Friday, April 16, 2010

A Ride up North Mountain

Two weekends ago DVR went to Lost River in West Virginia and rode in the mountains, a Spring rite that every MABRA team undergoes. And it's good; we're lucky to have such a great place to ride nearby.

I could reel off the distance and the elevation we traversed, but I don't think that's the thing to remember about West Virginia.

What I remember, and those few who did it with me remember, is one climb, from Jerome, Virginia to Mathias, West Virginia.

On Sunday morning the whole team, about thirty of us, went a mellow twenty miles together in the morning. We'd done some hard rides in the perfect weather, but the feeling for me was three days of simplicity: waking, eating, riding, eating, riding, eating, sleeping. We coasted and chatted, shaking the soreness from our legs.

Inevitably, we hit a climb that shut us up. Dirt, steep and several miles long, followed by a descent that satisfied our suicidal tendencies and depleted our tube supply.

View Larger Map
The top of dirt climb #1

I'd never enjoyed myself so much on a bike, so I decided, thesis be damned, I'd keep riding. Sam, Tony and I split off with coach Rob Panzera for 40 more miles; the plan was to loop through the park, stopping at Wardensville for lunch.

For about fifteen miles we rode in the park on the most beautiful roads I've ever ridden. Mostly downhill, unspoilt greenery and mountain creeks, few cars, none of the fat helmetless motorcyclists or aggressive pickup trucks with oversized wheels.

We ended up somewhat lost, nowhere near Wardensville. In fact, we ended up at this intersection, facing a deserted church on a gravestone-covered hill in a hamlet called Jerome:

Several abandoned shacks and stores sat at the intersection. No cars, no birds, no life. We pulled out our map and realized that, to get back home, we had to somehow go back over the mountain ridge to the west. We'd already done about 40 miles with some serious climbing. We'd have to do it without having lunch.

We eventually found a dirt rode that looked like it crossed the mountain and would get us home. The initial grade was 5%. Shortly it turned to gravel, and then bad gravel as deep washouts and ruts appeared. The gradient pitched up to 10% and the ruts became deeper, especially on the switchback corners, where if you slowed or stood up, your wheels spun out and you had get off the bike and climb over the ruts.

The switchbacks kept turning, each one letting you see only the next section; the top of the mountain hid. At each turn, you hoped to see the ridge, but you never did.

My cadence dropped to 50rpms and I churned it out in my 27. Tony caught and passed me, then Sam and Rob joined me. We would have laughed, except we were stunned and suffering and wondering just how long this would keep going. I hadn't planned on this much dirt riding, but I hadn't planned on getting lost and going without lunch. And we had to get home somehow. How long would it keep twisting upward?

Five miles, it turned out.

At the top, we looked back eastward to the church in Jerome, and westward toward the mountain ridge of Lost River and our cabin at the top of a mountain road.

I realized, standing there wheezing and tender in the chamois region, that it was Easter Sunday.

Maybe five years? Trying to think back to when I'd felt as good as I felt, on top of North Mountain, in absolutely physical misery. I mean, it was just a stupid bike, and a stupid climb, and a couple of decent guys. Yeah, the weather was perfect, and, yeah, I shared a weekend with my brother and some friends doing what we love. And, yeah, I'm not unemployed or going through a divorce or dealing with criminals or facing our problems of social justice, global warming, or any of those big bummers.

Riding, not training--that's what we were doing. It's a distinction that Chas always makes when I ask: "How's training goin?" He corrects me: "Riding, not training."

Next year, I hope to do the climb again. I hope the weather is as wonderful, and I am healthy still. And I hope the rest of the team comes with us this time.


Grant said...

I'm in.

Tony A. said...

Pure poetry, befitting the best ride of the year.

Chas Offutt said...

I'm sorry to have missed the last ride, sounds like a perfect ending to a great weekend. I'm already looking fwd to 2011.

qualia said...

Nice post.