A year ago last Saturday, I came home from a late night at work to a date with the spin bike. I hopped on at 10:00 PM, and six hours and eight or nine episodes of American Dreams later, I hopped off with an indoor century ride under my belt.
That night, I looked like this:
365 days later, I went for a ride looking more like this:
You know, minus all the snow and evergreens...
Brent and I spent Saturday evening at a local university aquatics center, cheering on his students at their league swimming champs. In between a junior breaking the women’s 500 freestyle record and a senior breaking the men’s record in the same event, Brent turned to me.
“I’m kind of tempted to get our ride out of the way tonight.”
We’d been planning to get out the next morning for our final long road ride before March Madness – three races in four weeks – but neither of us was particularly enthusiastic about heading out in the 30 degree weather that was predicted to greet us.
“I could be convinced.”
An hour later, we were begging off dinner plans with friends at the meet and driving home to layer up. The thermometer in the car read 38 degrees.
At 9:30 PM, dressed in bike shorts, fleece tights, wool socks, two fleece tops, two pairs of gloves, one pair of mittens, and my blue puffy jacket, I locked the front door and we shoved off for Wissahickon.
We started our ride on the gravel path at the bottom of the gorge, and I was lulled into a false sense of security. With the trees and the hills protecting us from the day’s battering winds, I pulled down my buff and stashed my puffy jacket in my pack.
All too quickly, though, we emerged from the woods and headed west, down the wide, windswept roads of the Philly suburbs. Though my legs felt fresh, the rest of me struggled against the dropping temperatures. When we pulled into a convenience store parking lot at mile 15 for a quick bathroom stop, I couldn’t fathom being out for another three hours.
When we hit the town of Skippack, we turned south to weave our way down to the towpath. We biked through sparsely populated farm towns beneath clear skies. Though it was nearing midnight and we were both chilled to the core, it was impossible not to feel energized by the rolling roads and bright stars.
Just before we hit Valley Forge, we stopped to refuel, and I made the brilliant decision to take off my two pairs of gloves. It seemed counterintuitive, but I remembered Laurie telling me that mittens alone had made all the difference during a recent ski trip. I figured it was worth a shot, and by the time we hit the park, my hands were positively toasty.
Still, it was only a brief reprieve. This was the part of the adventure I was dreading. The Schuylkill River Trail connects downtown Philadelphia to the northwestern ‘burbs with miles and miles of flat, paved paths. Though the riding is fast, these trail is notorious for serious winds even on the best of days. And after Saturday’s gale-forced blasts? I thought it would take us hours to fight through the final twenty miles.
But then a funny thing happened. We found ourselves bombing down the pancake-flat towpath with no resistance to speak of. Our MPH climbed higher and my legs had just as much pep as they had when we started four hours earlier.
There was absolutely no wind. A miracle if there ever was one.
We glided through Valley Forge and onto Norristown, where we turned off our lights to avoid drawing attention to ourselves through the one somewhat sketchy stretch of the trail. From there, it was onto Conshohocken and Spring Mill, where I proclaimed, “even if the wind stops us in our tracks for these few miles, this will go down as the easiest tow path ride I’ve ever experienced!”
Brent, ever the contrarian, told me that my memory was faulty, that there had been plenty of wind-less rides down there in the past, but I prefer my version of the story.
We spun through the last stretch of towpath and when we turned off the trail and headed up into the hills toward home, we climbed easily. Though my chapped face and numb feet were well aware that I’d been out on my bike for four and a half hours, my legs hadn’t gotten the memo.
Talk about a pre-season confidence boost.
When we turned onto our street, we both proclaimed ourselves officially ready to race.
By the time we’d thawed out, showered, and refueled, it was nearly 3:30 AM when we climbed into bed.
The next day, I posted on facebook, “The pro/con of starting a 5-hour ride at 9:00 PM on a Saturday night — Pro: empty roads, starry sky, rare night training, and the ability to sleep in Sunday morning. Con: losing feeling in your toes 45 minutes in.”
A friend responded with, “So hard core,” to which I replied, “Hard core or lazy. Riding last night meant we didn’t have to get up this morning. I slept until 10 AM for perhaps the first time in my entire life.”
Best decision ever.
And because I don’t have a single picture from our overnight adventure, I’ll leave you with some shots of this year’s Oscars Extravaganza Cook-Off:
One of my contributions to the spread:
Second runner-up: Brazilian Meat Skewers and Wedding Rice (a la Bridesmaids) —
First runner-up: Hugo Cheesecake (or Midnight in Paris, depending on who you asked) —
And the winner is…