Slaying the dragon

I do not like to be a person who allows herself to be controlled by her fears. However, I often am controlled by my fears. And I have a great many fears. For one, I hate thunderstorms. I fear them so bad that I can’t even stand to listen to thunder or see lightning when I’m safe within the confines of my own house. That is because I don’t ever feel like I truly am safe from Mother Nature’s wrath. I’ve had a fear of a tornado wiping out my house for as long as I can remember. Storms are, needless to say, extremely unsettling to me.

I’m also afraid of heights. Yet, I’ve jumped out of what most people would describe as “perfectly good airplanes.” However, I’ve tried repelling and rock climbing and I can’t stand it. It’s not to say I’ll never try again–that’s a fear I have yet to conquer–but I’m definitely deathly afraid.

Even in my favorite activities–skiing and cycling–I’ve got a great deal of fear. With skiing, it’s always been doing a really challenging run (particularly the “black diamond” runs). With cycling, I’ve got a fear of reaching speeds above 40mph and, oddly enough, of trying to climb really tough hills. I hate this about myself–this fear–when doing an activity I absolutely love.

Over the last year, I’ve been working on conquering some of my fears as relating to skiing and cycling. I’ve been taking myself out of my comfort zone of mediocrity and pushing myself to do the things I fear the most. With skiing, this has involved going down a lot of slopes I had previously avoided. I have grown tired of accepting my self-imposed limitations. You don’t become a better skier or cyclist by allowing your fears to rule you. Recently I’ve decided that I want–really want–to be better at these sports. And I’ve not wanted to let my fears ruin my fun.

Last summer, I faced many new challenges in cycling: I rode across the entire state of Ohio–in pain on the second to last day, even; I completed the Fredericksburg Library Roll and, most importantly, the Fall N Leaf rides without walking a single hill; I climbed previously untried hills in the Cuyahoga Valley, mainly Hines Hill and Martin. I was really hitting new highs. As I started to successfully meet more challenges, I started to get braver. At the end of last year, I decided that sometime this year, I would climb the notorious–and, for me, most feared–hill in the valley: Oak Hill.

Today, I set out for a ride into the valley with my primary goal to making an attempt on Oak Hill.  I didn’t tell anyone this; I didn’t post it on Facebook or even utter the idea to a friend. I didn’t want the pressure of others knowing that I was going to attempt it so that if I wimped out, no one would have to know. I guess I could have taken the reverse strategy, telling everyone, so that I would feel pressure to do it to save face. (I am extremely susceptible to peer pressure, I freely admit it.) I wanted to face Oak Hill on my own terms. The only downside is that I had no witnesses.

For those of you who don’t live in the area, and don’t understand the mass that is Oak Hill, this road is notorious as the absolutely toughest hill in the Cuyahoga Valley. Many great cyclists gape at the mere suggestion of going up it and most have one or two stories about failed or successful attempts of it. I’ve cowered in fear of it ever since I’ve started riding the Valley, despite my growing love of hill climbing.

Oak Hill is approximately 11% grade over .3 miles with an elevation gain of 180′ feet. The climb begins right where the road itself begins off of Everett Road. I once had the misguided idea that I could assess the difficulty of this hill by going down it from the top. Unfamiliar with the valley back then–and only knowing of Oak Hill by reputation–I didn’t realize the road ends abruptly at Everett with a stop sign. Needless to say, Oak Hill is the only hill I’ve ever walked down in my entire cycling career. (Riding the brakes scared my cycling shorts right off of me–I had visions of burning out my brakes and speeding down the hill to crash into a car passing on Everett below.)

The photo below does not do Oak Hill justice. It doesn’t look as bad as it truly looks when you stand at the bottom of it.

The Dragon of Peninsula - Oak Hill Road

I would also point out that some of the other hills I’ve done have higher grades. Boston Mills West, for example, is 20% at its hardest. It has a 192 ft climb over .42 miles which technically makes it more challenging (and it’s often viewed as the hardest climb in the valley). Hines Hill is approximately 15% grade over .11 miles at its hardest. So I totally should not have been so intimidated by Oak Hill. Except for the fact that people I know who have done Hines Hill and Boston Mills West both have often hesitated at Oak Hill. Maybe it’s because you can see all of the hill from the bottom so you know what you’re getting yourself into, whereas on the other hills you’re already committed to the climb before you get to the hardest part?

Either way, I knew I had to slay this dragon. It had oppressed my growth as a cyclist long enough. So I decided today was the day. Except that I did everything in my power to avoid the damn hill. The first time I came upon it, I passed it up to continue up Everett–a climb I’ve done numerous times before and of which I have no fear. I told myself I was just making sure my legs were in climbing condition today. Yeah, right. It was downright avoidance.

When I came back down into the valley via Wheatley, I knew it was do or die. So when I came up to Oak Hill, I stood in front of it, across the street on Everett, and just stared at it. Other cyclists passed me by, watching me watch the hill, but saying nothing, probably understanding my need to balk. Motorcycles and vehicles went up Oak Hill, some came down, and I continued to stare the hill down. For over a half hour, I tried to talk myself into making the climb. I almost bailed and continued on down Everett back home in defeat. But I knew I’d just be pissed off with myself later.

