Friday, July 16, 2010

Hell week, day four

How do you know you're in the middle of a good week of cycling? Well, for starters, you wake up in the morning and your legs are so stiff and heavy that you have to swing your whole body just to get out of bed. For breakfast, you eat a bowl of dry cereal mix — the dredges of three nearly empty boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats, Cheerios and Kix, no milk, because it's been a while since you've been grocery shopping. You take a shower and scrape off 10-hour-old grime you were too exhausted to deal with the night before. You sort through your nearly empty closet for something to wear to work, because it's been a while since you've done laundry. You get on your bike to commute two miles to work, and it almost hurts. No, scratch that. It hurts. Two miles. The morning air is already hot, the day already long.

At your office desk, you have to repeatedly shift your legs around when your ragged muscles start to ache. Lunch is the monthly all-staff barbecue. You look over your shoulders to make sure none of your co-workers are watching you as you load up on seconds of the watermelon, bread and cheese. By mid-afternoon you're so sleepy that you have to practically crawl over to the deli across the street to buy a giant cold soda, gulp down half of it before you even return to your desk, and wish you had a pair of those eyeball glasses that make it look like you're intently working so you can sneak a stealth nap.

Then it's time for the Thursday Night Ride. You try not to limp too much when your friend comes to pick you up. You intentionally take up position at the back of the group as they launch up the steep, switchbacking trail. A windy week has created an obstacle course of downed trees. At first, the group enthusiastically joins forces to conduct a little on-the-bike trail work. Pretty soon, though, the blowdowns are so large that it's practically class-four climbing just to get over them, even without a bike, and everyone is too tired to care.

Near the top of the trail, you start to perk up. The front of the pack has already started up the "extra bonus miles," joining the rough dirt road to the summit of Point 6. You had been thinking about turning around with the rest of the back pack, but suddenly change your mind. You summon a little of that watermelon, bread and cheese energy and start pumping the high gears to catch up. You pass a couple guys who jokingly bemoan being caught "by a girl," and then you catch a couple more. For the first time all day, your legs don't hurt anymore. For the first time all day, you don't feel tired anymore. You feel like you could climb to the moon.

It makes you feel almost disappointed when you run out of road and elevation, and you're standing on the alpine moonscape of Point Six, complete with a space-station structure that's supposedly some kind of weather center. Well-earned views surround you and you kink your neck trying to see it all at once. A stiff breeze hits your damp skin and it's almost cold, which feels wonderful. Giddy laughter punctuates the air, because there are nearly a dozen people up there who feel the same way.

And then, just for fun, you take the hard way down. Your already bloody shins will be bashed some more, and your already calloused hands will be numb and tingling before you reach the bottom. But your legs inexplicably feel refreshed and renewed, and your smile is as big as the cloudless Montana sky. It feels great to be in the middle of a good week of cycling, and you hope you can make it last, because Day Five will be here sooner than you know it.