For those who’ve wondered, let this serve as confirmation that I still live. I’m still above room temperature, I’m breathing constantly, and I’m still consuming food, although the quality has increased and the quantity has decreased somewhat. I’m even in motion, now and then, which is what this entry is really about.
For the last eleven weeks or so, I’ve been on a fairly serious self-improvement program. I’ve been eating a healthier diet and getting more exercise. At first, a daily walk sufficed to burn a few calories and help with my cardiopulmonary conditioning, but after a short while I felt ready for something a bit more strenuous. I brought my bicycle to the office and began riding at lunchtime and after work. I started at five miles a day and have been steadily increasing the mileage as my fitness and speed improve. I’ve lost a great deal of weight, and I feel more fit than I’ve been in years.
My boss, Karl, is also a cyclist. He hadn’t ridden for quite some time, but when he saw what I was doing, he brought his bike in and began to join me on some of my rides. To my surprise, I’ve found that I can keep up with him fairly well, even though he’s in far better shape than I. Last weekend, though, he offered me a challenge.
West of Atlanta, winding through rural sections of Cobb and Paulding counties, is a path known as the Silver Comet Trail. It’s what’s known as a rails-to-trails project. A disused section of railroad track was torn out and replaced with a smooth, paved multi-use trail ideal for bicycling. Because it’s built on old railroad bed, all its grades are gentle. I’d ridden five or six miles of the trail before, but Karl proposed riding ten miles out and back. I accepted.
Last weekend’s ride was not easy, but I amazed myself by completing it without any real difficulty. We actually pushed the distance a bit farther, to a total of 24 miles. Keeping up with Karl was easier than I’d expected but still cramped my style a bit. Like most bicyclists, I tend to do best at a particular pedal cadence, and I found myself shifting gears constantly to maintain that cadence while keeping Karl’s pace. We’d also misjudged the time. We ended up riding the last five miles in chilly darkness. Despite this, I finished the ride feeling tired but proud of the accomplishment.
The next day, I could feel the effect of the ride. I felt energized. I began to convince myself that I could have gone farther if we hadn’t run out of daylight. The idea of a longer ride began to form in my mind. Karl tentatively agreed to accompany me.
This brings us to yesterday, Sunday morning. Having not heard from Karl on Saturday, I assumed my ride would be solo. I put my backpack together, made sure I had a spare tube in case of a flat tire, lubed up the bike, and headed out. I arrived at the trailhead around three in the afternoon. Immediately after setting out on the trail, I noticed that the cable for my cyclometer had been damaged when I’d loaded the bike into the car. So, I had no cadence or distance information. After a brief moment of panic, I remembered that the trail has mile markers and rode on.
At the 4.4-mile mark on the trail is the Silver Comet Depot, a bike shop and refreshment stand. There, I borrowed some tools and made the necessary repairs to my cyclometer cable. After a brief delay, I was back on my way.
About 45 minutes out from the Depot, I arrived at the 12-mile mark, where we turned back last weekend. I took a picture of myself by the marker, drank lots of water, and kept moving. At this point, I had no idea how far I wanted to go, but I felt capable of significantly more distance than this. I decided that I’d go as far as I could before 4:30 PM rolled around. That would give me time to safely return to the car before darkness fell.
4:30 PM found me at about 16 miles. 32 miles would have been an impressive ride, but for some reason it just wasn’t a very satisfying number to me. Four more miles would put me at 20, and I liked that nice, round figure much better. I pressed on. A long, demoralizing climb followed, nearly making me regret the decision, but despite the grade I managed to cover the remaining four miles in just under half an hour. I arrived at the twenty mile marker sweaty, exhausted, and completely exhilarated! I took another photograph at the mile marker, got back on the bike, and realized I was now two hours from my car with about an hour of daylight left. So, at 5:30 I began the second twenty miles of my ride.
The slow, demoralizing climb I’d encountered in my last four miles became a refreshing downhill run on the return trip. I made good time until I reached the section of trail that I call “chevron hill”. This was the steepest grade on the trail, and in this direction it was uphill. I hunkered down, thought of pleasant things, and pushed the pedals. Darkness descended like a blanket, and the white line down the center of the trail became my sole visual reference. I couldn’t see my cyclometer anymore, so I counted off my cadence and breathed deeply. When I reached the top of the grade, I felt oddly elated. I upshifted to my top gear, built up a nice burst of speed, and reached my tired arms skyward as the wind cooled me down. I zoomed for the next few miles.
When I passed the Depot, now closed and deserted, I knew I was home free. I was reaching the end of my endurance, but there were only four miles to go. I think I must have entered a sort of trance, because I don’t remember those last four miles at all. I do remember seeing the lights of the parking lot finally appear and feeling a wave of pride. I’d ridden 40 miles! (That’s 64 kilometres, for you Brits.) The wave of pride was quickly replaced by a wave of nausea, telling me that I’d probably found the limit of my endurance for now. I shakily loaded my bike into the car, sat down, and rested for twenty or thirty minutes until I felt conscious enough to drive home.
My legs were rubber. It was a real challenge just dragging myself up the stairs to my apartment. I went inside, got into bed, and just rested.
Oddly, this morning, I don’t have a single sore muscle, and just like last Monday, I feel energized. I’m completely ready for my lunchtime bike ride. There’s a bounce in my step. So, if you’re wondering why I’m telling you about this experience, the reason is simple. I’m telling the world! I am unashamedly proud. I really surpassed my own expectations, and my ego might be just a little out of control. It doesn’t happen often, and I think I can be forgiven.
If you’d like to view other photographs from my ride, you can find them in my photo gallery.