This past week, on the day I’d planned to mow, thunderstorms came through Stepford and rain spoiled my planned yardwork. The clover, oniongrass, bees, and squirrels out there are pretty happy about it. The robins, less so, as they like to forage after the mowing. I was pretty angry at first, then suited up in my silly looking MTB kit consisting of Fox red and gray jersey (purchased several years ago for spring and fall kayaking), gray Endura shorts (silly-looking, plain shorts – super comfortable and functional), black Dickies ankle socks (LOVE them), and 10 year old New Balance Eight-Oh-Something trailrunners (easily the best, stiff-soled non-bike specific cycling shoes). Padded mesh liner shorts underneath, as well as old compression T-shirt (another colder-weather kayaking garment). Road helmet and cheap crochet-back fingerless road gloves. Check. Gatorade in the cage-bottle, random Cliff Bar, Power Bar. Yup. Ready to go.
Briefly indecisive and moody about potential safety concerns vis-à-vis thunderstorm, then I decided thunderstorms are not dangerous and set off.
TVA Access Road
First destination was a TVA access road other side of a yellow gate on a dead-end street near a water treatment plant located above a reservoir. I’d ridden part way down it on the Miyata once, but turned back when probability of a crash became clear to me. I drove out there and parked by the yellow gate. While still in the car, I applied bug spray to my exposed skin (it’s bug season in Middle Tennessee). About a half mile down the road, I turned off to follow a brush and grass covered lane, following it to a point where I stopped, took a swig of Gatorade, and stood still for a couple of minutes. Buzzing is the sound I heard and focusing my eyes upon the plants growing all around me, I saw that I was surrounded by about a hundred bees. Thinking they’d soon be attracted to the red sleeves of my jersey and sweet Gatoradey goodness in my water bottle, I slowly and calmly turned around and went back the way I’d come.
Then, I rode the rest of the way down the hill. Not trusting completely in the work I’d done on the Bridgestone’s headset, I descended cautiously downhill as the road’s surface condition became characterized by large holes, deep ruts, wilderness debris. My top speed, I think, was less than 19 mph. The bike’s front-end seemed to be holding together pretty well, but I wasn’t sure about it. I became acquainted with my bike’s need for replacement handgrips, an acquaintance that would renew itself later in the day. Also brought to my attention during the descent was my need for new pedals when my right foot came off the cheap, plastic platform pedal it was pushing when the bike’s front wheel made contact with the far side of a pot-hole-rut across the path. Made steering difficult, that whole foot-off-the-pedal incident, but I didn’t cash, then.
At the bottom is fenced and gated pumping station I’ve seen many times from the water, while paddling. Riding back up the hill was less eventful, even though steep the ascent. The entire ride was registered less than three miles.
Mountain Bike Trail
My second destination was a group of purpose-designed mountain-bike trails I’d read about online. Familiar with the location, I drove out there and found the access point without difficulty. Mine was the only vehicle parked in the gravel lot near the trailhead. While taking the bike from the rack, I again heard thunder. The ground and foliage here was wetter than the TVA access area, and it looked like the bike trails were all back in the trees. Although the information board had a box and plastic case for trail maps, the person tasked with keeping it filled with same had failed to complete that mission. A notice on the board declared a “Beginner’s Trail” of one mile could be identified by orange markers. Okay, I’d try that first. Underneath the information board, I discerned a painted ceramic gnome in repose; it didn’t look like anyone’d been leaving offerings to the idol, which was okay with me.
In the woods was sufficient light to see the path, stupidly narrow, and winding between large and small trees, hard-packed clay soil, shiny smooth roots, rocks, all slick-as-snot from the earlier rainfall. I seemed to quickly lose the orange path, which I thought would make a good warm-up, and started coping with steepish descents, countless slick roots across the trail, avoiding trees, using the brakes way too much. I was grateful for any ascent and happy I’d got a set of Velociraptor tires for the bike; the back wheel spun a few times on roots and slippery track, but quickly gripped and never let me down. My feet during this ride did not come off the pedals because I was more careful to keep them on; still, I’m thinking Sun Ringle ZuZu pedals or the Nashbar knock-off will be needed. Constant wrist-rattling bumps on the trail reacquainted me with the need for new grips.
While riding, I remembered reading that these trails were opened in 2009 and my mountain bike dates from 1989. The sales catalogue for the Bridgestone MB-4 refers to it as an “almost custom” bike that is almost suitable for racing, as opposed to mere recreational riding. I thought it might be a good idea to ride this bike on the sorts of mountain bike courses laid out in the late ‘80s. I remembered reading snippets of reviews of bikes going on about “technical” portions of trails and wondering what that meant. I also was thinking, “Without these Velociraptor tires, I’d be totally dead, or something.” Also remember thinking the entire course is probably beginner-grade, super easy trails most nursing mothers would be able to ride with their babies held to the teat with one arm while easily steering with the other, clipped in to pedals and spinning effortlessly through the trails.
Besides having no real confidence in the bike’s headset and steering, what I found most difficult about riding the trail was having to figure out three or four twists ahead what to do by the time I got there. Average speeds on a road bike are a lot faster, but the decision-making process is slow-motion in comparison to what I think is probably termed ‘singletrack’ riding. At one point, I came out of the woods under crackling power lines and drank some Gatorade and ate a Cliff Bar. I took a picture, you can see it above. I checked the locknut on the headset here, and found it way loose; having no adjustable wrench, finger tightened it. I had to to that a couple of more times during this ride. The adjustable race or whatever, though, wasn’t loose at all.
The most annoying thing about riding in the woods was constantly riding through spider webs and not having the time to brush them away. No time to scratch my head when it itched, and no time to think about taking pictures, although on one totally flat and nonthreatening section, I did snap a couple. Too busy trying to stay on my bike and keep pedaling to drink when thirsty was also irksome. Descending through a left turn with soggy leaves filling a rut at the outer edge, I slid out on the leaves and crashed. Does a middle aged man cuss in the woods when he crashes? The spiders, bugs, and trees know.
Thanks to Cyclemeter, I was able to find my way through the maze of trails back to where I’d parked the wagon. Under seven miles, top speed of 15.83 miles per hour, but average speed of 6.17 mph. I was happy to see this upon emerging from the woods: