Saturday, October 6, 2012

Banks to Vernonia

I checked the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook. It told me that even thought I have not been training or riding like I planned this year, I still needed to at least ride the Banks-Vernonia trail once this year.

I was a little sensitive about it; my pulled hamstring is not fully healed, I have not ridden further than 20 miles all year I do not think and have not gone longer than 10 mies in at least 3 weeks. But Fluffy the Cat had blown off my Springwater Trail offer for Sunday, the Goose wanted me out of the house so she could clean, and the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook must be obeyed.

I decided to set rather modest goals. I would try for 40 miles and 10 mph. Really, the 40 miles was a pretty aggressive goal...and considering my lack of training, my injuries and my nigh-complete lack of mental toughness, the 10 mph was pretty optimistic, too. But I need to push myself...

I got to the trailhead too early. It was still dark. I unpacked the bike, got everything ready to go and passed time until it was light enough. I took off a couple minutes short of 7.

I started off pedaling easy. Fluffy tends to like to start off at speeds that approximate a Merry Go Round which I think I kind of get on his nerves because typically my version of easy has us rolling about 16 mph within 3 he has pointed out to me at least twice on this ride. His pace, if I were not driving him, would probably be more about 8 - 9 mph.

Today, his pace would have been a rocket compared to mine. I usually start slow and, as my legs warm up, it gets easier to pedal so I shift up a gear while maintaining the same cadence until I am rocketing along in 20th - 22nd gear range while maintaining the same cadence.

This time I was plodding along in 13th-15th gear at a slower cadence...and that was on the flat.

I was actually happy with that. I was riding smart.. And still at the 5 mile mark I was feeling suggestive tweaks that indicated it might be a good time and place to turn around. Had I checked the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook I very well may have. Instead I checked my ego and it said, "Smurf no you ain't quitting."

So after making my first stop of the day for about a minute, I hopped back on and started riding. Oddly, it was so cold I was alternating putting my hands in my pockets. That would be a problem all day. And at the 7-1/2 mile mark something happened that shocked me.

I got passed. Not just passed...the breeze from him blowing by me almost knocked me off the path. And it was not even a real bike: You know those nautilus treadmills where the handles move back and forth with your hands and your feet never leave the tracks? It was one of those. Dude looked like he was running and it was driving that bike along at least 15 mph and probably faster.

Anyway, I was fighting leg fatigue, frozen hands, and mental fatigue; riding alone is just not all that much fun.

But knowing I had posted my goals publicly, I kept going. I clicked off landmark after landmark.

If you have ever ridden that trail, you know the feeling; you climb, climb, climb..oh, look, a bend in the trail What could be on the other side?

Another hill to climb. So you climb and climb and climb and then another corner. Guess what is around it?

Yep, another hill...

Finally at the 12 mile mark I got a super steep downhill that obliterated all the climbing I had done. Unfortunately, it has really sharp switchbacks so you cannot really ride it fast. In fact, signs indicate you are supposed to get off the bike and watch it.

If any park rangers are reading this, that is EXACTLY what I did. For the rest of you...I enjoyed the ride downhill despite its slowish pace.

Of course, what goes down...must go up. It is about a half mile of super steep switchback trail. I decided to make a run at it. Not only did I make it...I made it easily. Easier than I ever have before. But at a cost. I felt a brief twinge in the hamstring.

This would have been an excellent time to consult the medical portion of the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook which plainly says, "Smurf your goals, turn around now and head back." I did not check it and did not heed it.

In fact, I started feeling stronger. My pace increased. I started enjoying the ride. I was bumping up to 21 st gear...22nd gear...even slightly uphill. I was bombing along. I was singing praises to my riding ability and already planning to extend my ride to 50 miles and figuring I would be under 4 hours since it is always quicker on the way back.

Until the 17 mile mark.

I got passed again. It took me a while to figure out what passed me. It was not a person. It was not an animal. It was nothing wind blown. What could it be?

