Friday, November 13, 2015

Long, Slow, Gradual Uphill

A couple of weeks ago I went for a short bike ride on a cloudy day.
I left Kory at home with LC.
Most of the time she stays close when we are at the house but this year we have been over-run with plant eating rabbits, and when my dog sees a bunny all bets are off.
As happens so often, one moment she was sitting in the front yard and the next moment she was gone.
By the time my bunny-chasing-pup either returned to the house (or we found her on one of our dog-tracking rides around town), she was limping.
 There was a little blood in between her paws but not much, and as I held her still and as LC felt around her paw, there did not seem to be anything stuck in her foot.
She also did not balk as if she were injured.
For the next couple of days we kept her either in the house or in the back yard in a futile attempt to keep her quiet.
All seemed to be well.
When I walked her on gravel roads she quickly started limping again.
We felt around her foot again, trying to see if there was anything we had missed.
Nothing in her foot and no apparent injury.
Seeing Kory run up and down the hallway and in the back yard reassured us that there was no injury.
But for well over a week she could not walk on gravel.
At some point during that rest-and-recovery period I got dressed up in bike gear, and watched as my puppy became more and more excited in gleeful anticipation of some extraordinary adventure that we were both about to embark on..
She was broken hearted when I walked out the front door, climbed into the truck and headed towards BLM land without her.
As I drove out of town, picked up the gravel road, and then turned onto Big Butte Rd I was brokenhearted to be heading out without my dog.................................

Pulling into the huge off-loading area at the base of Cedar Butte, I dragged my bike out of the bed of the truck and slowly began riding down the dirt trail.
As always happens when I am riding in this kind of terrain, I immediately missed the technical, root and rock filled, tree surrounded, winding and demanding single track that I had ridden for so many years back in Tennessee.
Instead of instantly having to pay attention to demanding trail, I looked around at the wide open territory of BLM land in Idaho, trying to get my head into the game...................
I had parked (as I always do) in the huge off-loading area immediately off the gravel road.
It is a huge, flat area that is used primarily by those who are driving huge trucks, and who are pulling trailers loaded with dirt bikes, four wheelers or atv's.
Recently I was surprised to see a couple of campers set up in this same place, and immediately realized that they were hunters out in the desert for the weekend.
I have parked in this same place many times and then wandered along this trail, wandered up into the hills, and occasionally wandered to the left of the trail and dove into the expansive lave rock field that lays out for miles across one section of the desert................

After donning bike shoes, a bandanna to keep my hair out of the way, a helmet to protect what little brain matter still remains, sunglasses, and bike gloves, I hauled my bike out of the bed of the truck.
Clicking into pedals I slowly pushed away from the truck, rode across bumpy ground until I reached the trail, and then began to pedal in earnest.
I could feel the effort in legs that used to be stronger - much stronger - than they are now, but the effort felt good.
After only 1/4 mile I came to the trail fork and for a split second found myself wanting to head to the right, up the steep trail and into the hills.
No.  I had told LC where I was headed, and up into the hills wasn't it.
Instead I would stay straight, on a trail that would eventually fork again.  The plan was to take the right fork and climb the long, slow uphill that followed
I hadn't done a long, slow uphill in a long time.
God.........I remember doing a hill in W Virginia, that took me six hours to climb.  Compared to that, THIS long and slow rise was little more than a very minor blip on the trail.
But I hadn't done even minor blips in a long time, so was curious to see how my legs would hold up.................
 I wrote this recently about my bike:

When I first started racing I bought a used mountain bike that was a piece of junk.  It was old and beat up and I constantly had problems both during training and racing with the gearing.  I sucked it up for a year or so because that was all I could afford at the time, but when it became obvious that this adventure racing thing was more than a passing fancy, I sprung for a new bike.................

I bought a womens' specific Gary Fisher Tassajara.  I LOVED that thing.  It wasn't top of the line, but compared to what I had been using it was love at first sight.  As I continued to accumulate gear for biking, and orienteering, and climbing, and paddling (in addition to all the clothing needed for hot weather racing, cold weather racing, wet weather racing) my love affair with Gary continued.  I moved from platform pedals to spd's.  I moved from brake pads to disc brakes.  I played around with bike lights for night riding, and bike computers for measuring speed and distance.  Bought a new womens' specific seat to better cushion where "the girl meets the bike" (but still got badly bruised in many races anyway).  Added other Shimano parts over time, and through it all me and my bike spent endless hours riding technical trails filled with rocks and roots in all weather conditions.............

