Tuesday, October 26, 2010

100 Miles on the Eastern Shore - Part 2

Part 2 of my 100 mile ride entitled: Wind, Chicken Farms and Vomit

Our merry group continued toward our lunchtime destination after stopping at Modest Town Church (mile 33) where the dreaded Fig Newtons invited me for a test taste... my second since the first grade which I remember as tasking god-awful. I will share that they do not taste any better than when I was 6. Yuck.
We continued and it was now that the wind appeared. I knew it was forecast but I held hope that the wind gods would see us below, see us making good hard effort and save us the agony that they could very well inflict. They did no such saving... wind howled in the leaves above, across the fields and always directly on our faces. Knowing that over 50 miles lay ahead does not a happy biker make. Here's a shot of Joel (and Jocelyn) adjusting his seat once more in preparation for dropping us a little later. This is also when I began to become a bit delirious and thought the warm pavement looked soft and inviting... ahh to lay in the middle of the road and take just a short nap -- wasn't to be however.

Our speed plummeted as we began to grunt out loud seeing our speed fall from 18+ mph to barely over 12. Disheartening but looking over at the others riding behind me... I wasn't in this alone and that made all the difference. Joel took his turn at the front as well as Jocelyn and I tried to make myself as small as possible behind them in order to hide from the wind. But while it might certainly have been easier drafting, I know that their friendship made more of the difference.

After lamenting that perhaps we had missed our lunch stop somehow and thinking "wouldn't that just be completely horrific and I don't know if I can go on" we saw the lunch signs. As we pulled up to the Garden and Sea Inn (mile 54) we found a merry bunch sprawled on the grass eating, smiling, laughing and commiserating on what had already been accomplished that day.

Lunch, by the way, consisted of many things that Bicycling Magazine's editors caution against. There were sandwich fixins, soda, chips and even brownies. All these (again according to the experts) consumed would make demands on our bodies to spend energy on digestion versus towards the legs which of course were responsible for that very important forward motion.

Ha! I laughed at the experts -- actually I didn't but there was no other lunch option so... of course I consumed. Heck, I deserved it.. I had made it half way to 100.

I did however leave the brownies to others, ate the fixins because I saw others with more expensive clothes and bikes eating them so it must be ok, and decided a banana for dessert would keep the magazine editors happy. The Coca-Cola did taste exceptionally good.

Before leaving stretching was called for and abruptly stopped as a pain I had yet to ever experience reared its ugly head as I tried to pull the stiffness from my legs. So much for stretching -- more of that professional advice ignored.

As we rolled out over oyster shells and out toward our next rest stop 17 miles away we decided to think only of immediate goals... that next rest stop. The idea of finishing would be put on temporary hold -- we would think of it after our last rest stop. I thought this prudent and wise. Small steps as we rolled slowly forward.

So it was about 10 miles later that I thought maybe those editors knew what they were advising us amateurs about. I felt ill. Like I'm gonna throw up all over myself ill. Maybe it was that sandwich, that Coke, that banana. Or maybe it was because we were at mile 67. Or perhaps the smell of chicken farms we had inhaled all day (there are A LOT of chicken farms on the Eastern Shore) -- their smell is a very close second, in my opinion, to the smell of pig farms. Nothing like pulling over and scaring your biking buddies by vomiting all over yourself... thank god I did no such thing.

The route had taken us toward Saxis Island and we were surrounded on both sides of the road by marsh grasses and inlets off the Chesapeake Bay. And a crab shack too.
Yes, the wind was still with us and the legs were aching. At mile 72 the road ended at the Saxis Volunteer Firehouse where water and a friendly collection of we're-almost-done riders sat in the sunshine and were fed upon by marsh flies.

Here's Joel and I excited that we just might make it to the finish as we sat in front of the fire station.

Great guy that Joel. Same Joel who said I was nuts for thinking up the idea of doing a century together. Same Joel that I claim has had plastic calf implants because they are so intimidating as I try to keep up with him (I shared this out loud with Jocelyn who I think might have thought me serious for a fraction of a second). Same Joel that I screamed at from behind to slow down because my legs would not cooperate and keep up with his legs pumping out an impressive speed. Good man. Oh, here's the pic.

Brad pulled in shortly after we did. Having pulled off his windbreaker to reveal an Oregon Porter Beer Jersey led to conversation about Bend, Oregon which led to converations about my being in the state for graduate school which led to his sharing that he was a diabetic. I caught a glimpse of him testing his blood sugar as he shared that he needed to rest a while to allow his body to recover after consuming Hammer Gel.

