Monday, April 28, 2014

The Dogwoods of War

I was dead on arrival at the base of Cobhill.  How maleficent (as in "bad") am I?  I thought.  Could I eat a little, stretch, rest, and maybe haul myself up the monster climb? 

Cobhill itself didn't worry me as much as Watson Ridge beyond.  It goes slightly beyond what I would call rollers and ends up being a series of short hills.  One maxes out at almost 20% and is just a couple of hundred yards long.

I was dog tired.  Jefestus rode KY 399 out to Heidelberg and then over to Irvine last week and said 399 was as good as Big Andy.  So why not combine the two? the scheming part of my brain kept asking in that nagging way that I hate.


Of course the route I chose--the route that made sense--put me at the base of Cobhill dragging 70 miles of Plateau surfing fun behind me.  I'd climbed Glencairn hill, Butler Ridge at the end of Big Andy, and a horrifically unmaintained climb out of Beattyville on KY 11.  Oh yeah, and that climb out of Heidelberg... Heil hillclimb!

Along Big Andy

Kentucky River at Heidelberg

Beginning the climb out of Heidelberg

Above Heidelberg on the way to Bear Track


I thought detouring to Bear Track would be beneficial.  I could drop in Janet's store, refuel, recharge and then charge on toward my destiny with Cobhill.  The long descent down Miller Creek should have been cake, but in fact it was a slog into a steady headwind.  At times I fought to maintain 14 mph.  At times 10.

A good place to rest, and there's a store right behind the photographer

I was a wrung-out rag laying crumpled up at the foot of Cobhill.  Home is so close from there, but there is so much climbing and so many rollers.  Rollers that at 10-20 miles out are fun, but at 70+ they just make you sick up.


I put off the inevitable evil by sitting down in the shade to begin composing this post.  And here I am.  What will I decide?  I've ridden less and felt worse.  I'm not cramping.  In fact, I felt okay, just a little wrecked.  But I wasn't trying to pedal the bike.  Typing is so much less taxing than crawling up the endless wall of Cobhill.

I dumped out one water bottle.  I feel so...pathetic.

Okay.  Cobhill it is.

[cue dramatic music]

Action shot of me near the top of Cobhill
Looking off the precipice...Cobhill

I'm not the maleficent beast I would like to be.  I'm a long way from malevolence apparently.  And sitting at the top of Cobhill feeling like the wrung-out rag that has been chewed up by a couple of pit bull puppies...?  If I lived at the top of Cobhill I'd be doing well.  I do not.  I might as well live 40 million pedal strokes away.

So as I lay on this metaphorical rock and wait for the angry crow across the road to come peck out my eyes I lay helpless, tangled up with my cursed bike, wishing for a quick end to it all...and a thought appears.  Why doesn't natural selection work like it was designed to?  I've been allowed to pass my scheming DNA to two other creatures.


I dragged myself out of the stupor I'd collapsed into after my walk of shame up Cobhill.  There was nothing left except to start pedaling toward home like the kicked puppy I felt.  I'd vowed no SAG before I left home and I meant to foolishly follow through.

Ugh.  I hate bikes.

I saw purple and white spots as I took off mashing down on the pedals for the long slog home.  They might have been the result of fried synapses or they might have been the lingering redbud and dogwood blooms and speckles of purple wildflowers everywhere.  It was hard to tell.  I'd been seeing those spots all day.
Seeing stars!

The last food I ate was at the bottom of Cobhill.  My gut wouldn't let me force anything else into it.

Sometimes letting go of the notion that you need to eat every half hour frees you to just ride.  Watson Ridge was torture, but I picked up the pace as I could feel the pull of home.

At least I wasn't wrestling a headwind after Cobhill.  Then I was blasting through Furnace.  Then I was in the home stretch.  My power was superficial.  I only managed to keep my speed up by maximizing the rollers.  If I didn't slam weakly down on the pedals on the downhills I'd have had to have granny-geared up even the smallest hills.  I was also gunning for the downhill b4 town Strava segment.  I knew what I'd been doing wrong, and I was determined to ratchet up a few places on the leaderboard.

I hit the apex at 20 mph and as gravity took ahold of me I pedaled with everything I had left.  Chest on saddle, fingers away from the brake levers I bombed down and down and down.  I didn't slow where I usually slow, and when I made the last curve before the long straightaway to the finish I cranked as hard as I could with no thought of slowing at the bottom.

I rocketed through the curve at the base and kept pedaling until I was beyond the end of the segment a few hundred yards further.  It felt like a fast descent.  I'd find out when I got home.

There is no way to return home without tackling a crux-type climb.  There really is no lesser of evils.  I've just got to tell myself that if Granny Moppet or Steamshovel kills me I can coast home from the top of either.  Granny Moppet took it's turn grinding me to a spiritual nub.

Then I was home.  I collapsed in a heap after stuffing two burritos and most of a quesadilla down my pie hole.  86 hard miles were behind me.  A week's worth of cares were obliterated.  When I looked at Strava I found I'd gone from 7th on the downhill segment to 2nd...and hit an amazing 52 mph.

Part of the last half of the ride was burdened with the turmoil of home and of the road behind me.  My...neighbors...have been troublesome.  Mandy had texted me while I was out and told me they were at it again.  I was grumbling inwardly and raging against the frustratingness of life.  My thoughts were muddied while I needed them to be more clear.

The ride was good.  Don't get me wrong.  Motorists were 99% well behaved.  My route was stellar.  Physically I didn't exactly rise to the challenge.  Last year I was still coasting on the base miles I'd been racking up in Colorado for five years.  I think they've finally worn off.

I was mourning my weakness.  The ride should have been crushing.  I should have ridden Cobhill clean.  I am a malevolent beast.  Just the fact that I decided to start up it when my computer read "70"...
The dogwoods have invaded!


  1. WOW. Love the imagery and the prose has me right there with you. Glad you made it through without the SAG, but I know it was a tough, tough grind.

    1. Thanks! I was actually pretty happy with myself for not giving in to the weakness of the cellphone lifeline. Early on I made a deal with myself that if nothing else I would exercise my mental endurance.