Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas in Southern Appalachia

While tiny tots lay in bed dreaming of a white Christmas, Art and I dragged ourselves out of bed on Christmas morning at 3:45 a.m. to start our journey south to the land of verdant Christmas. I gave a little nod to the five-foot snowman on the neighbor’s lawn, knowing that he may be just a memory when I make it back to New Jersey again. Slipping away unnoticed in the darkness at the start of this 12 hour journey, but as the sun rose, we spotted other traveling souls on the road …. some in cars filled with gifts and some wearing Santa hats.

The Appalacian mountains greeted us with a welcoming 58 degrees and a beautiful sunny sky above. Although with a close look into the woods, I could see moisture weeping out in every tiny gap. This was a sure tell tale of the weather that lay ahead, and as expected, the next few days would bring rain and mist that make these mountains what they are: “The Smokey Mountains”.

After a combination of cabin fever and an optimistic moment in the sky, we saddled up for a bike ride from the in-law’s house, where country dirt roads wound around the mountains. Within minutes and a wrap around the first mountain, we rode into a misting rain, but around the next curve, we warmed up with the first real climb in the forest, and soon the mist was forgotten.

The rhododendron along this stretch were probably the tallest I have ever seen, and once we reached a certain elevation, the sides of the road were lined with galax. Around every bend, crevasses wept and you could hear falling water. A few breaks in the foliage offered views of glassy top mountains in the fog.

After about five miles, we reached Panthertown National Forest. The trails seemed to be in good shape regardless of the rain, so we rode them as well. We visited a waterfall and some single-track, and then started heading back. The ride was short, but enough to stretch our legs and have a brief moment to commune with nature and be outdoors.

With only a few days to this trip, and a visit long overdue, we spent most of the weekend visiting with Art’s family. It was a good time for all, and a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Snow in NJ

Friday the snow fell, and I sat at the computer, with the frustrating thought of not being able to ride my bike. I heard some laughter, and when I went to the window, the neighbor’s daughter lay in the snow, arms and legs flapping. She made the shape of a tiny purple angel. It looked so simple and she so happy. There is something special about snow near Christmas…. kids making snowmen and snow angels, smiles and laughter are in the air. When and how did I loose that feeling inside me?

Sunday morning I was headed back up to Harriman for another XC Ski with my cycling buddies, that I secretly call “Team AARP Extreme”. The weather was not looking great, as the snow had turned to rain by the time we left the house. Half way up, it turned back to snow. I was half expecting an abbreviated ski, but I don’t call these guys extreme for nothing. They know how to ride with what’s thrown at them and make something good of it, and so snow fun is what we were going to find.

Starting in warmer than expected temps, the guys called a re-wax. Now dealing with some sticking, we forged up hill to where we found better snow. Temps were dropping and the snow was falling hard. Gliding along, it was beautiful indeed. At one point it was snowing hard and became dark and ominous, but yet silent with only the sound of my breath. Each cold crystal against my face reminded me of being alive, and gave me strength to forge on.

Before we got back, the sun peeked out and I found myself striding in rhythm with my shadow. Down the long hill with the sun on my cheek, I was smiling inside. I ducked under the last log and found myself gliding right into the sun down a tunnel of pricker bushes. The ski tracks caught the glimmer of the afternoon sun like a pair of ribbons. The bushes sparkled like Christmas trees. It was a magical sight and made me feel more like five than fifty. It was a perfect ending to a pre-Christmas ski.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sussex County Cycle Cross - NJ State Championship

Cross racing has always been one of those things that sounds interesting but comes at the wrong time of year for me. Just as cross season arrives, I am looking to take a break from racing and to catch up with things off the bike. This year, things went a little different for me with my mid season Lyme taper. I guess the reason doesn’t really matter. Thanksgiving weekend arrived, Laura was racing and I felt ready to chase zebras.

Now, I did not have a cross bike, nor did I want to spend any money on this whim, so I chose Cheetah, my only geared hard tail mountain bike. Being my trail maintenance bike, and only being ridden a few times since cobbled together after I saved her from the dumpster and painted her, she got a minor tune up and 1.8 tires installed. Putting the tires on may have been a waste of time, as they became 2.0 mud slicks before I got to the start line.

My first lap was pretty bad, having to get off a few times, as I slid into the tape. The cross mentality does not mesh with my thinking, as I resisted the getting off part. And when you see me run or try to mount, you understand why I am on a bike and not on foot. I was in last place for most the first lap. As soon as I would catch up to someone, I would mess up. Finally, near the end of the lap, I caught my first chipmunk. Yes, a little kid, that I almost felt guilty passing, so I offered him some encouraging words and looked ahead for zebras.

