On and Off the Road

On August 9-10, Crow and I completed our forth Roscoe Ramble together, marking three years that we have been together as a couple. We trace the beginning of our relationship back to the ride in 2011 when sparks flew between us as we conversed over beers at Uncorked in Roscoe Village. We actually had our real first date earlier in May; however, I got cold feet and kind of nipped the possibility of a relationship in the bud by blowing him off after that date. (It was easier for me to avoid relationships than deal with the emotional messiness of getting involved in one. I’ve since seen the error of my ways.)

The 75-mile start at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton.

The 75-mile start at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton.

So since Roscoe Ramble marks the length of our relationship, we really can’t help ourselves in signing up for the ride every year. I thought we might take the year off to instead watch the Civil War reenactment at Hale Farm, which always falls on the same weekend as Roscoe, but then around July, I felt a void in our schedule and we decided to go anyway. We even fit this ride in last year after returning from our three-week honeymoon the weekend before the ride! (Fortunately, next year’s Roscoe Ramble is set for a weekend later, so Crow and I might be able to see the Civil War reenactment and do Roscoe Ramble. Hopefully, Hale Farm won’t push the Civil War reenactment out a week!)

Day 1 of Roscoe Ramble: a beautiful climb together.

Day 1 of Roscoe Ramble: a beautiful climb together. (Photo credit: Susan Richards)

Since we started doing Roscoe regularly, we’ve ridden the 75 mile once (2012) and the 50 mile once (2013). This year, we chose to do the 75 mile route again, which was a little bit of a stretch being neither of us have gotten the riding in this year that we wanted to. With all the chaos that was our life in the spring, this is only the second two-day ride of significant miles we’ve done… and, actually, only the second organized ride we did this year. I felt a little out-of-shape, but I still managed to get up all the hills. The weather was perfect all weekend, too–warm, sunny, in the 70-80s.

First stop on Day 1 is at this fire station. There are many delicious treats to be had!

First stop on Day 1 is at this fire station. There are many delicious treats to be had!

For the last two years, we’ve been enjoying the pool at the campground. There are two waterslides–one for inner tubes and one body slide–and we really have fun going down those. We’ve become quite the fans of water slides since our adventure at Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA in 2012. Because it was so warm during the climbs on Roscoe this year, it felt totally refreshing to cool off in the pool!

Mars Girl and Crow enjoy the water slides at the campground near Roscoe Village.

Mars Girl and Crow enjoy the water slides at the campground near Roscoe Village.

On Day 2 of Roscoe, we decided to go rogue and taking the bike path to Fredericksburg from the first rest stop in Kilbuck. Not so much to avoid the small climbing on the roads between Kilbuck and Fredericksburg, but because, honestly, the route is really not that exciting. I’ve done that Day 2 route now about four times and it’s all right. A lot of bumps on some of the roads, a lot of traffic, and really not all that scenic. Day 2’s highlights are really all in the ride out of Coshocton which are long, climby steep county roads with little traffic. And it always seems to be foggy, which lends a certain ambiance to the ride. After Kilbuck–and it’s not the fault of the ride planners, I’m sure there aren’t that many routes in that part of Ohio–it just gets kind of bland for awhile. At least on the bike path, you can enjoy a nice fast-paced push back to Fredericksburg along tree-lined pavement and you get a reprieve from cars.

The big climb on Day 2 of Roscoe Ramble. Going strong!

The big climb on Day 2 of Roscoe Ramble. Going strong! (Photo credit: Susan Richards)

The trail is shared use with bikes, hikers, and Amish buggies. So there are some “road apples” to avoid. One of the Roscoe Ramble routes used to use this 15-mile stretch of bike path. I heard that people complained because one time the trail was wet after a rain and there was lots of poop-splashing going on. I did that ride and I don’t really remember it being all that bad. I guess maybe I wasn’t thinking about it too much, that what I thought was mud was actually horse poop. Eh. Whatever. It all washes off with soap and water. I also heard that the reason the trail is no longer on route is because it’s hard to SAG support that section.

Either way, we both kind of prefer the bike trail. So, we did it. And it was a good thing, too, because honestly with as little as I’ve rode this year, I was toast by the end of the ride. Which really shouldn’t be the case for a 75 mile ride in August. But… well… maybe I’ll do much better next year! (Pray for no more water issues in the Woods’ basement.)

The weekend after Roscoe Ramble, Crow and I took off for some camping and mountain biking in Michigan. My first mountain biking trip! I was so stoked! I also like that many mountain biking trips involve car camping. Yay! I love life in a tent! Campfires! Fun!! I can totally get into this mountain biking lifestyle!

We left on Friday for a three-day weekend. Crow had a lot more trails planned for us to do than we were actually able to get to–the downside of riding with a slow poke beginner. But I felt I got my first taste of what mountain biking is truly about. At this point, I was still leery about using clipless pedals so I was on flat pedals.

Our Camp at Pontiac Lake.

Our Camp at Pontiac Lake.

On Friday, we hit Maybury State Park, where I gained a false sense of confidence about Michigan trails. Maybury was pretty moderate–not much harder than anything I’ve ridden in Ohio–so I incorrectly assumed that the rest of the trails in Michigan were going to be right up my alley.

Crow at Maybury State Park.

Crow at Maybury State Park.

Additionally, the trail was running in the opposite direction that it normally does because there was going to be a race there on the following day. I don’t know if the trail usually runs faster or if it’s more difficult in the normal direction.

Mars Girl at Maybury.

Mars Girl at Maybury.

The next day, we planned to take a long ride. We went to Holdridge and started on the East Loop trail. We intended to do the whole 18 miles but as we got further into this trail, I felt a little in over my head. For me, the short, steep hills were challenging. After several failed attempts at climbs I should have been able to do (would have been able to do on the road), I realized that my method for getting up hills road bi

Mars Girl feigning nonchalance.

Mars Girl feigning nonchalance.

king would not work for mountain biking. On the road, the surface is smooth so momentum is less important (unless, of course, you have no momentum at all). So when I’m making a climb on the road, I always use the most difficult gear I can handle (in the granny ring, of course), and then I drop to the next lower gear as the hill gets tougher. This is a psychological game I play with myself so that I do not bottom out to my lowest gear too quickly; that way, if the hill gets steeper, I still have  lower gear to switch into. Once I run out of gears, all I have left is standing on the pedals, which I prefer not to do, and there’s only so much power you an get for so long out of standing. Being in a tougher gear makes you go slower, but since the pavement is pretty smooth, you won’t lose momentum.

Mars Girl on the Lake Loop at Holdridge.

Mars Girl on the Lake Loop at Holdridge.

This technique does not work mountain biking because of the many obstacles on the trail–primarily tree roots and rocks. Not to mention the fact that the dirt itself is already tougher to spin on than pavement. Every time I’d get into a climb, I was in too high a gear, moving slowly. As soon as my tire hit a tree root or a rock, the bike would pretty much stop. I also had a problem where my tire would lift or bounce off the trail while I was climbing because I did not have enough momentum. Most of the time when I looked at my gears after failing at a climb, I was in way too high of a gear.

A "rest stop" along the Lake Loop.

A “rest stop” along the Lake Loop.

One of the problems with getting into the right gear mountain biking is that you often come up on a steep hill when you’re going pretty fast in a high gear. So I have to learn to change quickly from a high gear down to a low enough gear to climb.

I still had fun, though. After a few mental break-downs and fits of frustration. We ended up cutting off the East Loop using the return at the 7 mile mark. We still ended up completing about 14 miles of the East Loop. After a short break for lunch, we hit the West Loop, including the 1-mile Lake Loop, for another 4 miles. For the most part, this trail was less difficult; however, it did involve one horribly steep climb that I didn’t even attempt. (The horribly steep climb was the new bi-pass for an even more terrible climb… Seriously, they weren’t much different.) The Lake Loop had some long stretches of flexible mat–basically, a long boardwalk–that made me a little nervous. One spot had two trees on either side of the flexible mat right on a turn. I almost rode off the mat on that turn and crashed. As it was, I ended up getting off my bike to prevent falling off the mat and ended up getting a handlebar jabbed into my abdomen. Ouch.

We finished at Holdridge with the North Loop which was totally flat and easy. It’s just a few miles long. I ended the day with about 20 miles, a lot of bruised confidence, and feeling completely beat up. But good thing you can drink alcohol in Michigan State Parks! Crow and I sipped beers in the parking lot before heading back to camp.

 

Beer drinking selfie.

Beer drinking selfie.

Crow’s friend, Dick, joined us at camp for the evening as he was returning home from visiting family in Michigan. We had a really great time sitting by the campfire (once we painstakingly got it started) until midnight. We cooked our meal over the campfire and, for the first time in ages, I had a hobo pie with blueberry pie filling. I forgot how good those damned things are. When I was a camp counselor one summer, we had our campers making entire meals using hobo pie irons. For dinner, we made pizza–two pieces of bread with pizza cause, cheese, and usually pepperoni; for dessert, two more pieces of bread with any number of pie fillings (it was different every week). The kids could cook them themselves without much supervision and even the pickiest kid enjoyed eating them. I think that was probably the last time I had a hobo pie… and I’ve had these hobo pie irons for over 10 years (I got them from my former father-in-law for Christmas or something). I’d been lugging those things along with my camping gear through multiple moves, but never once managed to remember them when I had a campfire going… It took Crow discovering them to lug them out. I’m so glad he did!

The next day, I was feeling pretty shot and a lot less confident after the previous day’s failures. So we decided to go to Lakeshore instead of Pontiac Lake since it was technically supposed to be easier. Crow had wanted to do both trails, but I honestly was not feeling up to it at that point. During the previous evening, it had rained some at the campground, but it never got very heavy. However, the trails at Lakeshore were damp so it must have rained a bit more. Add damp to my dying confidence and it was really not my best day.

More Lakeshore Park riding.

Mountain biking at Lakeshore Park.

Lakeshore is a neat trail, though. Unlike Holdridge (which is more typical of Michigan), the brush is sparse and you can see most of the trail and switchbacks ahead of you. It’s kind of weird because you can see people winding parallel down the trail who are way ahead of you. I was extra careful going over the wet roots, bridges, and rocks. There were several log piles and I tried a few of the smaller ones. I also had fun riding my bike over the pump track (I did not do it like a proper pump track, however; I pedaled).

Mars Girl riding at Lakeshore Park.

Lakeshore Park has great sight lines.

Mars Girl and Crow finish the trails at Lakeshore Park.

Mars Girl and Crow finish the trails at Lakeshore Park.

Overall, the weekend was really fun! Since returning from the trip, Crow and I rode Royalview in Strongsville and I went on a group ride with CAMBA (Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association) at Bedford. I’m getting better at it and having some fun. It will be awhile before I feel like a decent mountain biker, though. After the Michigan trip, however, I did decide to put clipless pedals on my mountain bike. It will help me with momentum up those steep hills. I’m still getting used to being in the clips on a mountain bike… So it almost felt like starting over. I’d hoped after Michigan that I’d feel more confident on the easier Ohio trails… that hasn’t happened yet! But at least I haven’t given up! We’ll see how much I improve over the next year….

Pelee Island, Revisited

Crow and I had to cancel our plans for a self-contained bike tour on the Maine coast this year due to The Flood and all the ensuing issues with the house that it caused, thus relinquishing us of our normal surplus of cash. We weren’t about to let The Flood ruin our whole summer, however; we decided to take a few small weekend trips now that we have some breathing room for fun. Of course, the Roscoe Ramble bike ride was already in our plans since that is kind of a special ride for us because it’s where our romantic relationship started in 2011. But we wanted to plan a few other get-aways. So we decided to each plan a trip. Crow came up with a mountain biking trip near Ann Arbor that we’re going to go on in a few weeks. I chose Pelee Island.

I’d been to Pelee Island once before–seven years ago–and I’d been meaning to go back every since. One of several islands located on Lake Erie, Pelee is located in Canadian waters. Unlike the US islands of South Bass (Put-in-Bay) and Kelley’s Island, Pelee is pretty primitive. There are two campgrounds, four restaurants, a winery, a bakery, the “co-op” (a very minimal grocery store), a post office (located in the co-op), two marinas, a few gift shops an airport, and plethora of B&Bs. Only a few roads are paved, the rest are dirt and gravel. Because the island does not have the population of the other islands, nor does it have a thriving nightlife, it is very laid back and quiet. The perfect place to get away and forget about the world.

For people who enjoy the outdoors, there is plenty to do on Pelee. Originally when I planned the trip, I figured Crow and I would have a lot of down time in which we’d just lounge on the beach, swimming and relaxing. I brought my Kindle and a journal for jotting down stuff for my novel, figuring that I would have a lot of time to read and write. I remembered that there were only really a few things specifically to see on Pelee and I guess I thought we’d do see and do everything on one day. Still, I booked a four day weekend because I figured that two full days at Pelee would give us a chance to experience everything.

Friday

Total miles biked: 20.69

We took the first ferry running to Pelee out of the Sandusky. The 3:30pm departure time gave us a leisurely start to the day (we did all our fretting the night before with last-minute packing!). We arrived in Sandusky at around 1:00 which allowed us time to have lunch at a nearby Irish pub called Daly’s. We then loaded our bikes and walked across the street to the dock to get our ticket and board the ferry.

Crow and Heidi on the Pelee Islander--the ferry to Pelee Island.

Crow and Heidi on the Pelee Islander–the ferry to Pelee Island.

The ferry takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to cross the 26 miles of lake to get to Pelee. Along the way, passengers are treated to a lakeside view of Cedar Point (an amusement park in Sandusky) and the US islands.

Cedar Point from the ferry.

Cedar Point from the ferry.

View of the Mean Streak rollercoaster at Cedar Point.

View of the Mean Streak rollercoaster at Cedar Point.

The view of Pelee Island’s West Dock from the ferry was exactly as I remembered it. Not much had changed on the island, apparently, in the last six years since I’d last visited, except for a new Customs building that I was pretty sure had not been there before (I later confirmed in looking at my old photos from the first trip that I was right.)

Put-in-Bay's Perry's Monument as viewed from the ferry. You can also see it from the west side of Pelee Island.

Put-in-Bay’s Perry’s Monument as viewed from the ferry. You can also see it from the west side of Pelee Island.

Arrived at Pelee's West Dock.

Arrived at Pelee’s West Dock.

I made reservations for East Park Campground. The first time I went to Pelee, I stayed at the campground at the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I was not really impressed with this site as it was not very private and, being part of the busier area of the island (I’m not sure if this is considered “downtown” on Pelee), it tended to be a bit more noisy. The “campground” was basically a field outside of the restaurant.  The only advantage to this location is that you can bring and consume alcohol on the premises, which you cannot do at East Park Campground–Pelee’s other campground. Not really a big deal as there are plenty of places to consume alcohol on the island; I certainly wasn’t going to miss not being able to drink at my actual campsite.

The only other downside to the East Park Campground is that the water has not been cleared for drinking. It’s fine as long as you boil it, though, so between that and buying very reasonably priced jugs of water from the camp store, we were fine all weekend. Turns out there are no public places on the island that have potable water you can get for free. I didn’t remember this detail from my last trip out.  According to the Pelee island website, the water at the “majority” of the local establishments is cleared for drinking. However, we found that almost all the restaurant (except for Scudder Bar & Grill) serve you (and charge you for) bottled water when you request water. I’m not sure if this is because of the water situation or if Canada is more similar to the countries in Europe who won’t serve you tap water no matter how nicely you ask.

East Campground is located approximately four miles from the West Dock, obviously on the other side of the island. With our loaded bikes, it took us about fifteen minutes to arrive. Right away, I liked this campground so much better. There were several private sites surrounded by trees. After checking in, we chose site 12 and it became our happy home for three nights.

Site #12 upon arrival.

Site #12 upon arrival.

All set up! Site #12 on Saturday morning.

All set up! Site #12 on Saturday morning.

We did discover, however, that we were being monitored by a strange alien creature….

Strange alien mushroom being.

Great Mushroom Being

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I cower in fear of the Great Mushroom Being.

By the time we got all set up and unpacked, it was about 7pm. Excited to start exploring, we decided to head off back down the main road to find food and libations. I originally thought we’d hit the winery, but it turns out close every day at 8. Even Fridays. So we ended up going to the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I learned that Lake Erie walleye is called “pickerel” in Canada. Whatever you happened to call it, it was delicious and fresh at Anchor & Wheel. Especially washed down with a wine spritzer.

Unfortunately, it started to drizzle as we headed back to camp despite the predicted 0% chance of rain for the day. Go figure. This set the precedent for the remainder of the weekend.

Saturday

Total miles biked: 28.67

Establishments Patronized: Pelee Island Winery, Scudder Bar & Grill

We woke Saturday morning to sun and warm temperatures. I could almost forget that a 40% chance of rain had been predicted for the day. Before we could begin any exploring, we needed to ride to the co-op to pick up some more oatmeal (we hadn’t had time to shop before leaving and we were short of breakfast food). The co-op is closed on Sundays and only open until 2 on Saturday so we had to make it our first stop. But we decided to try a new route north up East Road, and then crossing one of the intersecting westward roads so that we could see new scenery.

Pelee’s farms are located in the middle of the island while all the summer beachside cottages dot the outside. It’s like two different worlds–the scenery along the outer roads beachlike and tropical, harkening to images of the Florida coast sans palm trees, while the scenery on the inner part of the island looks like any old road in Northwestern Ohio.

The co-op is located on the northwest side of the island next to the marina where private boats dock at the island. The co-op also serves as the island post office. In addition to the co-op, we discovered the bakery, the Scudder Bar & Grill, and a small ice cream/hot dog shack. We stopped for ice cream (shame on me), and then took the roads we’d just used back to the east side of the island where we had decided to ride to the trailhead for the lighthouse.

The road leading to the trailhead goes along the side of Lake Henry–one of Pelee’s only remaining marshes. As I learned later, the island was once actually three islands separated by marshes. In the 1880’s, the island was drained by the colonists to make more of the land useable for farming since the weather at Pelee is moderate and, as it turns out, perfect for growing crops, especially grapes due a longer growing season.

My Surly in front of Lake Henry.

My Surly in front of Lake Henry.

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A heron fishes nearby.

Path to the lighthouse.

Path to the lighthouse.

The hike to the old lighthouse starts in the woods and then ends, as all trails on Pelee seem to, on a beach. I’m always amazed by the beauty of a Lake Erie beach, especially this far away from the mainland. The water is clear and the waves lap softly on the more-pebbles-than-sand shore. We stuck our feet in the water. At first, it seemed a tad chilly, but after a little bit, it seemed perfect and refreshing. We walked together in the water along the shore. Right away, the lighthouse began to peak through the trees ahead.

The lighthouse is just around the corner along this beach.

The lighthouse is just around the corner along this beach.

Whoop, there it is!

Whoop, there it is!

Gratuitous lighthouse selfie.

Gratuitous lighthouse selfie.

Unfortunately, you can’t go into the lighthouse, which is kind of a bummer. But I suppose hasn’t been kept up and is probably unsafe. We took some pictures and tried to keep moving because when you stand still, the beach flies land on your flesh… and then they BITE you. It stings. We also kept running into clouds of mayflies.

My attempt to take an artsy photograph of the lighthouse.

My attempt to take an artsy photograph of the lighthouse.

While circling the lighthouse to admire it, we noticed another trail heading off into the woods. There is apparently another loop trail we could take, probably offering additional views of Lake Henry. We decided we would come back to it at a later time. We never did get a chance to do it on this trip, but we will definitely have to walk this trail the next time we’re on Pelee.

Tankers, working boats. Oh my!

Tankers, working boats. Oh my!

We headed next to the Pelee Island Winery, but slowly because no one is in a hurry on Pelee. We stopped took Henderson, the north-south running road in the middle of the island, a dirt road between fields of soy beans. We stopped at the Pelee Island Art Works to look at the handcrafted souvenirs (I bought a pair of beach glass earrings!).

The wine garden at Pelee Island Winery.

