Monday, June 30, 2008

Day two

Ride route.

As I mentioned in the previous post, this particular cycling excursion was a two day event.

When I woke up in the morning I was a little stiff, and somewhat uncertain on my feet. Despite my hesitations, we got off to an early start. Unfortunately, Vantage is a small town situated at the bottom of a big hill. The road leading out of town only travels for about 100 yards before it runs into a wall, which was the hill we were about to climb. Needless to say there was precious little time for either mental or physical preparation for the task at hand. Vantage is situated at about 600 ft elevation, whereas the climb tops out some ten miles later at about 2800 ft. As the climb set in my brother and I quickly pulled away from our dad. The first few miles were brutal, but eventually my legs loosened up and I started feeling better. I don't remember talking much as we climbed, shoulder-to-shoulder, the entire way up. If I remember correctly it took right about an hour to do those ten miles. It wasn't fast, but It was pretty satisfying to make it to the top and look back down at the hill we had just conquered.

The best part about reaching the top, though, was knowing that the next 20 or so miles, were all downhill into Ellensburg. At Ellensburg we peeled off the Interstate and took Canyon road back to Yakima. Canyon road winds alongside the Yakima river with steep hills on either side. It's quite a scenic route. Although it follows the river, anyone who has ridden it on a bike knows that it's anything but flat. Nevertheless, at this point in the ride I had reached pure cycling bliss. There was no longer any doubt about whether I would be able to survive the trip. I was just happy to be on my bicycle with my brother and dad along for company. I remember the hills started to hurt, but I couldn't stop smiling. As we wound alongside the river some rafters yelled up to us that we were traveling the hard way (as they lazily drifted down the river in their raft). It may have looked like hard work to them, but there was nowhere else I'd have rather been.

After exiting the canyon, we stopped at the fruit stand just outside of Selah. I remember that by this time it was extremely hot, and I was getting tired. As we sat outside slurping down peaches, nectarines, and plums, I remember wanting to linger there, and not get back on the bike. Not because I was tired, but rather, I didn't want the trip to end. We were only a short 10 miles or so from home, and I wished it was another 100. I don't know when exactly it happened, but somewhere along the road during those two days of riding, I had fallen in love with cycling. It wasn't one thing in particular, but rather, the experience as a whole; the panoramic vistas of the countryside rolling by, the sense of accomplishment at cresting over a hill and the exhilaration of speeding down the other side, the quiet moments of uninterrupted introspection, the camaraderie and tom-foolery experienced with friends, and the gratefulness for knowing at that moment that this was one of life's unique experiences that I would always remember.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Beginning - Day One

I once claimed I could remember every single ride I'd ever been on. At the time I had only been riding for a few years, and while an obvious overstatement, I recognized early on that there was some component of cycling which had an acute ability to permanently impression images, sensations and feelings on the brain with an amazing clarity which could be precisely recalled years later. Maybe it's just a result of brain cells dying due to oxygen deprivation. Whatever the reason, what follows is my attempt at documenting some of the more impressionable experiences that I've had on two wheels. As I look back on all of the rides, there have been many memorable ones. Some painful (I used to crash a lot) , some funny (again, I used to crash a lot), some satisfying, and some frustrating. But still, many memorable ones. Purposefully, I will not include any races, as the intent of most rides, differs greatly from that of a race. While each race has a specific goal, many rides do not, which is what I feel has allowed me to have such a wide range of experiences while on rides.

A few days ago I was reading a blog (one of my favorites) by a cyclist in Alaska. She talked about how as a youth, one outdoor excursion in particular, served as the catalyst from which her enthusiasm for all things outdoors can be traced. It made me stop and question if there were any particular events in my 15+ years of riding bikes which I too could similarly trace back, and identify as being influential in making me into the person I am today. One such ride (well actually two, since it was two days) provided just such an experience.

Anyway, enough of an intro, here goes. The following is a two-part story, so I will begin with Day One.

My first experience of infatuation with cycling did not occur on a bicycle, it occurred in a car. A station wagon to be exact. My parents could recall the exact date better, but I was about 10 or 11 years old. My dad had gotten the idea that he was going to ride his bicycle from Yakima, WA to Livingston, MT while the rest of the family drove to my grandparents. He made it 200 miles the first day, but then cramps and knee problems held him up. We picked him up the next day on our way there. Nevertheless, I remember being enthralled with the idea of riding a bicycle that distance and over that terrain. As we drove through the mountains that day I could envision myself flying up and down the hills. It's all I thought about the entire trip. And so, the relationship began.