So I gathered myself. I crossed the street and started a climb up. I panicked a little. I stopped again at the very foot of the hill, feeling already its steepness and acknowledging that I would have to start the climb immediately in my lowest gear with no gear to “rescue me” as the steepness increased. I reminded myself that it wasn’t that long to the top. If it got bad, my last resort was to stand in the pedals and just push, like I had had to do on Hines Hill last year.

I sighted a vertical reflector mounted on the side of the road about halfway up the hill. I told myself that if I could make it to that reflector, I was committed in the climb and could not–for any reason–remove my foot from the pedals and give up once I got there because I’d be nearly to the top. I did, however, leave room for myself to bail before the reflector.

I put my foot back in the pedals and started climbing again. My eyes were focused on the reflector–getting to it. My legs felt as if weights were being added to the sides, slowly, as I continued the climb. Though it felt difficult, and I surely wished I had one lower gear, I didn’t feel I was going so slow that I’d lose balance. I realized I could tough this one out without standing. I was actually kind of afraid to stand because once your butt is out of the seat on a hill, you can’t go back into the seat while the grade remains the same because the force of a standing push is stronger than that of a seated one; it would make it harder to push once seated again. (At least, that’s how it works for me.)

I made it to the reflector. I was starting to hurt now, but I was almost up the hardest part now so I couldn’t stop (and, seriously, I don’t think I’d want to be standing off-bike on that hill anyway). Slowly but surely, I continued to grind. My feet were still moving at roughly the same cadence as they had since I started the climb. I felt relieved as I realized I was totally stable. I was going to make it!

After I got up the main part of the hill, it seemed to ease a little, then there was that last little bump before turning the corner onto the “flat” part of the road (which was still a slight climb mostly to Major Road). To be honest, I was surprised with how… um, “easy” is not the word… less difficult the hill was than I’d anticipated. The reputation of Oak Hill was more intimidating than the actual climb. Not to understate the difficulty of this hill–it was hard and not for the faint of heart–but I think I’ve had the most difficulty climbing Hines Hill (which is also the hill that made me panic the most).

Anyway, I feel really relieved that I no longer have to fear Oak Hill. One more fear down in my laundry list of fears. Now I feel like more of a real cyclist since most of my cycling friends from ABC have done Oak Hill at least once. There are still a few hills in the valley that I’ve not yet climbed but I’m working on getting to them. Which should all feel a lot less daunting now that I’ve slayed the feared dragon. And, really, acknowledging to myself that I’ve done the three hills widely regarded as the toughest–Hines Hill, Boston Mills West, and Oak Hill–gives me a lot more confidence because I can use them as examples in my mind when I’m telling myself that I can do a tough climb.

The road less bicycled

The more I bicycle Ohio, the more I come to appreciate m home state–a place I longed desperately since college to get away from, did actually escape, and found myself back. Much like I can’t help comparing men I’ve dated to my late husband, I find myself often comparing Ohio to Colorado. It always seems to come out, as I’m sure my listeners would tell you, that Colorado beats Ohio every time in every story. I’ve become a droning, annoying snob who punctuates every story with, “Well, in Colorado…”

But I’m learning. Mostly that I am wrong about a great many things. For example, I thought when I returned to Ohio that I’d never find the challenge in cycling that I had in Colorado. Ha. Little did I know that Ohio–a state mistakenly perceived as flat, even by its own inhabitants–offers climbs in some ways more challenging than anything I’ve climbed in Colorado, if not in length, then in sheer steepness per mile. Ohio doesn’t have mountains, but it has lots of river valleys. In southern Ohio, large rolling hills surround roads and towns, reminiscent of the Appalachians Mountains of West Virginia. It’s another world down there from the part of Ohio in which I grew up.

A challenge can be found for riding in Ohio if you go looking for it. And beautiful scenery–the part I like most about cycling–is everywhere. This past Sunday I got the opportunity to explore more of Ohio’s hidden treasures when I accompanied my friend John (aka bAD dOG) on a route he designed from Fredericksburg–a town at the edge of the hill country where I did a road ride last year called the Fredericksburg Library Roll. This time, however, John was offering me on a new tour of the region, something a little different: Mounted on our Surlys, we were going to ride the unpaved roads, trails, and “I don’t know what this is but it’s rideable” paths that are unreachable on a regular road bike. I could hardly wait to get Beau’s wheels wet.

We started on a 15 mile stretch of the Holmes County Trail which is used by bikes, hikers,  and Amish buggies alike. The Library Roll used parts of this trail to Millersburg so I’d experienced it before; however, I’d never ridden the stretch into Killbuck. Being a multi-purpose trail, it was generally flat–a great warm up on which to test my knee, which has been giving me trouble since TOSRV, before heading off into the hilly madness that is Holmes and Knox Counties. I stupidly forgot to put on my knee brace (there’s always something I forget), even though I’d remembered to bring it, so I was slightly worried when we headed out. I suppose I should have turned around when I’d realized I’d forgotten to put on–we were only a few miles out at that point–but I was already in the heat of the ride and didn’t feel like wasting any time (even though we had all day). Fortunately, it seemed to hold out well on that intense stretch where we hauled at a nice 16-18mph pace.

At the end of the trail in Killbuck, an old–and poorly maintained–station house stands. As John pointed out to me, the sign on the building still displays the mileages to Columbus (south) and Hudson (north near where I live)–67 miles and 66 miles respectively, Killbuck being the midway point to the old line this rail-to-trail now occupies. I tried to imagine what the place once looked like as a living railway. It’s a shame The Powers That Be let the station fall to ruin.

