What is it like on a Fish training ride? If you're a rider, I suspect a lot of this is going to sound familiar, in one way, shape or form. If you're not a rider, perhaps this will give you a little insight. Or, at least a frame of reference. Or leave you scratching your head.
I rode out of the driveway and did the loop up to the top of my neighborhood. About 300 yards into the ride, I saw a wasp flying across my path. Wasps and other stinging insects are not typically a concern unless they get stuck in your helmet or behind your glasses. This little guy was zipping along at seat level so I didn't give him a second thought. Until he hit my leg and stung me. HOLY CARP! It hurt so bad I had to pull over and see what had happened. There was a single red spot, and a quickly expanding series of red tendrils, like one of those World War II movies where they show Germany taking over Europe and Hitler's armies are shown in rapidly moving red arrows. Except it was on my leg. I thought some water might cool it down and I looked down and realized I had forgotten my water bottles. This is enough of a problem on a regular day, but it was 95 degrees out, not to mention I had just been dive-bombed by a Stuka-wasp. I turned around to get my water bottles, determined to continue forward. I went home, grabbed my water bottles and left the house for the second time. I still had not reached my first mile.
I have a couple of early-season marks of fitness that enable me to benchmark where I am. Most of them are related to hills, inasmuch as I can see that I am in decent shape if I can reach the top of this hill or that hill without being totally gassed. This circuit has one particular hill early in, and I climbed to the top with relative ease, a good sign for me. The only real difficulty I encountered was the throbbing in my right leg, the wasp-sting now resembling a map of Greenland, or the aforementioned WWII map, Hitler using his Stuka-wasp and now having conquered the entire region.
There is something about riding past a manufacturing plant for making dog food. If you're a pet owner, you know the smell when you first open the bag of food and it kind of jumps up into your face. Yeah. It's a lot like that. Only bigger, and therefor worse.
There is usually a point where the ride goes from uncomfortable to comfortable. Your legs get under you, your body adjusts to the position you're in, and you just start spinning. For me, this happens around mile 10, most often. I'm not sure why it is, but it's been this way for as long as I have been riding distances. This ride was no exception.
One of my favorite parts of riding is going past the Yellow Breeches, a world-famous limestone trout-fishing stream. It's lined by trees that overhang the stream, and also line the road that runs next to the stream. The road itself always has the feel of fresh pavement, clean and smooth, and it's a place where people often sprint on the club rides to showcase their mojo ("I'm Thor Hushovd!" "I'm Mark Cavendish!") and blow a little of the carbon out. Similarly, I used it for a place to raise my body's lactic acid threshold, a measure of how well the muscles move the acid out and away from your muscles. It's this acid that, when it builds up, produces the burn that athletes feel at high levels of exertion. By the end of this stretch, my legs are burning. I settle into a nice recovery spin.
I pulled into the local Sheetz, a convenience store that's good for a bottle of Gatorade and to fill up the water bottles with ice. I usually go to the little shop in Boiling Springs, but once Summer hits, they seem to run out of ice at the soda machine. The temperature was now in the high-90s, so I didn't want to chance missing out on the ice. At the Sheetz, the woman asked me absentmindedly, "How are you?" then realized I was a spandex clad, sweat-soaked, disheveled mess. She literally looked me up with a mix of confusion and horror as I replied, "I've never had a bad day in my life." The ice was a God-send and it cooled me off just in time.
Somewhere between Mile 26 and Mile 54
The truth of the matter is, a good deal of time spent in the saddle is pretty mindless stuff, relatively speaking. So what does one do with all of that time? Some of it is spent watching the road (don't hit that pothole) or the wildlife (hope that squirrel stays over there) or the wildlife on the road (wonder what happened to that Opossum?). I also tend to spend quite a bit of time thinking about people, particularly those in need of prayer. I thought a lot of time thinking about Collin and his family. I thought a lot about Mrs. Fish and the Li'l Fish, who were down visiting my mother-in-law who is in declining health. I also spent time wondering what my friend Bill is up to in Iowa, about cancer, about my fight, and about Team Fish, which is now TWO MEMBERS STRONG! I think a lot about the things for which I am thankful, especially my health and my family.
I cramped. Or, more specifically, my quad cramped, in the exact spot the wasp-sting occurred. I'm not sure the two were connected, and I suspect it was more a function of the heat and humidity. I was halfway up the final hill on the way home and my leg cramped so badly I had to pull over (before I fell over) and stretch it out. I got off my bike and tried to stretch my leg straight, but couldn't, then tried to bend it and couldn't. I laid down on someone's lawn and chugged the last of the Gatorade, hoping the electrolytes and potassium would be enough to stop the cramps. Minutes passed and the cramp subsided. Eventually I was able to stand. "Well, there's only one way home," I thought and hopped back on and pedalled up the remainder of the hill and the rest of the way home.
Cool shower and a big bowl of pasta. Life is sweet. Life is good.