A Feeling Like No Other

It’s been a long and frustrating hiatus from biking. My bronchitis just wouldn’t go away. The fact that I approached like a typical guy didn’t help any — a typical guy would do nothing but take some throat lozenges and hope for the best. That’s what I did. And although my wife was after me to see the doctor, the Mayo Clinic’s website says you don’t need to see a doc until you’ve had the bronchitis for three weeks. If it hasn’t cleared itself up by then, maybe an intervention is called for.

I took solace in the fact that I coughed a little less each day. Aside from the coughing, I felt normal. But the lack of cycling exercise contributed to an overall sluggish feeling that I couldn’t wait to shed. Finally, I could do it.

Friday dawned with heavy local rain. I figured my plans for a ride later that afternoon would have to be put on hold yet again. I gave a presentation at the university on our new system for creating online classes, then kept an appointment with a new faculty member whom I met through a mutual friend. By the time we took our leave of each other, the rain had long since stopped, and things were almost dried out already.

At home, I walked around outside a bit, and noted with satisfaction that the sun was breaking through the remaining cloud cover, and starting to warm things up. It took just a few minutes to change into my biking clothes, pump up the tires, and venture onto the neighborhood streets.

For my first ride back after a four-week layoff, I decided to head over to the Veloway and do a few laps. The road to the Veloway, which also leads to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, was solidly lined with cars for its entire length — about a half mile — on both sides. It’s spring, and this year, Texas is having the finest explosion of wildflowers I’ve seen since arriving here 15 years ago.

Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush set off a MAMIL along a back stretch of the Veloway.
Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush set off a MAMIL along a back stretch of the Veloway.

I did three laps around the Veloway, then headed home. Modest mileage — 15.2 miles — for a ride of almost exactly one hour. I rode steadily, only pushing it in a few spots, and not for very long there, so my Strava feed showed no trophies for any of my segments — as if I cared. The layoff hasn’t adversely affected my riding. That is, I never felt as though I was working hard. Well, I was pretty huffed by the time I got to the top of the HEB hill less than a mile from home. But I can be pretty huffed on that thing even when I’m in condition. That pesky little four-tenths of a mile, gentle but steady climb does test the rider.

So what? I’m back. It was great to be in the saddle again, great to be out on the familiar roads. Riding a bike is a feeling like no other, and I’ve missed it.

Looks like we’ll have rain for the rest of weekend. I might miss it some more.

Mountain Biking at an Advanced Age

There’s a nifty event coming up in Austin in a few weeks. It’s called the “Big Southie,” and is an unsupported mountain bike ride consisting of three different loops on the myriad of bike trails in the south part of town.

I’m going to ride it. Not the whole thing, but parts of it. So when I saw that a pre-ride of the route was planned for Sunday, I decided to join in.

The pre-ride was just the north loop, and would cover about 17 miles. This is described as the “most technical” of the three loops. “Technical,” in mountain bike talk, means you have to bounce over lots of rocks. I figured if I was part of a group covering some trails that I have not yet ridden, I’d be okay — even though I’m not very good at negotiating rocks.

We started within a few minutes of the scheduled 9 a.m. departure. The ride leader was looking for someone to serve as the “sweep,” or last rider in the group, and I said that since I was probably the slowest rider there, I would do it. We started on a paved multi-use trail at a local park, and right away I had to push it to stay with the group. These were some serious mountain bikers, some of whom I had seen before on other outings.

Just over a mile from the start, they veered off a familiar path onto a trail that I never knew existed. It was a different way to get to the Mopac Expressway, which we would cross under. But not on a road. We would cross under it on a rough trail. It was really quite fun, because we first crossed under the southbound lanes of the expressway, and then rode between the two divisions of the road for some time — about 12 feet below the road surface, so traffic didn’t even know we were there. Eventually, we crossed under the northbound lanes, and the trail started living up to its “technical” billing.

I’m not at the point where I blast over rocks, especially loose ones like we were dealing with. At one point, the trail turned abruptly up, and I had to downshift to the small chainring and stand on the pedals to keep my forward momentum going. Just then, the front tire hit a rock that was larger than most around it, and the bike jarred to a halt. I had to jump quickly to keep from being thrown onto the bed of rocks. While I wrestled the bike up the rest of the hill, the group had disappeared into the woods and underbrush ahead.