The wine garden at Pelee Island Winery.

When we arrived at the winery, a tour was just starting. I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to jump on it, so indecision led us to just get our three (or so) samples at the tasting area. Crow and I tried between each other (and our three samples each) about six wines (give or take a few since the bartender was feeling generous). I didn’t remember the winery’s list being so extensive–there were over 20 wines on the list! We decided to get a bottle of Cabernet Franc. We bought a bread and cheese plant and snacked at one of the picnic tables in the wine garden listening to the live music. It was pretty relaxing… but the sky was starting to get a little dark.

Special parking for bikes at Pelee Island Winery.

Special parking for bikes at Pelee Island Winery.

By the time we finished our bottle, new winery tour was beginning, so we decided to go on it after all. Which turned out to be kind of convenient because the skies let loose and a rather loud thunderstorm began to rage. During an abbreviated section of the tour outside right before the rain began, we learned that they plant rose bushes serve as the proverbial canary at the end of every row of grapes. Apparently, roses will exhibit signs of a disease several days before the grapes will so it gives the gardeners a chance to take action to save the grapes before the disease takes them as well.

 

Here I am, at the wine tasting room, looking quite pleased.

Here I am, at the wine tasting room, looking quite pleased.

We're all smiles now!

We’re all smiles now!

Anyway, we drank way too much wine between our samples, the bottle, and the additional samples (6) on the wine tour. We were with a fun group of Canadians, though, who gently chided us about being American and also persuaded our tour guide to more generously fill our tasting glasses. Haha.

By the time the tour was over, the rain had stopped. We were able to bike over to dinner (despite apparent states of inebriation). Unfortunately, Crow got a flat tire and, in our haste to get to dinner, neither of us inspected the tire well for the culprit…. So later, on the way home from dinner, at 10 o’clock at night, in the middle of the complete darkness of the middle of the island along some farm road, he got a second flat. We both had bright LED lights and after about forty-five minutes of fiddling, while thunder rumbled in the background (no lightening and no rain, though), Crow found a small shard of glass in his tire. He removed it, replaced the tube a second time, and we made it back to the campground unscathed.

Sunday

Total miles biked: 16.22

Establishments Patronized: Westview Tavern,  Pelee Island Coneheads

Once again, we woke to sun, but now the temperature was quite steamy–hot and humid. After taking showers, we both were sweaty again just preparing breakfast. The weather forecast predicted 60% chance of rain for the day so after a quick stop at the bike shop in front of the West Dock, we headed straight towards my absolute favorite thing about Pelee: Fish Point Nature Preserve.

Fish Point is a long sandbar that extends out from the southwest part of the island. People like to walk to its furthest point because it used to be the southernmost point in Canada. Recently Canada bought Middle Island–a deserted island a little more south and close to US-Canada border–from the US. Apparently, this island has changed hands many times. Since you can only get to Middle Island by private boat, most people consider walking along Fish Point close enough to claim having stood on Canada’s southernmost point.

 

You can just barely make Fish Point out from this viewing area where the path opened a little for a peek at what was ahead.

You can just barely make Fish Point out from this viewing area where the path opened a little for a peek at what was ahead.

For me, though, Fish Point is just the coolest feature ever. It was the one thing I remembered very clearly from my last visit to Pelee and I just couldn’t wait to walk it again. The water is so clear and I loved just walking along it to the end of the peninsula.

On my way out there, I was examining the various rocks that are rounded and smooth from the water’s relentless tumbling and weathering. The original rock tumbler–the sea. My eyes fell upon something white among the rocks and I picked it up. Beach glass! I’d never really heard about beach glass until I’d visited the Art Works shop and admired some of the items made from it. And now I had unwittingly found a piece myself. It was so cool that I began to actively look for more. I found a green piece next. I showed Crow and he too began to look for some beach glass. He eventually found the biggest piece I collected.

Come out here, the water is clear and cold and relieving.

Come out here, the water is clear and cold and relieving.

I just included this picture as an example of how nice the water and beaches look at Pelee.

I just included this picture as an example of how nice the water and beaches look at Pelee.

The view of the main land from the end of Fish Point.

The view of the main land from the end of Fish Point.

I also picked up a few of the intact small shells… I immediately began to think about the jewelry I  might make from these treasures. Even after we’d walked out to the point and took pictures, we slowly made our way back towards the shore looking for beach glass. Unfortunately, our moment of tranquil appreciation of Fish Point’s beauty was interrupted by some approaching rumbles of thunder. By the time we made it back to the trail in the woods, the sky to the west was growing dark, hastening my steps.

Some rocks and some beach glass I found. Later, I found some green pieces of beach glass.

Some rocks and some beach glass I found. Later, I found some green pieces of beach glass.

Crow at the end of Fish Point.

Crow at the end of Fish Point.

More sand and another small of mass of beach. I think sometimes this sandbar extends a little further....

More sand and another small of mass of beach. I think sometimes this sandbar extends a little further….

When we got back to our bikes, it was still sunny. I slipped a rain cover over my back pannier and we headed back to town. It was extremely weird because to the north, it was partly sunny and did not look like it would rain; looking back to the south, it was dark.

We decided to go check out the Pelee Island Heritage Museum which is located in the old townhall. The museum is only one room, but displays and artifacts fill ever available space not used for walking paths. It would take hours to read it all, but I did enjoy reading about Lake Erie shipwrecks, the draining of Pelee’s marshes, and the founding of the township. And, uh-oh, I started getting that feeling that I get when I read about the Erie Canal–that thirst for more information as I try to imagine what it must have been like or even what life is like now on the island. When I find myself fascinated by places, and I start digging into research, it almost always manifests itself into an idea for a story… So far, I’ve got ideas for novels that take place in Ancient Rome, along the Erie Canal, and now this… I will file it away for future use!

For the evening, we planned to attend an outdoor concert that I read about when we were planning the trip. After a lunch, we rode over tot he quarry where they were having the event. The quarry is located across the street from the winery–a small non-descript driveway leads down to this natural amplitheatre. I loved the location right away. Tucked below the ground level of the surrounding area, it felt like a tiny little hide away.

Concert in the quarry.

Concert in the quarry.

It seems we were probably the only tourists at the event, which made me feel a little out-of-place, but everyone was welcoming and nice. It was kind of neat to listen to the pleasantries and chatter exchanged between the locals. I felt a little out-of-place, but stuck to my seat and observed. I thought about how cool it would be to live on this island, at least in the summer.

Before the show began, a local woman read some poetry she’d written. I gathered from her poetry that she was an American who grew up in Michigan, lived some time in Columbus, Ohio, where she’d been a high school English teacher and now she was living on the island (at least part time) with her husband and a beloved dog. With all the For Sale signs up around the island, her story was not helping me to cease from daydreaming about buying a house on the island. (Crow and I did check out the prices of some of the places at board posted outside the local real estate office. Just for fun. Some of the places were more affordable than you would think…)

The jazz ensemble started up shortly after and I was immediately impressed. There was one man who played a saxophone–one of my favorite instruments–and some Japanese version of a soprano saxophone that he was careful to state was not actually a saxophone… I’m not good with remembering the names of thing like this…. He said it was a challenging instrument to play which is what lead him to learn to play it.

Master saxophonist mid-performance.

Master saxophonist, mid-performance.

The music was great. But all the while, I could see dark clouds circling the quarry with some. I kept hoping it would pass over. The storm hit at the last part of the last song. The saxophonist powered through the rest of the song to complete it so that we were not left wanting. I was kind of left wanting, though, because an encore might have been nice.

People started ducking under umbrellas and packing their stuff away. The rain started to pound harder. Crow and I ran to the overhang of the “dollhouse”–as the locals called it–the one and only structure, used for storage, at the quarry.

The aftermath of the storm was unsettling as it turned Lake Erie into a raging sea. We rode back to the West Dock before going back to the campground to view the craziness. A brisk, forceful wind was now coming from the north. We stopped to take some pictures and video. It was a little off-putting, to say the least, and I wondered vaguely if this were anything like how a hurricane might feel (to much lesser degree, of course).

Here is just a few of the many awesome pictures I got:

The sun sets over a raging sea.

The sun sets over a raging sea.

Lake Erie is an angry mistress.

Lake Erie is an angry mistress.

The static sound of angry waters was the background soundtrack for the remainder of our stay. It was kind of eerie (no pun intended).

As we rode back to the campground, we noticed downed tree limbs in yards and on the side of the road. The storm had been short but vigorous. Apparently, several households had also lost power, we learned later. Not a problem for two campers, however.

When we returned to camp, we decided to use the firewood we’d purchased on Friday but had never gotten around to using. We’d stashed it underneath the picnic table for protection, but of course, it still got wet. Crow spent awhile trying to start the fire using paper but he couldn’t get it to catch to the damp firewood.

One of our neighbors had a raging fire going so Crow walked over and asked to warm a few pieces of our wood in theirs. With some additional coaxing once we returned our own fire pit, Crow was able to get a nice warm fire going.

The clouds had moved off and, for the first time since our arrival, I could see the stars. I quickly identified the arm of the Milky Way, which I have not seen in way too long of a time. I’d forgot how beautiful it was. I wish I could still easily identify the location of other celestial objects. I wanted to show Crow the Andromeda Galaxy, which is very visible in a dark sky, but I couldn’t recall where to look. Oh how easily a person forgets things!

We both walked away from the fire to get a better view of the sky, when, to our surprise, we both saw a meteor! And then another! Within a few minutes of each other. So cool. Another thing I miss about dark skies — the frequency of meteors, not necessarily associated to a particular shower (but this might have been a Perseid). We continued to watch and saw a few more.

After working so hard to get a fire going, we went to bed before the fire died down. We wanted to make sure we would get camp broken down with enough time to hit the bakery for breakfast before the 1pm ferry (and we are both not morning people).

Monday

Total miles biked: 11.05

Even though we’d been there for three nights, we hadn’t had a chance to do everything we would have liked. Next time, for example, we would like to rent kayakes 9whichs is an option on the island). We never got a chance to lay out on the beach either. But I suppose the great thing about a vacation is that you don’t “have” to do anything. Crow and I travel well together because we, for the most part, play it by ear.

So we packed up our gear and moved out to enjoy the rest of our morning and early noon on the island. It was a bit chilly–the storm had cooled things down–and the waves still rolled and crashed on the shore. We had breakfast at the only place in town we had not yet patronized–the bakery–and we dawdled there for awhile, sitting inside (I warmed myself with a coffee).

We then headed towards the dock, stopping to take some final photographs.

The Stone Man

The Stone Man

The West Dock with the MV Jiimaan (the ferry to Leamington, CA).

The West Dock with the MV Jiimaan (the ferry to Leamington, CA).

Perry's Monument on Middle Bass Island (Put-in-Bay), as viewed from Pelee's west shore.

Perry’s Monument on Middle Bass Island (Put-in-Bay), as viewed from Pelee’s west shore.

No trip is complete without stopping at the local liquor store for souvenirs before you leave! Because that’s how we roll. Literally.

Pelee Island LCBO, also located by the West Dock.

Pelee Island LCBO, also located by the West Dock.

It was sad to leave. But we decided we’d make a once a year trip of going to Pelee Island. It’s a great escape from it all. I was even forced to put my cell phone in airplane mode to avoid paying the absorbent roaming charges for data. So I even went off the grid for four days. It was kind of nice. I’d almost forgotten that it doesn’t feel that weird to be disconnected from the world. No wi-fi to speak of on the island either. It may my last place to escape from technology!

Like Being a Kid Again

On the street where I grew up, there was a lines of trees that seemed we called The Woods and an empty field beyond that we called The Baja. Motorized dirt bikes made tracks through The Woods and Baja, leaving behind a narrow dirt path. We used to take our bikes onto these paths, riding through the trees, even up and down some little bumps. We didn’t wear helmets back then (who did?). My bike was a single speed Schwinn with a banana seat. I also used to jump homemade ramps we made in our driveways.

Youth and fearlessness go hand-in-hand. I never gave these activities a second thought.  Years later, as an adult, I took a bike to these dirt paths through woods again–“singletrack”–at my then-boyfriend now husband’s prodding. Not entirely surprisingly, I found this activity to be utterly frightening. I could envision all the accidents I could have a bit too well. In fact, the second time I went out, I tried to ride through a huge dip in a trail, panicked halfway through it, found myself heading for a tree, and then I bailed off the bike, resulting in a skinned knee and a bruised confidence.

But I kept at it anyway. If all these people I knew–including my husband–found this activity fun, it must be and I was determined to figure it out. People kept telling me that since I enjoyed the thrill of downhill skiing, surely I would love to mountain bike too. I didn’t immediately see the connection between these two activities since I’m not entirely sure I downhill ski for the thrill so much as for the pure enjoyment of winter’s beauty. But I guess if I wasn’t looking for thrill, and just into the enjoyment of nature part, I’d be a cross-country skier.

It wasn’t until my first ride on my new mountain bike yesterday that I fully got the connection between the two sports. In downhill skiing, I’m actively thinking about the next turn I need to make and scanning for dangers ahead that I might need to avoid (e.g., snowboarders, other skiers, moguls, sudden changes in pitch). I do enjoy the nature and the beauty of the outdoors and I’m actively also aware of the sound of my skis on the snow, the smell of trees or wet snow, and the tingling cold on my cheeks. When I’m at the top of a mountain (out west) or hill (here in the east), I take in the scenery. As I’m going down a slope, I notice the changes in altitude, the new scenes revealed. There are times when skiing an easier run out west that I’ve felt like I was dancing on the snow.

As with downhill skiing, mountain biking requires being fully present. I have to look ahead on the trail to anticipate my next move, whether it be a sharp turn, an upcoming bridge, a fast downhill, a sharp uphill, roots or rocks. Unlike road biking, you cannot just zone out. At the same time, I notice the sights and smells of the world around me. When we went mountain biking at Dead Horse State Park near Moab on our honeymoon, I marveled at the wide-open rocky landscape and the view of the Canyonlands. When I mountain bike in Ohio, I notice the smell of pine trees and the blurred shades of green leaves.

I had a rough start to mountain biking and I thought I would never like it. But yesterday, finally, with my new bike (a Scott Genius 740, by the way) and 9 miles on the new Bedford (Cleveland Metroparks) mountain bike trail, I really finally–and excitingly–enjoyed it. The new Bedford trail is so good for beginners with nothing very technical and small loops that bring you back to the paved bike-n-hike trail if you feel the need to bail at any point (which I didn’t!). The Mars Quarry trail is probably the hardest and even though it is the only section that had spots where I had to walk, I felt I could eventually grow into being able to get through it. Mars Quarry is probably the most scenic trail, though, if you stop to take it in. (And why would you be in a hurry on bike through the woods?)

I feel like a little kid again, bumping along the dirt paths of The Baja. Except now I have full suspension and bigger tires. I’m looking forward to new adventures in mountain biking. At least on the trail, there are no cars and angry motorists…

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Mars Quarry Trail heading down.

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Me at Mars Quarry Trailhead. Taken cuz… hello, MARS!

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Starting off on the Bedford mountain bike trail. So excited to be on my new bike!

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Crow at Mars Quarry.

 

And we’re off…

I’ve already signed up for Calvin’s Challenge again this year… I guess I like the punishment. Last year, I nearly quit as I was recovering from the flu. I still felt sick and could barely stomach to eat anything.

Yet, I got onto my bike and rode 70 miles, half of which was in the wind, and I felt pretty horrible most of the time. At the half way point of the second 50 mile loop, I stopped for about an hour at the rest area. I forced myself to eat and I sat out the sweats and sick feeling in my stomach. I almost asked to be sagged out.

Then my friend Sue came along and I spent some more time at the rest stop with her. By the time she was ready to go, I felt much better. I figured I could at least finish the loop because it was all with the wind, meaning I wouldn’t have to do much work to propel myself forward. As I rode, I felt gradually better. By the time I got back to the starting spot at the school, I felt like I could continue the ride.

And so I did with the 7 mile loops. I completed 12 hours with 120 miles. And somehow won a silver medal for my efforts (only two women competing in my age category). I feel I deserved something after completing the ride with the flu.

Anyway, I’m subjecting myself to that torture again. What are the chances of getting the flu a second time? (I guess I should go get my flu shot!) I’d like to beat my previous best of 154 miles… 160 would make me happy… We’ll see.

Also, Crow and I both signed up for the MS 150 in Holland, Michigan (a ride we enjoyed in 2012) on June 7-8th. (I had started a blog entry about our 2012 adventure, but I never finished it… I might post what I have later this week… )

So, I’m of course looking for donations… The money goes to MS research and assisting those people in need of assistance in handling MS. This has always been a very important cause for me as my grandpa H had MS.

We will be doing the MS 150 on our brand NEW tandem! We ordered our tandem in December and expect to get it soon. We will probably do a lot of rides this summer on our new wheels. We can’t wait to take it everywhere with us!

Crow and I may do TOSRV on the tandem, in fact. But we’ve decided to be weather weenies and wait to see what the outlook is for that weekend. Thank goodness some rides still have day-of registration.

Having no wedding to take up all of our time, I think we’ll be ramping up our cycling this summer. Also, I’m in the market for a mountain bike… Stay tuned for my adventures trying to ride a bike on a dirt trail through the woods!

Cycling Sarasota By Tandem

While we were in Florida a few weeks ago, Crow and I picked the hottest forms of transportation. We decided to rent a convertible for normal travel. Said convertible turned out to be a banana yellow Chevy Camaro with just a couple hundred miles on it! We decided also we to rent a tandem bicycle to see how we felt about being the same bicycle together.

Our vehicles: A Camaro and a tandem.

Driving along in the Camaro.

Crow at the helm. (Note: No photos were taken when I was driving... Mwwuhhahaha!)

It wasn’t a road tandem; therefore, it was, shall I say, a bit on the heavy side. A tank. But good enough for tooling around town and attempting our maiden voyage on a tandem. It was a little shaky at first. My previous experiences riding as a stoker on a tandem was with an experienced tandem rider. As Crow and I first attempted to mount the tandem, I realized I would actually have to help teach him how to get on the tandem. It had previously seemed so easy! It took us a bit to get the hang of it.

Our maiden voyage was a nine mile ride from the bike shop on Siesta Key back to Crow’s grandma’s house in Sarasota. We managed to somehow get out of the parking lot on the bike, but we had to stop at a stop sign and wait for traffic. We had difficulty at getting back on the bike at that point, and what made it harder was the fact that we were stopped on the street in front of two restaurants with outdoor seating where the patrons jeered and giggled at our efforts. We ended up walking the bike to side street and practicing getting on and off the bike, making turns, changing gears. We made it the rest of the way home none the worse for the wear, except for the back of my right calf which ended up getting hit a few times by the pedal when I didn’t get into the saddle fast enough while getting on the bike… I pretty much had a permanent bruise there for the rest of my time in Florida as this was a repeated problem even as we got used to the tandem (maybe this probably could have been averted by clipless pedals?).

A stop at the beach on our maiden voyage.

We rented the tandem with the express purpose of getting out to ride at least one of the days we were in Florida. Crow came up with a route to follow the coast on the way down to Venice and take the Legacy Bike Trail back. The trip out would go along Siesta and Casey Keys with a questionable mountain bike-like drive on a section of Casey Key that no longer had a road. That was the adventurous part because we really didn’t know what to expect. Road maps and satellite photos on Google Maps seemed to indicate that there might be the remains for a road or trail through that section… But we wouldn’t know the condition of it until we got there. Fortunately, our bike had some pretty hefty wheels so I was (sort of) up to the challenge.

Two goofy would-be tandem cyclists on the beach.

We had a late start of about 11am. Hey, it’s vacation. Why get up early? The point of our ride was to amble, enjoy the scenery along the way. We were in no hurry. Which is why we ended up stopping at a plaza on Siesta Key to grab some post card stamps (I’d bought some post card earlier in the week) and I discovered a Birkenstocks store… A cute basset hound stared out me from the window, beckoning me to enter. How could I refuse?

