CYCLING

 

These are some of my favorite stories from my cycling experiences. They are in no particular order, and include tales from the road and the trail.

 

The Grand Prix in Waikiki

When I was living in Honolulu I'd take a ride after work. Sometimes I'd ride up in the hills above the city, sometimes I'd ride out to Wiamanalo, sometimes I'd head for points west of the city. Although I had one of the best road bikes I've ever owned, and the tradewinds and the hills could make for a good workout, these weren't meant to be hardcore training rides, just a way to unwind after work and see some of the city. This doesn't mean I didn't take the effort seriously; I still went for PB's on rides, but I wasn't training for, say, the Ironman.

I usually tried to end each day's ride at Waikiki Beach to watch the sunset. If I had been riding up in the hills or west of the city this meant coming into Waikiki from the direction of the Ala Moana Mall and then up Waikiki's four-lane, one-way main drag, Kalakaua Ave. It was during one of these rides that the coolest thing that's ever happened to me on a bike occurred.

Not too far from where Ala Moana Blvd. runs into Kalakaua I was stopped for a light. I was on the right side of the road and I looked over to the left and saw another roadie across the way. I looked at him and he looked at me and right then we both knew that when the light changed, the hammer would drop.

The moment the light went green we took off like bats out of hell. Changing gears chunk-chunk-chunk as fast as I could while riding as straight a line as possible. Within half a block we'd left the traffic behind so I moved out into the center of the lane. For some reason that day there wasn't any traffic for blocks in front of us so we had green lights and clear road right through the middle of Waikiki and the hundreds of people that are always milling about. For a few glorious minutes it was like every finishing sprint you've seen on TV: throngs of people on the sidewalks, no cars, and two cyclist going hell-for-leather down the middle of the road.

By unspoken agreement the finish line was the zoo at the end of the strip, but before the halfway point my opponent was pulling away, and 500 meters from the end I conceded and let myself get pulled back by the peloton (traffic). An ignominious ending, but for a few moments I tasted glory, and the feeling I had sprinting through the streets of Waikiki against worthy competition made up for a lot of pain during rides up hills and into the wind.

 

The First Mountain Bike Ride

I started riding a mountain bike when I lived in Seattle, and my first ride came on a visit with my father in Hood River, Oregon. He was there for the windsurfing and I thought that this might be a good place to test my mountain legs. So I packed up my newly-aquired mountain bike and headed down for the weekend.

We spent some time browsing the bike and surf shops in town and my father was kind enough to buy me a guide (Mountain Bike Oregon, Dunegan, Beachway Press) that I had admired but didn't buy myself. This guide is part of a series of books that detail rides in various states and include a variety of rides and a wealth of information on each ride, including difficulty ratings. I was pretty excited and spent the evening in the hotel room looking at rides in the area and selecting a ride for the next day.

The next morning I was up bright and early and loaded the bike in the car and headed for the trailhead. The ride I had selected was a loop of just under 20 miles that the guide promised included spectacular views of Mt. Hood. What I had failed to notice was that parts of this particular trail were marked double-diamond. Remember, I had never ridden a mountain bike before; not on road, not on trail.

The ride started out easily enough up some doubletrack but before too long it turned to singletrack and went sharply upward (the guide's word is 'dramatic'). At the top of the first rise there were indeed spectacular views of Mt. Hood but then the trail went down (Whoa! This is steep!) and then back up (also steep). And so it went, up and down, popping out into clearings to admire the mountains, then back through the brush. At times I was sliding down the trail with both brakes locked and at others I was shouldering the bike and grasping at trees to pull myself up a hill side. The last part of the ride was a descent down a Forest Sevice road where I built up some pretty good speed and found out some of the things I don't like about aluminum frames (I'd never had one of those before, either).

When I got back to the hotel after about four hours of riding, half of which was hike-a-bike, I was dirty, scratched, bruised, exhausted, and grinning from ear to ear. All I wanted to do was go for another ride. 

 

The CCC Trail

Nearly every weekend when the weather was nice in Seattle, and sometimes when it wasn't, I'd go to my handy-dandy trail guide (Kissing the Trail (Greater Seattle),Zilly, Adventure Press) and pick a ride. Sometimes one long one, sometimes a couple of shorter ones. After a while I found some trails that I really liked and started riding them on a regular basis. One that I rode once or twice a month was called The CCC Trail, which is an abandoned road built in the Cascades as part of the Citizens Conservation Corps jobs program in the 1930's. Not long, at about 15 miles out and back, but a good trail to ride because except for the first mile it is fairly flat and there are some good technical sections for practice. Of all the times I rode it I only saw people on it once, and the scenery is as good as anything in the Cascades.

The view up the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River from The CCC Road in the summer.
The same valley in the winter

 

Light Show

When I was going to school in St. Petersburg, FL, a riding buddy and I would meet most Sundays on campus and ride the Pinellas Trail from St. Petersburg to Clearwater Beach, a round trip of about 35 miles. On days I felt really energetic I'd also ride the 12 mile round trip between my place and the campus. The Trail is a paved railroad right-of-way and while it offers the advantage of minimal interference from motor traffic heavy weekend use precludes any kind of hammering except for short stretches. Still, not a bad way to spend a few hours.

This particular weekend was during Spring Break and this was before Clearwater Beach decided that hosting drunken college students was too much of a bother so it was still a Spring Break destination. As a couple of young guys we couldn't think of a better place to go than a beach filled with SWT in bikinis. The ride up was pleasant enough although we noticed that the sky was getting darker as we rode north but rain didn't seem imminent. When we got to Clearwater Beach our expectations were fulfilled and we spent some time admiring the scenery.

