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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Route Moods

Since Sunday, I've gotten in 75 more miles on the bike and a half mile in the pool. Good week going so far. The last two days have been absolutely gorgeous weather-wise. Not a cloud in the sky, and today, the slight breeze we had didn't even make the turbines move. This morning, as I was finishing up a meeting with my boss, a colleague stopped by my office and asked if I was going to attend the teaching presentation of a candidate for a position in the program. Aghast, I replied, "No wind." He had absolutely no idea what I was referring to, but my boss laughed and clued him in that I was going to be occupied and would not be attending the teaching presentation. As soon as the meeting ended, I made my way home, into my cycling clothes, and out the door for a ride south of town.

Today was mostly just meandering. I was wondering when the fatigue from Sunday was going to really kick in. It did today, so I just enjoyed riding territory I've never been through before. On my way back, I passed an old barn. On the roof sat three vultures. They looked like three little old men in black coats, all hunched up. A fourth flew up and joined them as I was watching. Almost simultaneously, two of them turned, facing north, and spread their wings. They stayed like this for quite some time. It was cool and creepy all at once. Unfortunately I didn't have my regular camera with me, so I had to use my cell phone to capture the picture of them. Still, I like the distortion, the grays.

Tomorrow looks promising for another long ride. I might return to the barn to see if the buzzards regularly hang out there. There's also a crossroads I want to return to--I found it interesting how desolate it felt standing in the middle of where the four roads meet, the corn and beans on each corner stunted because of the rain and cool temps. Usually by this time of summer, the corn is shoulder high, the beans beginning to bush nicely. Not this year.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

101 Miles of Pleasure, Pain, and Torture

Yes, I did it. I completed my first century ride, the Swedish Days Ride just west of Chicago. In the end, exhausted, almost overwhelmed by having actually finished something I've longed to do for a year now, I could only lean against the truck and take deep breaths to stay calm. The last ten miles forced me to dig deep mentally and physically, and at times I doubted my strength. Thankfully, at that ten miles to go point, I could see the tower marking what I thought of as home. I kept my sights on it and just kept pedaling.

The last leg was maybe a mile, all uphill and into the wind. I put my head down, telling myself Hubby, food, and clean clothes were right around the corner. Turning into the school drive, I didn't have to pedal any longer. I coasted from the top of the drive down to the truck parked in the lot just outside the school. Like with all the crazy things I do, Hubby was there, and when I saw that smile of his, when we high-fived, I just wanted to grab hold of him and hang on for a bit. His support means more to me than he'll ever know.

The pleasure of the ride was the 25ish miles I rode with Hubby. The wind hadn't come up during this time, so we enjoyed an easy, comfortable ride together. There were lots of other pleasurable moments during the rest of the ride: the Shetland ponies walking one behind the other along a fence line, the dragonflies hovering over the prairie grasses, the fresh-cut alfalfa filling the morning air with its sweet aroma, the wheat bending under the pressure of the wind, the croak of a bullfrog at the edge of a pond. The pain came around mile 70. The left calf began teasing me that it was going to cramp up. The lower back was moaning about having to lean over for so long. The shoulders and triceps were saying, "Hey! Cut it out!" The torture kicked in the last ten miles. Most of it was into a 14 mph wind, and to top things off, several hills presented themselves. I've not battled with myself mentally like I did today in a very, very long time. Today's ride was truly one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my life.

While I'm tired and sore, I'm looking forward to my next scheduled century. I have one month to recover, continue training, and prepare for it. Bring it on.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Too Close For Comfort

Two weeks ago I had a minor procedure done to remove a super freckle from my left cheek. This brown spot had been a part of me for nearly 16 years, and for the last six years I've had it checked periodically to make sure it wasn't becoming something I really didn't want to have to deal with. A few months ago, I went to the dermatologist for a check up, and she recommended having it removed as it had gotten bigger in a very short amount of time. So I had it removed.

Two days after the procedure, as I was pedaling out for a long ride, my phone rang. I pulled over and answered, listening as the nurse told me the results from the lab work showed the spot was benign. Very happily I shared the news with Hubby, and we set off in high spirits, both very thankful. 