The old Killbuck Station - 67 miles to Columbus, 66 miles to Hudson.

After we reached Killbuck, we headed off towards the hills on a lonely state route. I say “lonely” referring to the fact that not many cars passed us on a road that looked like it should be filled with much busier, faster traffic. A few miles out, we turned off the main route onto a dirt road that wrapped up a hill around a farm. I immediately felt the thrill of being on a road usually forbidden to me. It almost had the allure of doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing–like I was riding on someone’s personal driveway or something. It had rained the night before, and this road was moist, but due lack of trees, there was a lot of exposure to the sun so passing along it was not incredibly difficult, other heart-pumping climb up the first real hill of the day.

It was pretty fun to say the least. Even though we were on an official road, we rarely encountered a car. It was easy to feel as though we were on a bike path and we could easily ride side-by-side. Some of the roads got a little muddier when we were in more shaded areas. Beau did okay in these sections, but I realized–too late–that I probably should have changed the tires back out to the 700c x 36 tires that came with the bike; I was using 32s, which were okay, but I could have used a little more surface area to bite into the mud. A mountain bike would have ate up those sections.

I had one crushing moment when I realized I had pushed myself a little too hard. We were climbing a long hill, muddy hill and John stopped behind me to check something on his bike. During this pause, when I stopped, I realized my heart was pounding–no, hammering–in my ears and my laboring lungs could not keep up with the amount of air I needed to take in. After standing for a few moments, I started to realize how light-headed and nauseous I felt. I panicked for just a bit, fearing I would faint, for in my experience, a fainting spell always begins with that feeling of light-headedness. I had to sit for a bit on a rock that was thankfully available next to a driveway and chug down some Gatorade. I don’t know what happened there. As many hills as I’ve climbed and pushed myself hard on, I’ve never felt light-headed or nauseous. It must have been the combination of climbing, battling the resistance of the muddy surface, and trying to keep my tire straight as it bounced on islands of little rocks that peppered the road. Or I was having a bad day. Perhaps wearing my new “She Loves Hills” jersey was a bit of a cocky move on my part. Though, it’s not making any statement to wear that jersey on a ride that offers no challenging hills.

It took about a half hour for me to shake the nausea, in which time I gave myself a mental beating for my failure to moderate myself enough to continue the climb. I had all day–it wasn’t about getting anywhere fast–it just felt like a slight failure of beating a challenge. At least I didn’t walk the hill, though; when I felt better, I continued the rest of the climb to a rolling paved state route.

Our next unpaved destination was the rustic Mohican River Valley Trail. The trail starts with Ohio’s longest covered bridge (or so they claimed–haven’t been on enough covered bridges myself) crosses the Mohican River to start another multi-purpose (Amish buggies, bikes, or walkers) trail. Unfortunately, due to the rain of the previous night, the trail looked a little less than enjoyable even for the Surlys because the surface was wet and soft. So we took the paralleling state route for several miles, and then got back onto the trail for the last couple of miles, where the conditions seemed better, just so that I could have the experience of having ridden the trail. It’s too bad the rain had softened a lot of the unpaved roads; John said when he’d done the ride a week earlier, the surface conditions were much different.

Me & Beau at "Ohio's Longest Covered Bridge" (or so they claim).

The trail ends in Danville and we stopped for lunch at a quaint little restaurant called Lulu’s where we were served a grumpy waitress who seemed annoyed that we’d picked to sit at a table set for 12 people (it was close to the window where we could watch our bikes). You know how rude we cyclists are… The food made up for the sullen waitress. I enjoyed my favorite–a tuna melt, which was served on big, thick, delicious bread. Our waitress  started to warm up as we ate, though not before she clucked in frustration when John requested some glasses for the pitcher of water we’d requested. Maybe she wished she were riding a bike instead of serving cyclists on such a nice day! (Whenever I encounter people in a nasty mood, I always think, “They should go on a bike ride.” It’s obviously my cure-all for whatever mentally ails you.)

After lunch, we headed back on a different return route (John, like me, prefers loop routes) that included an undefined path of some sort through the woods that John had found on previous explorations of the area. It was composed of soft mud, but was not in too horrible of shape, and it seemed to incline slightly upwards for the entire stretch we rode. I had trouble maintaining 9-10mph with the mud and the incline, though riding through the dense trees that lined each side of the path was really a treat. We only passed two other people–both going the opposite way on horseback.

Our last stretch back to Killbuck and the Holmes County Trail was several miles of a rolling, scenic road where I experienced some moments of childlike joy as I watched the scenery slip past (and was thus inspired to write the first few paragraphs of this blog entry). It was pretty fun rolling quickly down hills at 30+ mph and then pushing the last little bit to the top of the next hill. I was really enjoying more of this part of the ride than suffering. It was wonderful.

We stopped in Killbuck to refuel our water at a little market (where I almost bought ice cream, but decided to stick to my diet). It was getting mighty warm by this point in the day–I am sure in the 80s–and I was drinking like I’d never drank anything before. I think part of the reason I’d bonked on the one hill earlier had something to do with not drinking as much. It was a humid day, even from the start, so I probably should have taken more in (maybe should have taken my hydro-pack). I made up for it the rest of the day, though, drinking tons of Gatorade and water. We stopped to fill up on liquids twice.