You could see that there was a major thunderstorm building over the Gulf and my buddy suggested that we head back but I wanted to stay a little longer. So against his better judgment, we stayed. When the wind started gusting I agreed that maybe it was time to go. As we rode across the bridge that connects the beach to the mainland there was a line of six quick lightning strikes in the canal close aboard the bridge. I mean, it was really close. You could see the electricity spreading out across the water from each point of impact and the noise was deafening. Immediately afterward the rain came down in buckets and we were soaked through in nothing flat. My buddy headed for the nearest shelter and got off his bike.

He was white-faced and shaking and he was scared and he was angry. As soon as I rode up he started yelling at me but I couldn't hear what he was saying, partly because of the noise of the rain and partly because we had literally been deafened by the thunder. When I could make out what he was saying it was along the lines of "I am NOT leaving until it stops raining! You are an IDIOT! You almost got us KILLED!" I decided not to point out that we couldn't get any wetter than we were, it was a frightening experience and it was raining pretty hard. So we waited.

While we waited I apologized for not heading home when he suggested. He was right; we had come close to not getting home at all. I never thought that I might be wiped out on a bike by lightning: a car, maybe, but not a natural phenomenon. We still rode together after that, but we checked the weather.

 

Atavistic Dogs

While living in Albany, Oregon, I developed several rides around the area so I would have a good variety to choose from and to accomplish specific goals. There was the hill ride, which featured several miles of closely spaced rolling hills and on which on one occasion I rode so hard I puked. There was the river road, which was a backroads way to Corvallis and avoided the cycling death trap that is Hwy. 20. There were others, usually between 15 and 30 miles long, that meandered through the farmland around Albany. As I was exploring one route I got quite a surprise.

I was rolling along at a reasonable pace, enjoying the weather and the scenery when this dog popped up out of a drainage ditch and started sprinting for me. Shit! I started jamming gears and cranking up the speed, looking over my back to see if he was making any progress. Just as I was pulling away another dog popped up out of the ditch alongside me and started to give chase while his winded buddy slowed down and handed off to the newcomer. I'm thinking "What the hell?" I'd been chased by dogs before, but not with this level of coordination. I could see that I was coming up on one of those doglegs in the road that inexplicably appear in the middle of nowhere in this part of Oregon, and I was going to have to slow down to get through it. The chase dog didn't show any sign of tiring, so I touched the brakes and dove into the first corner of the dogleg. I looked back, and the dog had stopped. Standing in the road, tongue hanging out, and, I swear, a pleased look on his face.

During the rest of the ride I thought about what had happened. As I thought about the incident, I realized that these were dogs that knew the rules. They hadn't barked, they hadn't gotten threateningly close, and they'd stopped the chase where they knew I had to slow down. I realized that that particular stretch of road must be fairly popular with local cyclists and the dogs had figured out that as long as they played the game the 'prey' would give them a good workout.

I decided to test this hypothesis and rode the same route the next week. Sure enough, the same thing happened at the same place. I gave them a run for their money; I didn't want to find out what would happen if they caught me, but I had some fun and the dogs did too. I made that ride a regular part of my routine, so once or twice a month I got to test my sprinting legs against some four-legged competition.

 

Dishonorable Mention

Now, you might be thinking, "These stories are fun and all, but have you had any rides that weren't so great?" Yes. Yes I have. These rides all ended with a trip to the hospital.

The time I fell and stuck my arm out to break my fall. Broke my left forearm in three places and jammed a bone up into the muscle. The only time I've actually heard a bone break. Of course, the x-ray tech had to make my arm lay flat to get a good picture. That was a new level of pain.

Getting hit by a car six months after the incident above. Broke my left forearm in two more places as I tumbled across the hood. I had the same orthopeadic surgeon both times, and he told me that if I broke that arm again he doubted that he could fix it. I haven't put that to the test.

My front QR quickly released as I was going over a railroad track. I landed on my face and removed all of the skin from the right side of my face as well as sustaining a Grade III concussion. I thought I was going to be scarred for life but the only visible signs are some small scars where the ER doc had to dig the gravel out of my face.

Broke my right collarbone and shoulder blade when I skidded on a patch of sand going around a curve and slammed into a concrete light pylon. Another concussion. Because I didn't own a car, I still had to ride the bike with the broken bones. Every little piece of road debris sent a jolt of pain through my shoulder. I couldn't heal fast enough.

Fell once and my left foot folded up, tearing all of the tendons in the ankle. That injury was more painful than some broken bones.

 

Medical incidents that didn't result in a trip to the hospital but were fairly serious:

On two occasions after a hard effort I have had pulmonary edema. That is to say, my lungs have filled with fluid and I was blowing white foam out of my mouth. Of course, this meant I couldn't breathe. Each incident only lasted about 30 seconds but it's pretty damn scary when you can't breathe and you're not sure if you're going to be able to breathe.

The Epic Bonk. I went for what I thought would be a leasurely fifteen-mile mountain bike ride. What I didn't know was that the same trail I was riding had hosted a 100-person 'Volksmarch' the day before and large sections of the trail, especially on the grades, had been turned into a wheel-sucking quagmire. I spent a lot of the ride horsing the bike through deep sections of mud. I had plenty of water but didn't bring any food: it was only a fifteen-mile ride. About two-thirds of the way through I started to lose sense of time and place. I couldn't tell whether I was on the bike or off it and I'd find myself on the ground with no idea how I got there. The last couple of miles were done in a haze of semi-consciousness.

When I got to the car it was nearly dark, and I'd started before noon. After stowing the bike I had to sit for a while until I thought I could drive. Stopped at the first convenience store and bought some day-old fried chicken and some Gatoraid and absolutely inhaled it. Started to feel more human after that. A couple of days later I realized that I'd broken a bone in my right foot and hadn't even noticed.