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Friday, October 16, 2009

Riding Home - Day 2

(Three years ago I came up with this idea that it would be fun to ride my bike from my home to my parent’s home in Skaneateles, New York. Later I wrote a story about that adventure which I hoped to have published. I haven’t been able to find a publisher for the story so I decided to share it with the world through my blog. This is the third of nine installments.)

Day Two

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wooster to Columbiana, Ohio

72 miles – 7 hours 30 minutes

The alarm goes off at five A.M. Outside it is still dark so I decide an extra half hour of sleep will do me good. The next thing I know it’s seven A.M and the sun is definitely up. I jump out of bed and start gathering all my stuff. I take all the heavy items – shoes, tools, bike lock and put them in the shoebox carrier. Then I cram all my clothes in the backpack. I put on my shoes and helmet and grab the backpack and walk the bike outside. The parking lot is steaming.

I have two bungee cords, which I bought on impulse the day before I left. You never know when you might need a bungee cord. I prop the bike against my thigh and set the backpack on top of the shoebox. I reach for the bungee cords, but the front wheel jackknifes and the bike falls to the ground. I grab the bungee cords, hook them to the carrier, place the backpack on top of the shoebox again and wrap the cord around the pack. I have to really stretch it to get it around the pack and then I try to find a hole in the carrier to hook it to. I almost get it secured, but I lose my grip and the cord snaps back and falls off the bike. I try again.

Finally I get the first cord fastened. Ten minutes later I have the second cord secured. The backpack rises up above my seat like a disfigured camel hump. The pack lists to the right so I give it a smack and that causes the bracket to pivot so it’s now twenty degrees out of line with the tire. I push it back, but I start to wonder what will happen if the load starts to shift when I am racing down hill at thirty miles per hour. Actually I don’t wonder. I don’t want to think about it.

I mount up and leave the parking lot. It’s 8:30 A.M. Mapquest tells me to get on US 30 and take that for the next thirty miles. I find the highway. It’s smooth and flat with a wide shoulder. Not having that weight on my back is a wonderful feeling of freedom. I’m rolling along at fifteen miles per hour. This is going to be so much easier. Then the road changes. It becomes a limited access four lane highway. Exit ramps.

I have not thought about ramps. I’ve never encountered them on a bike. US 30 has a constant stream of trucks, but I’m not worried about them because I hear them coming. My concern is for the cars and pickups that whiz by me at eighty miles an hour. Before I cross over each exit ramp, I need to make sure there one of those race cars is not planning to exit right behind me. The only way I can be certain is to turn my head and look back, but whenever I do that the bike swerves in that direction. I see myself veering left, then right, and my bike reeling out of control. The vision is not helpful. As I approach the first ramp, I have a death-grip on the handlebars. I decide to start down the ramp to the right, which gives me a better angle from which to peak over my shoulder. I turn. There’s no one behind me. I race across the ramp. Seven ramps later I exit off US 30. I have covered twenty miles in ninety minutes and I stop to rest. I have to pry my hands off the handlebars.

I’m on Ohio Highway 172 - two lanes, narrow and rough. Maybe US 30 was not that bad. Now there’s no where to go when the trucks pass me. They seem very close. The rough highway becomes a dirt and gravel highway under construction as I drive through Elms Acres heading towards Massillon. I stop for a coke at a gas station. There is an aging hippie-looking guy riding his bike in the opposite direction. He has an old clunker with balloon tires and he’s carrying a gym bag in his hand.

“Hey Dude, can you help me? You know how to get to US 30?”

“Just stay on this road. You can’t miss it,” I tell him.

He thanks me and keeps on pedaling. He’s going so slow I don’t think he’ll make the highway before dark. I wonder what he’ll do about the exit ramps.

There are no trees along the road. The sun is directly overhead and I’m melting. I pass a large Baptist Church that has a time and temperature clock. The time is 1:25 P.M. and the temperature is 93 degrees. Somehow that makes me feel better. It really is hot.

I finish both bottles of water. I stop at a near-empty McDonald’s outside Salem. My bike lock is buried under my backpack and I’m not taking off that bungee-corded pack to get to it. If someone steals my bike that will be my sign that this was a bad idea. I park the bike in front, buy a hamburger and an orange soda and relax in the booth where I can keep an eye on my bike. The booth is exceptionally comfortable as is the icy cold air conditioning. I don’t want to leave, but I still have twenty miles to go.

