September 10, 2011 Ride: Highs and Lows

It’s been quiet around here lately (by here, I mean rideblog). Going back to work this year has been stressful, as I’ve been creating my new website for my students. There are also some personal stresses brought on by a fractured friendship that have meant a quiet week for me, athletically and personally. My family are as supportive as always, but I haven’t been sleeping as well as I’d like. This has brought a flare-up in my illness, which is dependent on sleep to control the pain. Ironically, though I’m feeling better mentally, now I have to deal with the physical effects, which last much longer.

Anyway, I have taken this less as a learning experience, because these things happen whether or not we think we can learn to anticipate them, and more as an opportunity to refocus on those long-term friendships I know for certain are rock-solid. I don’t make friends easily, so when I am someone’s friend, it comes with a powerful love and loyalty that is very hard to shake off for me. I’m a whole-hearted friend, fully invested. It’s nice when that’s valued, and sad when it isn’t, but that’s life: you can’t make someone value who you are.

The funny thing is that this has also been a great week for friendship: I just found out that in less than a month I’ll be going down to tour Stanford’s d.school, since I’m working with their curricular ideas, and this will afford me the opportunity to stay with one of my best friends, who lives in the area. It will be wonderful to spend a few days with her, meet her partner for the first time, go hear some live music with her, and just hang out together for a short time. We’ve been friends now for around fifteen years. She isn’t much like me, in terms of our outer lives, but we have a deep inner sympathy that has bonded us despite our physical distance from one another. In other words, she’s rock-solid, and I don’t think we’ll ever find a situation powerful enough to shake that love for each other.

So this week had it’s share of highs and lows. Last week, however, was different. I had nothing to do on Saturday but ride (soccer season began this weekend), no one had upset or hurt me (yet), and the day was gloriously sunny and hot (summer ended this weekend, I’m fairly sure). So let’s do a retrospective rideblog, pre-this-week, and then I’ll be back next week with new adventures and a fresh mindset.

When I considered where I wanted to ride, I ran over all the trails I usually ride in my head and quickly eliminated anything local as being too flat. For whatever reason, I wanted a bit of a challenge: something to stretch my legs and get my heart racing. So I went to the extreme, and headed out to ride the Lake Washington Trail for only the second time. I figured I’d ride just as far as I wanted, with no end goal. If I got to Bellevue, that would be grand. If I didn’t… it was not a big deal.

Most of the trail is actually composed of bike paths on the side of Lake Washington Boulevard. Except when it isn’t, and one is riding on the street. This one terminates in construction which, of course, blocks the bike lane. These sections are fairly limited, though, and the roads aren’t all that busy.

Riding past the Seahawks training facility, I’m always struck by how ugly the building is. There’s nothing wrong with the color or the finishes, but there’s this beautiful lake right there and this is just a big, blue warehouse. I realize the Seahawks themselves probably have views, but they don’t seem to have considered the needs of the community when they built it.

Right across the street, the actual trail begins, running alongside the freeway for a while. Obviously, the views here are not scenic either.

However, it is blackberry season! Though in the “old” days, I was told not to eat blackberries growing by the road because of the lead present in car exhaust, all gas is unleaded now and I’m also old enough to realize that it’s very unlikely that a handful of blackberries will kill me. Of course, when I’m dying of cancer in ten years, I’ll shake my fist, look back on this ride and think: BLACKBERRIES!

But in the moment, they were plump and tasty! It amused me the absolute profusion of berries I was seeing, as well. Normally, a public path would be completely stripped of reachable berries, but as this one is only used as a commuter path for cyclists, there were berries everywhere. This is yet another reason why a slower, upright bicycle rocks.

After the exposed, noisy bike trail, it was great to be back on Lake Washington Boulevard in the dappled shade!

What was so amazing about riding this trail, was the difference in my fitness level. Just a few weeks ago, down with bronchitis, I could hardly ride up my driveway. Before Ireland, I rode this same trail, and had to repeatedly stop on my way up the hills. But now, without much appreciable change in my body, I cranked up every single hill without having to stop at all: even at the top! I rode right up this one!

I arrived in southern Bellevue sweaty, but not overly tired.

I was surprised by the ease of the ride. A few days before, I had fallen, hard, while on a retreat with my students. I had turned out the light to the girls’ cabin without realizing that this would turn out the lights outside the cabin door. One step, and I was off the edge of the top level of decking and on all fours in the darkness. My hands and knees were bruised black from the fall. Weirdly, it also really strained my triceps. Pumping The Raleigh up the hills, I could feel my triceps working. It felt great!

