Monday, February 21, 2011

SIGNS OF THE PENDING SPRING SEASON

The unseasonably warm weather that has graciously been visiting the mountains of Western North Carolina has continued into the early part of the work week. I’ve been lucky enough to get in some road riding with both a small group and solo the last couple of days. While out and about, I’ve noted the early signs of the emerging spring season.

Of course, there are those that we all recognize such as the earliest bloomers making themselves known and the return of certain birds. Its about this time of year that the blue bird does his scouting for nests.

bluebird_red_crested

(This hearty fellow will soon be looking for a house…)

It is often hard to tell which birds are the harbingers of spring anymore as we seem to have more birds wintering over than happened in my youth. So, we must look to the tried and true signs of spring to know that the season is nearly upon us. One such sign is this…

Feb20_LegShave01

 

Yes, spring must be upon us for certain! The winter’s growth is coming off. The first shave of a new season is now history. Slicked down and ready to ride!

SUNDAY GROUP RIDE…

“Climbing Jen” is in training for her first triathlon and announced she would enjoy some company on her Sunday 40 mile training ride. Several of us agreed it would be fun to join her. I hoped that I had 40 in me this early in the season.

Sunday was supposed to be a sunny and warm day. It started out brisk, overcast, with off and on periods of drizzle. We corresponded around noon and I reported that it was 43 degrees and raining at my house. “Climbing Jen” said she was going anyway so I “manned up”, sucked down a banana and some peanut butter and headed to the parking lot at Stuart Auditorium on the grounds of Lake Junaluska Methodist Assembly.

When I arrived, Jen was prepping for the ride. We were soon joined by Wolfpen Andy, Cross Country Stan, and a local fellow that we met for the first time (Jim). We laid out a route that was essentially a figure 8 that would allow for the desired mileage, some moderate climbs, and afford a quick opportunity to return to our vehicles should the weather turn nasty.

A Lake Junaluska start

(l – r, Jim, Climbing Jen, Cross Country Stan)

We started out and, thankfully, enjoyed partly to mostly sunny skies throughout the ride. The first loop of our figure 8 route consisted of riding north on NC 209 to Crabtree Church Road and then dropping down to Riverside where we ran alongside the Pigeon River for a few miles.

NC 209 has two mild to moderate climbs before you get to the turnoff onto Crabtree Church road. Unfortunately, I lost Jen’s wheel on the first climb and was pretty quickly outdistanced by the group. I almost caught up between the end of the first climb and the beginning of the second climb but, alas, I was too pooped to pedal enough to fully catch up. The group kindly waited for me in a church parking lot at the end of the climb. I was REALLY thinking about my sloth like training regimen over December and January. There must be something to this concept of off-season training…

Our ride along the river was pleasant and at a nice cruising pace with only minimal traffic to deal with as we spun our way down the river. We were “greeted” by two loose dogs along the way. Fortunately, neither dog did more than run alongside of the group. They gave up the chase and headed back home leaving us to cross the river and start the climb up to the Triangle, which is the intersection of Iron Duff Road and Coleman Mountain Road.

I again found myself as last wheel in our small group. Although not nearly as far behind as I was earlier, I was still making my way at my own pace trying not to get demoralized at not being able to keep the pace. The “silver lining” to this particular cloud was that I was in position to watch two more loose dogs engage the front two riders. We all had some distance between each other on this leg of the trip and the dogs ran in and out of the bikes. One of the dogs was an Australian Heeler and it was pretty clear he (or she) was really more interested in trying to herd the group than bite anyone. The dogs gave up the chase as I came upon them. I was VERY HAPPY that the Bull Mastiff on the porch of the house where the Heeler lived didn’t join in the merry events of the moment!

A final climb back to NC 209 and it was decision time. I knew by then that I didn’t have 40 miles in me on this day. I was contemplating heading on back to Lake Junaluska but everyone seemed geared for the climb over the backside of Hyder Mountain. So, peer pressure being what it is, I said “sure, I’ll try it!”

Off we went, again north on NC 209 crossing over I-40 before a sharp right hand turn took us to Hyder Mountain Road and the climb to Fincher’s Chapel. I was first wheel from the last stop and, as we began the climb,  Jen passed me followed shortly by Jim. Jen opened up about an 1/8th of a mile lead on me about the time that Cross Country Stan pulled alongside me. “Jen’s looks like she’s put the hammer down, doesn’t she?”, he spoke was kept turning the cranks making our way up the grade. I replied in the affirmative and watched Cross Country Stan find yet another gear in his repertoire of climbing skills.

I glanced up the grade a short time later and saw Jen making her way around a right hand curve. She must have had a quarter mile lead on me at that point. Right on her wheel was Cross Country Stan. He had run her down! Having thousands of miles of riding in your legs does, in fact, make a difference!

At the top of the climb, we reassembled and discussed the next leg of the trip. I pointed out we had gone 16.8 miles and to get to 40, we only needed to double what we had already done and add 6 miles! I knew I couldn’t do it on this day. I informed the group I would split off at the bottom of the mountain and head back. Saying our good-bye’s we descended down the steep side of Hyder Mountain toward the Pigeon River. Climbing Jen, Cross Country Stan, and Jim headed east on Hyder Mountain Road while Wolfpen Andy and I headed west and south back to Lake Junaluska. We rounded off our ride with an additional 9 miles back to the Lake.

The water fowl of Lake Junaluska

(Lake Junaluska is home to many, many water fowl!)

Upon returning to our vehicles, we were greeted with the normal Sunday scene of the Lake’s many, many ducks, geese, and other critters looking for a handout from the families that come park in the lot and get in some exercise and family time. If you look closely, you’ll note a Seagull just hovering above the hood of the red car. There were a pair of them looking for food. Either they made a really bad turn at Myrtle Beach or they are on an early vacation! As with more birds wintering over, we also observe more coastal birds in this area. Global warming???

MONDAY RECOVERY RIDE?

The weather today was even better than yesterday. We had sunny skies and temps in the upper 60’s toward the end of the day. I needed to loosen up so I decided to spin around the Pigeon Valley just to loosen up and work out some lactate from yesterday. I started at Bethel Middle and had an easy run down to Canton. The first two people I came upon at the Canton Rec Park were my sister and niece. They were out, as were many others, getting some exercise walking the 2 mile paved loop along the river. The Pisgah High School baseball and softball teams were both practicing. I looked for my other niece, who is the short stop for the Pisgah softball team, but did not spot her as I rode by their field.

The ride up NC 110 to Bethel turned into a working affair. Gone was the easy spin down from Bethel. A strong headwind out of the south was upon me making the flags stand out fully at attention. I was pedaling hard into the force of the wind working much harder than I had intended. Occasionally, the winds would come at me from the side and push me either toward traffic or off the shoulder of the road. I was pedaling in climbing gears at points while going downhill! My little 12 mile loop today really ended up working up quite a sweat from exertion. It’s all good! Maybe days like this will help me stay on the rear wheel of that guy or gal in front of me next time!

Until later,

- Zeke

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