Tag Archives: New England

Aching.

17 Nov

I love the Mid-Atlantic ‘cross scene.  I really do.

But New England cx…just, yeah.

Gloucester was on the calendar this year, but didn’t happen.  Next year.  For sure.

Maybe this helps explain why:

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Annoying the local fauna

22 Aug

A story from Sunday’s ride near my mother-in-law’s place:

I should have known I’d done something to incite nature’s ire after the fourth dime-size-or-larger bug smacked into my cheekbone.  I had gone out to do climbing repeats to squeeze in a quality workout around a family visit.  Fortunately, my wife’s mother lives about two miles from a 1.5-mile, 1000-ft climb.  Proof of how perception doesn’t match reality:  I felt awful, couldn’t remember whether the times I was seeing were any good, and bagged it after two repeats, thinking I was crawling up the hill.  Looked it up on Strava afterwards, and I’d actually set a p.r. and third-best time.  Shows what I know.  (I’ll write later about my love affair with Strava.  The  KOM comparison is a fun toy, but the feature of seeing within seconds how I’m doing vs. myself is far, far easier and more useful than any other training log program I’ve used.)

I turned for home, planning an easy tempo for the rest of the way back.  I was about to ride across a freeway overpass, thinking profound things about the waffle cookie with peanut butter I’d just eaten, when I picked up a flash of beige movement in the bushes to the right.  In an instant, there was a deer directly in front of me, with a second following it across the road.  They were both fairly small, no antlers, so probably just born this past spring.

My hands were back on the shoulders of the bar, too far to reach the brakes, so I tried to head to the right.  The first deer made it fine, but I clipped the back leg of the second one with my front wheel and bounced off to the right as I heard the deer grunt and its hooves skitter on the pavement.  My right foot came out of the pedal, and as I’d already been shifting my weight back, I wound up with my stomach on the saddle, hands on the tops, left foot in the pedal, right leg unclipped and thigh dragging on the rear tire.

I was wobbling quite a bit now and was 100% convinced I was going down, so I aimed for the grassy shoulder.  With a jolt and a bounce, somehow I stayed upright over the blessedly low curb and went up into the grass, and was able drag my foot to stop. By the time I turned around to look at the deer they were both gone.

The damage was inconsequential.  Something (the curb, I imagine) knocked the front wheel a bit out of true, the bars were slightly twisted, and there is now a gouge in the toe of my right shoe, but apart from a light tire burn on my thigh and a bath of adrenaline, I was unscathed.  With the fight-or-flight supercharge, I actually debated going back for another hill repeat once I got going again.  Common sense (laziness?) prevailed, though, and I rolled on through a headwind, with one last bug smacking me in the ear about a quarter-mile before the last turn down the street to my wife’s childhood home.

Reunion Ride

3 Jul

“His twenty-two was still clean as a whistle.”

Image courtesy of Dartmouth Cycling Team

R. and I were riding up Kinsman’s Notch, quoting lines from Krabbé’s The Rider to each other like we were old friends. Which we were, though neither of us had read Krabbé when we used to ride together. No matter; scores of hours and hundreds of miles spent in the saddle together over these same roads made for an easy comfort when we met up again for the first time in 13 years. We could share a reference and be confident the other guy would get the joke. Neither of us had a clean 22 cog at that point in the day.

I smiled to myself in the first ten miles of the ride (and, for a moment before I could break free of the tar of self-awareness and arched eyebrow irony that drenches modern life, smiled at myself smiling at myself), heading out on the familiar rollers of Route 5 across the river and north from the College. I could glance up the paceline and see two others in jerseys like my own, lime green slightly faded from being over a decade old but still in good shape and, cushion to the ego, still the right size.  Even more comforting, I could have picked them both out by pedaling style.  Both of my old teammates claimed they hadn’t really been riding at all, much less in a big group, but both were clearly right at home.  Smooth, steady.  You could tell they were racers.  Others in the group looked strong (and would prove to be such) but they weren’t riders whose wheels I would comfortably follow.

Three old guys

You can start to take it for granted after a while of riding only with other racers, but a mixed group will quickly remind you of the difference.  It’s a joy to ride with experienced racers, and on this cool morning heading north through Vermont and New Hampshire, I was practically gleeful. Riding with old friends, on familiar roads through gorgeous country:  I just couldn’t stop smiling.

We cruised over some of the smaller climbs early on, swooping down through the covered bridge at Thetford, around Lake Fairlee and crossing back into New Hampshire at Orford.  Our new friends from the Strava.com team had turned back around Fairlee, and the group riding the 100-mile route was down to six as we headed up Mt. Cube.  This was where things started to split up a bit, former teammates M. and R. and I having to deliberately throttle back to avoid rudely dumping the rest of our small group.  There were still over sixty miles to go, after all.  R’s flat tire partway up gave a convenient regrouping point.

Magic as we came off the descent from Cube and turned north to Warren: the first sight of Mt. Moosilauke.  Poking up baldly among the other wooded hills, waiting there.  It felt like it was asking me if I wasn’t really a bit overdue in coming back, hm?