Nevermind that I’ve been looking to buy a new pair of Birkenstocks since my last pair (bought in Germany in 2005) disintegrated under my feet. I couldn’t help but browse the racks… and the fact that there were a number of shoes on sale, sure made it all the more attractive. Needless to say, we were delayed for about 45 minutes as I hemmed and hawwed over which of two pairs I was going to buy (though they were both on sale, is it really practical to buy two pairs of shoes?). Also, I had to stop and pet the dog every few minutes as he thrust himself at my feet and proceeded to roll onto his back with his feet in the air, demanding a belly rub. What a ham!

The canine proprietor of the Birkenstocks store.

I’m so glad Crow willingly indulges my distractions… I stop for shoes and earrings. I don’t want to mention how many of each I’ve bought in the last two months. Eh. Sometimes I can be such a girl. Fortunately, our bike also had a basket on the front so we could take carry the spoils of my whim without a problem.

We got back on our way, following the beach until the road ended at an apartment complex by Turtle Beach. We had to walk the tandem down to the beach and walk it for a bit until we found the entrance to a locals’ beach access path. It was worn down enough that we could get back and ride past the apartments and condos into the shrubby wilderness beyond.

Walking the tandem along the beach.

By that point, the sun was beating down pretty hard so it was starting to feel quite hot. We rode on a path that was at times a bit sandy. It was a bit nerve-wracking for me as I’m not used to riding non-paved surfaces, but Crow felt comfortable and would probably have pushed all the way through that part of the ride without any trouble on his own mountain bike. Even on my own mountain bike, I might have felt a bit unstable.

The shrubby wilderness between Siesta and Casey Keys (and new Birks in the bag in the basket!).

The land we were riding in was really empty and grown over. Originally, a road had gone through the two keys, but a hurricane wiped it out a number of years ago and nothing was ever rebuilt in its place for whatever reason. From the small traces of a path, I gathered maybe dune buggies or some such beach vehicle occasionally made use of the land. It’s a shame that the local government never made it into a park or something. It was maybe a mile in length and would really make a nice park for the area residents on each key.

We ended up walking the bike the last several yards and then carrying it over a boardwalk that extended out to the beach from one of the houses at the end of residential North Casey Key Road where we continued our ride.

Crow and tandem in our mountain biking section of the ride.

Casey Key is exclusively residential and highly upscale. Excluded in a beach paradise, our eyes were dazzled by the unique architecture of these opulent homes. It was amazing to see what people did with their property. The road was quiet. The north end of the road seemed the most remote. As we traveled south, we encountered landscaped areas on each side of the road.

One home we saw was being constructed in an Asian style. A partially built gazebo resembled a temple or something in you would see in Japan. We actually wanted to stop and take a picture of this structure, but felt a little sheepish about it as the construction crew were on site working on it. I felt a little like I was prying.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to own one of those homes. I couldn’t though. I’m not sure I really want or need one of those homes. But it was certainly fun to look at. I wouldn’t mind a tour inside one or two.

Water meets sand...

We rode Casey Key to its end at a public beach so that we could lay claim to having ridden the entire length of the key. Of course, we got off the bike and dipped our feet in the water for a bit. I was a little disappointed with this beach, however, because it was the most crowded beach I’d seen since I’d been in Florida. I’d forgotten how odious that can be. I guess the beach was kind of small for the number of people trying to sunbathe themselves there. It was also the hottest day I’d experienced since arriving in Florida–about 80 degrees–so I think everyone was taking advantage of the summer-like heat.

My attempt to be an artistic photographer with a shot of my shadow against the waves on the beach.

Playing footsie in the sand?

I filled up my water bottle and we retraced our tracks about a mile and a half to Albee Road which took us back to the main land. It was another two miles along a busy road to downtown Venice. This town had a completely different feel to it than Sarasota–a little less modern with an older crowd. There were some antique  and souvenir shops. Of course, no town in Florida is complete without an obligatory ice cream shop as well. I resisted to fragrant lure of the ice cream and we stopped to eat outside at a restaurant called T. J. Carney’s. It was about 3pm at this point. Which caught my attention because I kept forgetting it was in fact winter–not summer–and the sun would be going down around 6. We neglected to bring a head light. (My fault–I told Crow we wouldn’t need it and he listened.)

Crow poses along the public beach on Casey Key.

The shore line of the public beach on Casey Key.

After eating, we browsed a few shops but suddenly realized we were a little pressed for time. We headed out again for our return route up the Legacy Trail. We totally hauled some butt. Which was a real shame because I would have liked to have stopped to take pictures and enjoy the scenery as we did on the way down. When will I ever learn? I’ve got myself caught in the dark without a light on many occasions when I’d underestimated the amount of time it would take me to do a ride… Learn from me: always bring a light in case.

We took the trail to what we thought was its end at McIntosh Road (apparently, it now goes further than the last time Crow had been on it for we could see it follow the road for a couple more miles). We made our way back on mostly safe streets–and a few busy, terrifying ones without bike lanes–the last seven miles back to Sarasota. It was maybe 6:30pm when we arrived home–well past dark. Oops! Only one driver chastised us for not having lights, shouting, “You guys really should have lights.” Um, yeah. Thank you, Mr. Obvious. Yes, we really do enjoy riding our bike on roads in the dark.

We felt really beat after the long day on the heavy bike. We didn’t know it at the time, but we’d actually done 43.79 miles!! That’s pretty awesome considering the challenge of riding together for really the first time on a tandem. Plus, I hadn’t been out on a bike since November (Crow, however, had been out as recently as a week before, climbing Oak Hill in the valley on a Tuesday night. He’s such a die-hard.)

We considered our tandem adventure a real success. Perhaps one day we’ll get a nice road bike version for ourselves…

PS: I apologize for the lack of pictures from Venice and the Legacy Trail… We were a little pressed for time!

Fighting MS Again!

Hey, all! After a year’s break, I’ve again decided to sign up for the MS 150 this year. And, this time, I’m going to participate in the Great Lakes West Michigan Breakaway Ride–a ride that I’ve considered doing in the past for a change of pace. I’m so excited to be participating for the 10th time in an MS ride (8x on Bike To The Bay, 1x on Colorado’s Great West MS 150). As you know, this cause is very important to me because my grandpa H had MS. If you feel so inclined, please feel free to donate to my effort–I’d really appreciate it.

So I’ve also persuaded Crow to join me. And my friend Sue from the ABC will also be participating. I’m so excited to do an MS 150 in the company of good friends. I’ve never cycled in Michigan so that will be a new experience. The ride sounds beautiful, following the Lake Michigan at points, and it’s listed as not being particularly hard. I think Crow is going to keep me tapped down to the normal 75-mile/day route. He’s already proving to be great temperance to my aggressive “do-it-all” mileage Nazism.

Although, my hand is currently hovering over the registration button for Calvin’s Challenge. There’s a big ABC contingent going there this year… And while I was going to wait until the weekend before to determine my participation based on the weather and my level of training at that point, I’m now seriously considering preregistering. Peer pressure works.

I know I have to be careful now that I know about the arthritis. So if I signed up for Calvin’s, I’d have to make a serious commitment to pre-season training, no matter what the weather is like. I hate rain. And we’ve had so much rain this season.

I’m taking glucosamine now. I’ve heard it helps with some of the joint problems associated with arthritis. I know that it’s not the cure to my problems, but it should help some. I still have to be careful when training. And I’ll need to resume my stretches. Hopefully, I’ve learned something from last year and I don’t overdo it. I still want to be able to challenge myself, though. 180 miles on Calvin’s would be my goal. You gotta start off small, after all.

Well, at least for the MS 150, I’ll just be taking my own sweet time. Crow is wonderful to ride with in that we are both of the same tourist mindset–it’s about the journey, not the destination. So I imagine we’ll be stopping to take pictures when the scenery inspires us to do so. I love signing up for new rides… unexpected adventures await…  And I love it when I have no idea what to expect. The best adventures are those you can’t even possibly anticipate.

Lights! Lights! Lights!

I broke one of my own rules yesterday: I rode a bike with the temperature below 40 degrees. But it was for a good reason. A tradition in my bike club is to ride a night through Silver Lake (an upscale neighborhood near where I live) to view the Christmas lights. As part of the tradition, riders are invited to decorate their bikes or their person accordingly.

In year’s past, this ride has motivated me to consider riding in the frigid temperatures because I love decorating for Christmas and I doubly love viewing Christmas lights. However, the one year that I came closest to actually doing the ride, the temperature was below 0F. That particular day is still regarded as one of those epically awful rides where a few members slipped on ice, another member never completely warmed after the ride, and someone else rode 200 feet before returning to his truck and, according to legend, sleeping until the rest of the riders came back.

In contrast, this winter has been extremely mild. We’ve only had a few light dustings of snow thus far and the temperatures have barely dropped to 25F. Since it was looking as though the day would be dry and in the 30s, I decided I would attempt the ride even though it was still a bit of a colder environment than I usually voluntarily ride in. Having a boyfriend who does not get stopped by colder temperatures (or even a blizzard–he was also at Ludicrously Cold Christmas Lights Ride mentioned above) is also motivation. So there was pretty much no doubt that I would do the ride.

I got especially excited when Crow showed me where I could find battery operated Christmas lights at the local Target. And they were on sale, even better! I bought two 9 foot strings of LED lights and happily strung them to the top and down tubes of my trail bike Mike. I have not ridden the Mike bike in quite some time, but I recently had him tuned up at Century Cycles. I’d been dying to take him out for awhile but hadn’t had a good occasion to do so. As added inspiration, I grabbed some scrap garland I had in my Christmas decorations and threaded it about the handlebars.

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The Mike bike decked out for the holidays.

I was so excited when I saw my bike all decorated like that. Crow also had lights on his bike–some blue LEDs he’d bought the year of the Ludicrously Cold Christmas Lights Ride. I gave him another piece of garland which he also added to his handlebars. We were all set to ride in the spirit of the season.

