Suffering in November

photo 4.jpgIt never did warm up. Well, maybe it did, but not when we were riding. It stayed cloudy and cool, breezy and chilled, but at least there were hills and suffering.

Most of the time, by November I’m in full break mode. It’s often cloudy and uninviting around here. My comrades in bikes are either simply disinterested, not interested in fighting the cold, or healing from a long season. Winter riding is here soon enough and November and December also have holidays and families and other things that seem to severely limit riding time. So I go with the flow and accept the generally inevitable, setup the rollers and trainer and begin prepping for the winter to 2_4.jpg

But I’m not there yet. I had a break caused by weekends full of high holiday and the general busyness at work. And while I’ve snuck a ride in chockablock, as a friend would say, it has lacked rhyme and reason, purpose and flow. I was on the verge of getting my mountain bike into winter mode (a change in tires and gears) but put it off since there’s a chance that I’ll get to join some other friends on a trail ride. Slim, but worth holding out for… and after that it’ll be nice to feel the smooth bump absorbing float of those big fat tires again.

But today was a day for the smell of hardwood fires, splashing leaves, the burble of brooks. The air lacked crispness, it was just mushy and wettish, chilling to the bone given the chance, but it wasn’t upsetting the cameraderie. Certainly I gave it no such chance. I broke out my woolie Ibex El Fito Bib Knickers, a synthetic base layer on top and then three favorite Rapha pieces, the long sleeve jersey, the lightweight softshell jacket and keeping the draft from my neck, the winter collar. Would twere that I could afford to buy this stuff in season. Ah well. But my wife always picks me up something when the sales start. She’s especially lovely that way. As I said earlier, it was supposed to warm up but didn’t. I was expecting to toss the top layers into a pocket as I went. Never came close. I was warm when climbing and okay the rest of the time, but I prefer feeling warm to cool and didn’t because of the breeze, the moist air and my own thin, aging, blood. Didn’t stop me from having a great time, I assure 2_3.jpg

As you can see from the elevation chart, this short ride was not without its challenges. We headed for the hills and the suffering ensued. I was not the only one who hadn’t been riding recently. The beauty of the surroundings provided needed distraction. We climb into a state park… so there’s an abundance of burbling brooks and splashing streams. Conifers and hardwoods. Pine scent wafting gently by as you ride by certain sections. An oasis in a generally urban area. And occasionally someone nearby has a fire going and the faint smell of roasting hardwood is all you have to alert you to the fact. I had hoped for indian summer, I got a mixed bag, but the hills are just as crushing yet uplifting in November as they are in June or August.

IMG_0385_2.jpgThe water levels in the lakes were down (to my surprise) since last I was in the park. It seems like there’s been plenty of rain lately thus my surprise. But I’m not sure who controls the levels, nature or mankind, as there are gates and valves seen here or there, and maybe they were allowing the lakes to spill off before the winter. We shot across the park with the intent of crossing over to Route 17, but someone had a change of heart and so we climbed back up Johnstown road and looped back down the hills we had just climbed (I took it easy today and held my top speed to 41mph). We cut through what was an old orphanage strange in its juxtaposition against a golf course and then completed the loop.

Screen shot 2009-11-01 at 5.23.16 PM_2.jpgThe road leads ever onward and todays ride, mostly with folks I’ve known for a long time now, was perfect for the day. No pressure, no ripping each others legs off, no sprints. Just a cruise of the countryside and some suffering from the hills. Just enough of everything to keep things interesting. As hilly as it is where I live it is hard to put together a ride that doesn’t contain some climbing. You’d really have to ride to other side of the county to begin to make that happen, and the ride across the county would not be hill free. But what are bike rides without climbing? Wind fights? Far more demoralizing than the hills, I assure you.

Screen shot 2009-11-01 at 5.23.34 PM_2.jpgJenni has more pictures of the folks on the ride.

It occurs to me that cyclists throw the word suffering around a bit. Yes, it is a term of art. But there’s suffering on a bike, or suffering the hills, and then there’s parents watching their sick children struggle with illness. I try never to forget that the bit of suffering I almost enjoy on the bike for my health does not equate to the suffering of those who are fighting to rebuild their health. If there is glory in suffering it belongs to those who conquer the unimagineable. It’s why I try to quietly help.