Today, I returned to the plastic surgeon who'd performed the procedure. The scab over the wound had come off yesterday, so what now remains is new, soft pink skin. A slightly raised ridge rings the bottom, and when the surgeon saw this, he was quite unhappy. He had hoped for no ridge. He wants no ridge. I'm so delighted to not have a large brown spot that the ridge doesn't bother me, but the surgeon says the ridge must go. In two weeks, I'll return for what he referred to as a sanding, where he'll use a sandpaper like material to buff off the ridge and blend the skin in with the rest of my cheek.

During our conversation, the doc sort of casually tossed out how in only six months, the spot I'd had would have become cancerous. The lab results showed just how extensive the cell damage was and how the the spot was changing rapidly. This took my breath away. I'd come way too close to having to deal with something I most likely could have avoided in the first place, and it's this knowing I could have avoided it that really hit home.

Hopefully after the sanding procedure this ordeal will be over. And hopefully another will not present itself--ever.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Whimsy Speaks

Yesterday afternoon, after the morning's heavy rains tapered to showers then to sprinkles then to drops dripping from the tree leaves, after the clouds began to pull apart to allow some sun to wiggle through, I checked the forecast, which offered the same as for every other day during the past week: scattered thunderstorms, some severe. Chance a ride? You betcha.

A glance at the clock above the sink showed me I had at least four and a half hours of good daylight left. Depending on speed, I could go as far as 60 miles, maybe even 70. But I didn't want to push the speed. I just wanted to be out.

I started the route to the lake, but on a whim I turned off the lake road and onto a road I'm familiar with but usually ride coming from the other direction. Riding it in reverse gave me a completely different view of the houses, the barns, the silos, the horses, and the creeks. One sight I'm definitely going to return to with a camera is an old windmill, the blades cockeyed, bent, unworkable, framed by the new, giant turbines. I had never noticed this composition when riding from the other direction. 

I could have turned off of this road, continuing on this route in reverse, but I again let whimsy convince me to seek out unfamiliar territory. I rode straight on, forging a new route altogether. With each crossroad I reached, I continued straight, wondering where the road was going to take me. To my left I could see a grain elevator. It became my beacon, and when the road I was riding came to its end, t-ing into another, I turned south and enjoyed a downhill entrance into the small town. I passed by a dad walking beside his small son riding a bike, and I found my way to the elevator, quiet now, waiting for the harvest still months away.

Past the elevator, at a stop sign, I could see another grain elevator a ways off to the south. Whimsy whispered in my ear, "Go." I went. On the way, I turned off into a country cemetery, reading the names of those who had lived, walked, loved, worked, laughed, prayed, cried, maybe left then returned, and were now memories to those who had been a part of their lives. I could almost hear the many stories circling around and between the grave markers. Next time I'll stay longer, listen closer.

Not long after leaving the cemetery, I turned onto main street of the small town where whimsy had sent me. I'd been to this town several times recently and already knew where I needed to go to begin my trek towards home. I stopped briefly on the bridge spanning the creek I usually can sit and watch for hours. Because of all the rain the past couple of days, though, the creek wasn't its usual clear, bubbling waters. Rather, murky brown waters carrying debris rushed under the bridge. I had no desire to just sit and watch, so I set off for home. 

Two and a half hours after I began, 40.50 miles later, I pulled into the driveway. I could see Hubby grilling brat burgers on the grill, and the smell triggered my hunger response. The kids had the table on the deck set for dinner, and in the coolness of the evening, we sat down together.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Low Key, Laid Back

Last evening, as I was finishing up a short ride, cruising smoothly on one of the final legs of the route, I saw a woman in a car heading the opposite way, looking at me then yelling, "Get on the sidewalk!" I wasn't impeding her progression in any way. I wasn't impeding the traffic behind me in any way. In fact, right when she screeched at me, I was passing a "Share the Road" sign. I found this to be incredibly funny and just shook my head. Some motorists plainly don't realize cyclists and motorists operate under the same set of rights and rules. I'd much rather ride on the road than on the sidewalks where there are walkers, runners, babies in strollers, rollerbladers, and dogs. I'm pretty sure all of these people and their pets are extremely happy for the fact that I'm riding in the street and not barreling towards them. So sorry lady, I'm staying in the road and you're just going to have to learn to deal with it.

