Let's review some data:
First Trip: DC to Albany, NY (2010)
Starting Weight: 209
Distance: 363.2 miles
Number of Days Riding: 5
Average Distance per Day: 72.64 miles
Second Trip: DC to Culpepper, Charlottesville, Front Royal, Berkeley Springs, Harpers Ferry, and DC
Starting Weight: 212
Distance: 348.4 miles
Number of Days Riding: 6
Average Distance per Day: 58 miles
Third Trip: DC to Chicago (through 5 days)
Starting Weight: 216
Distance: 396.41 miles
Number of Days Riding: 5
Average Distance per Day: 79.28 miles
As you can see from the above, I have biked more in the last five days than I did in the previous trips and my average per day is nearly 7 miles higher than my first trip (when I was three years younger) and 21 miles more than my second trip. As Day 6 of this 10 day trek wore on, I really began to wonder whether I had reached my upper limit.
As I headed out this morning after breakfast, two things became apparent: the wind from yesterday was still blowing, and (2) my legs were really sore. It was sunnier than it had been and so I tried to muster some optimism that the day would turn out well and got on the road.
My path took me through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a beautiful, woodland route that was enjoyable and had some nice downhills. Of course, as it was a valley, that also meant that there were uphills later. The park was sparsely trafficked and at one point I came across a doe and her fawn who stared at me intently, but as I slowed down, they made no effort to move, even allowing me to take their picture. At some point in the park, I made a wrong turn (the naming of the roads was somewhat confusing. I was on Everett Road and came to an intersection where I could turn left onto Everett Road, or bear right onto Everett Road (or so it seemed). I chose the wrong one and wound up going up a couple of steep hills before realizing I was about a mile off course. I was able to rejoin my intended route, but only after another long incline (you can probably spot it in the elevation chart below).
That incline was really difficult and my legs were protesting. As I waited to make the turn, I noticed some ducks crossing the road and hoped they would take their time and hold up traffic just a bit so I could rest a little more. But they were quick to cross the street and I moved on. Reconnecting with Everett Road, I turned and followed it due west, straight into that strong headwind that was present most of yesterday, too.
At one point, I just felt spent. I was facing a hill and just didn't think I had the energy to go up it. That's when I noticed that there was a little park by the side of the road with a pond and some park benches and a portapotty. In need of rest and a restroom, I stopped. It was a beautiful little spot, but I worried that I was in need of a break so soon into the trip. As I said previously, it's hard for me to tell how far I've gone without using a ride tracker. But as those things eat up battery life, I have to guess. Sometimes, I'll use the Google maps app on my phone to map a route back to the hotel, putting it on the pedestrian setting. It told me that the hotel was only 14 miles away. As I look at the Ledge Lake in the Hinckley Reservation (Park) on my route map, it's more like 20 miles in. But at the time, I felt like I was not up to the task, feeling fatigued after only 20 miles. So, I ate a Cliff Bar, had a Hammer Gel, drank some water, and got back on the road, heading up the hill.
My route had me go on something of a circuitous route, a strange U shape that I didn't understand. Now, often, the route planning engine at MapMyRide will pick the easiest way, and so while I was loath to pick a route that involved more hills, I opted to take a direct route on Fenn Road which would directly merge into the planned route. There was nothing overly problematic about the route—it had a narrow shoulder so that may be why the mapping software skipped it—but it was more direct and had only rolling hills. Though, today with the strong winds (11-16 mph), each hill was that much more daunting. I have noticed that a lot of these smaller roads in Ohio are not well maintained and have cracked pavement in the shoulder (if there is one) and often extending into the entire right side of the lane.
The tiredness I'd felt earlier was really beginning to take an emotional toll. This terrain was relatively flat. On similar terrain, I can get my bike (even laden) up to around 20 mph. At that rate, my day's journey should have taken no more than five hours, including stops. But today felt very slow going and that's when I began to have repeated thoughts about whether I could actually succeed at this enterprise. Around 12:15, I stopped at the E-Z Shop Food Mart in Medina, noticing that they made their own sub sandwiches. So, I went in and ordered a sub, grabbed some water, chips, and chocolate milk, and got ready to have lunch.
