rabbit tales and a lengthy ramble
Deer season - with rifles - opened Wednesday, which can make life challenging if you like riding off-road. Thursday, I tossed the Trek and its lights into the back of the truck and headed for the Rock.
Along the way, I passed numerous trucks parked at odd points along 505. Hmm. I drove on, and I wasn't terribly surprised that none of the usual suspects were parked at the trailhead. I turned up the iPod-through-iTrip-through-truck-radio combo and flipped on the Smiths. No, I wasn't playing "Meat is Murder" while driving past deer hunters, but I was amused by the way "How Soon is Now" combines the wimpiest whining lyrics of all time with a ferociously masculine guitar part. Oh, well - Morrissey was only human, he needs love like anyone else, right?
Ainsley was there, as well as the speedy guys from what Jim calls "The A-Team." I said hello to Tom, Milo, Josh, Mark and Ashby. Ainsley and I realized Jim and Campbell had already left, so we followed the fast guys out the gate. Of course they went faster up the initial hill - but not by as much as they used to. Josh had problems near the top of the hill, so Ainsley and I cruised on. The fast guys who were waiting at the T took off as we approached, aiming for the steel bridge (a.k.a. Gratin's Bridge).
A moment's deliberation, and we followed. Ainsley was suffering from not taking a rest day in more than a week, but I was feeling good and had warmed up. I closed in on Mark's rear wheel and hung closer than I ever had to the hammer crew. Eventually I had to drop back, if only to keep from killing myself by descending too fast.
At the bottom, we found the
fast crew taking a quick break. Another quick conversation and they were off. We followed at our own pace, finding Josh along the way. He was suffering from pinched nerves and was heading back in to the cars. We said goodbye and rolled on.
Near Memorial Bridge I told Ainsley about an incident I forgot to mention in the blog entry about Tuesday.
"I was on the last stretch back to the Rock when I had to slam on the brakes," I said.
"And why did you have to slam on brakes?"
"So I wouldn't collide with the rabbit on the trail. I figured it would be fatal for him."
"Couldn't you have just, you know, bunny-hopped over him?"
I shook my head. "I knew I was giving that to you, you know that?"
Ainsley laughed and did his Elmer-Fudd-does-Wagner "Kill the Wabbit, Kill the Wabbit!" A moment later, he said, "I think rabbits are in season right now."
"Maybe, but while there's probably rifle and bow seasons, when is it legal to hunt rabbits with bikes? Besides - you know how there's a five-round magazine limit? What if a game warden hassles me for hunting rabbits with 36-spoke wheels when the legal limit is 32?"
A few minutes later I had opened up a gap on Ainsley. I waited for him at a log crossing. He'd apparently had a spill along the way - it really wasn't his night. We pushed on to the road, turning around at the road and heading back in. It was time to switch on lights, and once again I found myself wishing I had a helmet mounted lamp.
A little while later, Ainsley made that same discovery. We were coming up the climb that leads into the switchbacks before the roller coaster when I heard an expletive, followed by silence. Uh-oh. I stopped and turned back around and looked back. No sign of Ainsley, so I turned and rode back down the trail.
He was on his back, head down, feet up, with the bike still between his legs, shaking his head.
"Yeah," he said. "My back wheel went out from under me. Look, you can see it right there."
Even in the dark I could see the groove. "Impressive. Sorry I missed seeing it, I'm sure it was an epic crash."
We finished up the ride at a gentler pace, winding up with 15.9 miles.
Saturday morning was very brisk and cold - about 45 degrees, the coldest morning I'd experienced this fall. I wore wool and lots of it - my old Sergal leg warmers, SmartWool socks and a black long-sleeved wool undershirt and long-sleeved Derby Tweed wool jersey from Rivendell, complete with the new yellow jacket and warm gloves. I had the Carradice Barley saddlebag affixed to Julius' B17 to catch any clothing overflow.
