Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Base Miles and Banana Bread

(Phallose at the top of the mountain)

I must be sick. I give up. I admit it; I have a problem. Exhibit A: I was driving in to work this morning on clear roads. Suddenly a mini blizzard stoked up. The roads were immediately covered and I couldn’t see the cars ten feet in front of me for the violently swirling snow. As I slid to a stop after exiting the slow procession on the highway, all I could think was— Cool, I wish I was on my bike.

Lord MonkeyButt summoned the Grimpeurs for a ride Tuesday. Phallose rode in from Morgantown and The Flanders Fat Cat broke up the work day for a ride up Mud Pike. Phallose, astride his gleaming carbon steed, struck fear into the heart of MonkeyButt, who chose an old steel Clydesdale with 32 inch bald tires as his mount. The excuses knocked about like air hockey pucks. The Cat was sick. His smooth cross tires were not in the trunk and he had to ride mudders. MonkeyButt had been working in Jersey and only riding hotel trainers. Anything to lessen the blows sure to be delivered on Phallose’s blog, The Misanthropic Cyclist’s Forum.

The sky brushed aside its grey covers just as the Grimpeurs started up the pike. The pace was dawdling to say the least. Phallose, to his credit, held back the evil powers he has been concocting in his garage and pretended to grunt. The summit was made without any undue pain. The only interesting thing that happened on the ascent was the mysterious case of the road gloves. Phallose shouted from ahead, “Hey, there are two gloves on the road up here. They say Specialized.” When the Fat Cat caught up he was surprised to confirm that they were his, the hole in the shifting finger giving positive ID. He had not ridden the mountain in some time and yet there they were, right in the center of the pavement. The last time he did ride down, it was damn cold and he sure as hell didn’t take his gloves off. Maybe a snow plow pushed them all the way up there from the parking lot?

The Grimpeurs made a right on Skyline for the Bruceton/Lake of the Woods loop. Earnestina did her best to keep up with Phallose and his road monster while Phallose did his best not to completely drop the Cat. For his part, MonkeyButt said he liked to ride alone…on a group ride. Funny how it was always off the back and never off the front. Seriously though, he accounted for himself well despite his exile to the flatlands.

Most of the ride, save a few violent bursts, was taken at conversation pace. Phallose filled in admirably for Talks-with-Legs. The subjects of conversation were: quantum physics and universal intelligence, the biological imperative of propapagation of the species, the “many worlds” theory and its relationship as to buying a carbon fiber bike (hey, you’ll be buying it in one dimension, so why not this one?), the fallacy of human evolution, the offensive nature of the word “fag” and its etymology, and whether MonkeyButt would like to change his name to “Rabbit” in line with the Karma Sutra. By the way, I would much prefer having a Madone to eating dirt. Just yankin yer chain a little, Phallose.

Despite his fears and past experience with the Grimpeurs, the two cross bikes never ganged up on Phallose and he and his delicate road bike were kept off the gravel and other non-asphalt surfaces. However, some pea gravel and ash did conspire against him on the hairpin curve near the bottom of Wymps Gap. The Cat heard him, brakes squealing, slide across the road and onto the very edge. Phallose admits he thought about locking into a power slide or even dumping it but he didn’t want to ruin his tires.

Well, that’s about it. It was a good ride. The best part of the trip was probably the mid-ride snack of banana bread. The Fat Cat found it in the trunk of his car, right beside Phallose’s stuff.. He almost threw it away but there was no mold on it so… Anyway, it sure tasted good, even homemade, like it had been specially baked for someone. Delicious, just delicious. Now you know why it is called “The Trunk of Destiny.” Anything that makes its way in there is destined to be The Cat’s.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tastee-Freeze for Lunch

I caught a glimpse of a movie the other day while grabbing a bite to eat. Nicholas Cage sat outside the stone McMansion that housed his dysfunctional family. He monotoned over a shot of the fine home, “Look at this house. Someone should be happy in there.” Sometimes I feel like that when gazing across a frozen valley after pumping up three or four miles of steady grade. Look at this house; we should all be happy on here. One fellow’s fortunes fall while another’s rises like blobs of lava in one of those old lamps, ever changing, ever floating and sinking, beautiful. It’s only when the heat is turned off that the whole thing settles into an ugly cold lump at the bottom. Every man or woman riding next to you has been to the top of the hill and to the bottom as well. They have all felt the strain of the impossible grade and the fear of the descent. All any of them can do is keep on riding, keep the legs moving forward. And, if they do this, they inevitably look out across the valleys and the peaks they have worked and sweated over and they are happy. Works every time.

