The Sisters, 400 and Me

There is the matter of that century I signed up for… the 400 Century. The first 3 miles are on a large limited access divided highway. That’s what even the 9 milers are signed up for, to get to go faster down that stretch of concrete on their bikes than they do in their cars. Those who finish the whole ride will also do 97 miles of local roads that I choose not to ride on under any other circumstances, after having made a few exceptions over the last 30 years. If getting chased by the Great Dane was the worst of it, I might ride these roads normally. It’s more the near misses and the times I got yelled at because drivers don’t want to share the road (and you know the kind of profane ugliness that comes with the road rage of the frustrated American driver). I only signed up for the century because it was the last time there would be a ride on 400 due to construction and it’s on that pesky bucket list of mine. It’s so hard to watch a bucket list item go away and do nothing.

In truth, conditions have improved with the advocacy of groups like the ABC, Bike Cobb, Bike Alpharetta, Bike Roswell, and others, but it hasn’t been too long since I went to a town meeting where a planning official was being abusively berated at length by an angry driver that didn’t want bike lanes. We still have far to go. Rage is a dangerous thing, more dangerous when you’re not the one in a 3000 lb vehicle. I’ll be safer in a large group activity with support, but riding these roads is not my comfort zone.

To prep for this discomfort that I not only willingly signed up for, but also dragged Russ into, I decided that on days when I don’t ride (the trail), I should go out and practice “the sisters”, those challenging hills on the century that are right out my back door. So, I went over to Big Sister. Usually when I’m on that hill, I’m walking and it’s easy to forget how long the hill stretches out. I ride flat rail trails and stream beds. I deal with hills by building momentum. But, you lose momentum at the stop sign, and even if there wasn’t one, momentum doesn’t last through a long slow grade.

After walking up Big Sister with my bike, I came home to check published elevations to see if I was initially wrong when I guessed the Big Sister was not a higher climb than Trash Mountain (The biggest elevation change on the Silver Comet, graced by the scent of the adjacent landfill. It’s built in a place where railway right-of-way wasn’t available during construction, so it’s the “real hill” on the Silver Comet). The Big Sister and Trash Mountain are comparable in elevation gain, the whole difference (to me) is in the distance the incline is spread across on Big Sister.

I noticed something else while I had the elevations up. The Sisters didn’t really stand out so much on the graph. There are a lot of hills on the ride. It’s just that the sisters come nearer the end when riders are tired.

When I first started to write this piece, I was talking about needing to train a lot and maybe even completing the whole century. I haven’t really done that level of training. I kept riding through the family trip and the musical bike repairs pretty well, but it turned out to be maintenance, not century training. In most ways, this century is irrelevant to the video project. The timing and requirements are different, but I thought throwing it into the mix would make me a stronger rider. Now, I’m looking at the ride being next weekend, and it’s taken a lot of effort just to ride at all. On top of that, there’s time of year. If you look at a temperature graph of Atlanta, the highs peak right about when the ride is scheduled, stay high through July and start to break around the first week in August. Heat is not my comfort zone either.

Of course, I knew this, and was remembering this, when I signed up. Awareness doesn’t keep it from being a pretty big deal though. I can’t just ignore it. My biggest limitation in riding is heat tolerance. When I get overheated, I get a migraine (unless it’s actually heat stroke, IKR?). I have a tell. When my face looks red, I’m still fine, but when it feels red, when I feel intense heat on my face, that’s when I need to quit and take aspirin, or suffer. I got right up on the edge during a ride a few weeks ago. I stopped when I needed to. It happened to be at the end of my ride. I didn’t take the aspirin though. My face had just started to feel red. I didn’t feel like the terrible symptoms were coming. They didn’t. That made me feel pretty good. I hope it was because I’m more fit (or maybe I just stopped at the right time).

Regardless, I’ve been pushing my heat tolerance all month because the century will be hot. That push is beginning to wear on me. Some days I’ve been tired enough not to do anything very physical except my ride. It’s time to go back to riding in the cooler temps and quit pushing the heat limits. This century will be cool at 7AM when it starts and will heat up later when I’m tired. I’m going to have to treat this as a fun diversion and make sure I don’t stress my body on a level that will cost me in the end. It would have been nice to make this last (and my first) 400 Century Ride a full century for me, but as I look at it from a week out, I’m having to face that for this ride on this day, that’s not going to be the smart choice. That’s ok. It will still be a glorious day.

Glorious Tuesday Trippin’ February 8

There’s a small older man with a small dog who used to sit on this bench, or the other one directly across the trail from it. He would greet people and wish them a good day. The first few times I saw him, he was smoking. The smell was strong, and while I wanted to feel differently, I wondered how the smoke could be so intensely strong and displeasing and thinking “Well, my day would be better if you weren’t smoking it up.” I would give him my best effort at a smile, but the irritation was probably evident in my body language.

In the spring and summer I would see him often, almost every time I rode by. Then after a while, he wasn’t smoking anymore, at least not when I saw him, and I found it easier to respond to him the way I wanted to. His hands now only holding a leash, he would shoot the empty hand up, his arm high and straight in the air, all five fingers planked tightly together as though there was nothing in the world that he could possibly want more than to have the teacher call on him. And, as he did this he would shout “Hello. Have a glorious day.” projecting strong sincere energy in high fidelity and sometimes saying even more.

I started looking forward to seeing him. I was even thinking of stopping to talk to him. I do this less in a world of masked and unmasked people than I did before. But, I haven’t seen him in a long while. As the temperatures dropped, I hoped it was the cold that kept him away, but there have been pretty days that were warm enough over the winter. Of course, it could be that he’s just there at a different time from me now, but as time passes, I fear it could be lung cancer or Covid or some other awful permanent thing. I miss him and his uncommon exuberance. I hope he’s okay. I hope he’s better than okay. I hope he’s having a GLORIOUS DAY! I hope I get to talk to him some day, to learn his story, to wish him well.

As for the training part of my week, a lot of my rides have glorious moments. This week had fewer. It was on the cold side, and I was feeling pretty punk. I donated blood, but that was after the riding and wasn’t responsible for all of my low energy.

According to the Red Cross, I still don’t have Covid antibodies. No surprise, but being higher on the risk side, and lower on the vaccine priority side, it would be welcome to learn I’d had that magical case that was so mild I didn’t know it happened, but for the antibodies showing up.

I did some of my riding indoors on the recumbent. I don’t count that in my weekly mileage, but this week I’m going to be happy with considering it part of my training. I can ride outdoors in the more miserable weather conditions once I’m filming.

I’ve re-committed to losing weight, so, I’m hungry. I find it hard to do weight loss slow and methodically, the healthy way, because it keeps you hungry, but it’s worth the effort. I think a better weight will be a part of helping me to see the glory in my days.

Until next time, here’s hoping you find it easy to feel the glory in your days, and… do, Have a glorious day!