my upcoming goal was.  Now is my chance to try.  I am going to go out to the Fat tire festival next weekend and see what it is all about.

Running:  I have always hated running.  I just don't get it.  You are outside, which is a requirement for me, but you can't see as much as cycling, plus it hurts more to run! And it is boring.  And I can't run for more than two minutes at a time.  And I "run" (more like walk) a 15 minute mile. So, what an opportunity for a goal!  Yeah, I love goals.  I have made it a small goal to be able to run 2 miles without stopping by January 1st.  This is not easy, mind you.  With all of the people out there doing marathons, I would have thought it was easy.  I can certainly ride my bike across America, but this running is hard and makes me breath hard and my hips hurt.  But, I need a goal and this is it for right now.

Swimming:  I don't know how to swim.  When I was 10 maybe a little younger, my brother and I flew out to see my grandparents in Oklahoma City.  That was not a good visit.  First I puked all over my brother and myself on the plane.  Puked chocolate chip ice cream within the first hour of being at my grandparents house after the plane trip (to this day I can't eat chocolate chip ice cream). And puked every morning of swim lessons after they tried to teach me how to dive.  Not gonna do it I tell, ya, not gonna do it.  So, at 44 years of age, I can probably keep myself alive if I am tossed from a boat, but that is the end of my swimming abilities.  So another goal, although I haven't set a firm goal is to learn to swim. 

Triathlons? HA, can't swim and can't run!  This may never materialize!  Let me learn to run 2 miles without stopping and swim some laps without drowning and I may look at a tri - doubt I will ever do one, but who knows, stranger things have happened.

Hiking and camping: I would love to start hiking and camping more.  I will need help with this whole endeavor.  David is too busy fencing right now really to hike or camp.  I don't mind sleeping in a sleeping bag in a tent.  Matter of fact the few times I have gone camping, I have really enjoyed it.  I think camping should be in coolish weather.  I love looking at the stars at night and walking in the woods during the day.  Fording rivers, searching for waterfalls, encountering wildlife are all so much fun.  I need to learn how to use a camp stove. 

Anyway, I am just looking to experience life.  I don't want to leave any stone unturned.  We have so much opportunity.  I just don't want to let any of it slip by...

Silver Comet Weekend Part 3

Back at the Holiday Inn, which by the way, is at the top of a long hill, we planned to cleaned up and then meet back to conquer some red meat.  I was starving.  Bill had given me some trail mix that was overflowing from the small bag he uses on his bike.  I devoured it and drank my Recoverite.  Boy was I ready for that steak.  We found Petro's a nice Italian/Steakhouse which our nice older overweight guy who does know the definition of bad hills told us about.  It was not a 5 star restaurant, thank goodness, since all I had to wear was my cargo pants and cycling t-shirts.  They had the TVs mounted over the bar and the MS State game was on!  Can't beat traveling to GA on the weekend that MS State plays GA to get to see the game on TV!  We both ordered steaks and for all I know mine was well marinated shoe leather.  I was so hungry, I did not care.  It was however a pretty decent steak.

Bill and I planned on meeting around 7 again to head out for Atlanta (Smyrna, actually).  I awoke to rain.  It had been raining and would rain all day.  The radar looked like we would have scattered showers all day.  Fortunately, the bands were various shades of green - the yellow and red bands had already passed by.  I was ready a little early and walked outside to see what the weather was doing at that moment.  It was still on the darkish side as sun rise would be a little after 7.  Outside under the awning was my happy, yet slightly trepidatious group of black women.  Boy was I shocked.  If Bill had waivered at all, I would have gladly not ridden in the rain.  Yet, all of the ladies that we encountered on the Chief Ladaga were all suited and helmeted up ready to ride to Atlanta in the rain.  I was impressed by their fortitude!  Remember that many of these women were on hybrids and were overweight.  They would be riding over the first 10 miles of pretty substantial hills in the rain! They invited me to join them in a quick prayer and they were off.

Bill and I left about 30 minutes after our courageous ladies.  At that moment it was not raining but the sky was definately gray and not welcoming.  The temps were moderate.   I was wearing arm warmers but no leg warmers or my vest.  As we approached the first substantial hill, we caught up with our courageous ladies.  The youngest and a couple others made it up the hill while two had to walk it.  I was just hoping I could get up it without walking since our warm up had been less than 5 miles.  We stopped at the top of the hill and talked to the ladies who were waiting for their friends.  I took a couple pics and wished them luck as I knew that they had several more substantial hills to climb - and we did too!

The morning was beautiful even thought the hills were not kind.  There was a lazy fog drifting over the low mountain range flanking us.  Everything was dripping from the early morning rain.  We stopped to take some more pictures, but soon the rain started.  Although we had asked for a late check-out at the Holiday Inn and it was granted to us, we felt some slight urgency as we would be slower in the rain and would have to get back to Jackson that night, so the picture taking opportunities would pass us more often than not on this leg of our journey.