The last 15 miles were along the flat Holmes Country trail again where I felt a little less eager to push those high rpms. Our speed was a little lower than when we’d gone out (or at least mine was) with about a 14-15mph push. It seemed a little windy in that direction, or maybe that was my imagination. That’s why I actually like climbing hills better than spinning/pushing on flats. You always have to keep your legs moving without much room for rest, whereas on climbing you have moments of intense pushing followed by moments of relaxation as you fly down the other side of a hill. I wonder, too, if perhaps the reason my knee got so wacked up after TOSRV was due to the amount of time spent spinning on mostly flatish grade; I only started to feel a dull ache in my knee in the stretch between Circleville and Columbus when I was forced to keep moving the legs in the windy sections of the flat plains south of Columbus.

Anyway, we made it back to Fredericksberg at a leisurely 5:30 (4 hours plus a long lunch stop and two additional small stops). I only averaged 13.7mph, but that really wasn’t the point of this ride. We were just out enjoying a beautiful sunny day, after a week of rain and gloom, on the Jeeps of the bike world–our twin Surly Cross-Checks. We logged 71.5 miles which is just perfect for a day’s ride to me. (I like between 50-75 miles in a single day when I’m not feeling masochistic.) I truly did feel like a Jeep driver with all the stomping on dirt roads and paths. I’m looking forward to a chance at taking Beau out for another “wilderness” adventure.

Perhaps someday I’ll even try mountain biking…

Humility

I’ve been learning a little about humility lately. Particularly in the category of “things I’ve done while temporarily insane over a messy breakup.”  It’s really weird to have stuff told back to you that you said or did, such as blasting another person on various blogs and Facebook, and not even remember that you did in fact say as much as you’re being told you did. It’s funny because I thought I was being pretty reserved and internal about my anger, only occasionally bursting forth with a profane, insulting remark. Ha! Not so. The problem about being able to express my feelings so well–about enjoying the craft of writing–is that I do it. About everything. And everyone’s fair game. I try not to do it, but yet, it is from life where we draw our best material. I guess I need to learn to open up a document in Word to express my anger instead. Hold it for a day until I’ve come to my senses and choose NOT to post it.

I’ve had a big problem in the past with drinking and typing. A few glasses of alcohol will let shut up those little voices of judgment that keep me at bay. Facebook has been bad for me in this respect too. Sometimes, at a weak moment, I’ll type some status about being depressed. I’ll wake up the next morning after and fear logging in and read my comments.  I’m a pretty honest person; however, there is still a lot of stuff I hold back and keep in. Possibly no one knows the depth of the things I feel, or how much I battle depression. I guess we’re all secretive to a degree.

I feel bad for some of the things I’ve said over the last few months about my ex-boyfriend. I’m sorry about the hurtful things I said that I didn’t really mean even when I typed them. Things like proclaiming it was the biggest mistake I ever made to date him. It’s just that knee-jerk reaction to being hurt. I also used to say–many, many times–that I’d rather have never met my husband than to have loved him and lost him. I didn’t mean that either. I thought I did at the time, when I wanted to scream in the faces of everyone who dared to contritely say, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.” I would look them in the face, deadpan, and repeat Tom Lee Jones’ reply to this same quip in the movie Men in Black, “Try it sometime.”

The reality is,  it’s true that it’s better to have loved and lost. But no one grieving–from widowhood, divorce, or a bad breakup–really wants to be reminded of this truth. When the pain is raw, you’ll wish anything to make it stop, even, sometimes, the loss of years’ worth of memories. To love someone is to be stung by love in one way or another. Most people realize this, I suppose. The sacrifice you make for love is allowing yourself to become vulnerable to the loss of love. And everyone loses love, no matter how great that love, because we all die. Is it worth it? Most people say yes. But not when they’re still reeling from the last loss.

I’m a sensitive person. Things affect me deeply. I’d say that things affect me more deeply than others, but I honestly don’t know how others feel. Perhaps they hide it better. Perhaps they’re better at hiding it from themselves. I’m no good at keeping my emotions in check. I’ve been known to cry openly in a crowd of people when humiliated by someone–a coworker, even. It sure doesn’t make me look good, but I can’t hold back. When I’m angry, I guess I can’t hold back either. At least my anger is only violent with words. I know that’s not really any better… words hurt just as bad as being hit… and sometimes the damage they cause lasts far longer than any bruise or broken bone. Especially when they can be read over the internet and things on the internet seem to have problems disappearing. (It’s a brave new world where the voices of dead people still speak on news groups, MySpace, and Facebook long after they are gone. I found recently through Google a comment Mike had posted to years ago on a user list for the programming tool he taught.)

My anger at my ex-boyfriend disappeared like the helium gushing from a popped balloon. I was busting at the seams with seething anger and then the next moment, in an explosion of sanity, it was all released. I just wanted to talk to him and forget the whole last five months had ever happened. In some ways, it was like waking from a weird dream where everything was the opposite of the truth. So when I find evidence of my emotional collapse–or when he recalls to me some of the things I’ve said about him over the last few months–I feel kind of embarrassed. Whoops. Did I really say all that stuff? I can read the evidence for myself and at the same time feel as though I don’t even know where the then-me was coming from. When the anger escaped me, it all just vanished without a single trace of it left in my system. I’m good now. I’ve returned from the Dark Side of the Force, asking for redemption. Please and thank you.