Two riders got out yesterday for a lunchtime workout in the hills of West Virginia. Birdman and the Fat Cat started out in cold weather but on clear roads. Being averse to clear roads this time of the year, they headed up steep old Mayfield. The climb kept the furnaces burning and the toes warm while it degenerated into a rocky stream of winter runoff.

The Grimpeurs plunged down the other side on Mt Zion road, bunny hopping potholes and shedding glassy shards of ice from their rims with each squeeze of the brakes. Two youts shouted out something ending in “giddyap.” Who knows what preceded that. One can only imagine, being that we were in deepest, darkest. As the Grimpeurs headed out towards Masontown the snow really started to come down.

It was decided that the bike path would be the best way down the hills they had traversed. The 3% average grade and absence of traffic would alleviate the need for braking, allow the riders to control the effort instead of being at the mercy of wind chill and it would be to the liking of their hardy bikes.

The trackless white of the path was stunning. The powder churned up from the tires and through the forks like shavings from a metalworker’s lathe. Birdman must have been getting cold because he quickly shucked off the sight-seeing pace and stoked the old internal fires. He had the Fat Cat just on the red line all the way down. The snow fell harder, the eyes stung more and the effort increased to levels that had The Cat feeling like some musher in a desperate bid to deliver vaccine to stranded, diphtheria stricken, Inuits. But, he wasn’t cold.

The final six miles over Dug Hill and into Cheat Lake were gloriously horrible. The roads were covered and untreated in the heart of a snowstorm. Cars were parked along the roadside, unable to top the hills. All the while Earnestina’s tires just kept digging in. You know you’re having fun when someone yells out from their porch, “Be Careful!” What a wonderful world.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Get Your Head In The Clouds

It was the worst of days. The world refused to break into glorious wintry turmoil but neither would it offer a smile of sunlight from its gloomy face. It was cold. It wasn’t the kind of freeze in which one can find comfort in the beauty of survival and nature's grandeur. No, this day was the kind that hovered just at the raw edge of dreary existence. There was no glory to be had or promise other than that of discomfort.

Still, the schedule (despite plans otherwise) opened itself and I found myself passing ole Mud Pike on the way for lunch and then Grimplet pick-up. The trainer was in the trunk and Ernestina was on the roof. She was relieved to have been spared a shackling for lunch but still quivered up there at the prospect of my finally beating back Somnus and tying her to the garage floor whilst everyone else sleeps. Her front wheel shifted on the wet rack and turned towards the east.

Out there, just beyond a sea of gloom, the mountain’s top enveloped itself in low ceiling. It was all mystery, wrapped in clouds, an uncomfortable gift from your estranged lover. There was fear. All hell could break loose in the unwrapping, gloom piled upon gloom. There was hope. Pushing aside the pillowy tissue might reveal something wonderful, renewing.

The only way to get started in pouring, just above freezing, glass after glass of ice water over the head, rain is to just take it head on. Forget about “warming up” and all that. Earnestina and I hit the hill like wild bull and savage rider, spitting bile as we cut through the murk. Oh, could the incoherent grumbling and discourse have been made decipherable—

At times like these you can take the mountain on in such a way as to suck out the venom. Bearing down, nose to the rivet, one can use the pain like a buck knife, carving bloody crosses across the wounds and sucking it all out. Soon the world contracts to a senseless orb, no cold, no icy rain, all contracting quadriceps and pounding heart, brain unseated from its throne. It was thus we rode, ignoring Bill Murray’s admonitions to the groundhog (that one was for you, Musie).

And then there it was, the shiny red bike, the Xbox, the diamond ring. In the space between the heavens and the corner of some sodden field (that was for you MonkeyButt) on a break in the grade, the senses blinked back on in a field of white. I don’t know what it is about crossing the snow line on a bike. Maybe it’s the solitude, the sernity, the graphic display that change happens, the thrill of treading the untrodden, the feeling of moving nature and her seasons, by force of will? Maybe it’s as simple as the pretty white show? Whatever it is the snow line always hits my tired soul like a cleansing wave.

Ah, up there in the clouds, alone, without my thoughts, in a sea of brilliant white noise. Like a dream, it sorts out the days events, clears the mind, strengthens the body, preserves the sanity. Why would anyone confine themselves to rolling along the bottom, never lifting their head? We spend so much of our lives spinning away, over the same old ground, that we never change cadence. We ride around the hills, sucking each other’s wheels, crowded into the stifling echelon, hiding from the wind. We duck under the simple act of being happy. I wanted to stay off the mountain, but I couldn’t—shouldn’t

In less than 1.5 hours I am down the mountain and back in the gloom. Thing is, the gloom is not so bad. I take the time to race about the puddles and delight the gawking drivers, some of whom actually stop to see the spectacle. The little hills that caused so much strain, slide under humming tires. I laugh a bit. There is something to be said for getting your head in the clouds sometimes.