That first 10 miles leaving Cedartown were not easy.  The worst of the hills were in that first 5 miles of the trail (8 from the motel).  Bill named one section the the 3 Witches (with a B) after I told him about the 3 Amigos in Mineral Wells, Texas.  This section, as I mentioned earlier, is not on a railroad bed.  It does however cross at least half a dozen live railroad tracks.  Rain had started to fall while we were on the hills.  It was not an awful rain - just wet.  It would have been very welcomed on a hotter day.  The last set of railroad tracks we encountered was at the end of the worst of the hills.  It crossed the road at a diagonal.  Of course, tracks are very slippery in the rain and even when it is not raining a cyclist should cross them at a 90 degree angle.  Well, even as I am telling myself these words of caution, I don't feel like pulling out wide in the road to cross the tracks at 90 degrees, so I hit them at a 45 degree angle and before I can say "slippery when wet", I am down.  OUCH!  I was going less than 10 mph, so I really had no chance to really hurt myself, but when I went down my knee hit first and the handlebar jabbed me in the abdomen. I am tangled up in the bike with my left foot on the front wheel pinning my right knee on the ground.  I couldn't move  my left foot without putting more pressure on my right knee.  Bill is able to help me somehow lumber off the bike.  At this moment, my side where the handlebar hit really hurts, but it subsides in a minute.  My knee is bright red with nice road rash - my first in about 8-10 years!  I carry hand sanitizer and baby wipes, so I am able to clean it all up with only minor whimpering.  Yes, it does sting.  We still have 90 ish miles to go, and so with little ado, we are off again.  The terrain flattens out slightly from that point - still not on a railbed, but the hills would no longer be considered steep.  The trail takes us along a busy highway and through some farm land.  This portion of the trail is deserted.

We finally make it to Rockmart - the first town after Cedartown.  This is a very nice town that may be a good town in which to stay.  It may be more of a touristy town that non-cycling spouses would enjoy.  They have a very nice park and community center along their portion of the trail which also follows a nice brook - very picturesque - so we did stop and take some pictures.  At this  point we do start seeing other cyclists and runners.  The people we encounter today are different.  I don't know if it is the rain or if it is truly a difference in the cycling personalities of the Silver Comet vs the Cheif Ladaga.  The cyclists/runners we encountered today were all too busy to say hi.  They were in training.  "Leave me alone, I am riding/running fast and don't want to be bothered with pleasantries" I am sure they were thinking as they rode/ran stoically past us.  I missed our happy friends that we met yesterday as I wonder how our courageous friends from yesterday are doing.

Anyway we continued enjoying our very wet ride on the nice flat railbed towards Smyrna.  The neatest part about this portion of the trail were all of the tunnels.  Some short, some much longer, some dark, some lighter, the tunnels were all fun to travel through.  Of course, I had to hoot, "Who hoo, who hoo hoo" to hear my echo.  We stop at a bike shop on the corner of the trail 4 miles before the end to find the best place to eat.  It is pouring rain at this point - much heavier than any part of the day - not take shelter hard, but, soaking a$$ wet hard.  I start to get cold and don't warm up again until we are in Bills car with the heat on 80!  We find out that there are NO good places to eat along the route.  We can travel a couple miles off the route to find a Quick Trip at that intersection or travel a couple miles off the trail at the end to find a grocery store, or we can go to a Shell station across the street and take our chances with less than favorable microwavable sandwiches.  Well, we cycled to the end and did not want to try and find the grocery store and then we cycled back the 4 miles to the corner where the bike shop was located.  Had it not been raining, we would have searched out the Quick Trip, but in the pouring rain, we took our chances with the less than favorable Shell station microwave food.  I walked in and immediately noticed that there were no hot dogs, but did see refrigerated beef and bean burritos with green sauce!  YUM!  Burritos make great bike fare! I warmed it up in the Micro and headed outside (it was very cold with the air conditioning in the gas station) to eat.  Bill, I think, was not so sure about the long distance cycling eating choices.  He was obviously starving and bought several different things consuming all of them, much like I did my steak the night before.  We ate our scrumptious lunch in the only warmish dryish place  we could find - under the island next to the gas pumps!

We continue our ride back - I don't remember how slow we had been on the first half of the ride - but it was slow.  Our pace was much better on the way back.  I am guessing that the route climbs most of the way to Smyrna and descends towards Cedartown.  The rain comes and goes and is lighter on the way back than it was while we were in that 4 mile section at the end of the trail.  I do recall being very cold on some of the longer descents and was ready to climb the longer grades to keep my core temperature up.  I had picked up a couple plastic sacks at the gas station and stuffed them down my jacket for extra insulation.  My teeth were not chattering, but I was cold.  Before long, we see our courageous friends - all wet but obviously having the time of their life!  They were all together and we all hooted and hollered at each other as we passed - they would be home soon after enjoying a great adventure!

