Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chilling in Bernville ...

I headed up to Blue Marsh Lake today for a good long ride. There was no specific training goal to the ride, but I was hoping to fit in as many miles as I could. That's one of the reasons I've always loved Blue Marsh -- you can do big miles with lots of climbing, but your body doesn't rebel if you just keep a steady stream of calories flowing in. Originally, I was thinking maybe 50 or so miles today, but I've ridden Blue Marsh in wet conditions before and it can really slow you down -- the sections along Route 183 on the way back are where you always go fastest but if they're muddy, they are completely different -- it's hard to ride it without fish-tailing all over the place when its wet. I knew it would still be a little wet from the rain the other night, and my hope was that it would be cold enough to be frozen solid.

And early on, it was. A lot of the typically muddy sections were either iced over or rock hard.

Ice was all over the in a few sections
Talk about a wholesale change.  I have never been a fan of cold weather -- even when I used to snowboard a lot, I still would have happily given it up for year-round temps in the 70's -- but this year, I actually want it to be colder when I ride. I guess it might have something to do with all the rain we've had this year and all the soggy rides I've done since last winter -- I'm willing to take frozen solid to soaked and soft. And then there's certainly been a change in my attitude about the cold since I discovered the wonderful world of plastic lunch bags ... honestly, they're better than expensive winter shoes. Ever since I read this article about dressing for cold weather, especially the part about using a vapor barrier as opposed to "wicking", I've been using plastic bags as a middle layer between a regular cycling sock and a thicker wool sock on the outside. And I haven't had one time when my feet got too cold to keep moving.  That's amazing for me -- I have always had to stop shortly after a ride starts to painfully thaw out my fingers and toes. My hands have been fine because of my new Gore Tex gloves, but I'm going to pick up some cheap plastic throwaway gloves to wear between my base layer and the new gloves for when the temps really drop. My core is always fine -- I've got the layering thing down pretty solid -- which means, for me, cold is defined by how my fingers and toes feel.

Despite wintery temps with no wind protection in the woods, I was never  felt too cold.
Anyway, the ride started out as cold as could be, and that was great. In fact, everything was solid all the way out to the big climb up the back of the old Blue Marsh Ski Mountain, but on the way back, I realized that I was going to have to go slower than I originally planned -- the sun had been out all day (even if it was a distinctly winter sun) and it had melted quite a bit of the mud on the fast sections.

A very wintery sun
No big deal, though. All that meant was that, combined with my relatively later 11 a.m. start, my 50 mile day was going to be more like a 40 mile day if I wanted to finish up before 4:00. That was cool - 40 miles would be a relatively long ride for this time of year for me, so I was still happy with that. 

Mostly, though, I was happy because I was having a pretty good day on the bike. After three days of a sore back, I felt great - loose but solid - and except for a bit of a twinge in my butt, my legs felt really strong. I easily climbed everything all day except for a few sections of the massive mountain climb, and that was more because of the slick mud than any issue with my legs. I even climbed a significant portion of that short vertical wall past the Mount Pleasant trailhead, which I've never done on my singlespeed before. All in all, it was great to feel good, even if I wasn't looking for training. I was stopping every now and then to take some photos and just enjoy the day outside, and this was on purpose -- I didn't want to make it a training exercise, at least not yet. That will start soon enough in January. For now, it needs to be just base miles and fun, and that's fine with me. (But it's still nice to feel good out there!)

Cresting the back of the Blue Marsh Ski Mountain
So ultimately, I did get my 40 miles. And it felt great. And I could have done 10 more if I didn't want to get home. But Joanna and I wanted to check out a yoga studio tonight, so I did want to get home in time to go see it. But this was by far the best ride I've had since vacation began. Even with the mud on the way back in, I just had a great time out there.

A few shots from out on the trail today:

Early section of frozen trail

Winter cornfields are starkly gray

Wide open spaces + winter winds  = cold stretches of trail

Still frozen at around 12 miles in

The lake is more prevalent without leaves to obstruct my view

Blue Marsh - steep ups ...

... steep downs ...

... and lots of sweeping views.

Winter trees have an almost sinister quality to them ...

... from almost any angle ...

... but this is never more noticeable ...

... then when you're looking at them from below on a climb.

Not so bad when looking back from the top, though, are they?

Gearing up -- or not so much -- for a climb.

For the last few miles, I even had snow flurries blowing all over. That was pretty cool. I always love riding in snow. I'm not sure why -- even when I am too cold to be out there, for some reason actually riding in a snowstorm has just always been fun for me. Today wasn't a storm by any stretch, but it was like a nice bonus to have a few flakes blowing around as I finished up!

The only problem with the ride today, ultimately, is the cement-like mud that is now covering my frame. I'm going to have to use a sandblaster to clean it.

So another ride in the books ... if every day takes us one step closer to death, a day like this reminds me that not all steps are created equal. 

Keep on keepin' on!

As cold as it may get, being on a bike in the woods is still my favorite place to be.

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