Into the wind

The sun was warm as we headed north towards Haverhill and Woodsville, but a growing breeze kept the air cool.  The three of us (with occasional help from one or two others in the group) switched off pulling into the headwind, with R’s familiar low, forward-leaning posture on the bike seeming to tear a hole in the air for the rest of us to follow.  We caught up on kids, careers, home buying decisions.  I was already delirious from the sweet, clean air and the nostalgia; hearing R. talk about moving to a small town in New Hampshire as everything he and his wife ever hoped for was almost too much to bear.  I wondered for days and weeks afterwards if I could or should do the same.

Kinsman’s Notch was our penultimate climb of the day, and we slipped the leash a little bit, finding a hard rhythm that still allowed for literary references and noticing the waterfall on the side of the road.  The descent is a speed freak’s joy, ramrod straight and wide open sight lines.  It dropped us off at the foot of the eastern climb up to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, and I decided to just punch it.  Thirty minutes and a short regroup later, we dropped down the last descent to the access road turn and two miles of mostly uphill dirt to the Lodge.

The College could guarantee record rates of alumni giving by getting every graduate to the Lodge once a year.  I have no doubt the return on investment would be worth it.  I wanted to kiss the building timbers, I was so in love with that rustic old place.

Dinnertime at the Lodge

No white-tented event with nametags and caterers could come anywhere close to this for reminding me what I took with me from college, but even more, The College, and hell, all of New England itself.

Everything I adored about the College — the outdoors, the sense of independence, bicycle racing, the dizzying feeling of limitless possibility — all of it merged in that moment as I sat there admiring the strip of sunburnt skin on my thigh and drinking a cup from the keg of Switchback Ale the cycling team students had procured.

Image courtesy of Dartmouth Cycling Team

It won’t be another decade before my next trip back.

Image courtesy of Dartmouth Cycling Team

A Sudden Stop

1 Dec

I should have been wolfing down some oatmeal and mixing up bottles of Cytomax.

I should have been putting the bike on top of the car.

I should have been debating which base layer to wear under my skinsuit and whether the thawing mud meant I should run a different tire pressure.

Instead, I was watching my kid play with his new-enough-that-he’d-only-broken-one-of-them birthday toys and trying to find an internet feed of the World Cup CX race going on in Belgium.

I got sick a couple of years ago, wound up in the hospital for a time.  In part, it was because I raced when I should have rested.  The docs were firm on the risk of recurrence, that in the future even the slightest cold means laying off the bike almost completely.  So when I went to bed Friday night with tender sinuses and a scratchy throat, I desperately hoped it was the drier New England air and the woodsmoke from the fireplace and that I’d wake up ready to go.  It wasn’t, and I didn’t.  Sick?  No racey.

So there I was at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table, listening to the commentators on Sporza and watching the pros trudge through the sand dunes with bikes on their shoulders.

There’s a human fragility in us that most of us — especially bike racers — try to ignore, to ride through.  Otherwise, a bad crash renders you unable to sit in the middle of the pack or stay off the brakes through that slippery off-camber.  The weeks, months after my hospital stay were full of that fragility.  It lasted into the spring, when my teammates were adding intervals and hill repeats.  I felt funny on the bike, didn’t know if I really had a green light to push it.  Every twinge, every ache — the everyday sensations that come with impending middle age — they were like  a door creaking in another room when you thought the house was empty.  Just the wind, or something more sinister?  Is it back?  I was, bluntly, scared.

This cold last weekend decided to play with my head the same way.  Fever, chills, aches.  Just the cold?  Normal stuff?  Or did those openers on Friday do me in?  Is it back?

It’s not back.  It’s just a cold.  (One that is particularly vindictive, as I have been voiceless for about 36 hours now.)  But it stopped me in my tracks, and with that, cyclocross season is over for me.

The problem with never wanting to admit that a race is your last race of the season is that when it actually becomes your last race of the season, you haven’t prepared yourself for that fact.  So, unlike FatMarc, I haven’t managed to put the race wheels away yet.

Maybe next weekend.

NoHo: New England. Cyclocross. Fall.

12 Nov

Embrocation Cycling Journal has some delicious photos up from the Cycle-Smart International in Northampton, MA this past weekend.

So, so good.  I love the early-season races too, but late October and early November is when it really comes home for me.  That was when ‘cross got its hooks in.  To be precise, it was probably that double race weekend up in Vermont  where day one was a muddy, sloppy mess and I was terrified heading down this singletrack into a wooded gully with loose rocks at the bottom of the stream bed, terror that went away after my muddy feet flew out from under me while dismounting (who puts barriers on an all-weather running track anyway?) and I clocked the back of my head on the ground; we’ll call it the restorative power of a concussion but after that I just let it all go.  Bike wash at a self-serve car wash (yeah, yeah, don’t spray the bearings directly, I know), day two sunny and bright and I flatted out of my second race of the day after winning the Collegiate B’s (or was it the C’s?) without realizing it, the course was that crowded.

Not sure what that clot of run-on sentences means other than me working through anxiety that the season’s just getting to the good part and around here there aren’t many race weekends left.