I pedaled hard on the trail, and soon came upon one of the bikers, who had held back to wait for me. That’s the way it would be for the next 10-15 minutes: I’d fall back, and someone would stay back to wait.

We reached the Sunset Valley trails, a nice network of trails in the town of Sunset Valley, which is completely surrounded by Austin. Now, I could stay with the group. But they were headed toward another bit of “technical” stuff — a trail I had tried to ride about a month ago, and that proved too risky for me. I let one of the riders know that I was turning back, and wished them all a nice ride.

Heading back through Sunset Valley, I decided to take some of the branch trails I’d never been on before. One was quite nice. Twisty singletrack, into and out of woods and prairie. Eventually, I reached a point where it climbed a hill steep enough that steps had been built into it. Clearly, I was off the part of the trail used for biking. But I carried the bike up the steps (the rustic kind made of logs and mud), and reached an overlook.

I learned that this spot is called Crystal Mountain. It's hardly a mountain, but does offer a nice view.
I learned that this spot is called Crystal Mountain. It’s hardly a mountain, but does offer a nice view.

The sign said I was in a nature and conservation area, and sure enough, I had blundered onto a trail where bikes are not allowed. I walked the bike down the hill, and picked up the trail I had taken into this spot. This time, I decided I’d had enough exploring for the day, and headed home.

I have enjoyed mountain biking since I started doing it last April, but I think I’m getting cautious in my old age. (A friend once told me I’m just getting wiser.) The rough stuff other riders attacked were the kinds of terrain I like to avoid — or at least tackle at a slower, more exploratory pace than we rode this day. But they’re about 30 years or more younger than I am, and I’m not sure I’ll ever ramp up to their level of expertise that navigating over rough ground.

I’ll continue to ride the mountain bike, but at my age, I’ll ride on my terms.

Starting the New Year with a Pfsst!

Finally got a break from the cold, rainy weather that started 2015, and I was anxious to get out on the bike Saturday. My wife had already done her ride for the day, and I was moving too slow to go with her. Once I finally did get saddled up, she was back, showered, and already hard at work in our home office.

I figured I’d start the new year with one of my most frequent rides, about an hour and a half through the neighborhood. The bike was performing well. It shifted silently and rolled smoothly. On this sunny, 55-degree (12C) afternoon, I saw a number of other bikers, but no one I knew.

I turned south to go to a hilly subdivision. While climbing an easy hill toward a highway that I had to cross, I became aware of a click from the rear wheel. It came regularly, with every revolution. Oh, great! Another broken spoke!

I stopped the bike and spun the rear wheel. No broken spoke, but the click was still there. I slowed the wheel and located the problem. A staple had punctured the tire, and its trailing end was catching the seat stay with every turn.

Hm. I was a little over two miles from home, and the staple seemed to be holding air in the tire. At least, it hadn’t gone flat yet. I seriously considered trying to make the return trip with the staple in the tire. But then, I had a change of heart, and pulled the staple out.

Pfsst! The tire flattened out immediately. Okay. I carried the bike up onto an adjacent sidewalk and started to work. The spare tube I carried was a patched tube, and I always wonder if the patch will hold. In addition, I had abandoned my trusty Road Morph pump awhile ago (I still have it — I just don’t carry it with me anymore) and I had one CO2 cartridge and a valve chuck. I had to get it right the first time. My track record in this area is pretty dismal.

But it worked! The tire filled, and it held. As I put the wheel back on the bike, a couple pulled up and offered to help.

“it’s all done,” I said.

“All done?” asked the man, who was about my age. “Fan-tastic! Our timing is perfect!” We chatted for awhile, but his wife wanted to move on, so we said our goodbyes.

I headed straight home, not willing to trust the replacement tube any further. So, my first ride of 2015 was a whopping 10.7 miles — a little less than half of what I’d planned. But there was a silver lining. It seems that Strava wipes the slate clean at the beginning of the year. The hill I was climbing when I hit the staple is a Strava segment — and I got a King of the Mountain! Of course, my time on that segment was 16 seconds slower than my best time on it in 2014, but hey — it’s good to be king.