Another funny I witnessed the night before last was when I went for a walk, going to a nearby lake that has a path going all the way around for a one-mile loop. I was on my second loop when a young woman came onto the path, jogging just ahead of me. At this point, I began jogging myself, thinking a one-mile jog loop would do me good. About halfway around, the young woman slowed to a walk. I came up behind  her and watched as she pulled out a cigarette and lit it. I know we all have our vices. I'm just really glad the young woman is at least balancing her tobacco vice with the healthful activity of jogging. Who knows, maybe eventually the smoking will cease one day, becoming a dropped habit, and having been replaced by a daily dose of ten laps around the lake.

Today, at the midway point of our ride, Hubby and I sat on a concrete barrier of a bridge spanning a country creek. Below us, five ducklings came out from under the bridge, swept along by the creek's current. Mama was nowhere in sight. I watched as the group continued downstream. At one point the water slowed and the five were able to swim across to one side, taking refuge in an area where the water was still. Some time later, Mama came in, loudly announcing her presence. She began her search for her young, paddling unaware right past them. All of a sudden, she stopped, turned, and began to backtrack. The five ducklings came out of their hiding spot, eager to be with Mama again.

This week has been low-key and laid back. That's a good week in my book, and exactly what summer should be all about.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Yummy Goodness

Fresh strawberries from my garden. I love the deep red of homegrown strawberries.

Strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream. Yummy!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Finding the Threshold

Where I rode to today
I'm pooped. After 84 miles and 5 hours in the saddle, my body is saying enough. I've always wondered exactly where my threshold is, and today I found it right around mile 75. At that point, my quads where tired, tight, and aching. Even with the wind helping me from behind, I couldn't find the energy to muster a speed above 18 mph. I think part of this was not eating enough as I rode, the other part being battling the wind for 40 miles. The combination of the two pulled a one-two punch to make my body say okay, let's slow down and call it a day. I would have, but I still had 9 miles to go until home.

I read recently that when a person rides a century, the 85-90 mile mark is the wall, much like the 18-22 mile mark is the wall for marathoners. The longest distance I've ever ridden is 62 miles, so I figured my wall might come sooner than 85. It did. At that point, I pulled out a fruit and nut bar to eat and drank some water. I slowed down some and stood on the pedals for a change in position. I kept changing position for several miles, and before long, I was feeling somewhat better. I think my mental state was fine. I wasn't eager to get home and just be done with the ride. In fact, I knew I was going to be short of the 86 miles I wanted for the day to give me an even 200 miles for the week. I tried to figure out a way home that would add on those two miles. The only way to do it was to turn right into the wind again. I couldn't bring myself to do it. 40 miles of wind was plenty for the day.

Haven't seen one of these in a long time
I totally enjoyed the ride as it was a new route that took me to a small town north of home. There I met a very kind gentleman who had cycled RAGBRAI a couple of years ago. For about an hour, we stood outside Casey's and chatted about his experience. He keeps his bike on the carrier attached to his car just in case he comes across a place he thinks would be a good ride. I like that. On the way back, I met two happy-go-lucky dogs who trotted alongside for a short time then got bored with my good-doggy dialogue. The rest of the ride was actually very quiet and smooth.

I'll definitely do this route again. I'm looking forward to seeing if my threshold improves, but even more than that, I'm hoping the winds will be calm the entire time.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

First Flat (And No Spare)

Yup, that was me yesterday afternoon. Fourteen miles from home, four miles from the nearest small town, and a Hubby standing next to me with a very apologetic look on his face as he was the one who said, "Oh, it'll be alright to ride on the gravel road" after I had already said, "Gravel roads aren't good for my bike." A quarter mile into the road, a phhishhhht came from the rear tire. I didn't even have to say, "See? I told you so" before the apologies started. It was supposed to have been a short ride, just down the new bike path running along Route 66, to where it ends, then back home. Hubby, though, suggested we continue on to where I had gone the other day. Always up for more mileage, I agreed.