Fast forward about 4 years. It was the summer of 1992, and I was 14 years old. At this point I had been riding for about 1 year. In fact, I was already on my second bicycle (courtesy of a drunk driver). I had bought it in June. A brand new Trek 1400 with Shimano 105 7-speed indexed shifting, and the most beautiful pearl white paint job with underlying sparkles that would make the bike dance in the sunlight. Sometime in August before school started, my dad suggested that my older brother and I join him on a short 2 day bike trip. I don't know where the idea came from, but I was instantly interested. The plan was to ride 100 miles the first day, spend the night, and then 70 miles the next to get us back home. It's interesting how when I was younger I was willing to attempt feats for which I had such inadequate training, with no trepidation whatsoever.

We took off at about 7 am on what must have been a Friday morning. Each of us had a small backpack with a change of clothes and some food. I remember I was wearing my first "real" cycling jersey. One that I had purchased from Performance Bike. It was white with two vertical purple stripes. I think I even had shorts with matching purple paneling to go with it. My dad, of course, was outfitted in his homemade spandex jersey and shorts. I'm sure we were quite the site. We headed South East out of town, down to Sunnyside. I remember we had a decent tailwind pushing us along, and made quite good time. My dad was thoughtful enough to tow my brother and I along the entire way to Sunnyside. I remember sitting on his wheel, watching the pavement fly by, and thinking there weren't a whole of things I'd rather be doing right then and there.

The first 40 odd miles dissapeared quickly, and I remember arriving in Sunnyside amazed that we had covered so much ground in such short time. My dad, wisely so, made sure we didn't get caught up in our over-exuberance and forget to eat. We had a snack in Sunnyside, and then hit the hard part of the ride. We headed up highway 241 to cross over the hill, and drop down to the Columbia river. It was at this point in the ride that I started to realize the thrill that could come from riding a bike. After leaving Sunnyside, it was about a 12 mile climb, up to the intersection where SR 241 hits SR 24. On the way up it started raining, so we stopped and put on jackets. But now that we had reached the hills, I was in my element. Being that I only weighed 110 lbs, I loved climbing. As the road pitched up I began putting distance between myself, and my dad and my brother. As I look back sometimes I feel regret that I didn't wait up so we could ride together. My brother, being 1.5 years old, was I think a little more conscientious, and so held up a little. But for me, I wasn't waiting for anything. I'd never felt so alive as I slowly worked my way up.

Upon reaching the intersection of SR 24, we stopped at a small cafe for lunch. I will never forget the Guacamole, bacon burger that I had for lunch. It was my first experience eating anything other than a traditional burger, and to this day, remains my favorite type of hamburger.

With a belly full of grease we continued up SR 24 to the top, another 10 miles or so. I took up right where we left off and quickly spurted ahead, pounding the pedals as hard as my spindly legs would allow. There was no thought of conserving myself for the 40+ miles that still remained. I just wanted to ride, and never stop. We crested the top, and enjoyed the quick drop to the Columbia river. We crossed over to the North side of the Columbia river, turned West on SR 243. At this point my dads knees were really starting to bother him. The road that follows along the Columbia is anything but flat. It consists of endless rollers that oscillate up-and-down like a carousel ride. Each time the road tilted up, I would surge ahead and sprint for the top, then coast down the backside, letting my dad and brother catch back up, only to repeat the process again. At this point, my dad was in pretty bad shape due to his knees. More than once my brother "commented" that I should slow down and ride with him and my dad. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't choose restraint when presented with the open road ahead.

Mid-afternoon we stopped in Desert Aire and grabbed some pop and a breather, taking time to down some more food. I'm sure at this point, I was getting pretty tired, but I never felt it. On virtually every ride I've ever been on, there is always been some sense of effort and fatigue associated with the exercise. But, as I look back, there was never a sense of physical exertion. Riding took on the sensation of gliding on ice. It was effortless.

We rolled into Vantage around 5pm. I remember looking at my cyclocomputer and seeing our average speed with stop time was right at 10 mph, while our on bike average speed was somewhere around 12-13 mph. Man was I impressed with myself. We changed clothes, washed our bikes clothes, hung them up to dry, and then grabbed dinner at the local diner. After returning to the hotel, we stayed up and watched an episode of Star Trek. It was an episode where Capt. Kirk gets stranded on some planet with aliens out to get him. However, he resourcefully fashions a make-shift pistol/cannon by using a hollow tube, and quickly prospecting enough sulfur and saltpeter to make crude gunpowder. Alas, the monster is killed with the questionable device, and our hero is saved. A fitting end to a remarkable day.

A map of the ride route can be found here.