Now here's a guy who knows that his body processes sugars differently than you and I, he knows that he will slowly tire and be unable to keep pace, and he is out here with us facing his challenges head on. And not his first century. Inspiring.

We had 21 miles to our next stop. Buoyed by Brad's story we knew we were now closing in on the end. When we hit 80 miles, we cheered. When we hit 90, the cheer was louder. We were going to make it. Here's a shot of Hills Farm that Will had taken earlier in the day when he was there with Lynn. A beautiful farm with a long tree covered driveway that made us wonder whether we were being led to some horrific-well-planned Halloween slaughter (delirious again obviously). Will's pic:

After some Gatorade we safely left and those last 7 miles back to Onancock were quick. We were pulled like my horse used to be pull me back to the barn whenever we left the paddock.
The wind had apparently decided to leave us alone and we all took turns at the front pulling as hard as we dared. At one point, after some good-natured prodding, Joel took off at a rate of 26 mph while I tried to keep up.
All three of us passed by the Onancock town limits sign with a joyous yell and arrived at the finish where we left eight and a quarter hours earlier (that so sounds painful). It was fantastic seeing Will and Lynn waiting for us with cameras clicking. All of us with wide smiles on our faces and hugs to go all around.
Success made sweeter by the fact that we were surrounded by friends. Here we are rolling in (that's me in the white helmet).
And to end... I have my favorite shot that follows. It doesn't include bikes or jerseys or kissing. In fact it's taken the next day after two good meals and a restful night. Before returning to Richmond we decided to take a quick drive back to Onancock from the hotel so I could see the areas that I had missed because I was out on some foolhardy trip around the Eastern Shore peninsula. Thanks Joel, Will and Lynn for making the weekend not just memorable... but special.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

100 Miles on the Eastern Shore - Part 1

I finished salt-encrusted, exhausted, sweaty, a little cold, and jubilant.

My first century completed. 100 miles... the whole experience remains surreal.

Saturday morning I stood waiting for my buddy Will and his wife Lynn in the hotel's parking lot and noticed that the hotel had an anemometer high on its roof. It spun in slow lazy circles. I liked that it spun slowly. All week I had repeatedly browsed the weather.com website hoping for no rain and no wind. It was 7 am and there would be no rain, I hoped that the wind would fail to make an appearance as well.

We arrived just a few miles away and rushed through the check in process which didn't begin until 7:30 with half an hour to spare.

I would now like to now admit to all... I like to be early. Early should I make a wrong turn on the way, early so I don't leave anything behind, early so I don't feel rushed. I felt rushed and here's me rushing to get on enough clothes to stay warm.

Will had enough time as his start time was an hour later. Doesn't he look relaxed and composed here? This was taken an hour or so later...

Ok... so Will had some time to watch me rifle through my bag for all the various pieces of lycra intended to keep me from being too cold while also being removable for when it warmed up later (and easily placed in a handy little pocket on my back). Here's Joel (he who I convinced to take on this day's foolish attempt) being much more relaxed than I and putting on his gear unhurried.

We were off at 8 am with little time to reflect on what we were about to attempt. Cold with warm rays of sunlight peeking through the leaves overhead.

Here's a shot of us at the start... note my very colorful windbreaker intended for warmth, added benefit - cars will notice that I look like a pumpkin (quite relevant for October don't you think?) and choose to pass by without hitting me.

It was cold yet we were happy to be on our way and knew that the roads were flat. The leaves in the those trees above remained quiet too -- no wind. We agreed that average speed was less important than completing the day's most important goal -- getting to the finish.

Our first rest stop at 23 miles delivered us to a table of half bananas and plenty of water. I remembered the words of Pat, my godfather's wife, who reminded me to not stay too long as the legs may complain as they tightened off the bike.

I chose to get off the bike.

It was in mid banana chew when Joel introduced me to Jocelyn who was also riding her first century. A speech therapist from Fairfax County Schools, we invited her to tag along with us as we all attempted to reach 100 miles.

For those of you who have committed yourselves to this type of lunacy you already know that one of the unwritten rules of bicycling is to welcome those who are riding alone as the unfamiliar road can be a lonely place -- especially when undertaking a personal best distance. Our merry band now numbered three and sometimes five with the addition of Brad and Henry (more on them later).