Ainsley was waiting with his old blue Schwinn World Sport converted to fixed-gear - built on a frame from a bike I bought for $5 at the Salvation Army a few years ago. Connie was our only other rider. She was a bit apprehensive about our proposed ride, but we assured her we would amend the ride for her benefit.
We set off for Rock House Road on what we originally thought would be Greenwood-Troy-Greenwood shortened. Somewhere past Stillwell Road I proposed that we take Dendy Bridge Road and go through Bradley and work around to Cedar Springs Road and back on in.
I rode along thinking about Dendy Bridge and wondering if I would be too greatly overgeared. When Ainsley stopped for a natural and Connie and I rolled on, I stopped us a quarter of a mile ahead. It's been a couple of years since I flipped my wheel on the road, but I managed a creditable job of it, snugging things down and dropping my gear from a 71-in down to a 67.
Much better, and I was grateful I h
ad done so when I made the turn onto Dendy and almost immediately felt the back end of the bike try to break loose. Apparently the road had been scraped recently. It was much softer than we remembered it being, and Connie found it all pretty dodgy. I had forgotten how steep the two hills are, but I did okay by sitting back and climbing in the drops in classical British clubman style.
After a strange moment on the short stretch of the highway before turning onto Cedar Grove Road, we outran a junkyard dog and went to the end of the road to see how where it ran into Highway 10. We turned back and headed down along Watson Hill Road. The dirt surface was better than Dendy Bridge Road, but not by much. A couple of times I had to dance on the pedals, but most of the climbs I managed while seated.
When we reached the big rocks, we stopped and congratulated Connie for joining the ranks of those of us who love dirt roads. In her case we were stretching it - I don't think dirt roads on road bikes are quite her cuppa, but she had managed pretty well. We mounted up and headed back to Greenwood via Promised Land. By the time I got home I had 41.24 miles for the day.
Sunday I tossed the Trek into the truck and drove down to the Rock. Jim was the only rider waiting there - Campbell had cancelled due to a conflict. We rode at a gentler pace due to Jim's damaged left knee, heading right down the long hills to the steel bridge. We had turned and started back when I had a slow speed uphill fall - my first of the year. Moments later, we cleared the trail as Milo, Tom, Sean, Pepe, Gratin, Ashby and some young guys I don't know came roaring by in the other direction.
I had a couple of chain slips and stopped for a second to reset the chain tensioner. Whups - I needed wrenches. Jim was on up the trail while I dug out my multi-tool and cinched down the SoulCraft - but I caught up to him near the next big fallen log. Apparently, he'd been talking to himself thinking I was behind him, and he hadn't realized he was alone until he stopped for the log.
We went out to the road and took the trails down past Memorial Brid
ge and through the next section. When we hit the road at the end of the trail, Connie and Donis were waiting - they'd apparently set out after we had. After a very brief chat, we headed back to the Rock in an attempt to keep Jim's knee from cooling off and seizing up.
We were overtaken again by the fast guys, who had apparently done the grand loop of the trails. They were going uphill on the trail about as fast as I ride flat terrain on roads. Once more I fell back behind Jim, feeling Saturday's fixed-gear ride in my legs, but I caught up to him on the last stretch. I wound up with 16.1 miles for the day and was glad to finish the ride in one piece.
best-laid plans and new pedals
Sunday Ainsley and I were going to go do a mini-epic fixed-gear ride. I mapped out the Greenwood-Troy-Greenwood
loop at routeslip.com, looked at it, and emailed Ainsley with the suggestion that we amend the route. To clip it, we would skip the (glorious!) dirt roads down near the Long Cane Massacre site, complete with the magnificent bridge over Long Cane Creek built by the National Guard. It looked like a good plan, and Ainsley and I figured we could do the ride in a reasonable amount of time.
