Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 1: Culpepper, VA (68 miles)

This is the second time I've typed this entry. Just as I was finished, I lost everything. This is sort of par for the course, today.

Today began with a false start. I was prepared to leave at 8:45 AM, later than I probably should have but owing to having had to stay at work late last night and general tiredness, I was ready to go then. But as I got to the lobby, I suddenly realized that my iPod was completely empty. Now, I realize this is not the end of the world except that for me, music helps my biking a lot. I've read that listening to music you enjoy actually helps to reduce pain. And it sets a good pace for biking, too. So, I headed back upstairs to reset the iPod and load my music onto it, a process that took 35 more minuts. And so, I finally got going at 9:30. As I headed down M Street toward Georgetown, Rush's "Finding My Way" helped me to start my journey.

I'd been somewhat anxious about this trip. Not quite as anxious as I had been before last year's trip to Albany, but more than I'd expected to be, especially since I'd done this before. But, as with last year, once I'd gotten on the road and in the flow of the trip I felt much better. It all came back to me and was something easily remembered, like, uh, riding a bike.

But not everything was the same as last year. For one, I was feeling much more overheated than previously. As I'd left the building this morning, my neighbor, Mr. Herman, himself an avid cyclist, asked me if I was going for a ride in this heat. I had looked at the weather a couple days ago and knew it would be hot, but it was hot last year, too, and I did just fine.

I was remembering to get hydrated and take longer breaks than I had on the first day last year. At the thirty mile mark, I took a nice long break, purchasing more water both to drink and to refill my water bottles, some chocolate milk (to replenish muscle), and more Gatorade.

After that I headed out on the second leg of the journey. Here, it felt like the sun was just bearing down on me. The roads were wide and didn't have any tree cover along side. There was nothing shielding me from the sun which was an unwelcome companion. (Rachel and Michelle, if you're reading this, I would gladly have traded this heat for that cold wet rain on the Harpers Ferry ride. Gladly.) Every once in a while, a passing cloud would obscure the sun, but when that happened, the steady breeze that had been blowing all day would suddenly get stronger, turning into a morale-sapping headwind. It reminded me of the "sultry east wind" from the Book of Jonah that caused Jonah so much grief. But as the day wore on and my energy level was dropping, that wind only served to rob me of even the advantages of passing clouds or downhills. Just when it would get a little bit cooler, it would be harder to make any forward progress.

Even so, I wondered at my inability to negotiate this heat. I'd had plenty of experience this summer alone biking on hot days, but I was finding that I needed to stop more frequently, was drinking a ton of water, and seemed to be flagging in energy. At one stop, under a large oak along the side of the road, I happened to check the weather and was stunned to see the temperature at 104 degrees with a heat index of 117. That was not at all what the earlier forecast I'd seen had said.

But suddenly, I felt better. Here I'd been thinking that perhaps I hadn't prepared enough for this trip or that my 42 years had finally caught up with me, when I realized that no: it was just really, really hot. And at the same time, I knew that I simply had to plan for more breaks, take it slower, and keep hydrated. I began to notice, however, that my stops seemed to be sooner and sooner. I began to feel like I was in that logic problem where someone on a journey travels half the way there every day: and never arrives.

The last 15 miles seemed to take forever. Each mile dragged on. As I neared the end, only three miles away I began to hear a whhit-whhit-whhit sound. I looked down and saw my rear tire deflating. There was a row of trees at the side of the road, and so I took advantage of this forced pause to practice my tire-patching skills and sit in the shade. The tire fixed, I finished this leg of the journey and got to my hotel, where I immediately took a shower washing 68 miles of road grime off me. I dined at the neighboring restaurant where I ate a ton (burning 3000 calories in a day will do that). I bought some more Gatorade, chocolate milk, and a couple bananas at the 7-Eleven next door (bananas are great for revitalizing muscle), and I've got plenty of ibuprofen, so I should be all set for tomorrow.

Tomorrow should easier. It should be cooler, I'll get an earlier start (made easier by the fact that I'm about the pass out from exhaustion), break the ride into smaller segments, plus the next leg is only 45 miles. With any luck, I'll be in Charlottesville in the early/mid-afternoon.

(For a map of this route visit


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