Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 1: Culpepper, VA (68 miles)

So, today began the second of my bike trip vacations. Last year's trip to Albany was a success and I'd learned a lot on that trip, both about my own abilities and about how to do a long distance bike trip. Curiously, as the trip approached, I could feel my anxiety level rising, almost to the level of the year before. I began to get more and more nervous about this trip, even though I'd been through this before and was better prepared.

As it turned out, I wasn't prepared for a day like today.

I got a much later start than last year, partially owing to being at work late the night before attempting to get everything done before I went away, and partially owing to just having been really wiped out lately and needing sleep. But I got up around 8 and was ready to get going at 8:45. In fact, I was in the lobby of my building at 8:45 all set to head out when I noticed that my iPod was completely empty. Now, this may seem like a small thing, but music helps me in my biking a lot. I read an article a while ago that said that listening to music you like actually helps you to cope with pain. And the music helps me keep a pace when riding, so this was something of a minor crisis. So, I headed back upstairs, reset the iPod ad reloaded all my music onto it. This cost me about 35 minutes in time. But finally, everything was ready, I headed out the building and down M Street to Rush's "Finding My Way" (appropriately enough).

Just as with last year, once I got on the road, my anxiety about the trip began to disappear. So much the more so since I had that previous experience to draw on. And so, heading out on a long trip was easy to remember, like, uh, riding a bike.

There was something different about this day, however. I found that I was travelling at a slower pace than I was expecting. Fortunately the hills were not terribly bad and I wasn't having too much trouble handling them. But I noticed that I felt hotter than usual. Now, before I'd left, I ran into my neighbor Mr. Herman in the hallway and he'd said, "You're going for a ride in this heat, huh?" Now, I've biked in 90-degree weather before, which is what the weather forecast had said for today when I had checked it earlier in the week.

I was being really careful with hydrating. Having recently suffered a bout of kidney stones (with at least one more in the kidney), I knew to stay well hydrated and made sure to keep my water bottles filled. I had learned from last year not to try too hard on the first day (last year I'd made it to Baltimore in 3 hours but only rested for about 15 minutes having done so). And so, this year, at the 30 mile mark, I stopped, bought a large bottle of water, some chocolate milk (it's good for replenishing muscle), and some more Gatorade. I sat for more than 45 minutes in the shade of a tree near, drinking more water, and resting up a bit.

But the trip only became more difficult after that. The roads I was on were wide open with very little tree cover on the sides of the road. The sun was just bearing down on me. Every once in a while, a cloud would come over and there would be a moment of shade, but whenever that happened, the breeze that had been blowing all day would suddenly become stronger, turning into a demoralizing 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.

I found myself having to stop again, this time, much sooner than I had before. I was still hydrating as much as I could, but I was also sweating a lot, too. Rounding the corner on Route 28 south, I spied a large tree along the side of the road with a wide grassy area underneath. That strong wind that had been blowing provided a nice breeze as I sat there cooling off. That's when I checked the weather using my phone and discovered that it was 104 degrees with a heat index of 117. I was stunned. I had expected it to be hot, but this was nuts.

In a way, I was actually relieved. I had been worried that I wasn't up to making a trip like this. That somehow, I hadn't been as prepared this time around. Knowing that the heat was far worse than it had been the previous year and that that likely accounted for my slower pace and the general lack of energy was encouraging. It also meant that I had a way to cope: stop more frequently, keep hydrating. So, that's what I did.

I started to feel as if every time I was stopping, I was doing so in half the distance as the previous stop. I began to wonder if I were in that logical puzzle about someone taking a journey and every day they travel half the distance to the goal and never actually arriving.

The final 15 miles of the trip seemed to go on forever. Suddenly, each mile seemed to stretch on forever. The day seemed to be getting hotter and the wind stronger. About three miles away from my destination in Culpepper, I heard a strange sound whhit-whhit-whhit-whitt. As I looked down, I saw my rear tire begin to deflate. I was a little disappointed, I didn't want to have to make any repairs, but on another note, the flat happened right near a row of shade trees near a shopping mall. And so, taking advantage of the forced time-out, I got to practice my tire-patching skills while resting up some more.

Finally, I made it to my hotel. Exhausted and overheated, I was pleased when the front desk gave me a complimentary bottle of water. I drank half of it while standing there as they checked me in. I headed straight for the shower and washed 67 miles of road grime off. Feeling cleaner and more human, I headed off to the restaurant next door for dinner, where I ate a ton. Burning a few thousand calories on a bike trip will do that do you.

Tomorrow will be better. At least, that's the thinking. I'll get an earlier start (aided, no doubt by my passing out asleep fairly soon) and be sure to take judicious breaks. I've also got my ibuprofen and bananas (a recommendation that Laura Arico gave me last year that works wonders on restoring tired muscle) from the 7-Eleven next door. And tomorrow's leg is only 45 miles and the forecast is for somewhat cooler weather. If everything goes well, I should be in Charlottesville by early/mid-afternoon.

(For a map of this route visit http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/43719790)

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