Ana and I went out Saturday night, catching a show up at the Handlebar by the Killer Whales. I hadn't seen the Whales play since, oh, 1985 or so. It was a good show, though it ran later than I thought it would. I got to bed about 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning and wondered what sort of shape I'd be in for the ride.
Ah, but it rained Sunday morning, and rained more heavily as the day wore on. It's early in the autumn here, and we're not yet ready to ride dirt roads on the rain the way we will be come January. So instead of riding, I stayed home and lolled on the couch and set routes up on routeslip.com.
Saturday afternoon I had come home from riding to find a box from Nashbar waiting for me. After replacing all my clipless pedals with clips and straps in 2001, I had broken down and gotten myself a set of Crank Brothers Egg Beater pedals and some shoes to go with them. I'd put them on the Trek and set the cleats up and managed a very short hop around the block to check them out.
Tuesday evening I got to give them a workout. I got off to a tardy start and found myself chasing folks who had already headed out. First I caught Tommy Davis, who was fighting with a dysfunctional headlamp bracket. I took a couple of mini breaks, one to tighten cleats, a couple more to tweak my saddle height. I finally dialed it in correctly right before I hit the roller coaster on the way to Memorial Bridge.
Tommy was on my wheel by this point. Shortly after Memorial Bridge, I saw a flash of red that I knew was Campbell's jersey. I dug in and chased, feeling my calves working more than they had in ages while I spun the cranks. Shortly before the really bad rock garden, I caught up to Campbell and Jim.
"You're riding with the walking wounded," Campbell said. "Jim's nursing a bad knee, and I've hurt my back again."
Yeah, tell me another. But this time they really were, and the pace came down. When we hit the road again, Jim and Campbell turned back. Tommy and I went back and forth over whether to do the same. The trail won out, and we went forward, getting in another fifteen minutes before turning back.
Tommy led back to the road before telling me I should push on. So I did. I was warmed up now and getting used to being locked into the pedals. Climbs I'd been standing on last week I took seated and sliding way back on the saddle. I could really feel my calves working now, and hoped I could finish the ride without popping or pulling anything.
Coming off Memorial Bridge, I saw Tom and his crew approaching, with Big Zack in tow.
"Taking you for a drag?" I asked.
"Yeah, you could say that," he said.
After hearing that Jim and Campbell weren't that far up the trail, I took off. I switched my lights on and went for it. I settled into the handlebar extensions and kept my hands off the brakes as much as I could. It got darker, and I wondered if I'd be using the force to steer before much longer.
I hit the switchbacks and climbed up them faster than I had ever taken them. I felt better going into the roller coaster than I could ever remember, staying seated almost all the way up.
Then it got dark enough that the lights became a problem. I'm currently using a set of cheapies that clamp onto the handlebars. That's all well and good, except for when you need to see ahead to the turn coming up, while your handlebars - and light - are still facing straight ahead.
I started riding with my hands on the brake levers now, settling down to a slower pace. Too dark, too hard to see, and I'm just not into falling down and going boom. I still hopped over a couple of logs on the way back, and before I expected it I was rolling down the final slope to the cars.
I had 13.2 miles for the ride and a decent average speed even with the slow sections.
time for wool once again
Okay, so I'm behind in my blogging. Last Saturday I rode Belle on the morning club ride. We wound up taking the classic loop route to Ninety-Six and back, augmented by what Jim calls the Fitzgerald Addendum (mostly because back in '99 I'd whine when we did it) as well as the John Campbell Lake Loop (the jog out onto Louden Road, thence back to Ninety Six via Hwy. 248 past the Star Fort).
We had a pretty decent turnout. I rolled up a couple of minutes late, but everyone was still prepping bikes and adding and removing layers. I had worn my nice new yellow jacket over my Mercian long-sleeved jersey, which was in turn worn over one of the Rivendell sleeveless "wife-beater" wool undershirts. The jacket had to come off, and I did the ride with it rolled up into a tube and stuffed into a jersey pocket.
