In the afternoons, I'd embark on my daily exercise — mellow rides or runs. I didn't feel great, and I didn't push it, but I had a strong sense that couch sitting was not going to aid in my recovery. After all, most of the damage was not in my body, but my mind. Going outside for at least a short time every day was the best course of action. So I cranked out some heavy-legged rides, and plodded through the most basic newbie running pains, like IT band soreness and side stitches. The weekend came, and Beat installed a blingy new drivetrain on the Fatback, so of course I had to go for a fat-bike ride. Beat and I rode four and a half hours over the parched hills, churning up dust and tentatively reintroducing ourselves to loose descents. I cranked Fatback's new teeny-tiny granny gear up a steep hill until I felt dizzy and pukey and had to get off and hike. I made it a little farther than Beat did on his medium-geared singlespeed ... but not much.
"I'm out of shape," I'd shrug. "I'll get it back."
Today after a productive but mentally exhausting morning of writing, I decided to head out an hour early on the road bike. With about three hours to burn, I opted to pedal a favorite loop, from home up Highway 9, along Skyline Drive to Page Mill and back. The ride is about 34 miles with 3,700 feet of climbing. It's a climby loop with bone-shaking chipseal and a hairpin descent, and consistently beautiful even amid the bland hues of autumn. I used to ride this route frequently when I first moved to California in 2011, but it's become more of a once-a-month-or-less outing these days. As I spun along Foothill Boulevard, I noticed my legs felt peppy today. Maybe peppy is not the right word, but they felt a bit less like chunks of cement. I rolled along the shoreline of what was once Stevens Creek Reservoir but is now a stagnant puddle amid a cracked mudflat, and reflected on memories of the route. "Back in 2011 I use to ride in the rain. There was sleet, actual sleet, on Skyline, remember that? Oh, I miss the rain here. It needs to rain."
My best time on the whole loop was something in the low 2:20s. I remembered that, and I wondered how much longer it would take me to ride the route today. But as I spun up the Mount Eden climb, that tiny little voice that I so seldom listen to — I'll call her my competitive spirit — said, "Screw 2011 Jill and her strong cycling legs. We could ride faster if we wanted to."
And that was that. It was on! I had soft-pedaled most of first six miles, so I'd have to make up some time. The Mount Eden descent is mostly broken pavement, but it was as good of a place as any to lay on the throttle. There was one bucking bounce that nearly launched my body skyward, but soon enough I was settling into the 2,500-foot climb to the top of Skyline Drive.
I tried to hit that sweet spot of efficient climbing, where a bit of bile burns in my throat but I don't have to resort to open-mouth breathing. It felt like I reached the crest in no time, and then there was the chipseal to contend with. My wrists won't soon forgive me, and there were two pavement crack bounces that convinced me I'd squeezed all of the air out of my tubeless rear tire (thankfully I did not.) But I ignored the rough surface and throttled that rolling traverse before turning onto Page Mill. Last weekend there was tons of loose gravel on Page Mill, and rangers have told me horror stories about peeling injured and bloody road bikers off the pavement, so I took the descent easy. But back on Foothill it was on again, cranking the big ring past a long line of backed-up rush hour traffic. Back at my home intersection, I hit stop on my watch and looked at it for the first time since I consciously started "racing." 2:17:41!
At home I did some digging in Garmin Connect and concluded that 2:17 is a new PR, possibly my first "frequently ridden cycling route" PR of 2013. Of course I had to go upload my track to Strava to check my status against the geeky Strava'ing subgroup of the Bay Area road cyclist community. Moved up to ninth on the popular Highway 9 climb segment. That's definitely an improvement over 2011 Jill's standing, I'm certain. Yay. Another small victory in the battle of matter over mind. Sometimes all it takes is acting strong to feel strong, which in turn leads to becoming strong.
The wind eventually sweeps the withered remnants of autumn away. Winter is coming. :)