Solitude

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What is it about solitude that seems primeaval to men (maybe women also but I know it is to men)? To sit alone with your thought shared only with a canopy of trees and fellowship of the wilderness, to dialogue with the emptiness and dwell in its stillness. Tossing around in a minimalist shelter we wrestling with demons and ideas that exist only in our mind and most times to reemerge into civililization either the victor or the vanquished.

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Solitude seems to offer a gift in one hand and a curse in the other, it seems to give you refuge from the root-cause and affords you a place to hide from yourself. I have many times in solitude sought out reasons and epiphanies for quandaries and conundrums, many times I have sat gazing into a vast opening of celestial foliage and rolling hills half expecting an audible voice to  help decipher the enigmas that plague me… I however know better Audible voices usually are a gift to those lacking in faith, my lot is the conversation that comes from within and my cross is to hear, believe and accept it (Romans 8:16 The spirit bears witness with my spirit…). You know I realized that those who enjoy solitude the most are those who truly are laden with the least emotional baggage… those who are content to wander and not shackled to/by expectations, moores and the status-quo. Professionally I have come across people who know that where they are today is where they are going to be all things remaining equal in the next 10years, they do not seek advancement, challenges, ruffles and are ok with autopiloting through the ever rotating droidery of a routine monotonous job, and you know what that’s ok because those of us who are not cogs sometimes envy that…. We envy that liberty… We long to be rolling stones… In solitude we seek to sort through the dichotomy of desire and destiny.

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So we seek solitude, we hike the trails less travelled, spring for the most primitive sites, go on weekdays to avoid the weekend crowd, we are on a quest nut not quite sure what we seek, we deeply inhale the morning mist filling our lungs and subconsciously hoping to drown the voices that remind us what lurks behind the maple and sycamore tree, what calls to be untangled across the tarmac that leads to the concrete jungle.

Alas I have always misunderstood solitude… I always thought is was where I found the answers, I thought it was where all things are made clear and the writings are visible in the sky or the air or the water. I now realize solitude mostly is where I find the right questions, where the mind is silent long enough to let God speak, it is where I can look outwards for a change and transcend the inconsequential. When solitude is entered void of distractions: no part time mountain biking or checking out this swimming hole or going bouldering, if we would walk, talk and most importantly listen we just might hear something.

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Solo Jaunt

Every once in a while I get a chance to go out on a solo ride on a Saturday. Usually I prefer the company and a slower pace but due to the rain the group ride was cancelled and Wifey kicked me out of the house so she could clean. The Zen of empty back country roads, no pace in mind or faster wheels to keep up with and my favorite fog rising out of the mountains in the horizon as the sun struggles to make an appearance. Here… muses and sounds from a solo ride.

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Wet roads… there are few things as beautiful as riding under a canopy of tree, zenith being in the fall.

 

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overcast the whole ride, my favorite kind of weather if it involves climbing totaling greater than 3k feet. Beautiful blue Appalachian mountains in the background.

 

 

 

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First time I moved to Western Maryland from Pittsburgh I could not figure out what these things were because they wereallwrapped in white. Now a full grown Appalachian cowboy-redneck-hippie-free roller I am in the know… There’s the farm dogs protesting my unauthorized picture taking on their territory.

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Very narrow back country roads with more cows than people…beautiful summer foliage, I wish I could name the plants but I dropped out of Botany class in college. I will do better at that

 

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The primary downside of riding solo (right behind having so one to share the wind entrée with) is having no one to take your pictures so you have to resort to one handed selfies 🙂

 

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My favorite part of the ride. I one day plan to come here with a good camera and some well earned knowledge and capture and share what beauty this spot is in person…