We took a different route, sort of a back way into the area of the nature preserve, Unfortunately, the road taking us closer to the preserve turned into gravel. I knew better. I did. But since Hubby hasn't ridden with me for some time, and since it was he instead of me wanting to push on, I went ahead and submitted my beautiful bike to what only could have been pure torture to it. Beautiful bike showed me! Out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, which was actually quite gorgeous with the corn beginning to gain ground on one side and a very pretty tree-lined stream on the other side, beautiful bike said enough of this madness. As I stood on the bridge spanning the tree-lined stream, I saw a path leading down to a sandbar jutting out into the water. I wanted to stay there and wait for Hubby as he raced home to get the truck and return to fetch me. Hubby, though, was having none of that. He was certain a psycho would see me, lure me into his windowless van, and do unmentionable things to me. Yeah. Right. He watches way to much crime TV. So instead of hanging out on a sandbar, my feet immersed in the cool waters of the stream, I began walking back towards the small town 4 miles away, while Hubby pedaled his tush off to get home. Four miles on asphalt roads in clip shoes really isn't a good idea. At least for the clips. Now, not only do I need a new tire and tube, but I also need new clips for my shoes.

I reached the small town about an hour later, where a very kind man offered to fix my tire for me, saying he had all the tire-patching materials needed in his garage. I thanked him, telling him the tube and tire both had gashes in them, and my Hubby was on his way, should be there any minute. And almost as soon as I crossed Route 66 to pick up the bike path, I saw Hubby coming. With relief, I slipped off my shoes and socks then slid onto the seat while Hubby loaded my bike. I sank back into the seat, enjoying the air conditioning all the way home, and thinking this was a hard lesson learned.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Backyard Gems

Today I headed southwest again, more south than west actually, zig-zagging my way out into the countryside and hoping I was taking all the right turns to get me to Route 66. Initially, I had planned to get up early and make my way to Lincoln, which is almost 33 miles exactly from my doorstep. I fell back to my old ways, though, and succumbed to sleep when I should have gotten up. I slept an hour past when I wanted to start out, so instead of doing the roundtrip ride which would have given me 66 miles on Route 66, I did 33 miles which included the new bike path running alongside Route 66 to the teeny-tiny town of Shirley. From there, I actually had to ride on the road, but traffic was light, and motorists were very considerate, moving over to make space between us.

I've now lived in this area for 12 years, but until today, I've never been to a local attraction located just off Route 66. This place is known for its nature preserve, its chapel where lots of summer weddings take place, and the maple sirup (yes, that's how it's spelled here). My kids have been there for school trips and talked about how beautiful the grounds are, so today I made my way to this historic place. The roads leading to the entrances were shaded by the dense growth of trees on both sides. I enjoyed the cool of the shade after being in the sun for most of the ride at that point. With no traffic, the only noise was the whir of my tires on the pavement and the calls from the birds in the woods. I thought yesterday's ride was relaxing, but this stretch of road was even more so. Peaceful.

I love the reflection of the barn
I reached the entrance to the chapel and rode the circle drive through the cemetery, stopping long enough to read some of the headstones, to wonder what the people who lay beneath might have been like. One headstone had several names on it, names of a couples' infant children. How sad must this couple have been to lose their children? Off to one side of the cemetery I saw a special monument dedicated to the Irish who settled in the area, who came here with nothing and worked, sometimes died, to lay the tracks of the Chicago and Alton Railroad through central Illinois. At the end of the drive, I found a large, old cedar tree with a wooden bench nestled against its trunk, the dense cedar branches shading the bench from the mid-morning sun. I sat for a minute.

Now I look  forward to returning to this quiet, peaceful place I've always known about but never visited until today. It truly is a gem in my own backyard, and I'm pretty sure there are many others just waiting for me to find them.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

New Route

I tried out a new route today. Rather than heading west then north to the lake, I rode southwest, out to a small farming community. The new route offered rolling hills and very lightly traveled rural roads. Having no traffic to worry about (well, for the majority of trip anyway) made for a truly relaxing ride.