Connie and Donnis set out before the rest of us, getting a sizeable headstart. We finally caught up to them at the intersection of Scotch Cross and Louden, and for a brief while we were all one big happy bunch - as I sometimes put it in the paceline, "we's all gruppo compatto!"
I was down in the drops following Jim up one of the hills when I noticed his rear wheel skewer looked ... strange. I had already noted that the front skewer lever was pointed forward, and had attributed that to Jim's tendency to be slightly eccentric at times. Sheesh, that rear skewer was pointed almost straight down, away from the frame ... but the angle of the lever looked wrong. Hmm.
The nickel dropped. I pulled up next to him and said, "Jim, your rear quick release skewer is unlocked."
He stopped at the top of the hill and made repairs, while we rode pianissimo for a moment, then poured it on to take the next hill. I glanced back and saw Jim still working on his bike and wondered if I needed to go back. We pressed on, making the turn onto 248 and passing the entryway to the Star Fort Park, land o' Revolutionary War re-enactments (the siege of the Loyalist garrison of Ninety-Six, while unsuccessful, led the British to withdraw from what they felt were untenable and exposed positions in the interior).
Jim was still way, way off the back. Hmm. I sat on a wheel and we made the right turn onto Johnston Road. I sped up and caught the front of the pack, Angie and Campbell, and suggested we wait for Jim. A moment later he caught up to us. He was still shaking his head. Apparently, someone had unlocked his quick releases, then spun the levers round until they were insanely tight and almost impossible to loosen. He had theories - someone had messed with them while the bike as on a car rack at a store, etc. We were all glad we caught them before they loosened at a bad time.
I wound up with 29.4 miles for what turned out to be a very nice autumn day, one that I completed by doing some yard work and doing some grocery shopping.
Sunday was trail time. We'd had a big, bad windstorm the Thursday before, and the reports we got suggested we needed to postpone the long ride we had schedul
So I took my battered Trek 950 single-speed down to the Rock. Ainsley was there, as well as Connie, Campbell and Zac Lake, and the Ronan Clan - Pepe, Sean and Alyssa (sp?). While we were setting up, Big Zack, half of the management team of Upstate Bike and Skate, showed up with a buddy of his. They had apparently had a minor run in with equestrians, but all appeared to be okay.
We said various hellos and goodbyes. Pepe sent 14-year-old Alyssa to ride with us as we set off for Gratin's bridge.
The trail down to the steel bridge is kinda technical, at least for me. It's rocky and bumpy, with sand drifts in some places and really tight, twisty switchbacks in others. I hung on, rocketing down the hills and trying to gauge risks as I went. As always, one risk I avoided was hopping over logs - easier for me to dismount and climb over, and much less chance of breaking bones, right?
We were maybe 9/10s of the way to the bridge when Sean and Jeff caught and passed us. As he went by, Jeff said, "You guys are doing really well." We caught up to them as they rested at the bridge and chit-chatted for a minute while Alyssa rested. They went back up the hill while we waited for Connie.
I looked at Ainsley and said, "So, does that mean we got the Pepe Ronan seal of approval?"
Ainsley nodded and said, "I believe that it does, indeed." He didn't even crack a smile.
"All right," I said. "Of course, this does go in the blog."
"Of course," he said. "Think Connie's coming this way?"
"Probably not," I said. "Let's go."
So we climbed back up out of the basin and went looking for the others. Coming off the T, I poured it on as best I could, the old blue bike flowing over the rocks and roots. We were almost to the Grand Switchback when I saw Connie, and I pushed the bike harder, hand out on the forward extensions of the Zoom bars. Forget the brakes exist, they just slow you down, flow through the turns, do not think, do not try, there is only do or not do, blah, blah, blah, and I caught up to her back wheel in twisty bit right before the climb back out starts again.
