Monday, March 25, 2019

Four Surprises

When I suggested, in my last post, that I might provide preparation updates, I had no idea it would turn out like this.  What didn't happen is much in the way of preparation.  The prospect of going off on this bikepacking trip with so little preparation is humbling.  What DID happen is a change in destination.  The original plan was for a meet-up in Missouri.  But now, due to an odd series of events, the plan is Big Bend Ranch State Park.  Humbling, I tell you.  And that was my first surprise.

The next three surprises happened yesterday, just moments after the photo above was taken.  I was zipping along a gradual gravel downhill, heading toward a "T" intersection with a paved county road.  No traffic was coming in either direction, so I only trimmed my speed slightly to help make the right turn onto the narrow road.  As I leaned into the turn (slightly braking), I noticed several pot-holes and irregularities in the gravel interface with the pavement.  At that point, I sort of half stood to allow my legs to absorb the bumps, and I let off the brakes to roll through the turn.  That is when I experienced my second surprise.  Both wheels completely released their traction, and I was sliding sideways.

After the rear skidded about 6 feet laterally, and the front about 4 feet, those Compass 48s re-gripped the paved road, and we traced a perfectly smooth arc around the curve.  Coming out of that slide, that lasted about an hour, stunned me.  I recovered with no injuries whatsoever.  And that was my third surprise.

Of course, that slide didn't last "about an hour".  It was only a split second of terror.  So this fourth surprise might be the biggest of them all.  During that tiny slice of time, in which I was not in control, my mind was thoroughly analyzing the situation, processing options, and making decisions.

I remember recognizing that I was turning "right" because I've always been more comfortable power sliding on left turns.  I felt uncomfortable.  I also remember thinking, I'm sort of standing and both feet are on the pedals.  No foot down to sort tripod my way through this.  My center of gravity was too high, and I felt awkward.  Strangely, however, it was also apparent that my lean angle was pretty good, and the slide was fortunately balanced.  I was sliding at constant angle, neither high-siding nor going horizontal.  That was pretty good, I thought, but it was lasting WAY too long.  I wanted to grab my brakes and put an end to it.  Somehow, and I actually thought ALL of this, I reasoned that I have three possible outcomes.  If I brake, I'll absolutely go down.  If I don't brake, I might go down, and I should be ready for that.  But not braking is my best chance.  My tires might grab so I can recover...which of course they did.

After my heart rate returned to normal.  I replayed the slide in my mind, and all that mid-slide analysis gushed out.  So my fourth surprise was realizing all a brain can do in those extremely short, but high-emotion, moments.

Finally, I wondered how the slide would have appeared to observers.  I decided that it must have been fantastic.  Surely, I looked like an expert shredder, like that was how I always turn corners on gravel roads.  I was deeply remorseful when I realized that my rare display of excellence wasn't captured on film.  But nothing about that surprises me.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Spring Break Countdown

I am pleased that Tim and I are planning our third consecutive spring break bikepacking outing.  We've had some good times on prior editions to Arkansas (first) and Alabama (second).  We also, in spite of extreme heat, enjoyed an early summer return to Arkansas in 2018.  We seem to tolerate one another well enough to have penciled Missouri on the calendar for the first week in April this year.  

These spring break outings follow winter (duh).  That means the long nights, holidays, and cold, wet conditions that seem to limit saddle time has eroded my fitness.  So each year, I make a half-hearted, last moment attempt to prepare myself.  As usual, I've got about four weeks to get fit.  At my age, however, physical fitness is laughable.  Each year I meet up with Tim with excuses and apologies, but not so much fitness.  This year, I have a new strategy.

The new strategy is to ride a heavy bike uphill, on rugged ground, or (preferably) both.  How is that a new strategy?  Well...I don't do that because I think it'll make me physically fit in four weeks.  I do that because it makes me patient.  It is a sort of mental fitness, if you will.  So I load up one of bikes with lots of stuff, and ride.  I practice... slowly gutting it out.  My hope is that, within the four weeks between now and April, I'll be mentally over the hardness of it all.  Being exhausted will be so commonplace, I'll be able to notice the beauty of my surroundings.

So I loaded up my bike with more water, and gear, than I really needed for my morning ride.  I went out to the LBJ Grasslands, and rode on dirt roads and trails.  I pushed my loaded bike up a few steep places.

These practice sessions allow me to test my gear and packing options.  This customized Donut Sack Saddlebag works well for these self-supported outings into the backcountry.  The combo with the Nitto R14 rack is a good one, and I expect this will be part of my set-up.  I like it so well, that I'm pondering also using a similar bag on a small rack in the front one day.

There are many miles of equestrian trails in the LBJ Grasslands.  That means my practice sessions involve a lot deep sand, or hard clay, bumpiness.  What a wonderful patience builder!

Today's practice session involved riding the entire time in a heavy mist.  It wasn't exactly what I'd call "rain", but it was more than fog.  Poor visibility, I have learned, is another patience builder.

Even with poor fitness in honest-to-goodness rough stuff conditions, the Grasslands seems to always have its rewards.  The quiet beauty reminds me why I practice...and why I load my bike, travel to hilly places, and pedal (or push) it uphills.

Perhaps I'll have some additional preparation reports between now and then.  Four weeks, and counting...