Since I am a person of questionable faith, I always return to the wisdom of Master Yoda to guide me. (For I am a Jedi Knight and the Force is my ally!)

Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. This is the path to the Dark Side.

It’s the truth. I find it no coincidence that I was so depressed over the winter. I lost a good friend. I was angry at a good friend. I suffered. It sucked. I’m totally done letting these things eat me up inside. And, apparently, I’m incapable of being forever angry at someone. It’s true when they say that it takes more energy to hate than to love. However, a sacrifice is required to love. Emotions are just plain complicated.

It takes humility to admit that you were maybe wrong about something. (Not about the original offense, but with how you expressed your feelings in the aftermath of it.) I’m used to eating crow, though. Do it all the time thanks to my big mouth (or my rather quickly typing hands and my word-crafting brain). I apologize to all involved for making them feel as though they were in the middle of some bloody battlefield. Except on this battle field, one side was firing bullets while the other side held up a peace flag. (They gave a war and only one side came?)

I feel like some aspects of my life are back on track again. It’s good to be able to talk to Michael again. It’s good to hang out and drink wine and ride my bike with him (which I’ve only done on TOSRV so far due to an overwork injury on my knee). I think we’ve both come to a point now where we can actually be friends. And that is good. It’s good to be sane again. One more drama over… (With more to come, I’m sure…)

I’ve got friends in high places

On the subject of endurance athletics, a friend of mine from Colorado, Dave C, is attempting two serious mountain climbs at this very moment: Mt. Fairweather at 15,300′, the highpoint of British Columbia; and the “big kahuna,” Mt. McKinley (known to climbers by its original Native American name of Denali) at 20,320′. This is his second attempt on both mountains and you can follow his story on his team’s blog as well as track his actual positions on their Spot website.

I have to admit that I’m seriously jealous. There was a time in my life when I was way into mountain climbing in almost the obsessive way I’m into cycling now. I read every book of mountain climber’s adventures up Denali and Mt. Everest that I could find–Into Thin Air by Jonathan Krakauer, In the Shadow of Denali by Jonathan Waterman, High: Stories of Survival from Everest and K2 edited by Clint Willis, just to name a few. I was really convinced that some day I would climb Everest. While someday I may get back on track with my highpointing to climb Denali, I don’t think Everest is realistically in my plans anymore.

There’s something very spiritual about climbing that makes it even more sacred to me than cycling. Not only do you push yourself to the edge of your endurance–which is what you do on a bike often–but you get to see along the way the greatest treasurers of the world, places you know only few have the bravery to tread. The endurance is worth the privilege to see the hidden places in the world. Mountain peaks offer the most majestic sights on the planet. Often times while climbing, I’ve had what I would describe as a religious experience–an overwhelming feeling of elation and awe at the supreme beauty of the universe. I’ve felt connected to something greater than myself. You could attribute it to a supreme being, call it God or the Divine or whatever language you choose, but for me–the ever questioning agnostic–it is simply an understanding that I am one small piece in vast, beautiful, mysterious universe. I can praise that. However small my piece is in the universe, I’ve felt my connection to the whole… and that was a awe-inspiring feeling.

Dave C has been a good friend of mine through the US Highpointers Club, of which I’m a member and have been a member since my husband and I started highpointing in 1998. I wish him the best on his endeavor to get to the top of those wondrous summits and make it down safely. I will be keeping tabs on his movements. Perhaps someday I too will see the top of Denali. Though it’s honestly hard to imagine right now, given how much time I’ve devoted to cycling and how out of touch I currently am with the climbing world these days… just not enough time in life with work to do all those things you really want to do!

Once more into the breach: TOSRV 2010

I was a bit apprehensive about TOSRV this year. All week, the weather forecast for Saturday was not looking very good: temperatures in the mid to upper 50s with a huge “Windy” label as a description of the conditions for the day. For most of the week, the wind forecast was W-NW at 20-25mph with gusts up to 40mph. Now, having done TOSRV for two years, I knew that such a forecast was a bit optimistic. There’s no way that the Gods of Cycling would give us tailwinds like that. I spent most of the week denying the forecast and praying that it was all wrong. Weathermen are wrong sometimes, right? Of course, by the end of the week, the wind direction was forcasted for W-SW, still with 20-25mph and 40+ mph gusts, and the ominous “Windy” label remained over stamped over the overview forecast for the day.

Friday evening was a beautiful 75 degrees, making it even harder to believe that everything was going to change. I drove down to Columbus from work under sunny skies which only fostered my hope that the forecast was horribly wrong. I went to registration, picked up my packet, and then headed to my friend Joanna’s apartment which—so awesome!—is only two miles from Capital Square where the ride starts. My plan was to ride to the ride start line so I’d packed all my clothes—including a sleeping bag and a small air-mattress—into my backpacking backpack (this backpack has never officially been used for backpacking, though it was bought for such; my husband and never had the chance to use it properly before he died). I really wanted to bring my cushy air mattress–the one I’d bought last year for XOBA–but it made the pack a little too heavy and I was nervous about riding even two miles wearing one as it was.

I arrived at Joanna’s apartment around 7:45 and we then headed for a nice carbo-loaded dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse. Another Hiram College alumni and fellow Martian visitor to Earth (yes, she also claims Martian citizenship), Shannon, joined us there. We had a great time catching up with each other (we all three last saw each other in January at the Haiku Death Match) and enjoying good food. I never have a problem finding people to carbo-load with me the night before a ride!

