In my ears: We the People Live; The Rich Roll Podcast
Sunday morning, bright and clear. Eleven degrees when I left the apartment. The roads were perfectly fine, and it was one of those rides where a couple miles in I was so glad I’d fought the temptation to stay indoors. The streets were quiet as I passed through Lemoyne, and from there they just got quieter. Lisburn, then smaller roads, all rollers weaving through threadbare farmland and hollowed-out forest, past big country houses set back on a few acres. Early on my legs felt okay, but I was moving pretty slowly–combination of heavy bike, wide tires, and maybe the temperature or maybe just a lack of fitness from all my zone 1 and 2 trainer sessions.
I cut in front of Roundtop and the parking lots were full of weekend skiiers. The slopes looked steeper than when I’d last seen them in summer, and covered in snow the mountain actually looks somewhat like a ski resort. The snow was swirling in big clouds from the snow-making machines lined up along the runs, carried off by the wind. The descent from there was fun. I wrapped back around, then headed north into the headwind. At the 20-mile mark my Garmin was about dead, strange for such a short ride. I’m not sure what’s going on with it. I switched over to my Vivoactive GPS watch for the rest of the ride and navigated home via Chestnut Grove Road (which was super nice; not sure how I hadn’t discovered it before) from a combi
I was riding fasted and the lack of glycogen started to hit on the drag back from Mechanicsburg. Made it home just in time. My legs felt like jello and my arms were weirdly numb. Only forty miles, but almost three hours on the bike.
Overall, a fun ride. I’m getting better at just dealing with headwinds and the generally slog-like feeling of winter rides on a ‘cross bike. Not having the Garmin to stare at helped. Hopefully I’ll be visiting Roundtop soon with my snowboard in tow.
As I’ve said before, all but a few standout rides end up blurring in my memory. I can recall snippets, snapshots, and feelings from the rest, but they aren’t anchored anywhere. I’ve found myself thinking back to routes I’ve done, new roads discovered, fun hours with friends–and not remembering much about them.
I want 2018 to be different. So, this year I’m going to write a recap of every ride here, with a link to the Strava file and photos, if available. They won’t all be long; some will only be a few sentences. Indoor rides don’t count because indoor rides aren’t worth remembering. Commutes, generally speaking, don’t count either. What’s qualifies as a commute? Like Justice Potter, I know it when I see it.
I’ll still aim for other content on the blog, but realistically, this will make up the bulk of the content. There might be some product reviews here and there, maybe a recipe or two, perhaps some random musings. For the most part, though, this is a blog about riding bikes. And I’ll be writing about riding bikes.
Think of it as a year-long journal of my cycling life.
Ride #1 is already in the can. #2 coming up tomorrow.
Had to get outside after the bitter cold has kept me hunkering down on the trainer since returning from warm, beautiful, tropical, totally not Pennsylvania-like Colombia. It was sunny and the roads were clear, so there was no excuse really–other than the temperature gauge hovering around 12 degrees. But I was actually plenty warm, except for my toes towards the end of the ride and the exposed skin on my face while coming home into a sharp headwind.
I kept it pretty short, only 22 miles, but a decent amount of climbing up Big Spring Road, which was surprisingly clear of snow and ice, and the shorter, gentler climb up through the rich neighborhood to the radio towers where the view of the valley would be nice if not for trees and McMansions. My plan was to loop around and come back over Old York, but the headwind discouraged me and I opted to stay in the trees and retrace my route back up over Big Spring, then home through New Cumberland. Bridge Street is always uphill going that direction, and there’s always a headwind.
Felt great to get outside. Only after did I realize it was my first ride of the new year. Welcome, 2018.
Cycling sometimes seems governed by a law of diminishing returns, at least in terms of the memorability of each ride. When you ride a few times a week and rack up thousands of miles a year, it’s only natural that the separate journeys bleed together in a kind of pleasant but mediocre haze. Each ride is, by definition, unique, but only a select few are special enough to stand out from the rest, to retain their contours over time in your memory.
I have no doubt that today’s ride was one of them.
