So I did it. Bluff Road haunts my memories no longer. And I have some of you to thank for that. I received a lot of encouragement from you folks and I wanted to thank you for that. It was a great ride actually. As noted, I am training for a century in September, and my training schedule called for a 25 mile ride yesterday. But I went ahead and knocked out a 40 miler just to put a nail in the coffin of the 20 years I’ve lost since that day on Bluff Road. It was pretty cool. I ended up travelling down one of my oldest training routes and it was surprisingly unchanged in 20 years. A few new industrial buildings here and there, but all of my landmarks were the same. I didn’t have to resort to my trusty GPS after all.
I rode right through the spot where I crashed. I remember exactly where it was, despite that fact that the park to the right was half the size it used to be because of a new highway going overhead. I can see why it popped my wheel out. All 260 pounds of me was bearing down on the poor bike frame and the chain was popping, the spokes were creaking, and the frame was flexing like crazy. I was struggling to keep my pedal stroke as smooth as possible. You’re going so slow at this point that the slightest slip of the chain will send you to the ground. I won’t lie. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was going to be a repeat of the crash 20 years before. Dead center in the middle of the hill I was barely moving and my legs wanted to explode. Just one pedal stroke at a time. That’s all I can deliver. Trust your equipment. One pedal stroke at a time. Then as I approached the top of the hill it started to level off and knew I had done it. No chain slip. No wheel slip. No crash. Redemption. And something else happened. I was energized. I should have been spent, but I felt great. At the end of Bluff Road, you swing right onto Joliet Road which is a long steady climb. I spun right up it with comfort and ease. I felt like a cyclist again.
One funny moment came when I had definitely gone a little too far. One trick in bike training is to get far enough away from home that you lose the option of cutting the ride short. If you want to end this ride, you had better grind it out and get home. So I was grinding my way up Woodridge Drive which is a slight but long incline and I was not feeling great. Mentally, I was on top of it. Proud of what I’d done so far but definitely counting out the number of similar climbs I had to get over between there and home. And I was moving pretty slow.
And then it happened. Here I am on my $2,000 bike, my little bike shorts, and bike shoes that clip into the pedals, the whole bit. And some little teenage girl goes whizzing by on her department store mountain bike and blows my doors off. I felt like yelling, “I am 60 pounds over weight and just rode 35 miles which is the longest ride of the last 20 years!” but somehow I didn’t think she’d care. But I bucked up and fell back into my slow grinding rhythm and thought to myself, “You’ve done a good thing today. All you need to do is get home. Style points don’t matter anymore.”
So I did. I suffered up the hills and coasted down the other side of each one, thankful for every yard I was able to cover without pedaling. And then it was over. A left turn followed by another and I was on my home street, having completed the longest ride I’ve done in 20 years. And I became thankful. Thankful for Jim Hussey who saved my life. Thankful for the head injury that took me off the bike. Thankful that I left my job to work at a bike store way back then. Thankful that the most beautiful woman in the world walked into that bike store and I asked her out in the least cool and most awkward pick-up line of all time. I don’t remember it, probably because I have driven the trauma of it from my mind. But she said yes. And today, I celebrated Father’s Day with her and the two children she has given me.
Thank you Bluff Road. I owe you a lot.
Photo credit: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/38183197
P.S. No that’s not Bluff Road in the photo. I had intended to stop and take a picture. But it’s not exactly a place you want to lose even an ounce of momentum!