When we left the restaurant, the wind was picking up. But it was still delightfully warm out. I even bemoaned out loud my general disdain for the coming change in the weather, hoping desperately my words would somehow hold back my impending fate. I was riding by myself and I knew it would be a struggle for me to push myself. I started to worry that this would be a TOSRV I could not complete. My thoughts reared to stories of a few friends who had before been pushed off their bikes by a bad wind and I was, I must admit, a bit frightened. I felt a little like I’ve felt before a really hilly ride like Fredericksburg Library Roll—a little unsure that I had it in me to complete ride. It’s a little like worrying about an exam in school the night before, even though you’ve studied and paid attention all quarter; likewise, I knew I was prepared for the ride, having about 870 miles for the year with three rides 60 miles or longer.

Back at Joanna’s apartment, I headed for bed while Joanna and Shannon went to meet up with a third college alumni friend—whose book has been published and she was appearing at a book fair the following day (I’m so jealous!)—for drinks somewhere. I couldn’t fall asleep as I listened apprehensively to the wind whipping various loud, clashing, unidentifiable objects outside the bedroom window. I woke up multiple times throughout the night, noting each time how much the temperature had dropped, and fretting more and more. This is not a reflection on Joanna’s sleeping arrangements, by the way; she has a great guest room—very comfortable and private. It was my fault that nervous worry kept me from a good night’s sleep.

I woke up around 6:20am–before my 6:30am alarm–and putzed around browsing the internet and Facebook on my phone. The wind was still furious outside the window and I wondered vaguely if I should bail on the ride. But I was signed up, I had the 2010 TOSRV t-shirt, I had to go. Before I could talk myself out of anything, I grudgingly dressed for the ride, packed my things, and quietly left the apartment around 7:20am.

The ride to Capital Square started off a little confusing. Joanna’s instructions initially had me turning the wrong way down a one way street, so I at first doubted the direction I was supposed to go as indicated on the instructions, went down the street in its direction, came to Broad—a busy road that I knew wasn’t the right way—and turned around back towards the apartment (going the wrong way, of course), and then went further down the original cross street to the street going the appropriate direction. After that, I had no problems and made it to Capital Square where I gladly unloaded my backpack onto the proper truck. Wearing the heavy backpack had warmed me up and I felt better about the temperature. I was preparing to take off when Sue R from ABC passed by in front of me. I greeted her and decided there—on the spot—I’d take her up on the offer to ride with her group from TAB (Toledo Area Bicyclists) since I was feeling so nervous about handling the wind.

After photographs and waiting on several other people to join the group, we took off down High Street at about 8:20am. A little later than I usually depart, but there were still plenty of people trickling out yet, so it wasn’t too late by TOSRV standards. We stayed together as a group for about the first ten miles, then everyone began to spread out. Though the wind was rough, it was a cross wind and I found that it wasn’t as hard to pedal into as I’d thought it would be, so I just went off at my normal pace, eventually dropping some people and, later, others dropped me. Once I knew I was in this alone, I just focused on the goal of getting to each rest stop. There were a few turns along the way where I was headed directly into the wind and those were the worst slogs. You could be going along at a nice 16-17mph clip, and then a burst of wind would hit, and you’d suddenly be struggling to maintain 10mph. These wind bursts required quick drops into lower gears because the wind had the same effect coming down a really fast hill to roll into a suddenly very steep hill. What would have knocked me off my bike in most cases would have been a sudden stop on my bike because I was in too high a gear to pedal. I also learned that in the cross winded areas if you leaned yourself and the bike a little into the wind, it lessened your resistance against the wind and seemed to make it less likely that you would be blown off the road by the wind.

I made good time between Centerville (the first stop) and Chillicothe (the second stop), arriving there around noon for lunch. The sun was poking out from behind the clouds; if you sat in the sun to eat, you were warmed a bit. I ate and rested there for about 45 minutes. Usually, Chillicothe is the halfway point of the ride; however, this year there was an 8 mile detour off Higby Road due to a bridge being out, so I knew I was less than halfway through the ride at this point which was somewhat less motivating. Additionally, the leg between Chillicothe and Waverly (the last stop) is the rolling section–hilly when compared to the flat first two legs but not especially hard for people live in places by the Cuyahoga Valley. I knew the detour included a hill I could actually qualify as a hill (whereas the infamous School House Hill that everyone normally fears is barely a hill to us “hill people) with 100 foot of a climb in about a quarter of a mile. This would make the hill about half of the steepness of Martin (in the Cuyahoga Valley) in my estimation because I knew that one to be a 200 foot climb in about a quarter of a mile. I wasn’t especially worried about any of this and, anyway, this section has always been my favorite because it is generally more scenic and less trafficked. The detour, making the route longer, was undoubtedly going to make the ride feel longer.