We rode along in a bunch to the road, then Ainsley and I bombed down the trail towards Memorial Bridge. As always, the roller-coaster beckoned on the way down, content that it would make me pay on the way back. I sweated my way through the switchbacks and the gravel drifts the Park Service put in to slow the damage done by horse hooves.
We caught up to Pepe and Alyssa, who were going back in. It was a good chance to rest a moment on the trail and talk, catching our breath and preparing for the next bit. Moments later we pushed on, crossing Memorial Bridge and taking on the next slog, with all its gravel and rock gardens, pushing on to what the horsey folks think of as the trailhead down near Fell Hunt Camp. Ainsley ate some granola, I ate some trail mix and sucked on my CamelBak, and it was time to go back. Yes, it was a slog, and I had 19.6 miles at the end of it.
Tuesday, more of the same. I rode 10.8 miles or so, 9.8 mph average, and that's all I remember.
Thursday night, I was running late. Jim and Tommy Davis had apparently already left, but Campbell and Connie were still setting up when I arrived right on the dot of 6:00. I pulled the Trek out of the back of the truck and we were off. We skipped Gratin's Bridge and headed for the end of the section beyond Memorial Bridge. It felt like darkness was falling very rapidly, and I set off at full blast for the return trip.
Zen? Try flying down the trail when you're not sure you can see it. Do not think - do. Yeah, yeah. I rode the bar extensions, rarely touching my brakes on the descents, throwing my body around on the bike to keep the rubber side down and on the trail. The switchbacks leading to the roller coaster felt steeper than usual, but no matter. The red cliffs of pain awaited me, and once more I got up them, the last one a stump-puller as ever, turning 12 rpm or less until I popped over the point and the front wheel started coming down again.
The bike just rocketed along down the trail now, as I focused on the pale line that was where I needed to be going. I blew across Fire Road 505 and onto the trail on the other side, stopping long enough to talk first to Mark, then to let Milo, Pepe, and their crew pass under full lights. The trail was a pale, pale thread now, and I was riding as much from memory as anything else, hands on the brake levers now and hoping I'd stay upright.
The blackened stumps on the last descent still gave me the flashing thought, "what is Hannibal the cat doing out here?" before I remembered last spring's controlled burn. I blew past them, then rode the ridge-like projection alongside the roots and shifted my hands to the extensions when I hit the concrete ramp and climbed back up to the road. I had 11.2 miles at an even 10 mph, my fastest time ever. Compared to Milo and his crew that's slow, but it's not back for cardio-boy on a single-speed, and I'll take it happily.
Today I rode Belle down to the fountain. It was a small bunch - Jim, Drew and Tommy D. Jim was still nursing a knee hurt in a slip/slide/fall in his kitchen earlier this week, so I suggested the same route as last time, as it has less climbing than many other routes.
As always, the pace picked up too soon for me, but I'm used to that. I apparently was still feeling Thursday's ride - my legs felt stiff and sore for a long time. But I hung on like grim death down the long descent down Scotch Cross. Jim announced he would go straight on in via Golf Course/Scotch Cross to Ninety Six and wait for us there, while we turned right onto Louden and headed for the Star Fort.
I fell off the back, then caught back up in time to suggest we go straight on through to downtown Ninety Six. Of course Mr. Cox was not there. "Jim waits for no man," I said to Tommy, who allowed that there was some truth in that. We headed back towards Greenwood via Lebanon Church Road, where Drew dropped back to pace me in. We talked about some bikes he wants to sell - he's got three aluminum Trek road frames he'd like to move, if anyone is interested, and a bunch of parts for that matter.
While talking in the parking lot at the end of the ride, it emerged that Drew is a bee-keeper. I hadn't known that, and I mentioned that the next time he harvested honey, I would love to buy some for medicinal purposes.
He promptly opened his truck and handed me a jar, as well as a jar of blueberry-honey. "Here, these have been sitting in my truck for a while. Enjoy."
So I thanked him profusely and stashed them in my saddlebag and headed home with a total of 29.4 miles for the day.