One of my goals, completed! And we had views like this all along the Creeper Trail.
So, how can I sum the whole thing up? Something like this: It was beautiful, difficult, painful, rewarding, long, arduous, fun, body-killing. And I want to do it again.
Patrick’s brother, Eric, joined us. We started in Abingdon and the three of us rode the 31.5 miles up to Green Cove Station. Patrick (who is amazing) added an extra 8ish miles to his trip by getting up to White Top Station.
Math: Eric and I clocked 63 miles; Patrick, 70 miles.
The first 10 miles or so were beautiful and carefree. Abingdon to Damascus (about 16 miles) is nearly flat. As the first leg of the trip, it’s great: constant pedaling but without strain (I’d say I averaged about 13 miles an hour); lots of pasture to ride through; a faint whiff of optimism in everything.
A few miles before you hit Damascus, the path gets more loose-gravely, which provides just a little resistance. I started slowing down (not too much, but noticeable, probably down to 11 mph).
We took a nice long break in Damascus, where we snacked on peanut butter sandwiches and apples (Patrick has gotten expert at spotting apple trees; he picked us about half a dozen).
From there on, it was a 14-mile climb to Green Cove Station. And this is where I started to work. The first 8 miles or so of this leg of the trip wasn’t so so bad; I probably kept it around 10 mph. But then the grade increases ever so slightly, and I could feel myself dragging. If we do this ride again, it’s one of the places I want to improve significantly: I slowed to about 9 mph, then 8 mph, then I’d say I hovered around 7 mph until we hit Green Cove.
Awesome Husband Move No. 1: Patrick could tell I was dragging, so he decided we’d celebrate every single mile. We called them out and cheered. It helped, if only to know he was trying to make things easier.
When we got to Green Cove, we bought snacks (trail mix for me), Patrick set out on his extra ride, and I totally napped. On the porch of the station building. I woke up refreshed.
But wait. Then I got on my bike. And my butt was sore as hell, and my thighs were burning. And I had 31.5 miles ahead.
Some lessons I learned:
1. Your rear end may be sore at first, but if you just get over it and keep going, it’s not so bad after a while.
2. Your thighs will not stop hurting, no matter what, so just live with it.
3. Nearly all 14 miles between Green Cove and Damascus is down hill, and it’s fun as hell to hit 20 mph around little mountain curves.
4. My husband is the best husband in the world. More on that …
When we hit Damascus again, I kept riding while Patrick stopped to buy us some Starbucks in a can (Doubleshot: easy and quick). He caught up with me about four five miles down the road (that’s awesome husband move no. 2). I was proud that I’d been pedaling that entire distance at about 12 mph average, but after we stopped to take our drink break, I was slow in the saddle.
And that flat ride that was so pleasant as a first leg was painful as a last leg. Patrick helped me to push my speed when I could, he rode slowly when I couldn’t push, and (oh did I mention this? there are gates all along this stretch of the trail) he rode ahead to open all the gates for me so I could glide through.
Overall, I probably averaged around 8 mph in the final 10 miles of the ride. I was in serious pain (my seat, but mostly my thighs, which seemed impossibly used up). And by the last seven miles, we were celebrating every, single, mile.
The last three miles, I set my sights on being in the car, collapsed in the passenger seat. If I thought about what I was doing, it was hard to comprehend that I had what it took to finish.
And awesome husband move no. 3? This is the best one. The last mile, Patrick — who was tired but much more able than I — reached over as he rode alongside me and placed his hand on my back. And he pushed me.
My body and defenses were so warn by the ride that I nearly cried, it was so goddamn sweet. “You love me!” (I totally said that; twice.) And whereas I’d been going about 7 mph at that point, his help got me to 12 mph.
Just knowing he was there to help was a great relief, not to mention how good it felt to go faster, which meant being done faster.
When we got to the car, I did collapse into that passenger seat, and we set out to eat some Pal’s (sauceburger, fries, vanilla milkshake).
And now? I’m ready to go again.
lessons for future long rides
Drink more water!! My muscles may have been less sore if I’d been more hydrated. To do that, I either need to learn how to balance on my bike as I reach for my water bottle, or be willing to stop more and drink up what I need.
Train on the bike more. I probably would have benefited from more experience on long rides before I set out for a 63-mile stint.
Work on my core. As much as I hate standing on my bike to pedal, it would have been a great help if I’d been in the kind of shape to do it more often throughout the ride (both for climbing and for relief as we neared the end of the ride). I was able to stand a little bit, but with great effort. What will prepare me more for those moments is a stronger core, to help keep me stably in that upright position.
Eric B. gets a special mention for flying down the 31.5 miles from Green Cove to Abingdon in 2 1/2 hours (despite probably being as sore as I was) so he could return his rented bike by 6 p.m. The world should know.