When I arrived at the ride (which started at Marty’s Bike Shop in Stow), I was happy to see that others had also decorated their bikes. The best, though, was my “surrogate father” (inside joke), Ernie, who had placed a whole mini Christmas tree–complete with lights–on back of the seat on his recumbent. As we rode down the streets of Silver Lake in the dark, I felt like I was chasing a running Christmas tree (which was a funny imagine in and of itself). You couldn’t see Ernie behind the spectacle of the tree.

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A little Christmas tree strapped to the back of Ernie's recumbant.

Quite a good turn out of the ride as well–about 12 people! I think that’s probably a record number of riders to show up for this ride and I am sure it had to do with the mild temperatures.

The merry cyclists gather for the Christmas Lights Ride.

We did make quite an impression where-ever we went. As we passed one decorated house, we could see a party taking place inside and the guests were peering out the windows at us and pointing. Several people walking dogs or in passing cars shouted, “Merry Christmas!” as we passed. We even shouted it at passers-by, but I admit that I felt a little bad starting it without the spectator saying it first… Is it bad for us all to assume everyone is celebrating Christmas? What if the passers-by were Jewish or Muslim? I felt a little guilty and ethnocentric. I hoped that no one took it the wrong way, like we were some sort of pushy Christian group trying to put the Christ back into Christmas… I can’t help it–I’m a liberal and I’m always worried about offending other people. Even on a small thing like a Christmas ride. But it’s food for thought. I have many friends from many different faiths and lifestyles… So I’m doubly aware of diversity. I wanted to shout a general “Happy Holidays!” but I guess when you’re in a group of people, you hate to be the one dork with sensitivity training ruining the fun for everyone else. I’m really bad at trying to set an example for others. I also do my best to blend into whatever group I’m amongst.

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Mars Girl (dressed for a blizzard in four layers) and the decorated Mike bike. I'm smiling! Good sign!

Anyway, the lights were spectacular. Especially in the more affluent sections of town. I admit that I’m not a huge fan of those blow up lawn ornaments–I think they are kind of gaudy–and it seems that most of the affluent members of the community agreed. I have no problem, however, with tons and tons and tons of lights. Such decoration makes the night look enchanting and mysterious. I especially love those soft blue LED lights–they are like starlight sparkling on snow. I would love to decorate my entire house with them because they twinkle in the night air like a pocketful of stars. I could have my own little universe on my own little house!

I have to admit that it just felt so good to be back on a bike after all this time (I think the last time I rode was Thanksgiving weekend when I rode with Crow’s aunt and uncle around their neighborhood). The Mike bike felt so upright and sturdy. I forgot what it feels like to ride such a cushy bike. Since the positioning of the bike puts my back straight and my hands directly forward, that characteristic little ache I get in my shoulder (which is part of the arthritis) was completely absent. My friend Bob W (TDB) smartly suggested that I ride TOSRV on the Mike bike next year. Ha, ha. No way. It would take me all day. (The problem with comfort bikes is that you don’t get anywhere very fast.)

It was a great way to end the weekend, that’s for sure. I guess there’s one good thing about having such a mild winter so far: I can still enjoy a good bike ride here and there. I remember a few years back–2006, I think–when it was so warm (meaning, above 40 degrees) on Christmas Eve that I was able to go out and get in about 15 miles. That’s the latest I’ve ever rode my bike since I started riding obsessively. It’s looking like that might be possible to do this year as well…

I’m really glad I braved (what is to me) the cold to take part in this ride. Perhaps if the weather is agreeable next year, I’ll find myself doing it again. I admit that I really enjoyed riding with Christmas lights on my bike. I wish I could ride with lights on my bike all the time… Perhaps I’ll use the lights again for a night ride on the towpath in the summer with Century Cycles…

Along the C&O Towpath

Over Labor Day weekend I took my first self-contained cycling trip along the C&O Canal towpath trail, at last using my Surly (Beau) for his intended purpose. The trip was inspired by a sudden fervent desire to camp out among the elements again, like I used to, in the old days. And probably also a bit inspired by the tales my boyfriend (yes, you read that correctly) Crow told of his own self-contained travels along the Pacific Northwest coast and from Seattle to Montana. The summer is winding down and I used a ton of vacation on my U2 adventure, so I could only afford a few days out of work. A short Labor Day weekend adventure seemed a great way to get my feet wet in the whole self-contained cycling thing because, admittedly, I wasn’t sure if I’d like it or not.

Crow planned a ride along the C&O Canal towpath starting from Harper’s Ferry to Great Falls in Maryland. We originally planned for two days on bikes, then two days of hiking along the Appalachian Trail. I was excited by this plan because I’m fascinated by Civil War history, particularly the story of John Brown’s brief capture of the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, and also I’d never been on any part of the Appalachian Trail. As it turned out, we never made it on the Appalachian Trail (except to lug our bikes in the dark down a treacherous stretch of it to get from a parking lot to the towpath on Friday night). But we got a great dose of Civil War history, two days of carefree–albeit muddy–cycling, three great nights of camping, and one unplanned overnight at a beautiful bed & breakfast in Harper’s Ferry. All and all, it was the most relaxing, laid-back, mini-vacation I’ve had in a long time. And, admittedly, the company was even better.

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Low clouds over the Potomac on Saturday Sept. 3rd. And our bikes.

We started our adventure on Friday night with a four mile ride in darkness to a family campground in Brunswick, WV. I wished I’d brought my bike light because the LED on my headlamp (which was previously only really used for astronomy fields as it has a red light as well) because I could barely see a foot in front of me and I had to depend on Crow’s brighter light ahead of me. I kind of just kept my eye on his rear wheel and hoped for the best. It was a bit scary. The C&O Towpath trail was already proving to be more rugged than the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath I was familiar with back home; I suddenly understood why Crow insisted I put my 38in tires back on.

So our first night’s campsite was not all that primitive. We had access to running water, showers, and a bathroom with flush toilets. I felt a little spoiled right off the bat and pretty much knew I had much less to expect for the next couple of nights. So I took advantage of the facilities. Except for the shower. Which maybe in retrospect I should have indulged in. Oh well. A shower does not prevent you from getting dirty later in the week.

Since I hadn’t gone camping in such a long time (since my husband, to be honest), I lacked a lot of camping gear. Between two trips to Appalachian Outfitters in the Cuyahoga Valley, I’d spent about $350 on hiking boots, a second pair of hiking pants/shorts, medium weight hiking socks (2 pairs), a titanium camping cup, a spork, and–the best find of all–a coffee filter that goes into the cup so that I could have actual, filtered coffee in the morning instead of that crappy instant coffee stuff I’ve had to use on so many trips before. For the win.

Making coffee at the campsite.

I was so excited to use my new, simple toy. I’d packed enough coffee for four days which made the pannier that held it, and everything else in that pannier, smell like German coffee. A small price to pay for ecstasy, I say.

The morning started off a little damp. We’d heard storms in the morning but they stayed south of us and we started to encounter what they possibly left behind. We managed to miss the rain itself, however, and the day eventually transitioned into a nice (albeit humid) sunny day.

Train tracks follow the towpath along most of the route, reminding you fully of the mode of transportation that quickly replaced the usefulness of the canals even before the C&O itself was finished. As we rode along the first part of our route, we encountered a spectacular tunnel through a mountain that the rail used. We stopped and got off our bikes to get a closer look at the tunnel when, to our luck, a train happened to be just about to come out. It was totally thrilling to see the train barreling out of the side of the mountain like that… I wondered what it would be like to experience it from the engineer’s seat. It looks most unnatural.

Train comes through tunnel.

But I’ve always been fascinated by tunnels–I love when to drive through them in a car. They inspire me–much like skyscrapers and airlines–to marvel at humanity’s tenacity to overcome obstacles. In this case: Man need to get around mountain. Man bore a big hole through mountain. Man get to the other side.

Another shot of the train coming through the tunnel.

The trail was wooded for the most part with the overgrown remains of the canal  slightly visible along side. However, every once in a while, the towpath opened to reveal a lock and lockkeeper’s house or aqueduct. We passed through two aqueducts on the first half of the day, the longest of which was Monocacy. It was really cool to ride my bike across what used to be the canal channel on the aqueduct.

Mars Girl at Monocacy Aqueduct.

Monocacy Aqueduct

Our halfway point was a place called White’s Ferry where the only operating ferry on the Potomac River carts all manners of vehicles across the river to Maryland on what is basically a flat floor that moves by cable from one side of the river to the other. There was one little greasy spoon restaurant where we ate lunch and chatted with the friendly guy working there.

Cars board ferry at White's Ferry.

Ferry on Maryland shore.

As all rivers are wont to do, the Potomac has apparently flooded in the recent past, at least as far as 1972. The water levels of these floods were marked on the side of the building. It’s really kind of hard to imagine the world submerged in water that high. Not that I don’t believe it, though. I saw similar markings on the side of a building in downtown Marietta when I was there for the Marietta River Rendezvous. It just reminds me how nature always wins the battle for territory.

Memory of recent floods at White's Ferry.

The bustling metropolis of White's Ferry.

As we innocently remounted our bikes for the second half of our ride, we had little notion of  the mud slog that lie ahead. It started a quarter of a mile from where we started and it just got worse. And worse. Unimaginably. No joke. Some of these puddles took up the entire bike path and were pretty deep. When there was nowhere else to go, you had to ride through them, fighting a fishtailing back-end of the bike the whole time. Most of the bike path was split down the middle by a strip of grass as though it had been ridden repeatedly by covered wagons. Okay, I imagined that. It was more likely the park service cars. But still.

The beaten path... on drier ground...

Navigating the little lakes amidst the bike path seriously hindered our progress and, quite frankly, severely burned out my nerves because I had to concentrate hard on keeping my bike from sliding. And my legs were becoming worn from pushing against the slippery mud that only spun my tires but did not propel me further any. We were both admittedly relieved when we finally found dry ground again some 10 miles later. Especially Crow whose bike did not have fenders. Yeah. His bike was caked with mud. And so was the back of his jersey… (While my bike and my person remained remarkably clean. Score one for fenders!)

Crow's (fenderless) bike.

Mars Girl's (FENDERS!) bike.