Self-portrait in Chillicothe

As I suspected, the wind was less of a factor through this section because it was sheltered by the hills. There was still a steady headwind when facing west and a cross wind to the south, but we seemed generally protected from the huge, crippling bursts that attacked from time to time. I had fun rolling up and down the hills and was really surprised–and proud–that I didn’t need to go to my granny gear for most of the route. Until I got to the 100 foot climb described above. It was definitely a harder hill than School House Hill–nothing that I need fear for there are plenty of climbs in the Valley much harder–but I did need to use granny on it. Of course, before you even got to the hill, all the flatlanders and otherwise less-experienced hill-climbers were piled up in the parking lot of a little market at the bottom of the hill. I only paused there because I thought there might be a bathroom, but on finding there wasn’t, I took off up. No problem! And, the nice thing about this hill is that it did offer some pay-off that I think is where I hit my high-speed of the day of 33mph (I didn’t brake or clip out so it wasn’t that steep).

The detour itself was really very pretty. I’m kind of annoyed that I didn’t stop to take some pictures, for it is doubtful I’ll ever be along those roads again. Twice we crossed the Scioto River and it was, admittedly, the first time I actually noticed the river despite the fact that the normal route general ambles along side the river. The scenery is normally obscured by trees and the many houses that line it. I never realized quite how wide and significant the Scioto is at that part. Even though it was just 8 miles, the detour seemed to make the trek to Waverly take forever. I was glad when we finally hit town and even more relieved when we reached Lake White where the last stop was.

From Waverly, the trek to Portsmouth is a long 30-mile haul that trends generally down along Route 104. A 30-mile ride is inevitably stretched to boredom when it’s the last leg of what was to be a 113 mile ride and along the same road without any turns. I resolved to push as quickly through it as possible. I left Waverly at 3:30 and knew that I probably wouldn’t get into Portsmouth until 5:30 even at top speed. I knew that Bad Dog from the infamous Polka Dots was down there and that he’d picked up my favorite beer, but he’d only done the 50-mile route, so I worried that he and the Dots would be long gone by the time I got there. I’d hoped to get to Portsmouth at 3:30-4, but my late start and the hard wind pushes had made that impossible. Fortunately, the last leg, also being in a valley, is generally protected from the wind so it made the going a lot faster. Motivated by the prospect of beer and friendship awaiting at Tracy Park, I was actually able to push 19-20mph for most of the ride into Portsmouth, which I’m sure is why my ending average was 15.1.

I was never as glad to see Portsmouth as I was on Saturday. This was probably the hardest first day of TOSRV I’ve ever experienced, with the wind and extra miles, and I was really kind of hanging on at last 10 miles, stuck in a mode of zoning out so that I could keep going. I wasn’t in pain per se; I was just tired, probably from lack of good sleep and from the restless push all day. When I reached Tracy Park, I was overwhelmingly happy to get off my bike. The first thing I did was seek out the Polka Dots and they weren’t too hard to find at all! I was relieved they were still there and was even more relieved when John (aka bAD dOG) handed me a Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold! He even gave me a bottle cozy to keep my beer cold. Now that’s living large!

Mars Girl & bAD dOG share a beer (or two) at Tracy Park in Portsmouth.

Some of my TAB friends showed up (and bAD dOG also offered them beer–it’s always good to know the people with the beer, I always say!). It was getting cold fast as the sun was setting and clouds came in. About an hour and two beers later, I departed the park with Sue and another TABer for our place of refuge for the night… After two TOSRVs, I was living the quintessential TOSRV experience: I was checking into the Life Center where I was to “camp” the night on the gym floor and I was going to go for spaghetti dinner at one of the local churches after my shower and clean up.

We got transported via shuttle to the church where our all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner awaited for $10. “All-you-can-eat” for me equated to one plate of spaghetti, some salad, a piece of banana cake, and lemonade. I gorged food down as if I’d never had any before and I was pretty stuffed at the end of it. We returned to the gym afterwords and I pretty much crashed at 9pm…. to awake again at 6 to do it. All. Over. Again. In reverse.

But, first, to complete my quintessential TOSRV experience, I was going to have breakfast at the famous Cripsy Creme doughnut shop, located on the same street as the Life Center. I was already salivating over thoughts of doughnuts–which I rarely allow myself to have–when we arrived to an empty parking lot and a sign from the TOSRV activities coordinator in Portsmouth that apologized profusely and explained that the shop was under new ownership and that said owners had failed to arrive to open the shop. Cripsy Creme doughnuts: denied! We ended up leaving Portsmouth, dejected, and headed for a gas station on the outskirts of town along the route where I bought an imitation bacon, egg and cheese McMuffin. It was “eh.” Good enough to fuel me to Waverly…

Having actually achieved a full night of sleep, once I was awake, I was amazingly spry.  The first leg from Portsmouth is never enjoyable. You spend the whole time in a perpetual slow climb, contemplating why you would volunteer yourself for such unbearable torture each year. By the time you’ve accepted your fate, you reach the Waverly stop at Lake White where it suddenly seems possible to tackle the rest of the day. I spent much of my climb trying to find a comfortable way to sit on my bike seat, for my bike seat had all the comfort of sitting on a jagged rock as far as my butt was concerned. My butt callous must have finally formed because I didn’t feel that sort of discomfort much after that first leg.  I felt much better on the second leg. It’s prettier, it contains hills–I found my energy and actually got into a comfortably numb rhythm.