Friendship from the vantage point of the bicycle seat is quickly made.

[NOTE: I am unable to continue as my bed calls and eyes refuse to remain open. Please return to my blog for Part 2 entitled: the ride continued, I felt like I was going to vomit all over myself, and wind makes an appearance... riveting don't you think?]

Saturday, October 9, 2010

An idea I'm mulling over

So here's an idea.

But first please check out http://www.pablove.org/ and go to the Pablove Across America site.

In short, Jeff Castelaz lost his son Pablo to cancer a year ago and has since created the Pablove Foundation to support pediatric cancer research, support families whose child is battling the disease, and help provide children resources during their stay in hospitals. Here's more about the foundation.

He rides, I try to ride... he's lost his son, I live in fear of losing one of my children and realized this vulnerability the moment my son was born.

Currently Jeff (I use his first name like I know him - I do not) and others are in the midst of bicycing from Seattle to L.A. raising funds for his foundation. Watch his first dedication (they do this daily) and you may be using his first name too as he talks about losing his son and his promise to Pablo.

Idea time.

I'm inspired to do my part. While my children are healthy I (like so many others) have lost relatives to cancer. My close friend Will's wife is a cancer survivor. My wife's boss lost his wife a few years ago. My son has a cancer survivor as a classmate. This year another child in his school was recently diagnosed. So here's what happens late at night being inspired by a man I don't know doing his part to help children I don't know. Remember the part about trying to ride my bike?

Summer 2011.

Organize a ride across Virginia from the mountains that border Kentucky to the ocean waters off of Yorktown. The American Bicycling Association has already done the math (and mapping the route) - 748.5 miles along the TransAmerican Trail.

Is it challenging? Oh yes I think it would be. Should it be challenging? Oh yes I think it should be. But it is of course no where near as challenging as what children with cancer are facing. I'm no professional fundraiser but I sure can get behind helping children who need help.

If a group (I sure hope I'm not doing this alone but that could happen) of us can raise funds to help Jeff and his organization while we pedal across the Commonwealth... perhaps it will also be an opportunity to make others aware that cancer doesn't just impact adults - it also affects children.

A child's love is unlike any other. Hearing them share "I love you" or "Good Morning" just because is heart warming. Knowing that children suffer... is heart breaking.

This is just an idea in its infancy. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Religion on a Bike

Two friends followed me out of the neighborhood recently as raindrops began to fall on our helmets. We had decided that it being Sunday and church service beginning at 9:45 later that morning, an early ride was required.

We knew rain was in the forecast as we started off at 7 am... while Robert mentioned that indeed drops were falling on our heads. It was then that I thought to myself whether fun included being wet and cold and whether hypothermia might be an unfortunate realization... and how soon this ride might end. But then the drops ceased.

A few miles on our regular route we usually pass the local reservoirs. This time the cool air and warmer water resulted in their being covered in mist.

Riding by so many homes quietly perched on the waterfront but without any activity instantly made me feel like I'd somehow been given the privilige of an experience others had chosen to sleep through. As it was Sunday, there were only a few cars that passed us which gave us plenty of room - perhaps they were already in a gracious Sunday morning-going-to-church-early mood, leaving us happier as well.

As we briefly stopped waiting, like all good cyclists should, for a light to change we were passed by a group of Canadian geese flying in formation and headed to fields unseen... just barely passing over the tops of trees.

It was at this moment we all noted how special the morning had become.

A few climbs later with cool air hinting at the coming Fall we sped into the rolling countryside. Cows stood fence-side eyeing us for breakfast and awaiting the warming sun to peek over the horizon. It was then that we looked to our right over a meadow where we witnessed a pink sunrise.

A few miles later and to our left a rainbow appeared over rolling forests. Dark gray skies framed its colors better than had the sky been less menacing. I think it's fair to say we were all enthralled.

What an amazing morning I wish everyone I've shared bicycling stories with could experience.

We finished about 2 hours after we had begun. Our bikes did gather some road grime as it must have rained just a mere miles ahead of where we rode... but regardless of the wet roads, impending rain smell in the air, or dark clouds above... drops never fell on our heads.

An hour later I sat in our local church's pew thinking that I had in fact already been to church... just on a bike saddle instead of in the sanctuary.

I've been thinking back to that morning a lot lately as the stresses of my teaching profession have taken hold I think it just might have been a favorite all time ride. Beautiful views, quiet roads, God's blessings, and good friends.