A Weekend Ramble

I spent my weekend in Rothrock State Forest, enjoying fall in the best way I know how: riding a bike and running. I had a blast.

Friday morning I drove up to Penn Roosevelt State Park, which is less a state park and more a collection of rustic tent-only campsites around a small lake in the middle of thousands of acres of public wilderness near the college town where football legends are excused for heinous negligence (aka State College). The leaves are in color, though not peaking yet because of this late-season heat. Still beautiful though, mostly golden, some copper.

From my base camp at the park, I went for a 38-mile gravel ride with 4,600 feet of elevation gain. The mountains were shrouded in fog. Some of the roads were less gravel and more grass/big rocks; despite my frustration while picking my way down them, it was invigorating to just be out exploring, encountering the unexpected. My Masi CXR, set up with ‘cross tires for the first time, was super solid. I found that by riding with a mindset of adventure/exploration instead of speed/get-a-good-workout-in, I was able to roll with the navigation and terrain issues. I wasn’t discouraged by the slow average speed, or the relative lack of distance. I rode up to a fire tower in the mist and saw woodsmoke curling up from remote cabins and had miles of gravel all to myself: basically, I created an experience in a new place, and challenged myself at the same time. That’s the whole point, right? Maybe not for others, but increasingly it is for me.

The next day I did a 20-mile trail run, my longest run ever. 1,800 feet of gain, most of it steady and not at all miserable. Everything was great until the last couple miles, when I went off trail to connect with the road that would take me back to the park and ended up hiking through underbrush over the biggest ridge yet. I was moving so slowly that my Garmin auto-paused even as I was making forward progress. But all told, I made it back to the car in under four hours, with my legs still attached.¬†I figure that 20 miles on the trail is probably tougher than 26 on flat pavement, so at this point I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for the marathon.

It’s amazing what 36 hours in the woods (especially with no cell phone service) will do for you. The trip followed the familiar cycle of all my trips alone: excitement to leave, anxiety once left, enjoyment and frustration during the activity, comfort in the tent, satisfaction on the drive home. On day two, during my run, I was much more relaxed than the first day. I could have probably camped another night and ridden again the next morning. Still, as always, these trips would be more fun with some friends.

Small slide show below. I would take more pictures, but I don’t like stopping all that much.

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Rainy fall afternoons on the East Coast get me thinking about other places I would like to be. Not now, necessarily, because I’m happy here. But sometime in the yet-undetermined future, sometime before I’m too old or dead to see them. Lately, most of these visions are tied to the bike trip I’ve been dreaming up with Autumn, one that would take us around the United States in a sort of six-month circumnavigation. I don’t know when we’ll be able to do it–we’ll have to quit our jobs, store all of our belongings, figure out health insurance, have some sort of a next step in place.

But from where I sit now, those logistics don’t look so daunting. They are overshadowed by the (surely romanticized) tug of the open road, by the joy and liberation we would feel spending each day at once away from everything and a part of everything, seeing all the contours of this brawny country at twelve miles an hour.

Put me on a road somewhere 

I think about rolling along a stream in the Montana prairie beneath clouds more impressively sculpted and bulging than anything in a Bierstadt painting. I think about the starlit desert sky. I think about seeing the Pacific from winding seaside roads in California, seeing the Atlantic through a film of mist on the rocky Maine coast. I think about warm dinners in the tent and luxurious-feeling motel rooms and shade trees and tailwinds and wells pulling clear water from aquifers deep below the plains. I think about not having to work, not having to answer to anyone, not having any deadlines or objectives besides riding 50 or 60 miles each day. I think about experiencing it all with my best friend.

Our dreams don’t just happen. We make a choice whether or not to pursue them, whether they are worth the sacrifices necessary to achieve them. Basically, we decide how important they are to us, and act accordingly. This trip is really important to me. I want it to happen. But I can’t do anything about it. Not yet, not right now.

So, for at least the next year or two, visions will have to be enough.

Bike Needed

Everything is set for my cycling adventure in Colombia. Except one tiny thing: the bike.

Originally, I was going to fly mine down there. I got a fancy bike bag and everything. Then I found out Delta charges $150 each way for bikes. Ooof. Then I found out that, even if I wanted to pay the $300, Delta doesn’t fly oversized baggage into Bogota from November to January. Double ooof.

Well, I’d just have to rent one there. Not ideal, but whatever. I found a company online that rents road bikes by the day or the week. Price was a little steep, but similar to what I’d pay anyways.

This week I went to their website. The trip is still a few months out, but I figured I’d better reserve one just in case. I filled out the online form with my dates and clicked “enter.” Hmm. Didn’t work. Tried again. Didn’t work. So I emailed the company, still unconcerned at this point, asking to reserve a bike for my dates.

Then a response that went something like this:

Unfortunately we don’t have bikes available at that time so basically your vacation, comprised of non-refundable, non-changeable flights, is ruined.

Triple ooof.

So now I’m starting to panic. I’m going to be there for a week to ride a bike, and with no bike, that plan looks pretty foolish.

Know anyone in Bogota with a spare steed?

Riding Angry

I didn’t want to ride today. I slept poorly last night–again–and woke up feeling thick-headed and unmotivated. I haven’t done a ton of training this week, around 11 hours of running and cycling combined. I should have felt relatively fresh. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t. Still, I kitted up and forced myself out the door to get a couple hours in. With weather this nice, it’s a sin not to ride.

Usually when I force myself out onto the roads on days like this, halfway through the ride (or earlier) I’m grateful to have gone. The legs loosen up, my mood improves, the beauty of full lungs and beautiful scenery overcomes any lingering frustrations from my daily life. Not today. Ten miles in the road turned slick and black, wet from an apparent overnight downpour that I had no idea happened. I was riding my brand new bike, which I vowed to never ride in the rain, plus white socks and my favorite non-black jersey.

Long story short: I cursed (mostly out loud) all the way down 443 through the Fishing Creek Valley. Instead of dissipating, all my anxiety and nerves and annoyances from the pats few days came boiling to the surface in a puddle-drenched pity party. I’ll spare you the details, but basically things got pretty dark pretty quick. Suddenly I was venting about things having nothing to do with cycling, things that were apparently dammed up for a while. Throughout my 15-mile internal tirade I repeated iterations of “Jesus fucking Christ” like the chorus to a bad (and definitely blasphemous) pop song.

Towards the end the sun came out, but the damage was already done. My once-shiny, nearly brand new cassette had lost its innocence and was tarnished in grime. My socks were a soaking grey mess. My jersey, somewhat miraculously, was not speckled with black dots. I was more tired than when I left. My headache was still throbbing.

Honestly, this is probably the first ride I can remember like this. It wasn’t fun, or relaxing, or a good workout. But I guess that, by bringing some things to the surface, it was productive, in one sense of the word. I’ll deal with them, but preferably off the bike.

I want my time on two wheels to be an escape.