Crow's muddy back (aka "skunk stripe") and legs. *I rest my case, your honor.*

The last stretch (about 10 miles) to Great Falls was absolutely beautiful. The canal was preserved pretty well and so you could see all manner of water life–turtles, ducks, geese, and the most regal of water fowl of them all, blue heron. We stopped to take pictures as we were inspired. I loved the laid back pace of our travel. It was nice to not be in a huge hurry to get anywhere. Even though we were hoping to get to Great Falls while the museum was still open, we took the time to stop and “smell the roses” so to speak. It’s been a very long time since I’ve taken it easy on a bike ride. I admit that often I’m just concerned about the destination more than the journey. It was nice to be brought back to to real reason I began cycling. To slow down. Crow’s mutual love of nature made it pretty easy to take this approach.

Turtles sunbathe in what remains of the C&O Canal.

I spy a blue heron... and he/she spies us!

A blue heron takes flight.

We arrived at Great Falls a little too late for the museum. But we stopped to take some pictures of the lock and canal boat before breaking at the concession stand for ice cream (an idea I initiated in a rare moment of ignoring the voices nagging me in my head about being too fat). The observation area for the falls itself was just a little further down the trail so we took off again after a relaxing break.

The lock and old canal boat by Great Falls.

I admit that I was completely unprepared for the magnificence of the Great Falls. I suppose I was expecting something much less grand. I’ve seen water falls. I even live by Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley. These falls were in a complete league of their own.

The first viewing area for Great Falls.

A boardwalk takes you to two major viewing areas right over the falls for an intimate sky walk. Rolling hills fill up the background which feels almost claustrophobic while hovering over the forbidding rush of water over rocks. But everywhere I turned was a photographic opportunity. I tried to contain myself. There’s always the urge to capture everything; however, whenever I take pictures, they never truly capture what my memory sees. Which was completely the case with my photographs from Great Falls.

Great Falls from the second viewing area.

A certain couple pose before the Great Falls.

It was great, though. The second viewing area of the falls was a bit more open. There were people kayaking among the many little falls down below. You could also see the observation area on the opposite shore (Virginia) where people could apparently climb down on the rocks.

Kayaker amidst the waters of Great Falls.

Kayaker braves the Great Falls of the Potomac River.

We spent a long time just observing the falls. There’s something so entrancing about water. I could watch it for hours. Even still water like Lake Erie enthralls me. I used to go to the beach almost every night when I lived in Willowick to watch the sunset. It’s ironic that I’m really not that much of a swimmer. I prefer to watch from afar. (It’s that getting wet part that bugs me most.)

People scattered about the rocky Virginia shore across the river from us.

By the time we left the falls, I felt a little bit wiped out from the day. Though we’d had a late 10:30-ish start, the slog through the mud had really worn my legs down. Though we’d only gone about 40 miles at that point, I felt as though I’d just done 75 (and it took almost as long with all our stops). So we ended up setting up camp at the first campground we stumbled across (Swain’s Lock) which was unfortunately also a site for car campers. Blah. We were fighting with daylight, though, and I didn’t want to risk a 9 mile ride to set up camp in total darkness.

A small fall within the falls.

Quieter pools of water between rocks.

The observation deck--the path to Nirvana.

The next day, we had an even later start leaving camp–about 11am–and we were headed back towards Harper’s Ferry. We didn’t expect to be as pokey this time around since we’d seen the scenery on the way up. Our main concern was the muddy section, hoping it’d had time to dry up in the intervening day. It was another sunny morning so our hopes were high. We did stop multiple times, however, to get more pictures along the picturesque canal and to climb on some rocks by the river along the trail. Fortunately, the leg back to White’s Ferry, while muddy, was much more navigable than it had been the previous day so we made slightly better time (and my nerves were less frayed).

Mars Girl along the finer scenery of the canalway towpath.

Another view of the scenic C&O Canal.

We pushed all the way back to Harper’s Ferry and I got to see the first four miles from Brunswick that I missed in darkness two days before. It was a nice wooded section, a little less dense than some of the other areas, and seemingly less remote. The trees eventually gave way to an open area with sweeping views of the river right before we hit Harper’s Ferry. It was a hotter day than the previous so I felt really envious of the people in tubes floating around the river. Had the weather held for us the following day, I might have been tempted to rent one and enjoy the river myself.

We break from these pictures of beautiful scenery for a Cute Couple Shot. Aaaawwwwwe! Now resuming scenic slide show.

Crow stretches out and relaxes on the rocky shore of the Potomac. Okay, it's not quite the shore...

Mars Girl on the rocky "shore" of the Potomac.

Access to Harper’s Ferry from the towpath is via an overhead footbridge. We parked the bikes at the provided bike racks (sort of–with all our gear we didn’t quite fit), and walked the stairs to the bridge. Harper’s Ferry is wedged between foothills (mountains?) with rail bridges sprawling out from it. Really kind of cool as trains come by quite often. It’s not easy to forget here that the railway still supports of a lot of our transportation of goods across the US. Harper’s Ferry still feels like it’s a hub of sorts. There’s even an Amtrak station there!

People enjoy water sport outside Harper's Ferry.

Train tunnel in Harper's Ferry.

The whole village is designated as a National Park and is preserved in its nearly historical form. It’s actually quite quaint. Crow and I decided to grab dinner here in the less primitive setting. And, to be honest, at this point–in this heat–I was craving a beer.

Crow bogarting my beer. (I ordered the red ale!!)

Street view of Harper's Ferry.

The armory building in which John Brown and his men took refuge.

We decided to spend that evening at the Huckleberry Hill campsite which was just 2 miles from Harper’s Ferry. My big disappointment was that there was not a good swimming area there. I’d been dreaming of jumping in the river to clean off. Which, by the way, just tells you how hot that day really was. I wanted to swim. Badly. But, alas, I was treated to a bath (in swim suit) at the water pump. The life of a camper! It’s funny, though, how clean you feel by just getting wet and using a little soap. I’m sure to the outside world, we both still smelled horrendous. I love roughing it! (Not sarcastic.)

Our campsite at Huckleberry Hill.

The next morning began with on and off drizzle (after a night of hard rain). I thought it might clear up and for most of the day there were only periodic drizzle. We headed off back to Harper’s Ferry to do some site-seeing while everything was open. And, again, to eat lunch (including a beer) in civilization.

Facebook is in fact good for a few things every once in a while. My friend Scott, seeing that I was in Harper’s Ferry from my (frequent) status updates, informed me of a trail we could hike to an overlook with the perfect view of Harper’s Ferry. Crow and I decided to do this. So after getting our bikes packed back in the car (because we planned to hike that evening on the Appalachian Trail), we climbed this strenuous trail for the completely worth it view. I was pleased, too, that there were no guard rails by the rocky edge of the overlook. Thankfully, tourism hadn’t caused the parks to make this an idiot-proof zone. It seriously would have ruined the experience. And I’m smart enough to stay away from ledges, thank you very much.

Harpers Ferry from the overlook.

It was early evening by this time and our luck with the rain ended. As we were finishing up at the overlook, it started to drizzle again. Then rain. And then it rained harder. By the time we both back down to the car, we were completely soaked through to the bone. On the way up to the overlook, we’d kind of agreed that maybe we should just pack it in and get a hotel room for the remaining night–no need to push ourselves to get to the first shelter on the AT. The downpour of rain definitely made this decision less difficult. The temperature had dropped significantly and, I am ashamed to admit it, I was not quite prepared with enough warm clothes for the evening in the outdoors.

Mars Girl with a Harper's Ferry backdrop.

We ended up staying at a bed and breakfast–the Laurel Lodge–in Harper’s Ferry. It was a great choice. Not only did this unique house contain an awesome view of the river valley, but the food the next morning was absolutely outstanding. And I’m no stranger to B&B’s. I think it was the rosemary peach pre-breakfast treat that won me over (I LOVE ROSEMARY!!). The proprietor was really cool too–another touring cyclist like ourselves. He also had some great stories about the original owner/builder of the house.

Our refuge from the rain, Laurel Lodge, at Harper's Ferry.

Back deck of the Laurel Lodge (with Crow taking pictures).

I found a kitty friend at Laurel Lodge.

Our last stop before heading home, which I’ll blog a little about later, was the Antietam battlefield. We drove there and explored it in the rain. What an interesting trip into Civil War history…

View from the back porch of the Laurel Lodge. Nice, eh?

The dining room at the Laurel Lodge.

Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going

So immediately after completing my U2 tour, I slid right into cycling with two events for which I’d already registered prior to my shoulder problems: Mad Anthony River Rally (MARR) and Roscoe Ramble. You might wonder, “Wow, so, how many weekends in a row have you been out of town?” And the answer would be five. You might also observe, “Boy, that sounds exhausting.” And you would be right.

I’m so looking forward to an entire weekend of not having to go anywhere. Of sleeping in. Of taking things easy. And that will be the joy of the coming weekend. I’ve been pretty much lagging behind sleep since Moncton because I have had so much catching up to do on things at home that my restless mind has kept me up longer each weekday evening. I guess my body doesn’t just bounce back like it did when I was younger. Or perhaps I didn’t notice the lack of sleep so much when I was younger… Either way, I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet. At home.

I plan to get back into writing mode. The research side of my fandom (ha, ha, my excuse, for my slip into crazy) has ended so now it’s time to sit down and get serious. To test my new wireless printer at home, I printed off a chapter from my rock star novel and packed it with my stuff so that I could read it in my tent at Roscoe Ramble, assuming that I might have trouble sleeping. It was a lot better than I remembered it, though I had some thoughts on altering a few sections slightly. Sometimes I’m surprised when I read back my own writing–on paper–and I realize that I’m actually drawn into my own story as if it were written by someone else. This is a good sign! It’s when my mind starts to wander when reading it that I realize a section needs some help. For the most part, I was right where I should be…. So, I admit that I’m kind of excited. This could be a good story. It may take a few years to write, though (no thanks to having a day job).

The rides. Well, I guess it’s not too surprising that my relative lack of riding in July did not stop me from managing to finish the 100 mile route of MARR. Wasn’t this what got me into trouble with my shoulder in the first place?

*sheepish nod*

Um…. yes….

