“Yes, I’m beat. I could lay down and go to sleep right now.”
With the exception of a few weeks of tapering, when the training volume drops to half of what I was riding. Its this drop, along with rides suddenly becoming easier is what makes peaking for specific set of races possible — if things go right.
But that’s not for a few weeks yet. For the moment I’m constantly tired and hungry, my quads offer a slight protest with every step I take. This feeling is a constant, and the only thing that helps me through it is the feeling of strength that comes from getting it right.
Right now I’m doing my best to spin perfect circles up Larch Mountain. To get here I’ve ridden a little over 30 miles and six of that an up hill slog from the Sandy river to the small town of Corbet. I’ve come out this way before, but always with a teammate or two, but I’ve never tackled Larch before, opting instead for the short drop down to Crown point, which sits above the Columbia River Gorge. Larch Mountain rise an additional 14 miles at an average grade of five percent and terminates at park inside Mt. Hood National Forest.
Near the base I hear sirens in the distance behind me. The smell of fire fills the air and up the road in front of a plume of smoke rises up from the trees. Not knowing what lies ahead of me I decide to wait until the fire trucks pass me. I take a moment to snap a picture with the woefully inadequate camera on my smartphone. What this tiny lens produces is a far cry from the DSLR I had to sell after being out of work for two months.
The last of the Multnomah County fire trucks a passes me and I push off from the gravel shoulder and get to the task at hand. Getting through 14 miles of unknown climbing. The smell gets stronger as I round the first bend and see a set of white houses on fire. Cyclist and other on lookers stand gawking at the side of the road. I rubber-neck, but I don’t stop. Call me selfish, but I much rather get on with the pain of my ride instead of witnessing another person’s less superficial suffering.
These long solo rides allow me to turn in on myself, get lost in my thoughts and work through the stress that comes from not working in over four months with no savings to fall back on. Over that time my girlfriend, who was employed as a substitute teacher has been carrying the weight of household, my only contribution being the 200 dollars in food stamps I receive each month. These are the types of thoughts that haunt me on a near constant basis, but somehow turning them over with each turn of the pedals makes it easier.
Ridding with music also makes it easier. I was using my phone to stream internet radio, but now five miles up Larch mountain those songs are a distant memory. All I’m left with is listening to my own voice alternatively ticking the miles until I reach for the top, and worrying about how I’m going to start making some money.
Depending how you look at it, the signs that mark each mile are either a constant reminder of how much further you have to go can either bring optimism or despair. For once I’m neutral to them. I look, register the information and keep going. Instead I focus on how the pines reach up for the sky, the road in front of my wheel, and the information coming from the GPS strapped to my stem.
When the going gets hard I click up one gear then stand for a uncounted number of pedal strokes before settling back into the saddle — I know my style and form suck, but I’m just trying to get to the top.
Then Lindsey’s voice enters my head.
“Don’t you ever get tired….”
“Don’t you ever get tired….”
“Don’t you ever get tire…”
I try to push it out, but then decide to hone in on it.
“Yes, I’m always tired, but that’s good because it means I’m getting stronger. Stronger is good. Stronger is what I want. This is what I need” I reply to Lindsey, in my head. An answer for myself and not her.
That’s it. That’s enough to push me past mile fourteen and into the park. At the entrance I hit the lap button on my Garmin : 76:30. Neither good or bad, but just what it is: A small step toward a larger goal.
At the top I take a moment to eat half a turkey sandwich and drink the rest of my water because I can get more at the store in Corbet. I figure it won’t take me that long to get back down. I spend a few minutes chatting with two other riders before until I start feeling chilly.
“Nice talking to you.” I say as I pull my arm warmers back on.
I swing my leg over the top tube and head and click my right foot in the pedal.
“Time to reap the reward for that climb. Bye”
At the entrance, now exit I tap the lap button again to time the descent. I’m a nervous descender in the best of situations. The trip down isn’t technical so I’ll get some good practice in.
I click through the cassette as I gain momentum. My body bend over the top tube of the bike. Hands in the drops with two fingers on each brake lever. My ass hovers just above the nose of my saddle. I’m doing my best to get low, like I’ve been watching the PROs every morning on the Tour de France. At each bend I push down on the half of the handlebars on the inside of the turn. To contrast that I push my outside foot into the pedal on the outside.
At 30 mph I’m consistently taking turns faster than I ever have before. I’m relaxed, and more importantly I’m having fun. Almost as much fun as I had going up. The miles tick by.
Just past the last mile marker I have to stop. A green Multnomah county sheriff gets out of the car and tells me the small fire I witnessed when I started up over two hours ago is now a four alarm fire.
I’m told to turn around and back up, then take the first right. On my way back up I catch the two cyclist I was talking to at the top and give them the bad news. One of them hangs on to my wheel and we break up the undulations of our detour with bits of conversation.
When we finally reconnect with Historic HWY 30 I’ve gone 45 minutes without water. My new partner tells me he’s baked and I should head down without him. I thank him for the conversation and start hammering down the hill. The detour took me around Corbet and I’ll have to wait till Troutdale for water.
I cruise around one of the last bends and see a water bottle laying on the side of the road. I slam on the brakes, turn around and pick up the light blue bottle. It’s nearly full and very warm from laying on the road in full view of the sun.
I hold the bottle up, careful not to press it to my lips and squeeze. What comes out is watered down warm energy drink. It tastes purple, which is to say disgusting. Still its hydration and that makes me happy. Its just enough to get the dry taste out of my mouth. I swap my new bottle iwith an empty one in holder. The empty bottle goes into the middle pocket of my jersey and continue on to Troutdale.
Once there I refuel with a can of coke, and top off my original bottles with a Gatorade and water while I consume some gel filled gummies. I feel better start start the long slog back home.
Rolling down Marine avenue the radio stream I was listening to kicks back on. I’m so happy to have something happening between my ears that isn’t me, that I mouth the words to a song I don’t like by a band I can’t stand.
“When we die, we will die with our hands unbound … “
There are more words to the song, but my exercise addled brain cells don’t register them. Ride like these don’t just strip my body of its extra weight, but break me down to my most essential elements. An never ending process of self reinvention.
In this state only the most essential information gets through.
spin, spin, spin, spin, drink, spin, spin
That also means that this Decembrist song has something to do with my mental state.
“ and when we die, we will die with our hands unbound. This is why, this is why we fight.”
Maybe this songs not as bad as I think.