We get back to the 5 mile section of substantial hills and I am too tired to try and climb the first one.  It was by far the steepest on the entire route.  I walk it and Bill makes it up but not very fast.  I am blaming the fact that I have my 11/28 on the bike for not being able to get up it - that is my story and I am sticking to it!  Bill is concentrating on not falling over so he can't look to see how steep that hill was, but it had to be over 15%, my guess, it was closer to 20%.  We make it back to the 3 Witches and the first climb is also steeper than any of the previous hills and I walk a portion of it.  Bill waits for me and we are able to really pick up our pace.  The hills are not as bad going back as they were coming out except for the first two.

We make it back to the Holiday Inn at 6 - later than our 5pm check out, but they graciously don't care.  We get warm showers and pack the car and head home.

I had a blast on this ride and hope that Bill did as well.  He seems to enjoy the longer rides at a touring pace.  He conquered his first century the previous weekend and now had two back to back!  If this is not a randonneur in the making, then I don't know one!

I really recommend the Chief Ladaga and Silver Comet trail.  I do recommend parking in the middle and doing each side instead of trying to do the whole thing at once unless you do have a full set of panniers.  This trip would have been very difficult had we tried to stuff everything we needed in our brain boxes.  Make sure you carry a good bit of food with you unless you are comfortable searching for food in the towns off the trails.

So, when are we going again?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Cheif Ladaga Part 2

We continued past the boy scout camp on our adventure towards several small towns - Peidmont, Jacksonville and Weaver, which all things considered is part of Anniston, Al.  What surprised me about the trail was the lack of depots.  I was expecting rest stops in the form of small sheltered areas with bathrooms and water every so many miles on the trail much like the Longleaf Trail in Mississippi.  Although there were gas stations in the towns at some of the cross roads, nothing was advertised well enough to get off the trail to search for it.  In Piedmont, there was a small house - the Eubanks House that served as the town welcome center.  It was a restored old home and it was staffed by a volunteer and had some minimal information about the trail.  They also sold powerade, water and crackers for those that stopped while cycling. 

As we were cycling towards the end of the trail, a comical thing occurred. We were cycling through the very quaint college town of Jacksonville.  The college campus stood out proudly albeit quietly.  Bill and I wondered if this was the college that beat Ole Miss a couple weeks back.  I thought the small school was in Tennessee.  As we continued cycling through the small campus we saw a women walking her dog near a stop sign.  We stopped and asked her about the town and the college.  Yes, this was the college that beat Ole Miss and she was very proud of it!  We took a picture of Bill with the Jacksonville State sign for kicks and giggles.  We also inquired as to a good place to eat on the trail and were directed to Struts a local sports gathering restaurant, not really a bar, that serves regular sports watching food.  We decided to continue towards the end of the trail and stop by Struts on the way back. 

Arriving at the end of the trail, I was underwhelmed.  I really thought that the trail head would be really nice.  They did have bathrooms and a small picnic area, but nothing shouting "Looky here!  We have this great rails to trails"!  Don't get me wrong, the trail itself is amazingly beautiful with the mountains flanking and the tree limbs covering, but it lacked the small depots and fan fare that a trail of this magnitude deserves.  Bill and I took the required pics at the trail head and turned around headed for Struts.

At Struts, a decent chicken restaurant/sports bar similar to Abners, we both ordered BLT sandwiches and watched TN vs UAB on the TV.  We then headed back to Cedartown.  We noticed as we passed the Boy Scout camp that it did not look like the Scouts had returned.  We guessed that we would not pass packs of them on the way home.  Shortly we started passing very hot and tired looking little boys.  They were very spread out - at least 5-6 miles from the first to the last.  As we passed I would shout encouragement to each.  One little boy I yelled asking how far they had gone.  He did not skip a beat and answered "There and back!"  Apparently, their total trip was 40 miles.  Pretty good for boys on various bikes - mostly mountain bikes, all in shorts or jeans. 

As we continued back to Cedartown we would encounter groups of people out riding.  One group in particular was a group of black women of various ages and sizes.  They stood out as they were all wearing white and blue baseball type t-shirts.  Most of them were riding hybrid bikes.  We did not talk to them very long, but they were very pleasant and seemed to be enjoying the trail.

We got back to the Cedartown trail head and much to my disappointment, the depot was closed.  The biggest, nicest, well only, depot on the trail did not have much in the way of hours.  We only had 92 miles so I somehow convinced Bill into venturing out to see how bad the hills were that our older cycling buddy had cautioned us about earlier in the day.  And boy oh boy - never underestimate an overweight older guy with a Silver Comet baseball cap.  He does know how bad the hills are!  The 10 miles heading East from Cedartown are not, and I will repeat, NOT on a rail bed!  These 10 miles just keep the trail heading toward the state line.  There are several steep climbs over 10%.  I think they hit 12% in a couple places.  We only went out about 3 miles and decided to turn around.  The glimpse of the hills was enough for us.  We would tackle them in full the next day.

Part 3 later.....