Thursday, August 16, 2012


Upon further reflection I have to say that my last post sucked.  Another rehash of the same old stuff.  If I can't do better than that I should just stop.

This blog started out as a journal, morphed into a photo blog, then changed into a mountain biking blog.  And what I think it really should be is an exercise for me to try to learn to write a little bit better.  So with that in mind I'm going to try to relate something that happened to me last night.

After work I got the unexpected opportunity to head out for a mountain bike trail ride at a nearby state park.  With the sunset coming earlier as the summer passes I had to move quickly to get things ready and head out to the park.  I got there a little more than an hour before sunset, geared up and rode in to the singletrack.

The sun was already heading towards the horizon as I started, giving the woods a soft, dim appearance that would soon begin to darken.  Usually on my solo rides I keep to a fairly slow speed, not really even bothering to think about the pace I'm keeping.  But I knew that dusk was coming and I really wanted to make at least a full lap around the lakeside trails, so I put a little bit of extra effort into the climbs and tried to keep off the brakes somewhat on the descents.  Looking back at my previous quick time on this loop of 59 minutes I knew that I should be able to finish up way before the light failed, but things sometimes go wrong at the most unexpected moments - so I kept on riding at my quick pace.

The lakeside trail follows the inlets on the edge of the reservoir, so you climb uphill away from the water, turn round the top of the inlet and descend back towards the lake, only to turn and climb up the next inlet.  I had just made a quick descent, curved to parallel the lake shore and was now turning back into the woods beside the next inlet, which was a short climb with a bridge partway up that then turned back towards the lake.

As I turned back into the woods, the sun at my back was aligned with an opening in the trees and shone a burst of coppery light onto the trail just ahead of me.  And standing in that blaze of light was a white tail doe, frozen on the trail looking at me as I made the turn and approached at speed.  The sunlight reflected from her coat almost as if it was a mirror, creating a bright aura that was highlighted by the contrast with the dim forest surrounding us.  The light was so bright that it was difficult to see any details - it just looked like a piece of the sun was in the forest ahead of me.   She remained motionless for a second as I pedaled toward her, looking like a deer phoenix, before bounding away out of the patch of sunlight and disappearing into the cool green of the woods.  I crashed over the roots where she had been standing, turning my head to try to follow her shape, a shadow among shadows, as she bolted between trees.  It only took a second to lose her, then I was turning onto the bridge and moving back parallel to the lake shore.

As I turned another movement caught my eye - a white tail fawn still showing it's spots cautiously skittered away from me and up the hillside.  And as I completed the turn I saw another fawn on the other side of the trail turn and gallop through the forest towards the rest of its family.

The whole experience took perhaps five seconds.  I stood on the pedals and turned up another hill, pushing to keep my pace up as I finished the loop. 

When I made it back to the car I checked the time - 58 minutes, one minute faster than my previous quick time.  That was a pleasant surprise, but it wasn't what I'd keep from this particular ride.  The image of that deer, made of sunlight in the dim green of the forest, will probably stay with me forever.  Those unexpected situations are why I love to spend time in the woods.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Riding A Lot

I keep track of my bicycle exploits on a great website called MapMyRide.  It lets me map my in town bike rides (no surprise there) but it also lets me keep track of my calorie expenditure from those bike rides, and even enter in other forms of exercise (there are other things to do besides ride a bike?!?) and their calorie values.  It also has a feature that lets you keep track of your calories consumed each day, using their calorie numbers or putting in your own.  And then it coordinates it all, so that you can see how much you should eat, how much you do eat, and how much of what you eat you're burning up riding your bike.  That's a lot of cool stuff from a free website.

When July finished up I checked on my monthly totals to see how I'd been doing.  It felt like I'd been riding quite a bit, but a lot of my rides are short in duration in order to fit into the chinks in my schedule.  In the 31 days of July I got in 28 workouts - all but 6 were bike rides, and those 6 were either trail work or gardening.  I rode just under 143 miles, and burned about 16,000 extra calories.  For me that's pretty good, though I have a co-worker who just rode 150 miles last weekend.  For me, that's Riding A Lot.

So out of those 22 bike rides 10 of them were on dirt.  Most of those were in the 1-1/2 hour to 2 hour duration (time is more important to me than distance when riding on dirt), so they were definitely good workouts, but not even close to anything epic.  The rest of those 22 rides were mostly rides around town that last between a half hour and an hour, with a couple rail trail excursions thrown in for variety.   Once again, not extreme by any means but at least I'm keeping active.

And what does all that riding get me.  Well, with the heat lately I've been leaving my leg protection at home, so I have a pretty good collection of pedal stings on my shins.  Every time they start to heal up I'll slip while trying to ride over a rock and mash the pins on my pedals into my legs again.  Nothing like bloody socks at the end of the ride to show that you were giving it your all.

I also have a closer understanding of my hydration needs.  You see, I perspire freely.  Or to put it another way, I sweat like a lawn sprinkler.  So with the temperatures hovering around the mid-90's for much of the summer I've had lots of opportunities to think about hydration.  I'll try to drink a goodly amount before starting a ride, often with a little caffeine in the mix, then bring several bottles of water with me on the ride, and finish up with water and sports drinks to bring back up the electrolytes.  This sounds like an easy plan and not that much of a chore to do. 

But it's not the routine, it's the quantities that get start to drive me up the wall.  Last weekend I hosted a Slow Guys Ride at West Branch State Park near my home.  The temps were once again in the mid-90's as four of us headed out for a ride.  The heat was brutal, and the air was so humid it felt like breathing cotton.  We set off trying to set a pace that would let us conserve our energy in the heat.  Being slow anyways, and dealing with the heat just dragged out the afternoon so that it was well over two hours before we finished our lap and made it back to the parking lot.

All my clothes were soaked.  My shoes were soaked.  My PACK was even saturated.  I'd been sweating so much that the skin on my fingers was wrinkled as if I'd spent too much time in a bath.  I'd had Mountain Dew before, water during, and started on the Gatorade afterwards.  On the drive home I felt more than tired, I felt weak and dizzy.  I kept on drinking - fruit juice, more water, more electrolytes - and I still felt bottomed out.  Once at home I laid on the couch and tried to sleep but my head was spinning.  More water, more Gatorade.  Finally late that night I topped off my tank and replaced the last of the lost fluids from the ride (How could I tell?  Think about it a second.)  Relieved, I took a moment and added up the intake from when I started the ride - it came to 168 ounces.  Approximately a gallon and a third.

I started thinking - a gallon is pretty good sized.  I'm not a really big guy - 5'-7" and about 175 pounds.  You'd think it would be difficult to remove that much mass from a body that sized and still get it to work correctly (not that I was feeling "correct" at all).  That's about the size of my HEAD for example.   I guess that would account for the muscle cramps and dizziness.  This is a lesson that I have to learn at least two or three times a year.

The other thing that all that riding does is helps with the technical skills needed to ride over rocks and roots.  After spending two years working on riding slowly over technical rocks while standing, finally last month it all came together and I understand what I'm supposed to be doing.  I've spent hours and hours riding out of the seat, trying to build the muscles, balance and skills necessary to stand while riding rock gardens.  It seemed like I was getting better, but it was just an incremental thing - the big breakthrough eluded me.  Then one day last month it just fell together, and I made a step up to another level of tech riding.  It was such an unexpected surprise that I was laughing out loud as I hit the rock gardens.

I have to say, it's pretty gratifying to still be able to learn something - ANYTHING - after this many years.