Pushing it

I wore a mid-afternoon veneer of sweat and sunblock, in a mixture that dripped helplessly down my body. I gulped the last of my warm Gatorade and moved on to the bottle of water, which was also warm and getting close to empty. The temperature in the sun was about 96 degrees, and perhaps a few degrees cooler where I stood on the shaded sidewalk. My bike was near me, idling against a fence. I started to relax as my body slowly cooled. I had been biking for 37 miles, and another 11 stretched between me and my apartment. Under better conditions I would have had no trouble completing the ride, but the hottest day of the year had gotten the better of me. I had just come down from the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway—shady, downhill, river-adjacent—and found myself on the completely sun-exposed shoulder of Halsey Street in Troutdale. It was 3:00 and I could no longer handle the heat radiating from the asphalt. I caught a bus, put my bike on the front rack, and returned to Portland in air-conditioned comfort.

Earlier that day, while debating whether or not to go out in the forecast heat, I assumed I’d be home before the temperature hit its peak. But I hadn’t started early enough. My 9:30 breakfast stop turned into a sojourn, since my little pre-ride to the restaurant had me sweating already. I wondered if I should go on, even as I downed the stack of pancakes that I ordered specifically to fuel a long bike ride. In the end, I couldn’t convince myself to give up the goal of reaching Crown Point in the Gorge. This was the very ride that kickstarted my knee problem over a year ago and prevented me from riding the Tour of the Unknown Coast, and generally sidelined me from doing long rides for a while. After getting that problem under control with a visit to a physical therapist, who specializes in bike fitting, I needed to conquer the route again. And it was worth the trouble, even when I looked like this:

P1010604

In the past two months I’ve been determined to regain my fitness and get back in touch with my love for bicycling. I’ve had the privilege of challenging myself with a bunch of great rides close to home. It started with a 16-mile ride to Kelley Point Park, a lovely natural area at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. Then in mid-June, Pedalpalooza hit. This annual festival of bike fun took me to the crest of Rocky Butte for a dance party; on a 30-mile loop through Fairview and Gresham to visit candy shops; on a 15-mile loop to ogle beautiful yards in SE Portland; and, of course, on the World Naked Bike Ride through a gauntlet of cheering people. Shortly after that, I finally ventured the 13-mile commute from my office in Beaverton to my home in SE Portland. It involves some difficult climbing, but rewards the effort with a thrilling and gorgeous descent through Washington Park. The park almost literally dumps you into downtown Portland, by way of a hill that has your fingers tensed around the brake levers. It’s an amazing way to fill the early part of my weekday evenings.

This is incredibly fun and life-affirming, but it’s also an informal training regimen for my next adventure: a five-day bike tour through the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound area. Although much of the cycling will be mellow, I’m not in the best touring shape, and I weigh more than I did on my last bike tour. I need to be ready to ride for five days straight and to tackle two days of biking on hilly Whidbey Island. It’s a challenge that I’m really excited for—so much so that I’m no longer thinking about my subsequent trip to New York City, which I had been literally dreaming about for years. I have a month left before kicking off the tour with a train ride to Seattle. Look for write-ups and photos on this blog sometime in mid-August.

It’s not always easy for me to be a solo traveler through this life, but I’m embracing it fully and developing the leg muscles to show it.

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1 Comment

  1. Love your description of your solo Crown Point ride! On my first solo ride to CP, I, too, got a late start, was only going to do and out and back to Blue Lake, but talked myself into going for it all-the-way to Crown Point, and then on the gentle final climb just past Corbett, I had the conversation with myself about whether or not I should continue or bail; I was too close to my goal to bail though, but I really, really wanted to! 🙂

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