As I mount up, I tell myself I just have to go five miles and then I can take a break. Five miles is nothing. The first mile is easy, I’m still fresh from the break. The second is tougher, but I’m almost halfway. The third is a real challenge, but by then I only have two miles left. When I hit mile five I start looking for a place to stop. I want shade and grass so I can lie down, and a tree or mailbox so I can prop my bike up, because if I set it down the carrier goes cockeyed. I rest. Then I ride another five miles. The last town before Columbiana is Washingtonville. As I’m coasting down the hill into town, I spot a roadside drive-in - a wannabee Dairy Queen. I buy a large soda and take a seat in one of the booths. There’s an old man seated in the next booth.

“Where you headed son?” he asks. Calls me son. I like him. I tell him Columbiana. He nods. “Well that’s all downhill. You’ll be able to coast from here.”

I desperately want to believe him.

He’s wrong. Maybe he meant you could coast from Columbiana. I leave the drive-in and around the next bend there is a very steep hill. The hill is going up, not down. The road is narrow, there’s no shoulder and I must deal with the rush-hour traffic. I charge the hill going twelve miles per hour. I shift down, but my speed keeps dropping. Ten. Eight. Six. I’m worried about the trucks racing by and no place for me to go if they want more room.

I’m going slower than that old hippie and my bike is wobbling even more than his. Then I get a cramp in my hamstring. I manage to get off the bike without falling. I’m fifty yards from the summit. I work out the cramp, but I know if I try to start on the hill the muscle will cramp again, so I walk the bike the rest of the way up the hill, feeling defeated.

At the top I get back on. I coast down and then test out my leg on the flat section at the bottom of the hill. The muscle is sore, but I don’t cramp. Another hill looms. I’m four miles from Columbiana. Tonight I tell myself, I will go to a sports bar, have a nice cold draft beer in an icy mug. Maybe a ballpark frank too. And the bartender will have the Cubs game playing and they will be winning. I can taste that beer. I can see the beads of sweat dripping down the glass. Then I am at the next hill. I take it slow and easy.

Twenty yards from the top I get another cramp. The same thing happens on the next hill. My body is failing me. I’ll never make it home if I have to walk up every hill. I drive away the negative thoughts. I only have a mile to go and I focus on that cold beer waiting for me.

I see a sign for my hotel, The Das Dutch Village Inn. I coast into the parking lot. It’s a new hotel full of touristy Dutch knickknacks - a wholesomely clean hotel. I am on the outskirts of the town, surrounded by the usual coterie of fast-food places and mini-marts. But this hotel is huge and I’m certain they will have a wholesome Dutch-oriented sports bar.

Four P.M. I shower, then I check the hotel info in my room. There are three sports bars listed! I head down to the lobby and ask the deskclerk how to get to AJ’s Sports Corner.

She smiles and says, “Turn left out of the parking and go fifteen miles and it is on your right.”

“I’m looking for a place I can walk to. Remember I rode in on my bike.”

She stares at me looking confused. Perhaps she doesn’t recognize me without my sweat-soaked bike gear.

“Columbiana is a dry town, sir. We don’t have any bars here. Sorry.”

In fact this great hotel doesn’t even have a restaurant. The only place to eat within walking distance is Pizza Hut. I buy a medium pepperoni lover’s pizza and take it back to the room. The Cubs are not playing. And there is no cold frosty beer. It’s a lousy Friday night.

I call home. My daughter Nicole answers. Nicole will be entering the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in the fall. She’s been spending her summer painting a mural on the exterior of The Great Harvest Bread Company.

“Hi Nicole, it’s me.”


“How about, ‘Hi Dad, nice to hear from you. How was your day?’” Even without videophone I can see her rolling her eyes while she lays on the sofa, phone cradled in her neck as she watches television and plays Sims on her computer.

“Cubs lost.”

“Who pitched?”

“Maddux. Derrek Lee had a double. Do you know when Mom’s coming home?”

I suggest she could try calling her. Then I tell her about my ride and the cramped hamstring. She played varsity soccer and volleyball, I figure maybe she’ll have some training tips.

“You’re not supposed to be drinking soda. Everybody knows that.”

“They do?”

“Gatorade. Drink lots of Gatorade.” She sighs. “Do you have anything else? I’m sort of in the middle of this show.”

After we hang up I think about what she said. During a one hour spinning class I would go through a bottle of water, so if I’m riding for eight hours in the hot sun I probably should be drinking eight to ten bottles.

I decide the leg cramps were caused by dehydration not because my body is failing me. It’s a theory anyway. I go to bed determined to get an early start tomorrow. Gatorade. I will drink plenty of Gatorade tomorrow.

Workout:  I have been working out, but haven't been doing a good job of posting. I'm in Skaneateles this week visiting Mom so it's all running this week.  Today I did my usual course about five plus miles:  42:33.  Ran by the lake where a month ago we had the Skinnyman Tri.  It looks a lot colder now - the air temp today was 37 degrees.

Weight:  I don't want to know.  Not 188.

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