I asked the proprietors if this kind of wind was usual. They said no, and added that the temperatures (it was about 71 degrees, but chillier because of the wind) were really unusual and that it should be about 90 and "humid". (I put humid in quotes, because I have been assured by other Ohioans that what people in Ohio think is humid wouldn't even get noticed by most Washingtonians. The same goes for New Yorkers, too.) At that point, I began to long for 90 and humid. Because to tell you the truth, I know how to deal with that. You can develop strategies for hydration and taking breaks to cool down, and you get used to sweating. But with wind, there's nothing you can do. It just slows you down, physically. No amount of hydration will fix that. And because of that, it feels all the more demoralizing. I couldn't believe I was actually longing for a nice hot day, if it meant this wind would stop.
I finished my lunch, which was delicious, but not before noticing that they sold "pop" at this place rather than "soda". I've actually been in the "pop" zone of the country for some time (since before Pittsburgh), but as this is a frequent battle line in the United Methodist community at AU, I thought I would mention it.
After lunch, I headed back down the road: rail straight and due west right into the wind. I passed through a couple of interesting towns, one of which was Wellington, Ohio, the town of Archibald Willard, painter of the famous "Spirit of '76" painting that has become iconic in American political life. I continued down the road, but was really beginning to hurt at this point. Not only were my legs sore, but my wrists and forearms were beginning to cramp. I am not sure whether it's the result of the grip, the hills, the exertion, or some combination, but at points, my hands hurt worse than my legs. I could give them a rest by sitting up straighter and letting one or the other dangle at my side while I steered the bike with the remaining hand, but as you might have guessed, sitting up straighter makes for a larger profile and the wind becomes that much more devastating. I stopped alongside of the road at one point to rest for a couple of minutes and get some water and was able to take this picture of some conveniently placed reeds, demonstrating the power of the wind:
Continuing down the road, I came to the town of Brighton, which had a Methodist Church right on the main corner. I pulled over and decided it would be a good place to take a break. I knocked on the door of the parsonage next door and introduced myself to the pastor, Tina Siroki, and we chatted for a bit. She asked me if I needed anything and then brought me some bottled water and a couple of bananas. She then offered the facilities of the church if I needed them for anything. Buoyed by her kindness, I sat for a bit on the benches of the green nearby and rested up and recharged my phone.
Continuing along the road, my route eventually took me off the main road I'd been following and put me on to a side road that ran parallel to it. This road, Zenobia Road, was actually a nice road to ride on and while the wind was still strong, I was feeling slightly better. I was on this road for 12 miles. As one who grew up in Upstate New York and who's lived in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area for the last 22 years, it astounds me that you can drive a road for 12 miles completely straight. In fact, the previous road was about 28 miles of straight, even more astounding. The road was bounded on either side by farms and fields of corn. In one cornfield, a car had gone off the road into a ditch and the State Police were on scene taking measurements and investigating.
As I neared the end of Zenobia, a shih tzu came running out after me, barking furiously. The dog reminded me a lot of Rori's dog Shoshana and Lindsey's dog Stosch. I was hardly intimidated and even started to laugh and the absurdity of it all. But, dogs have been barking at me the entire trip. Some run along their property chasing me. Others just bark furiously as I ride by. Now, my normal experience with dogs is that they like me. They like to come up to me and visit. So, this reaction is perplexing. Is it the bike? Do they not realize that I'm a person? Do they think that I'm some kind of wheeled centaur? The reaction is pretty much universal, so I wonder.
Eventually, Zenobia led to other roads and my route took me to something called the Great Coastal Inland Trail, I bike path that should lead me right to downtown Bellevue where I was planning to stay for the night (it was the location of the only hotel within 35 miles). This trail may have been Coastal, and it was certainly inland, but it was not great. It was an unpaved, gravelly trail that combined with the headwinds, made for rough going. Eventually, even the gravel was gone and it was just two dirt tracks. I have decent tires on my bike that are able to handle the road and some rough surfaces as well. But when the surface slips, as loose ones tend to do, it is hard to get good momentum. Especially on a day when the winds are conspiring to sap your momentum. The quality of a surface is so important in a good riding experience. And so I looked at my map and realized that the main road—Route 20—ran parallel to this annoying path. I took the next side road that cut over and got on route 20, which I took all the way into town, headwind and all. I see that my route tomorrow is also along this trail and that Route 20 also runs parallel (more direct, actually) to the next destination. I think I'll probably skip the trail and take the paved roads.
I got a room at the hotel in town. I asked for one with a whirlpool bath to soak my sore muscles in. The hotel itself is not quite the standards of the ones I've been in on this trip, but it's a place to crash. Hopefully, with a good hot soak, a banana and some ibuprofen, a good night's rest, and most importantly, weaker winds, tomorrow can restore my belief in my ability to finish this trip.
The map of today's route, with elevation information.
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