the 7th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ride
Ainsley had posted to Facebook (remember a time before Facebook? Or blogs, for that matter?) that he would be leading this year's MLK Jr. Day ride. For those who aren't former GCC riders or long-term followers of this blog, that's our little ride from scenic blink-and-you'll-miss-it Hodges, SC to Abbeville via the old route between those two bustling metropolises. After a leisurely lunch at Theo's, the route comes back via SC 20 to Central Shiloh Church Road to Gilgal Church Road to 185 before turning onto 203 for the climb up Dead Rooster Hill and on up to Hodges once more.
It's a fun ride, and most years it's pretty laid back. The first year it was me, Ainsley and his mother Vonona. I had my heart attack a couple of months later. In '05 Ainsley and I were the only ones out there, riding in brutally cold temperatures. The photos taken that day show me wearing a scarf wrapped around my head in full Mother Russia pattern under my helmet, while Ainsley wore his bio-hazard gloves for added warmth. In '06 we had a dozen or more riders. I missed '09 due to having a new baby in the house, and apart from my wife's really needing me there, who can ride when you never get more than two hours of sleep at a time?
I knew I needed to prep for the ride. Ha. So Ainsley and I met on Saturday for a ramble. I had adjusted my saddle again, trying to fix the problems c
reated when my saddle nose suddenly started slipping the week before. I figured, hey, I can just kinda set it back by eye and go with it.
So off we went, and while I felt like I was slipping forward just a hair, it was basically all right. We went out the trail and down Florida and off through Wisewood, just like old times. Out onto Scotch Cross Road, and then hooking left onto Norris for my first dirt road of the year. We turned right on the Canadian Mist Highway (so-named for the zillions of empty pint bottles that once lined the road's edge) and then right again onto Hitching Post Road (because you can never get enough dirt roads in on a Russ & Ainsley fixed-gear ride). We came back in on the trail and I had 20.73 miles, the longest single ride I'd done since August '08.
I felt like I was sliding off the nose of my saddle, so when I got home I went down into the basement and made my next compounding mistake - I just raised the nose of the saddle until I thought it looked right. Hunh. Then I went back upstairs and took a rest day.
Monday came, and my fabulous, loving, wonderfully patient wife Annie took the babies for the day while I loaded up the bike and my wool-clad self into the pickup truck and drove out to Hodges.
Ainsley had already arrived - he had ridden to the ride, and for the fourth time or so I thought, "Next year I need to do that." Bill Thompson was there, Dave Strawhorn was there, and Dan from the Laurens club. That was it, but it was enough. Nobody felt like hammering, we were all in a laid-back mood, a
nd after waiting a few minutes more to make certain no one else was coming, we set off down the hill.
The saddle angle change had lowered my effective saddle height. Finally, I called a mechanical halt and we stopped long enough for me to raise the saddle maybe 6mm or so. Hmm. Okay, I thought, and we set off again.
This was NOT like the Saturday ride. I felt very slow and sluggish climbing up the hill to Klugh Road, and the long descent down to the bridge near the church on Old Abbeville-Hodges Road was a spin-fest I wasn't ready for. I still managed to hit 29 mph, and this with a 67-in gear, so it was my fastest spinning in years. Needless to say, the climb that followed was almost a relief.
But Dave was nice and hung out with me, and we rode with Bill Thompson, making sure we were all in sight of each other. And we were, and Ainsley and Dan stopped at the top of almost all hills and waited. We even had a nice long rest at the next to last intersection before Abbeville proper, right before the fastest descent and the climb up Cambridge Street. The final ascent into the town square found me riding at 5 mph. But I didn't get off and walk, because the old Scottish warning (I think courtesy Bob Reid) "Only lassies get off and walk!" was thundering in my ears along with the pulse hammering in my temples.
Over the brick streets then and down to Theo's, where food awaited us. I had a massive sandwich that couldn't be beat, we sat and peeled off layers of road clot
hes and generally brought property values down and had a great lunch discussion of what makes a good bike club and how to destroy one vs. how to nourish one.
The ride back involved more looking up ahead and watching friends wait for me. S'all right, they were really nice about it. Somewhere on Hwy 20, before we got to Central Shiloh, I felt my shoulders and arms and upper back really start complaining about my saddle height vs. my handlebar height. I hung on until we got to Hwy 185, then called yet another mechanical and rotated my bars up, making the ramps and hoods comfortable and stopping my forward slide, but at the cost of being able to use the drops. Sound crazy? Well, a couple of millimeters make a huge difference for me, alas.