I started out early, not long after sun-up. I think Sunday's early morning run infected me with a desire to now get up and get out before the day really starts humming along. Today, the temps were in the low 70's when I clipped in and rolled down the street. By the time I got back 2 and a half hours later, the sun was beating down in the high 80's. A cool southwest breeze kept the ride from becoming unbearable.

My rest stop to fuel up
Going out to the small town, I knew I was on course as I could see quite a ways in the distance the large grain bins marking where the trains pass through during harvest, loading the cars with corn and soy beans. On the return ride, I decided to explore. This didn't work out so well. I ended up running smack into a busy road where the motorists travel way too fast. Since the road I was on t'd into the busy road, I had to ride the busy road for about a half mile before being able to turn off onto a rural road. I wound my way towards home, riding back roads I've never traveled before. I kept looking for familiar markers and finally saw one of the hotel signs to the north, telling me where I was in relationship to my home. 40.42 miles later, I rolled into the driveway, happy and ready to face the rest of the day.

Tomorrow looks promising for another early morning ride. I'm thinking maybe a trip down Route 66, maybe going for 66 miles, would be fun.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Expending Energy

The weather since last Thursday has been up and down. Rain, lightning, wind, sun, 90 degrees, 65 degrees: you name it, we've had it. Up until yesterday afternoon, I hadn't ridden since Wednesday, not solely because of the weather, and I was feeling the need to get out for a long one. I did pull myself out of bed early yesterday to get in a two mile run, in the rain, initially hoping to go at least three, but the lightning lit up the dark gray sky, so I turned tail and scurried for home. Afterward, as I sat drinking a large glass of ice water, I marveled over me actually getting out of bed to go for a run. No doubt I really needed to expend some energy. By noon, the clouds and the storms they carried moved on by, and the clear sky, the little to no wind, beckoned me to ride.

So I did. 56 miles. I've ridden this route one time before when the wind was blowing 20+ mph out of the southwest, right into my face the last ten miles. That ride was brutal, taking me 3 hours and 25 minutes to complete. This go round, I finished the ride in 3 hours 7 minutes, managing an 18 mph pace. My quads are screaming at me today that what I did to them wasn't very nice. Maybe not, but accomplishing 50 miles in 2:48, eleven minutes under goal, put me in a very happy mood. According to one of the challenges on DailyMile, that time earned me a bronze medal. I missed the silver by three minutes. Guess I'll have to try again cuz that silver is going to be mine before the end of summer.

Today the wind has returned along with the heat. While I have no plans to do another 50 miler today, I do think I'll go out for a shorter recovery ride later. Or maybe I'll take the boys fishing.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

If Every Day Could Be Like This Day

Wednesday, after two days of 25 mph winds with gusts to 32 mph, I awoke to stillness. Hubby was already awake, as usual, and whispered, "Winds are only 4 mph." I looked at the clock: 5:45. The battle began--get up and go or snuggle under the covers and sleep for another half hour? Then I remembered I had to stick around to call my son out of school, so I snuggled under the covers, hoping the winds stayed calm.

Once the youngest was dropped off, once I finished my oatmeal with banana and a pre-workout nutrition bar, I was ready to go. As I walked my bike off the deck and out the gate, I examined the tree tops across the street, trying to gauge how much the wind was blowing. Nothing.

I set off, deciding to take my fave route of going west then north to the lake then around the lake then back home. When I made the turn to head north, the wind turbines were still, like sentries standing guard over the farmlands. The turbines usually won't begin turning until the wind blows 10 mph or more, so with much happiness, I pedaled on, enjoying the sunny, cool morning. The ride all the way to the lake was easy and smooth.

I made my way around the lake, took a break at the beach house, eating a Honey Stinger crisp and drinking water, then set out for home. When I rounded a curve and got a good look at the countryside, I could see most of the turbines had begun turning. The winds had once again found central Illinois. Thankfully, the strong winds from Monday and Tuesday didn't return, and I was able to ride home without battling to stay upright in the crossways wind.

In the end, after 42.75 miles, I arrived home. Before my feet were even unclipped, I was planning a ride for the next day. Today is that next day. The weather: thunderstorms. The winds: ESE at 12 mph. The consolation: it's still early. Maybe the clouds, rain, and wind will move on by this afternoon. Maybe.