Sunday, August 05, 2007

Trying to go easy

Saturdays are traditionally hectic, but yesterday we actually had a chance to catch our breath after the bustling activity earlier in the week.

When I woke up, I felt like I still needed another night's sleep. I was down to my last ibbie, too. Mostly for placebo effect, I downed it half an hour before I started on the morning commute. I felt good as long as I didn't try to push. No insane sprints through closing gaps today.

After an unremarkable day, I set out at a very quiet pace to ride the long route home. With very little car traffic I didn't need to maintain an aggressive cadence and body language for self defense. The humidity had broken. I rode through cool breezes out past Lake Wentworth.

Approaching the turn for Bryant Road, I exchanged friendly smiles with a sporty-looking blonde woman turning a snappy cadence on a Cannondale road bike. As I entered Bryant, a lean, silver-haired gentleman on a dark gray, carbon fiber Trek road bike was coming out. I waved.

Bryant rises slightly before dropping down a fast little grade to a wetland. From there it climbs again, steadily, slightly steeply at times, but only in short pitches, to level off shortly before the intersection with Cotton Valley Road. It's a good approach to the roads from Cotton Valley, because you get to keep all the elevation it makes you gain.

In my sluggish state, I idled up the little rise, crested, and clicked through the gears to my largest one as I settled into a tight tuck to accept the gift of gravity. At the bottom, instead of hammering as I often do, I let the bike slow naturally as I shifted back down to low gears.

Somewhere in this process I glanced back to see the Trek rider coming up behind me. He came past me as I worked into the first real steepening of the climb.

"Nice day, eh?" he said. He seemed to have a French accent. I agreed that the day was a fine one, but we exchanged no more words, as he accelerated into the climb. Was he throwing down the gauntlet?

I let him move out a bit as I took stock of my condition. He wore cycling shorts with a dark tee shirt. A very small leather fanny pack must have held whatever essentials he felt he needed. His shoes and socks looked very businesslike. He rode with precision. I was not about to let him drop me.

On the other hand, I didn't want to start anything, either. My bike weighed half again what his did, with my commuting load. I still have one more day of the commuter stage race, too. But I could at least limit the time gap. I would hang, not too close, to let him know I was there, but didn't need to lead.

He glanced back a couple of times. He stood up for a couple of short jumps. I just hung back there like the thing he was trying to forget, and refused to go away. When the road leveled near the end I bridged the few yards to his wheel to await the next move. In case he really was French, I had been rehearsing what little I could recall of the language to try to explain where I planned to go next, and what a poor surface for a road bike he could expect there.

The other rider made no attempt to speak to me. He rode straight to a parked mini van, seeming to avoid eye contact. I waved, but got no acknowledgment, so I floated on past and dropped into the right turn onto the gravel of Stoddard Road. If he chose to come along, so be it. It was obviously a dirt road, but maybe he won Paris Roubaix some time in the last 20 years.

He did not come that way by bike or by car. But now I felt challenged. I didn't charge the wall of 20% up to the highland, but I did click up through the gears and dive down the other side of it, where the paved grade gives way to dirt again. On the Surly Cross Check, it's fun to bomb down into the dirt there. The road is nearly straight, so tuck and go for it. Make sure you're in a big enough gear when you hit the bottom, so you can power through any loose bits. Weight back, but not too far back. I've done it dozens of times and hardly ever come close to biffing.

Bang! Fssfssfssfssfssfss! A damn pinch flat! I feathered the brakes to slow the bike before the front end got too washy. Fortunately, it was the front tire, easier to change. I looked around for the Trek rider, but of course he never came by. Short of resounding victory, an honorable mechanical looks good. I had all the glow to myself, just me and the mosquitoes. And some unfeeling bastard in a fancy silver SUV who thundered by without a sideways glance. Not that I would have accepted help, but it's polite to ask, at least.

The flat got me to examine the long-suffering Panaracer T-Serv for Messenger I've had on there for a couple of years. Front tires never wear out, but this one had quietly developed cracks. The stone that flatted the tube also nicked the sidewall, so now I can justify putting on a new tire.

The pump was acting up and my spare tube was a patched one. I got it to some sort of pressure to tiptoe out of the dirt section, and put more into it when I reached a place where I could lean the bike against a utility pole and put some muscle into it.

After a few kilometers of caution, I trusted the tire enough to hit the throttle a bit more. Nothing too frisky, just getting home to put my feet up. Then, at the intersection of 28 and 16, the light was staying green as if waiting for me. I dug down for the strength to sprint into the corner and lay the bike over as the light went yellow. Delightful.

Back at my secret headquarters, I put the fatty front wheel on the Surly and switched the computer over to Wheel Size II (Sigma. Heh heh heh.) But I'm riding the road bike today. Light bike, light wheels, heavy legs.


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