Aside for the bike nerds: So I inherited my current bike without really knowing what was going on, so once Jeff and I got to spend some serious bike time together, he had lots of valuable advice for me on making adjustments. One valuable piece was that I should put on a shorter stem, because my handlebars seemed to be a bit too forward for me. I was doubtful about all this, but I tried it out anyway one day at the Bike Church, and it seriously changed my life. My bike rides were no longer defined by back strain, and also it helped me to not be crushing my testicles quite so much. So now I enjoy a much shorter stem on my bike, apparently better suited to either my inflexibility, my non-compressable beer gut, or my tiny T-rex arms. Possibly all three.
Anyway. So this was to be my first serious long ride with the new stem (not counting the Forbidden Drive adventure last week, but that ride had me less concerned about posture and more concerned about not falling off my bike into a dammed up river, a pile of gravel, or a grazing family of Canada geese). I have to say, the ride was pretty sweet. After we broke through the insane pedestrian traffic surrounding the (what appear to be constant) crew competitions going on on the Schuylkill, and then broke through the motor traffic and hills involved in getting through Manayunk, the majority of the trail was pretty empty and the riding was smooth. The weather was just about perfect: clear and warm, but definitely not hot, and actually cool in the shade.
Much of the ride out there was actually pretty hypnotic for me. I sort of fell into the rhythm of it; my legs just continued to circle around and around, and I just had to sit back and watch the miles disappear under my wheels. I got to enjoy the same kind of mindless relaxation I get on long highway drives, but somehow more deeply; the hypnosis was more enveloping for being a fully body experience. The ride was so pleasant, actually, that it seemed like it took very little time to actually get to Valley Forge. We stopped at the park and had a little food and water, and then poked around the area a little bit more. The Schuylkill trail extends a little way beyond the park, so we went out to follow that for a while, I guess to Phoenixville. Then the trail abruptly ends, so we turned around and went back and tried an offshoot from the Schuylkill Trail called the Perkiomen Trail, but which will forever be in my mind called the "Pokémon Trail." We followed that for a bit up to Oaks, I guess, but I stopped when the trail emptied out onto some city streets. We didn't take that trail for long, but apparently it extends another good 20 miles or so, so...that's a whole other trip right there.
Eventually we made our way back to the park at Valley Forge and made our pit stops and prepared for the trip back home. At this point I was still feeling pretty good, so we decided to see how fast we could make it back to Philly. Dudes, I have to say, just a tiny increase in speed made all the difference in the world to how wiped out the trip made me. I took the lead going back home, and while I wasn't trying to kill myself for speed, I was definitely trying to at least put out a constant effort, rather than just coast along.
There's a certain area on the trail...it's significant in my mind, but apparently in no one else's, because I haven't been able to find a name or identifier or anything for it, except for the trail's own designation of "Marker 162." In my mind I think of it as the halfway point between our house and Valley Forge, but I don't know how accurate that estimation really is. After some consternating time with Google Maps and some help from Jeff, I've settled on "the trailhead at Port Royal Avenue." Thanks to Google, you can see a picture of it if you want, too. Whee! Anyway. So when we got that point, I literally just coasted to a stop, rolled off my bike, and collapsed on the ground to rest. We took about a five-minute break there while I sucked down an energy bar and some water, and then took off for the rest of the ride home. By the time we got back to Philly proper, I had Jeff take the lead again and was seriously wondering if I had the energy to make it home without stopping again. Turns out I did, though, but I was totally drained. It wasn't like I was sore or weak or out of breath or anything, really...it was just that my body had no energy left. That was kind of a new experience for me.
So after all was said and done, it turned out that we had shaved something like 12 minutes off our travel time coming home. 12 minutes! It seems like such a small amount, considering how much extra energy I felt like I put into the ride. While out on the trail, we encountered a few people who were clearly not just cyclists, but...you know...athletes. I don't know how they do it, man. I pushed myself for just that one ride, and I was some amount of wrecked for basically two days. I mean, damn! How do you go out there and do that every day? Ridiculous. :)
One of the reasons that the trail was so empty is because we took the trip in the middle of a weekday instead of on a weekend. The enjoyment I felt at that state of affairs was somewhat dampened by the fact that West River Drive was open to traffic instead of closed like it would have been on the weekend. And boy, was there ever traffic. Due to a slight navigational mishap on my part, as we crossed Falls Bridge to West River Drive on the way back into Philly, I ended up riding in the street as opposed to the bike trail/sidewalk part, which was probably where I was supposed to be riding. By the time I'd gone a little ways there and realized my mistake, my pig-headedness took over and I basically just stayed on the road out of principle. And also because there was no easy way to correct my error. I probably went about three miles out among the cars until I vaguely became aware that I was going to have to be back on the bike trail real soon now, and I had to make my way back to where Jeff was riding (which was, sadly for me, to my left of the road I was on).
In order to accomplish that, I had to do three things that I really don't like doing. First, I had to cross not only my two lanes of traffic, but also the two lanes of oncoming traffic so that I could get over to where the trail was. Luckily, I found a nice break in the traffic to help me with that. Second, I had to ride in a bike lane going the wrong way, which is something I hate having to do and something I berate people for on occasion when riding around town, but there was nothing else for it. Third, I had to jump up a curb while riding parallel to it, which is scary as hell for me, but when it came time to rejoin the trail, I couldn't do anything except grit my teeth and just do it. I mean...I could have stopped and walked my bike safely through all three of those steps, frankly, and not put myself in nearly the danger I did, but...hey, who wants to do that. ;)
In any case, all's well that ends well. I still find the Valley Forge ride an excellent one, despite the madness of getting though Manayunk to get to the good part (there's one hill there in particular that kills me every time). I don't know about this whole pushing for speed thing. I mean, it's definitely good to get the exercise, but damn, man...all I could do when I got home was feebly make my way through some canned fruit and then lie still on the floor for a while. :) That said, I hope there is lots of cycling still ahead of me. It's still a great way to spend a day.