mud, sweat and fixed-gears
There was a message waiting for me from my buddy Ainsley when I checked my email at work yesterday - "We are still riding no matter the weather, right?"
"Hell yes, we'll ride no matter what the weather is, and all will know we are the hardcore slaves of the road we truly are," I responded. "Do we need to break out the passage from Shakespeare's Henry V, the one about 'we few, we happy few,' etc.?"
I shouldn't say things like this to Ainsley. He's the only person I know who can match me in hardcore zealotry. When I introduced him to fixed-gear cycling a couple of years ago, I didn't yet know he was the sort to make his own recurve bow with horn, hide glue and hardwood. Now we just reinforce each other's more fanatical tendencies.
Of course it was raining this morning. I ran an errand early on, long enough to think about the temperature (30-something degrees) and the precipitation (a steady heavy drizzle). I went back home and dressed appropriately - wool sleeveless undershirt, longsleeve wool undershirt, longsleeve wool jersey, wool socks, cycling shorts, tights, windbreaker, Rivendell cycling cap and warm gloves. When I rolled Julius the Mercian Vincitore fixed-gear out of the garage, I added the waxed cotton Carradice rain cape to the outfit.
I got to the fountain right at 11:00. I had time to experiment with the cape, and found just the right position where I could sit on the top tube and loll. After 10 minutes, I began wondering if I'd been stood up. Then Ainsley drove up and started unpacking his fixed-gear Schwinn. None of the other cyclists who had expressed an interest in riding had showed up, the lazy sods.
Ainsley had a good route in mind - we'd go down the rail-trail conversion and work our way over to the Canadian Mist highway (so-named for hundreds of empty CM bottles that used to line the roadside), then hook a right onto the first dirt road of the day - Norris Road. So it had rained a lot in the last few weeks - what's a little mud?
Within a mile, Ainsley commented, "I really need fenders." About a mile later, as water sprayed off his rear wheel and onto my glasses, I agreed with him. He was getting a great skunk stripe.
About the fourth mile, I pulled up alongside him and said, "Have I mentioned lately that it is both cold and wet out here?"
"Pride," he said. "My wife tells me it is simply pride that brings us out here. We're the only ones who ride fixed-gears, we're the only ones who would do such rides, and we take great pride in it." Ainsley is married to a very perceptive lady.
When we turned onto Norris, I rapidly learned I had no business feeling smug. I looked down and saw my shoes and tights were rapidly picking up mud spatters. "I really need mudflaps," I called over my shoulder.
"Yes, you do," Ainsley said. "I'm not complaining. It would be worse without fenders at all." I looked down and saw my fork tips and bottom bracket were awash with mud; every time I touched my brakes, I could hear the grit on my rims and brake pads. As long as I could find hardpack, all was well, but every so often I'd hit a squishy bit and Julius would squirm beneath me.
"Funny thing," I said. "This sort of riding used to be the norm."
"Well, everybody gets so hung up on performance," Ainsley said. "Fast isn't everything."
When we stopped so I could stash the rain cape, I found the rain-soaked canvas had depressed the reset button. We decided we'd covered five miles and turned down Scotch Cross. From there we turned down Lowden, then hooked a right onto Tillman Territory Road. There was still a faint mist in the air, and water kept beading up on my glasses.
Warner Road beckoned, maybe 5 yards beyond Highway 78. We turned up it, climbing along what looked like a farm road. I had warmed up now, with only my toes complaining about the temperature and the moisture. I picked up the pace, Julius rolling smoothly despite the mud under and all over the bike.
We stopped at a lonely intersection and I looked around and thought of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil - it was that kind of scenery, only really wet. After consulting the map, we pushed on straight, eventually running into pavement again.
It got colder and wetter. We rode along, swapping stories, bad jokes, and (as we got hungrier) food tales. I don't eat panchetta or prosciutto anymore, but I figure as long as Ainsley tells me about it, it's like devouring it myself. Another map stop, and we turned right onto Forest Service Road 589.
"Oh, I LIKE this," Ainsley said. I agreed - it was hardpacked clay, not much mud, and we made good time, eventually dumping out onto Kirksey-Pitts Road. Left would have taken us out onto more dirt, but time was not on our side, and we turned right, almost immediately turning again onto a small dirt road that took us to Scotts Ferry Road.
I saw her first. "Dog right," I said, watching the tawny beast streak along the fence line towards us. She hit the shoulder of the road and began loping along beside us, not barking, tail wagging, just glad to gallop alongside. A medium sized dog, probably a mix of some sort of Golden Retriever and German Shepherd. We rode on, then hit a descent. No good - the dog was still with us, catching up easily as we climbed up after a bridge. When we hit Kinard Road, we stopped to call home. The dog drank from a ditch, then loped into the woods. Within a minute of our resuming the ride, the dog had popped out of the brush and was running alongside again. She finally turned off right before we took a left onto Tillman Territory for the ride back.
It was definitely colder now, or maybe my shoes were just soaked through, but my feet felt like blocks of ice. About that time, Ainsley said, "You know what I haven't heard today, even from myself? Complaints about the weather."
"Well, we kinda knew what we were getting into," I said, and pondered once again John Lake's dictum of mountain biking - when you get hurt riding mountain bikes in the woods at night, no one has ANY sympathy for you, figuring you got what you were asking for.
In the interest of time, we crossed Scotch Cross and headed up Lebanon Church road, with its long, steady, but gentle climb back towards Greenwood. The Jack Russell terrier that chases bikes did his thing, and even my comment that his mother wears a flea collar didn't stop him - but he lost interest and headed back home.
Then back on the Canadian Mist Highway, listed on maps as the old Ninety Six Highway, and back in the way we came.
"First thing I'm doing is going over to my office and changing clothes. It'll be a long, cold drive home otherwise," Ainsley said.
I nodded dumbly, thinking of the mile and a half more awaiting me. Shortly afterward, my feet ached in the shower, needing a good 15 minutes to feel normal again. I know our British cousins ride in this stuff all the time, and I bet cyclists in Oregon would giggle, but I'm Southern and still not used to this yet. The temperatures never got above 42 degrees, my bike is still filthy, and it was a great ride.
I want to do it again soon.