A couple of weeks ago, the boys and I visited family in Maine, as we usually do in the summer. This time, however, we took the last couple of days of vacation and drove to Vermont to visit my friend Andy and his son Ian. It is a long drive across Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, but it is incredibly beautiful. I hadn’t made the drive before, so I particularly enjoyed it.
In the hopes that Andy and I could get in a bike ride, I took along my kit, pedals, and shoes. We are close to the same height, so his road bike is about the same size as mine. He graciously allowed me to use his road bike, while he used his cyclocross bike, which is a bit slower. Having him as slow as possible is very important when I ride with him, as he is speedy and I am not. Anyway, I forgot/didn’t have room to take my saddle, which was, ahem, somewhat disconcerting. We had time to go for a ride the day we got there, so got geared up and ready to go.
He cruised down the lawn to the driveway. I started to, but immediately discovered that the saddle was way too high, and walked down instead. He made the necessary adjustments, and away we went. The first stretch of the ride is a gravel road and all downhill, which is no big deal if the gravel is well packed. It wasn’t, so I took it pretty slowly: unfamiliar bike, guy’s saddle, gravel…enough of a combination to make me nervous. Oh, and I was supposed to do my best not to crash his bike. No pressure. All was fine until I came to a sharp curve that happened to have very loose gravel. I skidded sideways, wobbled, nearly floundered, and yelled a bad word. I recovered without falling, and noticed that Andy had stopped and waited up ahead of me to make sure I didn’t wipe out. Finished the gravel without further incident.
Once we got out onto the road, it was nice and smooth, although there is no shoulder and traffic is passing at 45 mph. It was a little rolling, but there weren’t really hills, just easy riding. I didn’t have a bike computer, so I didn’t know how fast we were going, and I was trying to keep up with Andy. That was my first mistake. I learned later in the ride that even though he was ahead of me, he would slow down to wait if I fell behind. I had a slight cramp under my right rib cage, but attributed it to both the different bike geometry and the heat.
The beginning of the ride was both easy and significantly downhill, but it was hot. I suddenly felt truly miserable and had to stop, but I assumed it was just the heat. I had chills, and my heart was pounding. I know my face was beet red, but that happens even when I’m not too hot. Andy very patiently waited for me, and made sure I drank plenty and cooled down a bit. I couldn’t figure it out, though: I don’t do very well in the heat, but I almost never feel that bad, especially on an easy ride. We kept going, and came to a lovely hill.
Or, it would have been lovely if I had been feeling okay. It isn’t a very large hill, and normally would have been one that I could handle without any problem. Not this day, though. I got halfway up, and absolutely had to stop. I know, I know, it’s only worse if you stop on a hill, but my legs felt like they could not go any further. I said some bad words again, out of pure frustration with my body. I finally had a chance to ride with Andy, and my body just would not cooperate! Andy was the epitome of patience and reminded me how to beat the hill. I said I wanted to either die or jump in the stream that I could hear. Never mind that the stream was down a steep slope. He said we had a couple of options, but had to get back to the house somehow. He offered the option of me turning back to the town we had just passed, and he could come pick me up. Or we could keep going. Stubbornness won out. I still wanted to die, but was going to do whatever I could to make it up that stupid hill.
I had to stop again before I made it to the top, but I eventually made it. Andy would ride ahead a little way, then come back to check on me. I didn’t mention to him how much I appreciated that: having someone who feels fine right next to you while you are in agony doesn’t make it any easier. At one point, he rode just a little way in front of me, and suddenly was back. He told me that the point where he had turned around was the top of the hill, and cheered me on. If I hadn’t felt so miserable, I would have been mortified that it was so hard for me to climb that hill. From there it was seriously downhill. As in, I think I just hit the highest speed I have ever gone on a bike and surpassed the speed limit downhill. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous or afraid of crashing.
We got back to the town that is about six miles from his house, and stopped for a couple of minutes. I was feeling much better, and actually was enjoying riding again at this point. We had already been out much longer than planned, so we split up. He is a strong rider, and would be back at the house in just fifteen or twenty minutes. The plan was that I would continue behind him at my own pace, and call him if I wanted him to come back and pick me up. Did I mention that I’m stubborn?
He was quickly out of sight, and I plodded along behind. Since there was no rush, I took my time and checked out the wildlife along the way. There was a bit of a hill on the way out of the town, and I started up it. Halfway up the hill my legs were protesting, and I didn’t want a recurrence of wanting to die. I decided to get off the bike and walk for a bit.
Aside from being stubborn, I do not walk hills. Ever. I will stop in the middle and rest, but I won’t walk them. This day, I had just had enough of fighting with my body, and decided to walk a bit. I clipped out left foot first, as always…
I didn’t notice that the verge sloped quite a bit, because there was tall grass. As I leaned slightly to clip out my right foot, I tipped over. Totally. Both legs up in the air, which naturally clipped my shoe out. The grass was high and soft, I was unhurt, and it struck me as tremendously funny. I lay there for a minute, just laughing and hoping that nobody had seen my ridiculous fall. No such luck. It’s Vermont – people will stop to help you no matter what. A car pulled up and someone called to me to ask if I was okay. I was laughing, and answered yes, so they pulled away. Thank goodness. I had experienced enough embarrassment for one ride already!
Stood up, dusted myself off, and walked a short distance. I climbed back on, finished the hill, and enjoyed the rolling area back to the house. The gravel drive was still tricky, but easier going uphill than downhill. I was feeling so good that I stopped to move a baby snapping turtle off the road:
Baby snapping turtle
I finished the ride without further incident, and felt good that I had persevered. I still couldn’t figure out why I had felt so miserable, until Andy said he suspected I had ridden too hard too soon. Yup, I would say that was the problem, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I had tried to keep up with him, and I should have started at my usual pace until I had been on the bike awhile.
Valuable lessons learned:
Listen to your body, even when you don’t want to hear it
When you ride with a friend who is a much stronger rider than you are, and he is patient and kind, and doesn’t make you feel stupid despite the fact that the ride is pretty easy, you have a very special friend indeed.
Don’t use a man’s saddle if you can help it (if you are a woman, of course). My, ahem, girl parts were a bit sore for a couple of days.
Chamois cream is wonderful, especially on hot rides.
Despite the sections of misery, it was a good ride. Every ride is a good ride.