I was pushing along toward the end of the leg–about five miles outside of Chillicothe–and I was keeping a pretty brisk pace, passing riders with a sudden gusto of energy when I found myself behind–and about to pass–Michael. Yes, he ex-boyfriend. Yes, the person I had been relentlessly angry at for months. By all counts, I should have had that panicked “deer in headlights” feeling I had when we encountered each other at the ABC Think Spring ride. But a strange thing happened. Instead, I felt… relief! Like I’d just stumbled across the someone I’d not seen in years but had been desperately searching for. Before I could even think about it, I smiled and, as I passed him, I said playfully, “I can’t believe I’m passing you.”

He was in the concentration of the moment and hadn’t seemed to notice who was about to pass him. But he looked up, recognized me, and kind of chuckled back. Feeling awkward–for I hadn’t spoken nicely to him in months–I continued at my pace and was several riders ahead of him before I started to kick myself for not hanging near him and starting a conversation. He appeared to be riding alone. The sudden irony of the situation suddenly occurred to me: Here we were, both on TOSRV, two riders of equal caliber. We were both on TOSRV again–he, the one who introduced me to this ride–and we were both riding it alone. I was riding it alone because I’d refused to talk to him for about five months.  It seemed kind of silly now, in retrospect. The one thing I was trying so hard to do–to do all the rides alone that we used to do together–only really, in the end, brought us back together even though I was choosing to pretend he wasn’t there. It seemed kind of silly all of the sudden. Very junior high. And, I realized, too, that I wasn’t really mad at him anymore. I don’t know what changed, but over the last few weeks, I’d started to feel less and less angry at him… Suddenly, at that moment, all traces of the anger were gone.

So I resolved to wait for him once I got to Chillicothe. I didn’t know what was going to happen then, but it was probably my turn to extend the olive branch and really mean it this time. It’s a good thing I did. We ate lunch together at Chillicothe and caught up like two friends who had been separated for months. It was kind of nice.

I ended up riding the last 50 miles more or less with Michael (I was in unusually good form that day so I may have gotten ahead of him a few times.) It was a different experience to have someone near enough to talk to occasionally and with whom to spend the rest stops. As much as I enjoy riding alone because there’s no pressure to keep up or slow down for anyone, I have to admit that I forgot how the camaraderie of friends can actually pass the long hours of the ride.

The wind was a little fiercer along the treeless roads and open fields of the Chillicothe to Circleville and Circleville to Columbus legs. I knew this was going to be the case. Fortunately, the wind seemed to be more of a cross wind, like Saturday, and it was mostly manageable except when a gust would occur. Like Saturday, the gusts were a bit strong. A few times when I was going along at 16-17mph in a high gear, a strong gust would almost throw me into a stand-still because I suddenly couldn’t pedal in that high gear. I saved myself from the embarrassing sideways fall a few times by a quick shift into my middle ring. I did actually unclip in one such case because I was sure I was going to be thrown sideways. While the wind was generally much slower than Saturday, the occasional gusts were about the same.

The best part of the ride was riding back to the finish with Michael. It seemed kind of serendipitous: We had done two TOSRVs together and rode back into town together both times. I’d started my journey alone this year, but along the ride, I’d somehow found peace with a good friend. Now, we rode to the finish together, a third time. It just seemed right.

The third time must be the charm, too, because I’ve never felt as good at the end of a TOSRV as I felt this time.  My legs were tired, but I didn’t feel as though all my energy was shot. I told Michael–and just about everyone else–that I felt as though I could have plugged along for another 60 miles. I certainly hadn’t felt that way on Saturday. If you’d asked me at the beginning of the Sunday ride, I would have told you that I just wanted to get the second day over with. It was somewhere in that Wavery-Chillicothe leg that I gained some magical store of energy while rolling through the hills and it pretty much sustained me through the rest of the ride. Some days you just have it; other days you just don’t. I hope if I ever do RAIN–the Ride Across INdiana, 160 miles in one day–I’m having an on day!

For the third time in my cycling life, I picked up my gold-sealed TOSRV certificate, certifying completion of 210 (which was actually 226 this year) miles of riding. I’m still a newbie (there are people who have done this ride over 20 times!) but each time you complete a TOSRV, I’m learning, it’s a separate experience. Each TOSRV has its own battles to right and you have your own personal struggles to overcome. It’s always a learning experience as to just how much you can handle. I’m glad I’ve managed to pass the test every time so far.

Am I going to do TOSRV in 2011? If you’d asked me on Saturday morning before I started the ride, I would have grumbled that I was going to do same-day registration next year because I can’t stand the unpredictability of the Ohio spring weather. However, I’m afraid that if I did do the same-day registration, I wouldn’t be motivated to train as hard in the spring, which would result in being unprepared for the ride. So, I don’t know… come January, I just might find myself pre-registering yet again. I set a goal a few year back that I was going to ride until the 50th anniversary of the ride–which is next year–so I’m probably in it. I told myself that after that, I can take a year or two off from torturing myself.

In a way, I think I sign up for this year each, hoping that somehow I’ll get  lucky and end up in a TOSRV with perfect weather–tailwinds and 70 degrees. I think in the long history of TOSRV, this kind of weather has rarely occurred. But one can hope. Maybe that’s what we’re all hoping for when we sign up for the ride on those cold, dark January nights–that elusive, perfect TOSRV–and we’re afraid not to register because the year we don’t will be the year everyone gets to enjoy the best conditions about which we’ve only dreamed. Of course, could we really call that TOSRV? And where’s the fun if not the challenge? (Yes, the mind of an endurance athlete is a sick, sick thing…)

Mars Girl with her completion certificate.