The last trip to the north for ten days has been made. I got in late last night and immediately pigged out, drank three beers and collapsed. It seemed so nice to know there's a few days ahead without the railroad that I kinda overdid celebrating my arrival at 'Old Drafty'. Everybody needs a break and my turn is finally here. The trip home took forever as expected and the carriers did just about everything they could to make it seem even longer. When you're trying to get home, nothing goes right. We finally did manage to stumble into the terminal, made our pick-up and handed off to the outbound crew just about as the clock ticked on our legal hours. Fun and adventure to the bitter end but now, for a few days anyway, my time is my own.
To start the week (or end it, depending on how you look at it), I was up at 5:30 prowling around the house and making coffee. I'm so programmed to be awake at that time that it'll take a couple days to get out of the groove and actually sleep in. Besides, I had all kinds of plans swirling in my head and a cramp in my calf that would win prizes so further sleep was out of the question. Got the brood off to school and work and then started in on the stuff that got me out of bed.
First order of business was to swap out the pedals on the 4500 mountain bike, trading the stock spiked platforms for a set of used clipless types I got from the good Doctor. I'm not even sure what they are but they fit my Shimano cleats and I figured I'd give them a whirl in the dirt.
I guess I should mention that Chris finally talked me into buying a set of SPD pedals and Garneau shoes to use on my street bike. They were the reason I did 70 miles last Tuesday; sort of a break-in, test-ride, leg-burn kind of thing. Being able to pull up on the pedals as well as push down is quite a change as is the concept of having your feet locked in place. It made quite a difference as I doubt I could have gone that far that fast without them. Much different than regular pedals but I decided I liked being locked in on the road and everybody has been raving about how much I'd probably like them on the trails. Giving in to peer pressure, I threaded them on and headed for Shindagin Hollow for a try-out.
Unfortunately, Shindagin was probably not a good first choice. The last time I was out there with Doc, he managed to hit himself in the head with his own rear tire, I half fell, half crashed, all lost control down a ravine and wound up the morning's festivities with more thorn slashes, contusions and general abrasions than I care to think about. The place is all single-track trails with a vast assortment of rocks, roots, drop-offs, stumps, mud pits, logs, climbs, knuckle-bangers and head-knockers. Great fun but not exactly the place to learn about having your feet firmly in the upright and locked position. As I should have expected since I'd already embarrassed myself by toppling over at a stop sign on the road bike, the first charge up a dry washout resulted in a stall and a fall which probably would have hurt less if could have put my foot down instead of catching myself by artistically banging my shoulder on a sapling and breaking the landing with my forehead. The cleats released nicely after the bike was laying on top of me. I can't believe I wasn't impaled by the underbrush.
Note to self: Bring someone with you next time you do something this stupid; preferably someone with first-aid skills or at least a satellite phone since regular cells don't have a chance of hitting 9-1-1 down in the gullies.
A few minutes of frustration and profanity later, I wound up hoofing it out of the wash since all attempts at getting clipped in and rolling in the rocks proved futile. The learning curve appeared to be a bit steeper than the creekbed.
A few more swan dives into the weeds eventually led to a realization; one of those eureka moments that usually happen only AFTER you've mashed your thumb with a hammer or slammed the cat in the door; almost an epiphany...
Clipless pedals are the reason really good riders get really good. They'll thrash any vertical pitch, sail off any ridiculous jump, bunny-hop, wheelie, pivot, teeter, leap tall buildings at a single bound...anything to avoid looking so foolish as to not be able to get their foot down. It's all desperation brought on by the certain knowledge that in the event the crash fails to actually kill you, someone will probably be doubled over holding their sides in hysterical laughter at how idiotic you look as you are pounded sensless by the 50 pound sledgehammer attached to your shoes. Those guys are good because they HAVE to be. I know this to be true because by the second hour, I was banging away at the woods and spinning up the hills like my life depended on it. Which, in a way it did since I still couldn't get out of the pedals fast enough to avoid knocking myself out on a tree trunk if I lost my balance. Desperation does wonders.
At the end of about 3 hours, with the weather closing down into rain and wind, I finally made it out of the woods and back to the van. Not exactly a wildly successful outing but since nothing got broken that won't grow back, it's all good.
If this is the beginning of the week off...it's gonna be a good one.
In one last attempt to get me, the railroad just rang my phone trying to get me to go on an extra train. They just won't let up. My official time off starts in 2 hours and dedicated or not, they're not going to have this warm body to fill a seat tonight. Out.