So in we came, and I limped up Dead Rooster Hill and settled in for a slogfest. Bill wasn't too far ahead of me on the climb, and I caught him on the outskirts of town and we rolled in within a few meters of each other. I had something over 27 miles for the day, and I still felt it Wednesday.
And yes, I went back into the
basement and dug out a measuring tape and a long spirit level and set my saddle just exactly so. So there.
I emailed Ainsley and said, "Hey, are you up for a painfully slow, probably very short ride with a very out-of-shape cyclist?" And being the generous, kind, thoughtful friend he is, Ainsley allowed that he was - but family schedules meant we would be riding at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday.
Friends - we's in the midst of a cold snap. A very serious cold snap. All the good descriptors of just how cold it is are alas unsuitable for use by this recently minted family man, but take my word for it - it's bloody cold. How folks up North deal with this is beyond me.
At any rate, Ainsley and I hashed out the details. He proposed a ride to the bakery in Ninety Six, and I had to break the news to him that I am just not quite up to that yet. So we finally agreed I'd ride over to his house and we'd set off for whatever we could manage.
It was a balmy 21 degrees or thereabouts when I left the house, wrapped up in some serious wool - to wit, wool undershirts (plural!), wool jersey, cycle shorts, wool leg warmers, lycra tights over top of the lot, windbreaker, brown fleece balaclava, thinsulate gloves purchased for wear in Russia ... and it still wasn't enough. I stopped us at one point so I could don my fleecy ear-band thingy under the balaclava, because of all things, my forehead was freezing cold. Sheesh.
I rode Julius, the first time my dear old fixed-gear Mercian has been out on the open road for a fun ride in eons. I had the presence of mind to flip the rear wheel over to the 18T cog, a nod to my knees and low temperatures. A lower gear is good - my mileage for 2009 was something like 550 miles or so.
I found Ainsley in good spirits, and we chatted a moment while he added the final layers of clothes before we rolled off down Grace Street. It's been probably 18 months since I last rode with him, but I fell right in behind his wheel, then alongside, and we made our way downtown.
"Look, [name redacted] and his crew aren't out riding," he said.
"Nope. Wimps. Maybe they'll be out later," I said. "Of course, we are like the anti-racing set today."
We looked at each other. "You know, no one can see you grin when you wear a balaclava," I said.
Ah, be-fendered English fixed-gear bikes in winter. It's just so, so, so hopelessly British Isles, right out of a Patterson engraving - a very cold looking Patterson engraving. We stopped for my freezing forehead fix, then stopped again a moment later because I discovered I can't refasten my helmet straps while riding along wearing the Russia gloves. Ainsley showed pity on me and kept the pace down.
By the end of the good old rail-trail, I realized that two layers of wool socks in my normal cycling shoes wasn't really doing it for me.
"How about we go down the Canadian Mist highway and cut back in on Norris," Ainsley said. "We can get in some dirt that way."
I had to disillusion him. "I just don't have it today," I said. So we decided to take Florida Avenue across 34 and work our way back via New Market. We caught the light at 34 just right and cruised on across, and I settled in for the spin down the hill, my now ice-cube-like pedal extremities spinning the pedals around madly. I made it up the first part of the hill okay, then settled in, climbing while sitting on the rivet, hands down in the drops.
Suddenly, I found out why the guys riding fixed between the wars so often had the funky secondary pillar holding the nose of the saddle up from the top tube - my saddle slipped.
"Uh, mechanical," I said. So we limped across Marshall and pulled up onto the sidewalk. A few minutes later I had the multi-tool out and was cinching the seat clamp down as tight as I could manage it. The next hill, it slipped again.
"It's all right, Ainsley," I said. "I think I paid, like, $1 for this seatpost, with a saddle attached."
"Yeah, you got your money's worth," he said. I smacked the top of the saddle back into alignment and we limped on into town. A black cat dashed across the width of Main Street, dodging traffic and making it alive to the other side.
"I don't see [cyclist's name redacted]'s car over there," I
said. "They're really not riding today?"
"It's only 24 degrees," Ainsley said, and we laughed inside our balaclavas.
I had a little more than 10 miles for the day. My feet needed a full half hour indoors before they felt normal again. My legs felt pretty decent, though, and I felt like I could do it again, depending on the weather.
Later Saturday, I discovered the seatpost was fine after all, and cinched it down hard. Last night, Ana said, "Hey, Ainsley's posted the MLK Jr. ride for this year. Are you going to ride it?"
Yes. This could be a lot of fun.