into the woods; a rainy commute
It was cool Tuesday, with a high somewhere in the mid-70s. Somehow the idea of riding in the woods began calling to me. I wound up fixing the free-standing bike rack and getting the road bikes back in their proper places - and then I opened up the garage closet and pulled out the single-speed.
It's beat. Built in 1989 or 1990 in the U.S., my old Trek 950 is probably the oldest mountain bike being ridden in the woods around here. It's not only Tru-Temper double-butted chro-moly, it's even got lugs. It also has vertical dropouts, alas, which means I'm using a SoulCraft Convert to take up chain slack. I keep thinking I'll get an Eno eccentric hub, or maybe have track ends brazed on. For the most part what I have works, with only the occasional derailment.
I put the old Trek up on the rack and checked the chain. The brakes still felt good. I fine tuned the cycle computer and got a proper readout. I left last season's mud still caked where the wheels had thrown it and pumped the tires up to about 35 psi or so.
One last preparation - I broke out the CamelBak I got late last year and set it up, pulling the spare tube, tools and CO2 inflater from various saddle bags and putting them into the appropriate cargo pockets. A quick change into shorts and a jersey, some sunscreen, a quick kiss from Ana, and I was loading up and heading for the Rock.
Campbell, Jim Cox and Tommy Davis were waiting. We talked for a moment about routes - we were going to ride down to Grattan's Bridge - and then I pointed the Trek at the trailhead and went.
I bounced up the long hill, spinning the 34x18 and somehow staying seated for much of it. The first time I went up this hill, on a Rivendell Quickbeam with the same gearing, I was at the very edge of my capabilities and pretty much panicked when my heart rate monitor started pegging. Tuesday it was old hat, and sooner than I expected I was descending to the Forest Service's "From the Plow to Pines" sign.
They caught up to me easily enough. We chatted a little (not too much - I needed my breath) and rolled along. Tommy's bike had a front shock; Jim and Campbell were both aboard double-boingers. For all of that, I tended to descend faster on my fully-rigid bike, only losing ground on climbs or on the flats where they could shift into bigger gears.
When we got to the split, I wound up rolling along alone. I decided to run while I could and settled down in my most rubbery-limbed form while rocking downhill, basically turning my whole body into a human shock absorber. There were a couple of moments where I wondered if I was going to lose it, but the good old bike came through for me and catlike kept me on the trail.
The switchbacks came up, but they were familiar, old friends I hadn't seen in months. There was more gravel than I remembered in some spots; on one climb, the gravel had been ground into the dirt and was on its way to being macadamized mud. I kept rolling, surprising myself as I stayed up on the bike. I stopped a couple of times for logs that I couldn't bunny hop, but other than that the first part of the ride I didn't need to walk. I grunted up the steep little whoop de doos down in the bottom near Long Cane Creek and the skinny metal bridge that Grattan Smith once unsuccessfully tried to ride across.
We rode back up the hill. I was surprised that for the most part I could keep Campbell in sight. When we regrouped at the T intersection, we decided to ride down to Memorial Bridge. More familiar trails, more bouncing, but I had a blast bombing down the roller-coaster section, then negotiating the switchbacks that followed.
When we reached the bridge, we wheeled about and headed back, hoping to beat the darkness. The A-team guys were coming along now, and we pulled off the trail to let them pass. Jim started the "I take my helmet off to you" thing, then I topped it with a salute, and the pattern was set for the rest of the ride. As another group would approach, we would stop, remove helmets and salute - amusing the heck out of Tom, Milo, Mark, Pepe, Sean and the rest of that crew.
I finally lost momentum on the next to last hummock on the climb back to the road - so I walked maybe 12 yards. At the end of the ride, I had 10.8 miles. Not bad for my first time out on the trails in many months.
Today it rained. At times, it was an almost Biblical rain, pounding, pouring, drenching rain. I rode Julius the fixed-gear to work, of course. I dug my Carradice rain cape out for the occasion. Halfway to work, I realized I really needed to re-proof the garment. I hung it up in the store room where I stash my bike and prayed for less rain when I rode home. I got my wish, sort of - the rain slacked off when I rode home for lunch, then back to work, then back home at 5:00.
I look forward to the new rain jacket that's en route from Nashbar. I look forward to getting the rain cape back into proper shape. Even though I've enjoyed the summer and its warm weather, now I'm looking forward to the fall and crisp rambling rides - and the bitter cold, soggy rides of winter under steely grey skies. It's coming, and I'm already thinking about gearing down for cold weather.