Sunday, January 15, 2012

PaCo Mixed Loop

My road bike is dirty. By itself, that's not really news, as my road bike is generally pretty "dirty", but today it has ACTUAL dirt on it, and though that's not completely unheard of, it is a little out of the ordinary.

This morning, I met my brother at the Silver Comet's Rambo Trailhead at 9 with designs on riding the PaCo Mixed Loop. PaCo is short for Paulding County, thus the Singletrack Samurai-esque spelling. It felt cold. It was definitely colder than it's been yet - 31 at the lot, but I expect that it will be substantially colder in the coming weeks and I'm sure I'll soon be laughing at the idea that 31 felt cold.

I didn't know how cold it would be so I ended up bringing every stitch of clothing that I owned, just in case. I opted for some fleece-lined tights, but they ended up being a little too warm even. I should have known. They say if you're not cold in the parking lot, you're overdressed and that certainly turned out to be the case. I didn't have that much of a choice though. My old winter bibs are long dead. Both of the chamois are dead in my summer bibs and all I had left were the fleecy tights and a pair of inexpensive, ill-fitting summer shorts. Man, I really need to upgrade my wardrobe.

We headed east out of the lot and almost immediately passed the guy that had parked next to John on his way back in from a run. A few easy miles later we turned off onto the first "mixed" section of the loop.

They call it the Mixed Loop because, though it is all road, you get just about every different kind of road there is at some point during the loop. For example, right off of the Comet, you turn onto a dirt and gravel road.

 Dirt and Gravel

They say "dust off your cross bike" for this loop but we hoped that the regular old road bikes would be sufficient. The frere and I both ride them on dirt and gravel all the time and I hadn't yet personally run into a road south of the mountains that I'd be worried about whether I could get down. For the most part though, we've ridden road routes with a mile or two of dirt here and there. Today's loop was like 50/50, or maybe even 60/40 with the 60 being dirt.

A few miles in, I had a sudden, sinking feeling. I think the route is supposed to be around 50 miles, and I'd grabbed 50 miles worth of food at the gas station on the way over, but I suddenly realized that I'd left all of it in the car. I had water, but no food. The realization induced Pavlovian hunger pangs and triggered memories of splitting headaches, aching joints, tunnel vision and that horrible feeling where you realize that your speed has become proportional to the distance you have left. I was saved though, John had brought 2 packs of Clif Blocks "just in case." I hated to provide that case, but I was very thankful that he had them.

We hit a few difficult chunks of road somewhere in there. One had gotten muddy and a little rutted. It was almost dry, but not quite and you just had to pick a tire track and hold it all the way up the hill. I don't know if he carried more speed into it or if he has a slightly bigger granny gear than I do but John was able to make it up that hill, though quite slowly at the top. I nearly made it but finally lost traction about 90% of the way up. I prayed it would be the only bad spot and as luck would have it, that was the case.

We alternated between dirt, gravel, hard-pack, deteriorated asphalt, beautifully smooth pavement, rough pavement... Everything!

The ride was fun, but I was having a very difficult time, fitness-wise. I'd start to go anaerobic the instant I tried to put down any power, I couldn't breathe deeply, I was breathing fast, I couldn't catch my breath without really easing up. It was like jumping back on Isabel's skateboard after 20 years. I could look at a hill and in my mind, I could imagine what it should feel like to climb it, but I had an impossible time getting my body to do the things necessary to make my real feelings match the ones in my head.

The scroll of excuses pouring out of that lame part of my brain was long and most of them centered around weather and lack of sleep, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. No excuses could change the fact that I got dropped, over and over.


It was no good, but usually if the ride is long enough and I get some good recovery on an easier section, then the next tough section feels easier and after a few hours, I'm back to normal. I was banking on that and hoping for an easier section, but instead the road turned into gravel again and we just climbed up, up, up and over Braswell and Brushy Mountains. I got so tired that I could barely even talk right. I kept slurring. The climb was a series of step-ups and in theory I could get some rest between them, but it was no use.

I had a little mental game going on too. Brushy Mountain lies at the heart of the Paudling Forest. It's small game season now and there were a lot of hunters out. I didn't realize, but I haven't done any dirt road rides since coming back from Florida, and it seemed like every truck in the woods today was a white pickup. The guys that chased me around Central Florida drove a grey truck, but white was apparently close enough in my mind. Every time we'd come around a corner and see a guy in a white pickup, I'd get a little flashback and a small shot of adrenalin. It wasn't that bad, and the more trucks I saw, the less significant it was but for a while, it was a factor.

Finally, on the back side, dirt became deteriorated asphalt, crumb-gravel became pavement and eventually, I got that rest that I needed. I could breathe again, I could punch it over little hills, I could crank big ones without going anaerobic. In fact, nothing even looked that big any more. I felt like myself again, or at least less like the shadow of myself that I'd been feeling.

I submit as proof that I had become myself, that I made a navigation error in keeping with the typical navigation errors that I don't seem to be able to avoid making. At an unsigned intersection, it felt right to stay left, so rather than check the map, we stayed left and rode downhill for about 5 miles before I realized the mistake.

Ah, yes. I can say it again: Don't trust me to get you anywhere.

The return was an easy tempo climb though and my lungs were finally working for real. Yeah!

We got back on track south of Yorktown and the rest of the ride was fast and fun. There were some mean kicks near the end and I struggled, but nothing like earlier. In fact, the biggest problem I had was that I didn't drink enough and my thighs started to twinge. I'm not sure why. I don't usually have that problem, but I did today. It's so disappointing when you've got a ton of energy but your legs aren't in any mood to do anything with it. Come on!

It wasn't that big of a deal though because right as it happened, we hit some flattish dirt again and the the Silver Comet a mile or so later.

 Silver Comet

I'd heard that the loop was 50 miles, but it didn't seem like anything close to 50 miles. It seemed more like 30, including getting off route and back. I'll have to see what Google Maps says.

The route is incredibly fun, if you're into that sort of thing. The diversity of scenery, terrain and road surfaces keep it interesting. Highly recommended!

Ride it.

No comments:

Post a Comment