Slowly, my riding became smoother and I started to pick off some zebras. The intensity was awesome, just like short track. I never turned my heart rate monitor on, but I felt like I was working hard. The lake and the sand were usually my best sections, thanks to “big daddy” for the cheering on the mic. I was just short of being gassed coming across the finish line at the end, as I was being chased down by another competitor. What a perfect end to the race! The whole thing went by pretty quickly, and seemed to be just the right amount of time to be out there.

My teammate Laura, who is racing in her first season, did awesome, and ended up winning. I was hoping she would win, and this was one of the reasons I came to the race anyway. So we hung around for results and to get a Campmor podium picture. I assumed I finished somewhere between 8th and 10th. What a surprise when I saw that I finished 5th overall and 2nd in the state championship.

So I guess I survived my first cross experience, and it was pretty fun and a great work out! As I enter into a time in my life where I begin to coast more, it felt great to rev the engines up. It's about time, as I probably had not done this since Mt Snow in July. .....Still, I would rather go mountain biking most the time, but it’s a nice excuse to go hard. I'm not too good at it, so if I do it again, I may need to practice mounting, and invest in some tires. There's a good chance cheetah and I will come out again next year and chase zebras.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A New Day

Nov 4 - I woke up the same as every other morning, but this day would stand out against others. After breakfast I would be my usual green self and walk to the polls like I do every other year on Election Day. Over the last eight years, I have not only doubted the administration, but I have doubted the people in this country for putting that administration in office. Since I believe that negativity begins from within, I have wrestled with the mere thought of having these doubts. Later that night, I finally put those doubts to rest and began to look ahead with hopeful eyes.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ringwood Still Glowing in Color

A vine reaching for the sky, takes help from a tree.

Fading maiden hair fern against a vibrant forest floor.

After some well needed rain, another beautiful day comes our way, and the woods at Ringwood are alive in color. This has been a wonderful year for color in these parts. Besides people out enjoying the day, I came across two snakes out for one last romp and few turtles basking in the sun on top the pond rocks. We all enjoy these days.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

IMBA TCC at Ringwood

The IMBA Trail Care Crew event on October 17,18 &19 at Ringwood State Park and Sterling Forest brought together more than 60 people to learn and share ideas. Advocates, trail builders, mountain bikers, hikers, equestrians, and New York and New Jersey Park managers spent three days learning about managing clubs and volunteer sources, building sustainable trails and building trails that can be enjoyed by multiple users.

Kelly and Collins Bishop of IMBA gave a very professional and informative set of presentations that many of us can apply to life. Plus we got to go out and rub elbows in the dirt with some non-mountain bikers that were equally as passionate about trails.

On top of that, a new trail is complete for many to enjoy. It is so satisfying to see mountain bikers flock to the new trail smiling. Hopefully many more to come out of this weekends foundation. ..... Thanks to Jorba and all the volunteers. Now go out and enjoy!!

Riding some of the new section ....

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kaleidoscope Color Day

While riding at Wawayanda today, a kaleidoscope of color was singing to my eyes. Tis the season. Get outside.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Campmor H2H Chain Stretcher at Blue Mt

It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting here typing my first race report of the season, and now my last race of the year has already passed. The Chain Stretcher Race at Blue Mt is one of my favorites, and this year I was glad to have it at the end of my race calendar. I was pretty excited the night before in anticipation of the race. I was completely surprised in the morning when I woke to the sound of rain, as rain was not predicted.

Although the rain washed away my excitement, I wanted closure on the season, and closure on the Lyme disease, so this race was significant to me. I took the start line, with all the usual ladies I have had the pleasure to race with though out the season. The course was unusually slippery, and the technical nature of the terrain made it very treacherous. My rear tire was slipping out on rock faces, and wet roots took me down on the last sweeping turn out of Stinger. I can’t say anything broke or hurt after the fall, but it mentally slowed me down. I was having one of those "not too confident days", and I eventually gave into a methodical, safer pace. I even got off and walked a few things.

After one lap, I checked my lap time and had a moment of doubt where I questioned whether I would finish before dark. I had a little pep talk with myself, and I managed to stay with it, and although the mud smeared rock gardens seemed to get worse each lap, my riding seemed to get better. My second lap was much faster than my first and I tired very little for the long race it was. Three hours and 45 minutes later, I came across the finish line in my big chain ring with a big grin on my face.

