Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Favorite Mistake

My memory of the Flag Loop (out old Centerville Road, over the Georgia line and back) was a happy one. We did the ride at night last winter, when I was in really good shape. It was the only night clay ride I've ever done. Not long after, a plan started to hatch in my brain about connecting it and the Kilearn/Dirt Proctor route, to make it a long solo ride.

The stars aligned and I slept nine hours Saturday night. I felt like Sunday was a perfect day to take a shot at it. I was up early enough and it was cool and clear out. I started out slow feeling sluggish after my first real week of riding in a while. I got lost looking for the back door (a cut through some private roads, off Bradfordville Rd.) to Proctor. I figured it was about ten miles out to Centerville, but when I got there I had about sixteen. I was so preoccupied with my incorrect mile count, that I forgot to get water at the Bradfordville Country Store, before I headed out on the clay. My plan was to turn around if my odometer read over thirty miles by the time I reached the first turn on Metcaff. I cruised thought the Old Centerville Road clay and looking at houses and plantation gates. I wondered what it would be like to live out there. I hit the pavement at Springhill and quickly realized the climbs were tougher and longer than I remembered. At about twenty eight miles, I came to the stop sign and the left turn onto Metcaff. Another cyclist rolled up to the intersection across the street and we chatted about where we were from and where we were going. He had never ridden the Flag Loop, but he knew the roads and came with me to make sure I got the next turn correct. At the next dirt section we said our goodbyes and I was on my own again.

About this time, I started to feel a very uneasy stirring in my gut. It's that rumble and cramp, we all recognize from awful previous experiences. I began looking for a place to desecrate. In my preoccupation with impending doom, I missed my left turn and ended up on 319 a few miles south of Thomasville. The one bright spot was, there was a gas station across the road and I was thanking (Deity of choice) that I would be able to evacuate the evil in a civilized manner and also get water. At first I didn't notice all the plastic bags on the gas pumps, or the lack of cars, but when I looked into the dark pad locked carcass of the store, I said "no fucking way!" loudly to no one. My mind and bowels were already in launch mode and I had to find whatever spot I could to exercise the demons, that were coming with or without my consent. I squatted next to an A.C. unit, praying that no one would see me doing something, National Geographic would edit from a Hippo documentary. I always carry paper towels with me (for just such a party) and was thankful I had done one thing right. I walked away from the crime scene as though nothing happened, vowing never to admit guilt for the havoc I had unleashed.

A quick check of the map revealed I missed my turn by one mile and I headed down Forshalee, thankful that at last, I was headed home. This is a narrow and nearly house free road with a couple good climbs and bombing (thirty mile per hour, plus) downhill's. I was feeling so relieved that I actually got out of the saddle on a couple of the hills and forced myself not to touch the brakes going down. I got to the left on Sunny Hill and drank down my last swallow (which put Kenny Rodgers "The Gambler" on loop, in my internal radio station).

By the time I got to Old Centerville again I was really thirsty and hungry but I couldn't force down a Cliff Bar with no water. I came to St. Phillips-Primitive Baptist Church of Christ and rolled under the chain at the gate. I found a spicket and turned it on. A slow stream of brown water sputtered out of the pipe and turned eventually to a milky white water and air mixture. After a few minutes it finally became a clear clean (looking) stream. I filled my bottles after a smell and taste test. All seemed well. I decided I would not drink that stuff after suffering my previous intestinal riot, and planned to haul ass (as best I could) to the Bradfordville Store. When I finally got there, all my monkey brain could think of was RC Cola. I went in and bought water and two sodas. I staggered out to the porch and inhaled the first and then the second without a break. I slammed down the bottle on the railing, only then noticing a man and his wife looking at me in equal amounts of disbelief and disgust. I apologized and told them I'd been out of water for about an hour. I filled my bottles with fresh water and felt like a new man (after a couple dinosaur burps).

When I got back to Proctor, the idea of going back over my tracks seemed dumb, so I headed south to Crump and the Miccosukee Greenway. The idea of not dealing with cars and shaving a couple miles off my ride home seemed sound. By the time I got to the top, and the end of that trail, every root and patch of sand was causing me to spit and curse, and I swore I might never ride it again. I coasted down the sweet paved hill and back up the last climb on Woodgate, to my hood. Sixty three miles (about twenty more than I estimated) and four hours and forty five minutes were in the books. Considering all the missteps and calamity, I felt pretty good.

There is something about these long solo rides, on new routes, that make them seem bigger than they are. I am always afraid of getting dropped and lost on group rides and I figure this is good therapy for that. It's nice to know you didn't sit in and shut your brain off on another group ride. In the end you did it alone (however slow) and for this old dog, the feeling of accomplishment is very rewarding. I guess you can always do a lot more than you think you can. I need to remember that.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Just Take Your Medicine (and don't complain)

Halfway through my second lap at Tom Brown, I realized I would rather be doing anything than riding my bike. Big Worm and Tiny D had dropped me about ten seconds into their medium pace regimen. They are prepping D for the Tom Brown race next week, and I am here to see them. Worm is aggravated, no one is hearing what he is saying and he's just trying to help. D warms up slower than any completive cyclist of her ilk, but when she flips the switch she can red line as long as she wants. They are invisible in the distance and I am going so slow the roots on the one technical section of Cadillac, almost force me backward. I am completely and utterly unenthused with mountain biking. This activity has become some monotone dirge and I would rather watch game shows than pedal one more minute.

It was not like that when I started. Some of the trail heads were marked by no trespassing signs and for the first time since I was a skateboarder, I felt that great taste of five finger candy. To steal something was always sweeter than to being invited. This was also true of my favorite surf spot back home; The Power Plant. We you had to go down dirt roads around a gate and then finally down a perilous sand double track in my old VW bug. After navigating that maze then, and only then, could we pick the fruit of that grand emptiness. Dark gray waters awaited with great lefts and rights with no one around for miles. It was a huge oasis from the rat cage that was my home break; North Jetty in Ft. Pierce. At the plant you could catch as many waves a you wanted, and we laughed and yelled paddling as fast as we could, back out to the empty lineup. The dream was short lived as word got out and the gallery brought the bullshit by the truck load. All my favorite skate spots were illegal too. You came to a fence, looked at your friends, threw your gear over the wall, climbed it and reaped the rewards. We skated big pipes, empty pools, new construction roofs, and bone dry fountains at dilapidated hotels. The skate park, lay within minutes of where we were trespassing, but for us the rules, frozen pizza, and Steve Miller on a loop, where too much to bear.

When I started riding fifteen years ago, it was an adventure for me. Tom Brown was covered in head high grass. The unregulated trails broke off and crossed back over themselves, while others dead ended into old buildings. Cadillac was private property, rooty, brutal, washed out and fantastic. If I saw a cyclist out there, he was always better than me and everyday there were ten obstacles I dreaded. If there was a storm and a tree came down, it laid where it fell and you had to find a way over or around it. Out past the levy, in the no mans land beyond the tracks, lay the bucket loop bordered by thorns, berries, crooked fences and occasional hunters. Weems trails had four wheelers with no helmets, rich high school pricks drinking beer by fires, standing in the trash they never cleared. Beyond them lay the abandoned Fallschase development with burned out carcasses of berm houses and paved roads to no where.

All my favorite pastimes have an element of fear attached. I was afraid every time I skated a big half pipe, took off on a set wave, or reached for the top button of a girls jeans. That thrill of waiting for a sigh or screaming denial was (and is) the "thing". I was able to keep that demon alive on my cross bike by riding more dirt, on an unsuspended skinny tire beast. For a little while this year, that feeling came back. Even the smallest section of soft sand is a white knuckle death ride. I also found the feeling out on long road rides alone, wondering if I had enough legs to get home. I felt the tingle with every passing car and every turn, down roads I didn't know.

I have unfettered dreams of cashing in my retirement and becoming a dishwasher in Missouri, hiding in a rural house writing the novel, no one will read. I have to fight my steering wheel anytime I get near I-10 to keep from driving away into new, unauthorized single track. I always remember there are bills to pay, a great wife to kiss, and boys to support on their new trail. After all, I have had every opportunity to take all the shots I've wanted to take, with little or no resistance from anyone in my life. Still, I pace back and forth in my office like a caged cat that once ran wild. I peek through the blinds and wonder what they'd all say if I disappeared again, like I did back in 87'.

In the end, I am a good dog and I know where my bowl is. I ride the rides and take the easy route around the logs. I dutifully get out of the saddle on the ten foot wide oyster shell horse path. I run the fence obsessively and howl at real and imagined threats beyond my borders, like I am actually defending some sacred ground. More than anything, I fear that sound in the distance is just a branch in the wind, scraping the fence, and all the barbarians beyond my gates, have died.