Sunday, January 30, 2011

First Ride of the Year

High in the 60s, clear skies, and just a little wind. After weeks of winter weather, including 3 days of being snowed in, yesterday was a welcome taste of spring. Now that the snows have melted and the trail is clear, it was the perfect day to take advantage of one of the best trails in Atlanta: the Silver Comet.

I parked at the Floyd Road trailhead to begin my ride. Today's objective was the Brushy Mountain tunnel, 26+ miles away. Completing this round trip would mean nearly 53 miles of riding. This was a bit of a symbolic gesture for me. Last time I started at Floyd Road I turned around at 25 miles, not realizing that the tunnel was only a short distance away. Today I would make it all the way through the tunnel.

I started late in the morning after the temperature had a chance to break in to the 40s. In the sunny parts of the trail I was quite comfortable, but when I rode in to the shade I was glad to have the warm riding gear on. The trail had the usual crowd of walkers, joggers, and riders for the first 10 miles. Maneuvering through the mix of trail users requires some heads-up riding, especially at road bike speeds. But I don't mind the effort: I far prefer it to mixing in with automobiles.

For awhile I hung out behind another rider who was doing about the same pace. But eventually my legs wanted to stretch and I passed him. We had a brief conversation, he remarked "it's a beautiful day for a ride." And it was.

I saw such a variety of bikers on the trail. Parents riding with their young children, a few bikes with tagalongs and trailers, kids with training wheels, many road bikes, some road bikes with aerobars, many hybrids and other "uprights", even a hybrid with aerobars. I also saw several recumbents, one with a wind screen.

At 16 miles I stopped for a brief break at Tara Drummond park. My intent was to refill a water bottle there, but none of the fountains appeared to be working. I was glad that I had brought a second full bottle with me, tucked in to one of my jersey pockets, but I became concerned that it wouldn't be enough to finish the next 37 miles.

The trail west of here is less traveled and the crowds were much thinner. This made riding a bit easier. As morning turned in to afternoon the temperature climbed and my warm riding gear became a bit of a liability. But I pedaled on. The Silver Comet is built on an old railroad bed which means the climbs are always gradual. But there are times I am certain this trail is uphill in both directions.

From Tara Drummond to the tunnel is mostly a climb, which makes the tunnel that much more rewarding. 10 miles later I was there and through. It was time for a mid-ride break. I pulled off the trail at the Polk County line and ate my lunch: a chocolate chip brownie flavored Clif bar. I devoured it. Then it was time to start the trip back.

The problem with riding in a linear park is that you tend to push yourself too far. The distance you travel is entirely up to you as you can turn around at any point. But however far out you go is as far away as your car is. I felt very comfortable riding the 26 miles to the turn around point. But the return trip was not so comfortable. I stopped for another rest at Tara Drummond and then discovered the secret to getting water: apparently there's a valve in the ground that must be turned.

After a rest I returned to the trail. The miles were beginning to take their toll on me and my pace slowed as my pains increased. I saw more riders with short sleeved shirts and some with tank tops. I thought how silly I must look with my thick long-sleeved riding gear still on. I intended to make this last 16 mile stretch without stopping. But with less than 3 miles to go I just had to pull off.

Bikers are so very supportive of one another. As I was sitting there several other riders checked on me. "You doing okay?" "You have enough water?" It's good to know that if I ever got in trouble on the trail I'd have help within minutes.

I finally limped back to the parking lot with 53 miles on the odometer. The first ride of the year and maybe, just maybe, I pushed it a bit too far. But it was such a good day for riding.

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