When I reached Bellevue, I had about fifteen minutes left to kill before I had to turn around and head back. Where to go? I decided to head out toward I-90, which is an east-west route between Bellevue (and points east-er) and Seattle. In the middle is a long span of a bridge that happens to have a pedestrian/bicycle path. It’s always crowded when I drive across, and despite the killer views, I don’t exactly relish the notion of cycling alongside a freeway for several miles. But I was curious: what lay on this side of the bridge, before it entered the city? What trails wound themselves through the Mercer Slough? It was hot… the slough looked shady…

The boardwalk path into the slough is narrow and crowded. Each photo felt like I was risking my life, as roadies raced past me at full speed. It wasn’t threatening if I was moving, but it was not an easy place to stop!

With the trees arching overhead, the first part of the trail felt like a cool, green tunnel. I emerged into sunlight and up onto a ridiculously steep little bridge. Ahead of me, less dedicated cyclists ground to awkward halts near the top, but I was in the zone and pressed on to the summit. I was rewarded by the lovely view of a river, at least on the side that wasn’t facing the freeway.

There were several folks out on paddle boards, which seem to be all the rage with kids today. The river, whichever one it is, winds through the slough and out into the lake.

By this point, I knew I had to turn around. I was so overheated, that sweat was literally coursing down my face. I’ve never had a good temperature regulation system, probably because of my illness (it’s convenient to blame everything on it!), and I was working my internal thermostat to its maximum capacity!

Early in the ride…                            Later in the ride.

Sweaty! I was also hungry, and frankly, I had to pee! This is a real consideration when one is a woman on a long urban ride, especially when one is consuming large amounts of home-brewed iced tea. I turned around, and followed the path back under the freeway to Bellevue.

So that’s what’s under there!

Fortunately, I was close to a nearby waterfront park: Newport Beach Park. A precipitously steep descent led me to a space crowded to the absolute limit with human beings. The place buzzed with folks out enjoying the weather.

It actually took me several minutes to realize I had been to this park before, by school bus. In fact, I had spent several full days here, pulling blackberries and other invasive species. But that had been during the week, in the winter. This was a whole different universe!

A quick trip to the restroom, and I was able to take a leisurely break under a tree, and munch through the granola bar I had wisely packed on my way out the door. Ah, relaxation mid-ride! What a concept!

Unlike previous rides, my energy didn’t really flag on the way back. I scooted right up hills that had previously required not one, but two stops! Long descents saw me traveling more quickly, and with more bike handling confidence than I’ve had before. Ireland had given me a real advantage. I’m not sure why riding a bike around for a few days would do that, when I’ve been consistently riding all summer, but there was something about continuous time in the saddle that changed the way I ride.

Suddenly, I realized that I had arrived back in Renton, feeling relatively fresh despite the ride.

I was less tired than I expected, and inordinately pleased with myself for my accomplishments on the hills. I’d had a bit of a revelation on the way back: I have lately been wishing for a “better” bike, one that would let me go faster, with more gears for hill-climbing. Well, it would seem that I don’t really need a better bike. The Raleigh is a great bike for hills, even steep ones, if I have something else: a better body!

And in the end, I’d rather have the second option, you know?

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6 Responses to September 10, 2011 Ride: Highs and Lows

  1. Matthias says:

    I was just going back through a few older blog-posts of mine and admired the Panasonic a bit more. Thought I’d drop by and seeing how you’ve been riding and I was quite surprised to see the Raleigh – talk about a contrast of bike-types! I can imagine it rides super differently, but it looks like you’re enjoying it (and that’s what counts right?)

  2. Auchen says:

    Attagirl on conquering those hills and steep bridges and boardwalk roadies. Your trip to Ireland and the bronchitis may have taken the wind out of your sails, but this was only temporary and enabled you to come back even stronger. So too with your personal tribulations: What doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger.

  3. Bay Area BFF says:

    Do you pronounce “slough” as “slew”?” We’ve had this discussion at home, and I think it’s a coastal thing.

    Yes, that’s what I decided to focus on, despite your kind words about me. I wub you too, and am so damn excited to see you again. I just wish you could bring The Boy, because I haven’t seen him in an age. :)

  4. rideblog says:

    BFF, I’m glad The Boy is not coming, as he has trouble understanding the concepts inherent in Design Thinking. :)

    Yep, slew.

  5. rideblog says:

    Thanks, Auchen! Now if I could only get out there and get another ride in… maybe this Saturday.

  6. rideblog says:

    Hey Matthias! The Raleigh is a very different bike, indeed. I sometimes miss The Panasonic’s speed, but not the bent over thing. My back prefers The Raleigh, fast or slow!

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