Whenever I’ve got a few hours for a good long bike ride, it’s the mountain bike I grab, heading to the peace of the woods, leaving my forlorn road bike hanging from its hook.
In the back of my mind I know that my road bike is fun, but it seems mentally more difficult, until I actually ride it. That’s when I realize how much I love that mental game of pushing my legs and cardiovascular system to places it’s not used to going. Plus, the road bike can take me so many miles further. It’s the week after the ride that I love the most, when my legs feel stronger as I run up the stairs or do a tumbling pass at gymnastics.
This past weekend my girlfriend’s birthday wishes got me back onto the road bike, and I’ve been grinning about it ever since. I felt like it was my birthday too. I actually saw fewer people on that road ride than I’ve gotten used to seeing in the woods over the last year.
We chose a few steep mountain passes in the Barnardsville area to suffer on, but it’s hard to suffer when you’re riding through sun-drenched valleys lush with early summer green, grazing cows, happy dogs and bubbling creeks. It’s almost silly, really, so I giggled between the leg-burning climbs and laughed out loud in the swerving descents. It helps to be physically matched with a riding partner. Laura and I always manage to remain in the same ten degrees of fitness, trading off being the carrot. She’s pulled me through many runs and rides, reminding me what my body is supposed to be capable of managing. Her stretches of spin classes and summer races always encourage me to get my butt in gear when I’m leaning more toward a weekend of lying around at the beach with the kids or pulling out the tools to catch up on home maintenance.
Although it was an awesome ride for my legs, I felt like my biggest challenge is always my brain. If you don’t know you can climb a mountain, the question burns behind the eyes at every turn of the cranks. We cruised for 25 miles, rolling through small hills before hitting the wall of Paint Fork. I had already resigned myself to what it was going to be like since the gearing on my bike is set up for someone with much gnarlier legs than mine. My heart was racing before the hell even got hot because I was so scared I wasn’t going to make it. It took some mind tricks to calm myself. By the time I finally gained control over my concern for failure I was already half-way up. I was standing in the pedals, convincing myself to quit checking for easier gears. Getting my shoulders over the handlebars made me grateful for all of the pushups and abdominal work I’ve been doing. It was great knowing I had backup muscles so that my legs wouldn’t be the ones take all the brunt.
I’ve found that it’s best for me to avoid looking up, seeking the top of the mountain so that I can guess how many pedal strokes are left. What’s far easier is staring directly in front of the wheel, watching it churn the asphalt, telling myself, “We’re gonna be here for a good while, so get comfortable.”
It was here that I fell into the paperboy action for a few feet, swerving back and forth to ease the “straight up.” By the time I realized the futility in that I had reached the crest where I had to stop to celebrate. While Laura ate a Cliff bar, I busted out the aluminum foil package stuffed into my jersey filled with the kids’ leftover whole grain pancakes smothered in honey. I thought of Lance Armstrong and those expensive stroep waffles that he sells and laughed.
Flying down the other side of the mountain was enough to make me forget the initial cost of this fun. The sun kicked the heat of the day up a notch, leaving me the farmer/cycler tan lines for the week. We cruised along, able to regain conversation when Caroline sailed by on her motorbike and pulled out under a shade tree in the church yard to feed us cold watermelon and lemon-lime spritzers. My girlfriends are the best EVER. She found us again two hours later and complained of being tired of riding her motorcycle. We did not hit her, but I did imagine what it would be like to hold my bike while riding on the back of hers.
We did begin seeing other cyclists once we hit the ever popular Town Mountain Road. My irritation over the lack of friendliness between road riders caused me to become overly animated in my efforts to say hello. I began enthusiastically waving like a 4-year-old seeing his mommy, shouting, “WHEEEEE!” in the parts where I was going fast, as they were on the opposite side of the road grinding painfully slowly. This all greatly improved my attitude.
It was the River Road back to Weaverville where the slow climb made me the hungriest. We stopped at Ledges Park to eat the remainder of my pancakes, but mostly I wanted to see if I my back could twist from side to side or if it was going to be permanently stuck in this forward bend. Already I looked forward to my Monday morning massage appointment. Thank you Tavis Cummings for knowing how to fix me.
So thank you little road bike, for making me love you all over again.
For all of Bettina Freese’s posts, visit Spinning My Wheels!