I figured it out at the 17.5 mile mark when I fell. Not literally...figuratively. My hamstring exploded in pain. It almost brought tears to my eyes it was so bad. That was when I figured out what passed me.

Pride. Because pride always goes before a fall. And fall I performance fell. My mental state fell. I pushed on because I was not going to fall short of 40 miles. I even figured it was going to be a passing pain and was assuming it would go away and I would complete my 50 miles anyway.

Problem is I was getting slower and slower. Then my left leg quad showed its sensitive side and started having sypathy pains. Just past the 20 mile mark I stopped for just the 2nd time all ride.

I got off the bike. I stretched the quad. I leaned down. I consumed a snack and drank some sobe. I stretched. I tried to get back on the bike and could not lift my leg over the seat. I stretched more. I thought about calling my wife to make the drive to come get me...but I was not sure she would know how to find me. I thought about asking the guys working on the shop across the street to give me a ride back to the trailhead.

It continued to hurt abominably. Finally I got back on and started back. Now I was traveling at a stunning 5 miles per hour. I made it about 2 miles and had to stop again.

I decided to stop showing my progress and ended my Map My ride recording.

I tried to figure out a way out of it but really there was nothing for it except to suck it up and ride home. It was going to hurt, it was going to take forever but it had to be done.

Somehow I got back on the bike. One rotation...two...three...I was moving, albeit slowly.

Now, normally the way back takes much less time. When Fluffy and I ride it, if it takes 2-1/2 hours on the ride out, the ride back will take 1-1/2. It is just an easier ride.

This time I could have sworn it was a thousand times harder. Flat stretches felt like inclines, gentle inclines felt like hills, hills felt like mountains.

I kept yelling at myself, "Suck it up and pedal".

I started passing people on the outward journey. I kept thinking that around the crest of the next corner on the hill the downhill portion would start and I could coast.

I was counting down the mileage by half miles. 15 to go. 14.5 left. 14 more. 13.5.

I hit the switchback section. The ride down was easy. there was a van at the trailhead disgorging four bikes. I gave serious consideration to begging for a ride to the Banks trailhead. Inexplicably I passed them without saying a word.

Even more inexplicably, I started the Walk of Shame on the the flattest part. Walked about a tenth of a mile, then got back on and rode up the steepest part. Someone sometime will explain that maneuver...

I kept going and wondering how I could make the last little bit.

I hit the downhill section. Fluffy and I have averaged over 26 miles per hours for the next 4 mile stretch. I would never exceed 25.9 the whole way down.

Every rotation was a nightmare, every bump wrenched forth a was pure torture. None of the delight I normally take in a ride.

9 miles to go. 8.5 to go. hour left? I can make that. 8 miles left to go. 7.5 is all I need to make. 7 is a do-able number. 7.5 lef....what the bloody smurf?

Was I hallucinating? I had seen the 7.5 mile sign. I had seen the 7 mile sign. Apparently I did a reverse walk of shame or something because I was going so slow in comparison to my normal speeds that I actually found a way to go backwards!

By this time I was not even nodding to the people heading on the outward trail. I was just grinding, rotating my legs again and again.

4 miles to go. 3.5 left. I was recalculating how much longer this agony would last with every signpost.

I was poking along slower than at any other point on the entire ride and trying to do pain/speed calculations; what hurt more, going faster for less time or slower for longer?

I would have tried both except by now I was so physically wasted I could not go faster if I wanted to.

Finally I limped into the parking lot thinking it had to be at least noon.

It wasn't. It was about 10:40.

I saved the second portion of my ride; shorter and slower though it is usually 35% faster.

But I made 40.38 miles in 3:40. I hit both my goals. In fact, I beat my speed goal by 17% despite blowing up my hamstring and my quad. And that includes stop time. My riding time was at least 10 - 15 minutes less due to my stops.

The Junior Woodchuck Guidebook says good job.


  1. Fluffy the Cat has a new camera, see, so he is rolling around like a pig know ;)

  2. Ha, well...he should get out and photograph stuff while rolling on pavement to wash off know...