10 July 2013

All Aboard the Pain Train

This past holiday while in NH, I had a long bike ride on my schedule. I haven't done any long bike rides from my parents' house and had no idea where to ride for 5ish hours. Fortunately, my friend Damon from college offered to ride with me Friday and take me on some fun local routes out to the ocean and back - bike ride to the ocean from my parent's front door?? Sign me up!

I did have an idea of what I was signing up for though - the Pain Train. Damon is a ridiculously good cyclist and I had my fingers and toes crossed that he wouldn't throw the hammer down - I forewarned him that the ride was going to be a walk in the park for him, even if I am barely hanging on. He has done a bunch of bike racing and I remember him riding a bunch in college. We were one of about four French majors the year we graduated from St Mike's and we both studied abroad in Grenoble, France (college town surrounded by the Alps) in Fall 2001. I ran into him at Logan Airport as we were checking in for our flight across the pond and saw that he was bringing his bike - you travel with your bike?? Now that I'm actually into cycling, I'd like to go back to my college self and knock some sense into me - You are going to the ALPS! There's no better place on earth to ride a bike!! The only time I rode a bike in Grenoble was when I borrowed a friend's bike to get back to my host family's house at 4am from a party on the other side of town - I got hopelessly lost following the tram tracks in the opposite direction, and to add insult to injury, it also rained on me and ruined my clubbing clothes that I was wearing on said bike ride home.

Christmas Market in Grenoble back in 2001

View of Grenoble from the Bastille - lots of hills!
Anyway, back to Friday's ride - I got up early to make some Feed Zone French Toast cakes for the ride, stuffed my Bento Box full of Mojo bars and taped about six gels to my top tube (there isn't a Bento box big enough to hold all of my crap so it's time to get creative). Filled all of my bottles with Skratch Labs Lemon-Lime and I stuffed about 15 Saltstick tabs down my sports bra. Any thoughts of New England being cooler and more pleasant than Swampland, DC were immediately squashed when I walked outside into a hairdryer that blasted both heat AND humidity at 7am. Awesome.

I lived in New England until I was 22 and it is sad how very little I know about the local cycling routes - I'd always viewed most of the roads around Hudson and beyond as being unsafe for cyclists because they are twisty and seem to have a fair amount of cars on them. In fact, it's quite the opposite - many of the roads we were on had very little traffic and reminded me of what I'd find in rural Virginia. The ride started off going through hilly Bush Hill Road in south Hudson before going through Pelham and eventually into Massachusetts along the Merrimack River. We came up to a few spots that unexpectedly looked familiar, but mostly we were on beautiful roads that I didn't even know existed. I felt bad that Damon was doing most of the work, pulling me along, and a couple times I jumped in front to pull my own weight but that lasted a hot second before it became obvious that I had no business being in front, ha! The ride out to Newburyport/Plum Island felt pretty good - it was still early enough that it wasn't ridiculously hot (mid-80s or so) and the roads were shaded. I was paying close attention to how much I was eating (alot) and drinking (more than a bottle an hour) and how much salt I was taking in. I think there must've been a gradual downhill because the ride out felt almost effortless at times on our way to sea level. We arrived in Newburyport in a little over 2 hours and refilled our bottles and I also drank some V8 (that stuff is magic). We made our way out to Plum Island and I was THIS CLOSE to going for a swim. It was getting HOT.

Nothing looks more inviting than the ocean on a hot day
When we turned to head back to Hudson, I realized why the ride felt so easy on the way out - tailwind. Which meant a headwind for the way home. There was less talk on the ride back, it was getting hotter by the hour and there were more cars on the road and at this point my legs were starting to feel the burn and I was struggling a bit to keep up the pace. We made one more stop to refill bottles (amazing how quickly you go through them in the heat) and douse ourselves with the extra water. My shoes were soaking wet for the rest of the ride home, I knew they were going to stink to high heaven as a result, but it was worth it. We took a slightly different route home and as we went through Lowell, I could really feel how hot it was, being in between taller buildings and around alot more cars. I think at that point we were both ready to be done. It was around this time that I started counting down the miles while also trying to stay focused on keeping my speed and cadence up - we were almost done, less than an hour to go, if I've made it 4+ hours there was no sense in falling apart now. I also started bargaining with myself - you don't need to do your transition run, don't think about it, finish the ride and see how you feel, maybe you only do 20 minutes of the run instead of the full 40, it's over 90 degrees and heat index is close to 100, nobody will blame you for cutting the run short. I tried to push the T-run out of my mind, deciding to cross that bridge when I came to it, and eventually we made our way back to Hudson, rolling up to the house just a little over 5 hours and 95ish miles later. I don't think I've ever ridden my bike so fast in such hot weather (I was also drafting like a fiend, so there's that). I ended up doing all 40 minutes of my T-run (I did break it up a tiny bit by stopping in at our family friend's house to say a quick hello - it is tradition that whenever I am going for a run in Hudson, I stop in and say hello to Karen and Ed Mercer who I have known since I was 3). After that, I was spent. Do you know what the best part of visiting Mom and Dad is - when I walked in the door, there was this amazing veggie sandwich just sitting on the kitchen table waiting for me to scarf it down! Thanks Mom! 

Thank you Damon for taking me on some fantastic routes and showing me the great cycling that's just outside my parent's front door - I had no idea the ocean was just a bike ride away! And thanks for pulling me for 5+ hours, having company made what could've been a miserably hot ride into a fun morning instead. If you're ever coming down in DC, let me know and bring your bike!

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