But I was really careful!! And I went into the ride with the attitude that if I felt like I was causing damage to my shoulder, I would opt for the 62 or 80 mile route. So I just plugged along and my shoulder ached a little, but no more than it used to in the early season (which it really still is for me if you go by miles). I had more problems with my endurance level feeling a bit lower than it should be. But that’s nothing I can’t manage. Pain is manageable. I just shut that little voice off. I can’t say it was my best MARR time ever. And I didn’t feel as great physically in the end as I should have at this time of the year. But I finished and that’s what’s important. The stubborn bullheaded bitch that I am. Never give up, never surrender.

For Roscoe Ramble this year, I elected to do the 55 mile route. For which I ate my pride as all my friends–who were, of course, doing the 75 mile route–lovingly teased me about riding the “newbie” route. I’d originally signed up for the 75 mile route, but due to my lack of hill preparation and worries about over-doing it with my shoulder, I elected the safe route (for once) and asked to switch to the 55 mile. It was reassuring that I felt great after both days of riding and that my shoulder bothered me even less than it had on MARR. So I think I’m back as far as cycling goes. Though I will continue to take it easy, I promise.

I think part of the success is that after MARR, I raised my handlebars slightly. The new positioning seems to be working out a little better. I’m working on distributing my weight evenly between both shoulders and I’ve been doing some of my physical therapy stretches at the rest stops (which looks ridiculous to everyone who might catch me doing this).

The weather this year for Roscoe Ramble was… ehm… interesting. Saturday looked like rain for most of the ride, but nothing happened, and then during lunch, the sun finally made an appearance and everything began to warm up for a beautiful afternoon. I was a little worried about the toughest hill on the route, which occurs after lunch–a climb out of a valley that seems to last forever where you think every bend is the end but are woefully wrong. Turns out I didn’t need to worry, I did fine! I’m sure I was better and faster last year, but it’s not about how fast you complete a climb, it’s the fact that you did it.

My night in the tent was very unnerving for me as three–yes, three–thunderstorm systems came through. I fretted about my choice of setting up my tent beneath a tree–seemed like a great idea in the heat of the afternoon, less so in middle of three storms. My sleep was interrupted by constant worrying that my tree–a huge old thing, by the way–would get struck by lightening and fall on me. I kept envisioning myself as one of my friends in the other tents who would see a violent flash, hear a crack of thunder, and my scream as some branch or entire tree squashed me out of existence. Okay, and, as uneasy as I am about storms, I have these kind of thoughts all night in my house. But still. Let’s just say that it was incredibly hard to suppress my gasps which usually follow every sighting of lightening at home. I spent the night with my camping pillow and blanket over my head, pretending I was somewhere else. I had to resist the urge to jump into one of my neighbors’ tents for comfort. Sometimes it sucks to not be a kid and living with your parents… (They always let me sleep in their bed during t-storms. Maybe that’s part of my problem as an adult?)

Needless to say, my sleep wasn’t that deep all night. But that’s pretty usual for me in tents anymore. I’m getting too old for sleeping (comfortably) in tents…

Sunday was a damp ride back to the ride start (which was Kidron for me). The world was wet from the previous night’s storms. I didn’t encounter any significant rain during the ride, just occasional drizzles, and sometimes it just seemed like I was running into a mist when I as going down hill–not really rain, per se, or maybe a “Seattle rain.”It was about 62-68 degrees the whole day–chilly, but fine as long as you were riding. The sun kept fighting to beat out the clouds, but it never completely won the battle. Despite all the gloom, however, I heard lots of remarks from first time riders about how great they thought the ride was and promises to do the ride again. The scenery in Holmes and Coshocton counties is beautiful–rolling hills, farms, empty roads–no matter how gloomy the weather is. It really doesn’t even seem like it’s Ohio down there; with the Amish communities, it’s like a land lost in time.

So I survived Roscoe Ramble and all its hills. I’m feeling pretty confident about getting back out on the bike now that my shoulder is doing better, keeping in mind that I should not push it. Maybe this year is an off year for me. It’s good to take a break for a bit and, really, I’d been saying for the last year that I need to balance some of my activities a little more. I should probably try to do some more hiking. Or try my hand at some other activity. I know that this summer I just replaced biking with U2. But, you know, that’s me–when I love something I’m passionate about it all the way, no holds barred, no casual approach to loving it all.

If only more people were like that, right? Passion is the spice of life and I cling to people who feel a burning to do something with their unspent energy.

This is about the time of the year that I start thinking about I’m going to do next summer. I’m currently weighing two options:

1. The Great Big FANY Ride – A week long bike tour of a region of New York. I’ve wanted to do this ride for awhile now, since I became aware of it and after surviving XOBA. I haven’t done a week long ride since XOBA and I’d really like to do another.

2. Climb Mt. Whitney, California’s highpoint, with my Uncle Mart. My Uncle Mart is the person who I credit for getting me into outdoor activities. On my first ever trip to California at age 10, he took me white water rafting down the American River with my cousin Angy and Grandma H. The second time I came out, as a teenager, he took me backpacking in the mountains with Angy and my aunt Gabriela. Both experiences left such great impressions on my memory that as I envisioned my life as an adult, I planned that I would be a great adventurer just like my favorite uncle. He is the reason I’m the outdoorswoman that I am today.

You can take part in helping me decide. I’ve posted a poll here. I want to do both equally so I’m feeling a bit wishy-washy. I’m interested to know what your thoughts are. Thanks in advance!

Learning to take it easy…

I am not a person who likes to sit around. Or a person who understands the concept of a “relaxing ride.” Every fiber of my being is aggressive. I like to attack life–take it by its horns–and beat on it with my head no matter what the cost to my own head in the struggle. I think this is probably one of the aspects of my personality that has helped me overcome a lot of emotional struggles in my life. It’s also the unstoppable force that has led me to completing 152 miles of a bike ride in a single day. It’s the inner strength that pushed me up mountains. I like think of myself as tenacious; if I’m not the fastest or the best at something, I’m definitely the most determined. That head-strong tenacity won’t let me quit even when my body wants to give up.

The downside to my aggressive nature is that I can often push myself a little too hard, resulting in injury as what has happened to me most recently. I never seem to think about the consequences of my aggression–not at the time I’m pushing myself. I suppose no one does. But over the past two years in my cycling I’ve been challenged with a knee injury and now this spine/back problem, both of which have resulted in me being unable to ride for a period of time.

I was finally able to get back on my bike over the last few weeks, but the process is slow. I have only been able to ride up to 35 miles at a time at the most. The pain in my shoulder seems to have weakened my whole body, combined with the fact that I was actually unable to ride for about two weeks there. I’ve lost some of my fitness level so even when my shoulder is back 100%, I’m going to have to slowly work myself back up to rides between 60-70 miles.

Yeah, I said slowly. The PT seems to think that my lack of training this year before throwing myself into the intensity of Calvin’s Challenge and TOSRV put extra stress on my body which caused the intense flare-up of arthritis. He also suggested that I have pinched a nerve, thus all the pain in my upper arm and back. While he encouraged my continuing to ride my bike over the next few weeks, he cautioned against pushing it too hard. And so I’ve had to struggle with not pushing myself despite the overwhelming urge to do so. Today, for example, when I was taking a rest stop in the Cuyahoga Valley at Szalay’s–about 20 miles into the ride–I was tempted to loop through the Merriman Valley before heading back towards home which would have ultimately given me about 45 miles. I had to talk myself out of it, which was very frustrating. As a compromise, I allowed myself to go on to Ira Road instead of turning down Botzam to get to Akron-Peninsula Road. I also bullied myself into climbing the steeper Wetmore in favor of the more gradual Truxell. It seems like a favorable compromise, except when you realize that the aggressive part of myself was still winning the argument with my logical half. “Easy” and “relaxed” still don’t appear in my vocabulary.

It was a good thing I didn’t push myself on to Merriman. I was feeling a bit exhausted and weak on my climb up Wetmore, and I jumped to the granny gears a lot sooner than I normally do. My shoulder started to get uncomfortably achy in the last five miles from home. I actually was ready to get off my bike when I arrived home. That was definitely disheartening. But at least I know I can probably start riding to work next week since it’s a 35 mile roundtrip–and that’s bursts of 15 miles separated by eight hours of rest. I think I can do it without causing too much strain on my body. The hill climbing required to get through the valley in my commute will help regain some of my strength.

I had a second PT appointment on Friday. I received a massage and electrical stimulation–both of which made me feel markedly better. I’m not out of the woods yet–sleeping last night was just as uncomfortable as it’s been for weeks–but my comfort level throughout the day was greatly increased. I am looking forward to Monday’s session as well as Friday. I am starting to feel more positive about getting this thing beat and behind me. And not just because of my plans for riding this summer, but also for the sake of my U2 concert spree. The pain definitely took something out of me in Denver and I was seriously worried that my other shows might be ruined, especially if I had needed surgery or something. But now I anticipate a much more comfortable experience in E. Lansing and the following shows. The PT has estimated a recovery time of four weeks with therapy twice a week and exercises I do at home.

The cautionary side note is that I will have to learn to temper my aggression for the rest of the summer. The PT says that I’m susceptible to recurring pain in my shoulder because it will still be healing. Like a pulled hamstring, he says. Having witnessed a friend going through the misery of a hamstring he pulled while skiing a few years ago, I understand the analogy quite well. This information is dully noted.

Next year, when I allow my aggressive nature to take over my body again, I’m going to have to work myself slowly into the high mileage, like I did in the years past. So that means if the spring weather is as sucky as it was this year, I cannot do TOSRV or Calvin’s Challenge. Which is fine, right? I need to teach myself that I may embark on any challenge I desire, but I must do it safely. My body is just skin, bones, muscle, nerves and I can easily abuse these. Abuse to the point of injury is not an acceptable result. Injury takes me out of the sport I enjoy so much. I will need to find the patience within myself to practice good physical training. It’s time to learn to stretch. My body has informed me that I’m overdoing it and I have to learn to listen to the difference between pushing too hard and aggressively pursuing a challenge.

Oh, but it’s all so hard!