Over the next couple of years my Tassajara served me well.  I had a $600 bike and was racing up against sponsored folks riding $6000 bikes, but I didn't care.  I loved racing and I loved my bike.  I rode that bike day and night, in every kind of weather imaginable, and in every kind of terrain imaginable.  I pushed it uphill for five straight hours in W Virginia.  I slept beside it in ditches on the side of the road.  I lifted it up over my head so that my team-mates (who were standing atop a huge boulder) could haul it up and onto the rock.  I fell asleep while riding it a couple of times in Virginia and South Carolina.  I taco'd the front wheel during a weekend training in N Georgia (was riding down a rocky, leaf covered trail and didn't see a log on the trail - tried unsuccessfully to swerve around the log at the last minute - did a slow motion endo over my handle bars and bent my front wheel almost in half).  I've had male team-mates pee on the drive chain so that everything would unfreeze long enough for me to be able to change gears, have had pedals that were nothing but blocks of ice, and a back wheel that refused to spin because the space between the wheel and the frame was filled with mud and snow.  After every race I would take my bike into the shop back home and Mike-My-Bike-Mechanic would fix whatever I had broken on Gary..................... 

And then one day I was driving back to Tennessee from a Virginia race and hydroplaned in the rain.  I was OK, my truck was totaled, and my bike was in two pieces.  With two sons in college I wondered how I was going to be able to afford a new mountain bike.  I stuck with my road bike for a month or so and then one day my two sons approached me.  They had both received their income tax refunds from the part time jobs they were working, and together had decided to pool their money and buy me a bike.  I was deeply touched.  I raised good guys..............

Mike-My-Bike-Mechanic was the one who suggested my current bike.  Actually - he suggested the frame.  It was cheaper than buying a whole new bike, and Mike could transfer all my upgraded components onto the new frame.  And that's what I did.  I bought a GF Marlin frame.............

So now I have a Marlin frame and Tassajara (and Shimano) components.  I call it my Tassamarlin and it's a one of a kind.  And just like my previous bike, I have put this Tassamarlin through hell as adventure racers are apt to do.  It's an old bike now, but just like an old dog, you don't discard it just because they have gotten old.  I love my bike.  We have been through a lot together, and he is still always up for a ride whenever I want to head out................
I had ridden only a couple of miles before braking, unclipping, dismounting and leaning my GF up against a strange looking cedar tree.
There are many strange looking cedar trees around this butte.
Is it the type of tree?  Or do they all look strange because of the environmental conditions in which they exist?  The heat of summer, the dry conditions, the freezing temperatures and strong winds of winter............did any (or all) of these variables affect how these trees grew and thrived?...............
It wasn't a great day for beautiful pictures.
It was overcast and visibility was low.
There was no snow on either the buttes or the mountains.
The green of summer had given way to the beige of fall.
No matter.
It was a good day to be alone, to enjoy the exertion of a ride, to not have to always keep one eye on Kory.
The day was silent and it was a good day................
By the time I hit the long, gradual incline, I realized that I shouldn't have told LC that I would only be gone for a couple of hours.
It wasn't going to be enough time to go as far as I wanted to go.
As I stopped momentarily at the bottom of the long hill I debated briefly whether or not to let my Mountain Boy know that I would be out longer.
As I drank from a large water bottle (complete with the ever present duct tape that was forever wrapped around random pieces of gear when I was an adventure racer), I straddled my bike and looked around me.
No.  It wasn't a nice enough day and I wasn't in a nice enough place, to bother being out for endless hours.
I would rather wait for a prettier day.
Instead of viewing this trip as an epic adventure, it would instead by a test of hill climbing ability................
The climb lasted for a mile or so.
Long, slow, gradual, continuous, doable as it turned out.
Well...............OK then.
Satisfied with the accomplishment I parked my bike upright next a cedar tree just off the trail.
Walking across the single track I wandered through tall desert grasses and around sage bushes, headed towards..............where?  What?.................
I didn't know.
As with my entire life, there was no real direction or final destination.
I was just wandering.
Through the desert.
Through life.
I stood looking out over the desert below me.
The day was dark, colorless, uninspiring even though I was trying hard to be inspired.
I could see the Twin Buttes and knew that Atomic City was located in between them even though I couldn't see it from this position.
I could see Rattlesnake Butte.
More importantly, even though it was over 100 miles away I could (barely) see the Tetons over in Wyoming.
I tried a couple of times to take a picture of them but my little camera couldn't zoom in far enough....................
Looking back down the hill that I had just climbed..................
This was the first time I had been up on this hill and after I returned to my bike I turned to look further up the trail.
The hill continued climbing in front of me.
Glancing down at my watch I knew that exploring more of this trail would have to wait for another day.
It was time to head back.
It had been a long, slow climb up.
The payoff of course, was a long, fast descent back down to the truck................
If it weren’t for a bicycle I would have never found what was on the other side of the mountain.............Author Unknown

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