Thursday, November 15, 2012

Down and Away

It actually looked pretty nice outside from my kitchen table this morning.  I had resolved yesterday to ride somewhere today as long as the weather held out so I watched as the frost slowly melted off the pool cover over the top of my coffee mug.  The sunshine peeking around the clouds bore promise of temperatures above freezing so there was hope.  I needed a ride.  It's been dark and cold inside and out lately and saddle time is good therapy.

Eventually, I decided the thermometer was about as high as it was going to get and started rummaging around in the closet for cold-weather riding stuff.  A few layers later, I moved to the garage for a bike.  The 2.1 roadie is long overdue for a chain and a tire so I elected to leave her home this time and exercise my faithful mountain bike a bit.  I often have a tendency to get too far from home on the street bike anyway.  I figured I'd hit some steep old dirt roads that I haven't seen in a while on one with some suspension instead of the stiff-legged, skinny-tired weapon.  Besides, as cold as it is, slow is good.

I wanted to get out in the woods proper but bow season is open and rattling around in the leaves and pushing the deer about tends to aggravate the guys frozen in tree stands.  They seem unhappy sometimes after sitting all day waiting for something with horns, not something with tires.  I find it's usually a good idea to just forget about single-track trails until after the last gasp of the season unless your heartfelt desire is to bug somebody who's holding a compound bow that could easily take your head off.  There's something about knowing how many eyes are watching every clearing and deer path that makes it a little unsettling out there right about now anyway.  It's not as bad as shotgun and rifle season when the hills sound like a firefight and your epitaph could read, "Well, I thought it was a deer..." but why tempt fate?  I actually like the bow hunters so I try not to ride around in their shooting lanes.  They tend to be quieter, more disciplined people who rarely take a less-than-sure shot and I appreciate that.  So today would be dirt roads and well traveled byways where nobody in camo paint will be irritated.  Westward we go.

The climb into the hills was nice.  Colder than I anticipated but steep enough to require a low gear which kept the body heat on simmer while I cranked up out of the valley.  I wish I could go on about Zen-like peacefulness or re-affirming my faith in humanity or some such when I'm riding but I'm just too damn old to be a hipster and my karma is pretty well used up.  I just like to go out and look at the countryside and stretch my legs.  It was chilly enough to hurt on the first pitch and I realized I should have grabbed that day-glow yellow windbreaker but it was now miles behind me in the closet so I just chugged along and wondered how cold it would be when I turned back for home.

I live in a valley so no matter where I go, it's mostly uphill at first.  This has advantages as you can usually run downhill to get home unless you venture a valley or two away; trust me, I know this.  I've bonked a time or two trying to clear that last hump when I've gone too far for my own good (see above).  But today I had a plan.  Climb out, fool around on the ridge top and then cruise back to the garage.  It actually worked for once.  I got down in creeper-low and made the climb.

You can see a lot from up top now that the leaves are off but the color has already drained out of everything.  It's mostly gray with a few patches of rusty, die-hard oak leaves and dark green pines.  The gaudy fall color party is over and the hills feel like they're pulling up the covers and settling in to sleep it off.  I sort of feel the same way.

The cold air lets you see all the way to wherever once you get up high but it's like looking at the world through those old midnight black Wayfarers I had years ago.  The horizon is shades of blue right out to the sky but everything else is flat.  By March, I'll be crazy for scenery that isn't gray and muddy but for now, it seems right.  There was even a little snow sticking under the hedges way up on the very tops of the hills where the wind was the worst and the sun couldn't reach.  I had my camera with me but for some reason, didn't feel like taking pictures.  Just rode.

Up and around a few times and then that last big drop for home.  Falling into the gullies on the way down put the sun behind the trees and the ground suddenly wasn't the only thing dropping.  The temperature went into a tailspin as fast as I was losing altitude.  Note to's now November you idiot.  Bring the windbreaker. I lost touch with my finger tips on the brake levers but I figured that as long as I could still see them and I wasn't completely out of control, they must still be working.  My toes complained because I was wearing my everyday, well ventilated shoes and my knees picked up the tune once I stopped cranking for a while.  Why do I do this to myself?  Repeatedly?  The valley floor was completely in shade and just a tad below freezing judging by the ice on the puddles so the road around the base of the hill was downright frigid.  Eventually it turned east and came out into what little sunshine there was and all my assorted parts defrosted enough to regain some feeling.

From there it was just a cruise in the cool.  Hopefully, the snow will hold off a while yet and I'll get a few more miles in before the salt crews wreck the roads for the duration.  I have a trainer to ride in the winter but it just ain't the same.  There's no hills and no view.  No cold and no heat.  Just miles and it's just not the same.  Not like today or so many other days.

Down and away for home, a warm kitchen, a burger and a beer.  Thanks...I needed that.