So, although I am a little disappointed that my technical riding was not my best at my last race of the season, I felt like I beat the Lyme at this race. This was by far the longest ride I have done in months. My energy levels were good and I felt stronger than I have felt in quite some time. Looking forward to enjoying some casual autumn ridies and returning to normal riding habits.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sadly, Summer Girl Rides Winding Down

There is something special about a group going out into the woods to explore new paths and experiences. While searching for any number of things, we find: fitness, laughter, stress release, speed, gravity, gravity defiance, fear, courage, wind, sweat, tears, blood, beauty, truth and most importantly, friendships. Watching seasons change, watching lives change, it all blends together as one grand set of experiences. Thanks to all the women that have joined me on this journey.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rumble in the Jungle

Racing at Jungle Habitat, has got to be one of the highlights of the year for many mountain bikers. The defunct 1970’s drive through safari theme park has taken new form, with 30 years of new growth and vines entangling trees and structures of another era. Jorba, the main force behind the extensive trail planning and building in the park, has done a great job on the trails, that now allow the public to bike through. Racers were certainly challenged with rocks galore and tight off camber single-track with trees nipping at their handle bars the whole way. And if that wasn’t enough to keep their attention, racers could also take in the historical sites along the route as they would ride past a monkey cage, an amphitheater, to the top of a hill, in between tiger and baboon pens, through fences, past the umbilical cord, through a tunnel, into the deer pen and around the 80 acres of crumbling parking lot.

Although I felt a little light-headed, my day got off to a good start. Lots of friendly people milling about, a very relaxed endo on the pre-ride, and it was looking like it would be a great day for me to return to racing after my short Lyme break. Once departing the start line and being released into the jungle, I found myself overwhelmed with the fast start and instantly fell to the back of the pack. This only lasted the few hundred feet of pavement, as I was amazed how quick I came alive when rocks appeared in front of me. It was like the mountain biker in me was stronger than whatever negative forces were working against me.

Near the end of my first lap, with adrenalin rushing, I was close to finding my rhythm in the single track, but a split second of indecision and I was down. Now with my knee screaming at me, I reeled myself in and tried to temper the adrenaline. My second lap was disappointing, and I questioned whether I could complete three laps, but I kept going. The humbling thought of having to succumb to using my granny ring on the road climb did enter my mind.

Once on my third lap, I was too tired to waste any more energy on negative thoughts or anything other than finishing the race. With negative forces cleared from my head, I climbed the road in my middle ring. Being too tired to let the adrenaline get out of control, I found my mantra in the single-track. Winding between the trees, looking ahead, less brakes, less pedaling, I just flowed. I’m not sure if I actually got faster or just wished myself into thinking I would find the end of this journey sooner. As the trees wooshed by, my knee no longer hurt, and I felt nothing but a relaxed smile inside. Feeling like I was riding on the wind, completely entertained, I found the finish line like every other racer that day. It’s good to race.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Road Ride to Recovery

After an eighteen week break, I finally dusted off the road bike, and went out for a road ride. Thinking back now, I’m not exactly sure how this all came to be. Although I am a mountain biker, a good portion of my riding time is usually spent on a road bike, and for some reason, I felt a tad of road burn-out in late spring, and took a break. Once spring had arrived in the woods, I became totally immersed in mountain biking. Then a new 5 inch Moto-lite arrived. Needless to say, mountain biking felt great and I had no interest in the road. I had my sights set on Nationals, and was excited to try Super-D and hoped to hang onto enough residual fitness for a XC victory. Once the goals had been accomplished, I lost my drive, or that is what I thought. I did make an effort to get out on the road once, but I had no energy. Later I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. So here I am, two weeks of doxycycline and 18 weeks later, once again swinging my leg over the Pinarello. It took a bit of arm twisting on the part of Art, Willy, and Marianne to whom I am indebted for these efforts to get me on a road bike once again.

Spinning down Long Meadow Rd towards Harriman, my plan was to do an out and back to my scale and not have the group wait. As it turned out, my humble plan was not needed as the group started out easy and I hung all the way up into the park for the 35 mile loop. I felt almost normal again on the bike and I enjoyed being back up in the park once again. The season is certainly changing, with cool breezes and bits of reds highlighting the forest. Climbing up 106, I watched acorns roll down the road. The black water of the lakes contrasted the pond plants, now turning gold. While the changes are exciting, they also bring sadness, as they remind me that summer is coming to an end. Pedaling through the hero stretch on the way home, we hit the usual 29 mph with the wind against our faces. It's good to feel better this day.