Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Third Century

On the spur of the moment, I took off on another long ride this morning which as usual, turned out to be a little longer than I planned.  The 2.1 and I have gotten well-acquainted and within a couple of miles, we were touring easy along the highway like old friends at about 20 mph.  Since I knew I was going to go for some distance, I paced so as not to burn up the legs and watched the scenery.  It's getting a little cooler these days but it's still nice.  Breezy but nice.  That breezy thing would come up again later.

In my normal fashion, I just kind of turned when I felt like it and let the road lead where it would.  I had a rough destination in mind but no real plan of how to get there.  I find it's good therapy to just roll sometimes and let the mental flip of a coin decide where I'm off to.  The flip today led west from one lake to another.  A lengthy climb out of Watkins Glen and away from Seneca Lake led over the ridge-top toward Waneta Lake and a little burg called Tyrone.  The view was pretty spectacular as I started down the hill and I got a little distracted until I realized that the road surface had turned from smooth and fast to a very rough, coarsely grooved stone and oil sort of thing that had the bike weaving around under me.  Besides the change in pavement, I noticed the computer on my handlebars was reading a velocity somewhere up around 45 mph.  That, my friends is humming right along on a feather-weight bike with not much between my pink skin and the ever-so-unforgiving blacktop.  Visions of how much tissue and skeletal damage I'd incur if I unloaded at that rate wearing only shorts, a thin jersey, fingerless gloves and a plastic helmet flashed through my head just as the high-speed front end wobble hit.  God, here we go again. I thought I was done with this foolishness when I got off the 1400 with the cracked frame.
A shimmy at warp speed is probably the most frightening thing that ever happens to me on a bike.  I'm OK with trucks, dogs, weather, close calls and all the other typical hazards of the sport but when that front wheel starts vibrating like the spin cycle on an off-balance washing machine, my life flashes before my eyes in an instant.  Loss of control is a given and a flying leap over the handlebars a very real possibility unless you can break the shake and slow down somehow.  Fortunately, I was already down in the drops instead of on the hoods so the brake levers were near to hand.  I three-fingered both, again availing myself of more luck than brains by not grabbing too fast or too much thereby adding a skid to my problems.  Trying to hang on to the gyrating bars, I got the anchor thrown out and deceleration going before the front wheel went 90 degrees and launched me into orbit.  I was still doing 40-plus and had lost all interest in the scenery.
Only old Sir Isaac's First Law about a body remaining in a state of constant velocity and tending to move in a straight line saved my bacon from what could only have been a very poor landing in the ditch.  There was absolutely no control over my direction except momentum.  Since I was screaming straight down the hill when my ability to turn went out the window and there were no curves in the road to navigate, I managed to stay on the tarmac with only minimal wandering while I chased the wiggle out of the forks.
Eventually, as always happens if you can stay on the bike long enough, things slowed a point where the harmonics dampened out and the shimmy broke allowing a return to normal steering.  Normal steering mind you, not normal breathing.  That takes much longer and requires the pulse rate to first drop below triple digits.  Wobbly knees replace wobbly handlebars and and certain impolite language is used while you shake your head in wonder and think, "How many times can I get away with this and live?"
Reflection leads me to believe that a combination of excessive speed, a nasty cross-wind (remember that breeze?) and a crummy paving job brought on this episode of the wiggles and that it's probably an isolated incident.  It's never happened before on the 2.1 and the rest of the day passed without a repeat performance so I'm hoping it was just a weird, one-of-a-kind thing that won't become a trend.  Onward and upward.

Once my heart subsided and a quick inspection found nothing technically amis with the bike, it was back on the road and on to Penn Yan.  The breeze had now become very stout and being behind me, I ate up miles northward very quickly.  A little alarm bell was ringing because I knew that sooner or later I would have to turn back south and the wind would no longer be my friend.  The turn came with another bonus...not only was it upwind but uphill in spades.  Rt. 14A is straight for several miles which gives you the ability to see what you're up against.  It looked like a tower.  The wind was blowing 15 to 20 mph off my starboard bow and trying to push me out in the lane of traffic with every gust.  I've never been in creeper-low so long in my life.  It just went on and on up that hill until I my legs cramped and finally just shut down.  I had to pull into a little ice cream stand and just sit with a cone for about 20 minutes while the burn subsided.  I still had over 40 miles to go and the wind just didn't let up.  Brief rest stops became increasingly common until I finally dropped down off the ridge back into Watkins Glen and took another long breather on the lakefront to fortify for the last push home.

Anyone who's been to Watkins knows that it's pretty much located in the bottom of a hole.  Any way out is up except due south which didn't happen to be the way I needed to go.  All you can do is pick the lesser of the evils for a climb and then just gear down and do it.  I decided on a secondary road out of the valley which turned out to be ridiculously steep but mercifully short.  It saved a long slog up the truck route which is still steep enough but also stretched out so much that it makes you want to shoot yourself to end your misery before you finally get to the top, especially when you've already got 90 hard miles behind you.  No matter what road you pick, you've got to do the grade to get out of the pit and that last little push just about did in the old guy.  I had to pace pretty carefully after that to nurse it on home.  And the wind just wouldn't quit.  I kept trying not to bonk for well and all at this stage.  Surrender would have meant a rescue operation by van and a considerable blow to my self-esteem so slow but sure, I limped on back to the barn.  103 miles after my departure, I sort of wobbled into the driveway and unclipped.  I'm usually not that whipped but this time I hurt enough that a couple of beers only took the edge off.  Sometimes it's like that...

Once in a while, I have to keep trying to remember that I really enjoy this.  Seems like an awful lot of hurt to volunteer for.  Then I think about the land and the sky and all that I've seen and before I know it, I can't wait to go again.  Sometimes it's like that too.  The Fourth Century AT is already on the horizon.

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