Honestly, I don’t think words can do a ride like this, or really any incredible experience, justice. Nothing can replace being there, seeing the world through your own eyes as it rushes by and feeling the miles in your legs and bearing witness to the places your own mind will go when confronted by a challenge that doesn’t really seem possible until it’s finished.
But this is a blog, so I have to try.
We left Julian’s apartment before 6 AM, as the city was waking into its contained furor, and within a couple miles had picked up a friend and were climbing Monseratte, watching the buildings shrink as the road snaked upwards into the forest. We turned off onto the road to Choachi, which is relatively traffic-free by Bogota standards but not American ones. The grade was gradual, giving the legs time to warm up, and I tried not to think about all the climbing to come.
Near the first summit Julian proposed another “bonus” climb up Guadalupe, a two-mile section up to a higher point on the mountain where a cathedral and statue of Guadalupe loom over the metropolis below. Only a few miles in, with more than 50 to go, I was hesitant to put myself in the hurt house too soon and pay for it later. But if we were going to do the climb, we had to do it in the morning because after 1 PM the soldiers leave and it becomes, as Julian said, a “no man’s land.” So as we approached the turn-off, I thought about how life is short and I’ve never regretted accepting a challenge, and I said yes.
I’m glad I did, because it wasn’t as tough as I imagined and the view was incredible.
After traversing the switchbacks, we had more climbing to do. Ten miles of climbing. Fortunately, the grade was steady and the landscape’s transformation from rainforest jungle to high-mountain scrub brush kept me distracted from thinking about my legs. Eventually we reached the summit, marked by a sign and small restaurant on the side of the road, something like 10,000 feet above sea level. “It’s all downhill from here,” I told myself, intentionally leaving out the caveat: “…until we reach Choachi, turn around, and grind up a category-HC climb to this point in reverse.”
But man, that descent. In Pennsylvania our descents are short and steep, maybe two or three miles at the most. This one was 15 miles. For thirty minutes we carved down fresh pavement, alongside massive rock faces, through mist and fog, down into the valley. Most of the curves in the road were perfect (not too sharp, not too gentle) and didn’t even require brakes as we sailed trough them. The panoramic vistas, not unlike photos I’ve seen of the mountains surrounding Macchu Pichu, made it hard to focus on the road. When we rolled to a stop at a cafe in the small town of Choachi, my neck and shoulders were sore from staying in the drops for so long and feathering the brakes to scrub off speed.
After a nice rest, back up the same road we had just descended. How do I describe the next 1 hour and 48 minutes? Basically, I just kept pedaling in my lowest gear, telling myself that the descent was worth it and that eventually I’d get to the top. I marvelled at the sights in reverse, trying to remember landmarks and calculate how far to the summit. The landscape reversed itself again, this time much more slowly. I passed stray dogs and big spotted cows that looked bemused, like they couldn’t understand why stupid, sweaty humans keep riding their machines up the mountain. A few construction workers smiled and said Vamos, vamos!, and they also looked bemused. I choked out a Buenos dias and kept going, never really wondering why I was there riding up into rings of fog on another continent. I knew why I was there: because riding up mountains is, strangely, something that makes me very happy.
At the top, Oscar drank a coke and we waited for Julian, talking about cycling documentaries on Netflix. I was elated to have made it, and comforted by the knowledge that there were only eight miles left, all downhill. There’s a point in every difficult ride when you realize that you’ve done it. You’re okay, you’re home free. Sometimes it doesn’t come until the last pedal stroke. This time it came 10,000 feet above sea level at a small cafe, a thin blue sky stretched overhead and my water bottle nearly empty. I had dreaded this ride, even half-seriously thought of bailing–it would be by far the most climbing I’d ever done, at the highest altitude I’d ever ridden. Standing there in the sunlight I was so glad I hadn’t.
While descending the last few miles, then navigating the crowded midday streets in the city, I knew that one of the best rides of my life was ending. It was kind of bittersweet, that recognition. That’s okay though. That’s how it should be. I know I won’t forget this one.
Final stats: 57 miles. 8,700 feet elevation gain. 4 hours and 41 minutes