The Threshold

That day remains pretty green in my memory, after what I then considered a monstrous ride – 40 miles and maybe 4K in elevation gain The group sat outside a local Pizzeria refreshing and swapping tales, talking to one of the better riders in the group I asked how he does it… how he climbed so well, it amazed me how effortlessly he floats upwards, seemingly escaping the death grip of gravity that perpetually held/holds me captive. Like most cyclist I was ready with numerous excuses and rationales why I probably could and would never be a good climber (I had ACL reconstruction 2 years ago, my bike is too heavy, I need a compact crank, I hate going downhill so I avoid going uphill)  he simply said you have to keep resetting your threshold… to climb welI you have to work at it. I implored pray tell more, He said you just started out so you will only get better if you keep riding however, in about a year or two your performance will plateau and it will take a constant dose of venturing into the ream of the uncomfortable to reset that threshold and the cycle begins again.

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I have been able to reset my threshold a couple times but I must say venturing into the zone of discomfort is a trip I do not look forward to, it is still something I fight. In my walk with God there have been a few times when I am aware a threshold reset is in order, those times when I do not feel his presence when I pray, when he feels so far away it is to me a 50 mile solo pancake flat ride: no company, no scenery to keep you interested to awe you with the works of God’s hand, no occasional deer or dog chase just hands in the drops, head down, mind blank and wheels eating up miles of tarmac. I absolutely hate that spiritual desert period not only because of the loneliness I feel being away from his presence but also the effort required to reset that threshold. Like cyclist we come up with excuses and reasons to never press in, some like many cyclist we know get bored and drop out (we call those one season wonders).

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Today, on our weekly group ride I am sitting on the wheel of the same rider who 3 years ago gave me that wonderful advice and I thought back to all the solo training rides, the intervals, the heaving and puking at the top of climbs, I recall the rescue calls I have had to make to my wife, the cost of a physical reset and I am saddened that I am not motivated to put an equivalent effort into my walk with God. It definitely does not feel good when the work is being done but the result albeit not perfect feels good.

I know I need to press in to be able to get into the holies of holies that place where I can feel God’s presence and hear him speak… I need to reset my spiritual threshold.

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Deep Creek Lake Group Ride

There is something comforting in the familiar hum of a paceline, the click and clanking sound of shifts as it gets copied down the line, the ticking hum of freewheels as passangers coast buffeted by the rider in front, wheather you are the driver eating the wind highly motivated by the fact that your work is literally pulling a string of fellow riders in your wake or the guy sitting in the back barely hanging on and dreading his turn in the wind there still exist that assurance that comes with being in the line. Today I was reminded of how much I love group riding better yet in the group amongst whom I experienced my very first paceline.

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Usually I am the late guy or should I say one of the late guys to the group ride. I either show up late or go to the wrong meeting point so my plan was to break that streak, a greater motivator however was that this group of late has been going wheels up right at the posted time and I sure did not want to have to try and find them if I got left behind so I got there early – a little too early. I got there an hour early and watched the group trickle in, after minor fat chewing we were off.

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Ride starts with a fast descent down Chestnut Ridge road for about half a mile then veers right unto Meadow Lake Dr a short steep climb that hit about 12% at one point… great way to warm up I might add…Not! I was at the tail of the group and quite impressed with the speed with which the group went up that climb even without any significant warmup. We made a couple turns going through quiet country roads typical of Garrett county, most of the houses built to provide the best views of the valley or hillside they face. We rode through fields just cultivated, farms with the cows ignoring us while performing morning libations and ablutions, we rode by hay fields with the rolled up bales AKA golden circles so close you can touch them. The smell of life lived at a slower pace was in the air with a hint of cow manure on some sections of the road.

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Otto Lane was the first regrouping spot, here also Rich Bartlette another perpetual group ride late-comer (actually the sets the standard in tardiness) and also happens to be the resident group route diverter. I am not sure if all groups have a Rick who always seems to want to change the route and pick one that goes just a “little” further and climbs just a “little” higher? His knowledge of local routes though is amazing so if you have the legs it is always a much more rewarding ride to jump on the Rick option – If you have the legs or extra gears… Rick catches us here and the first break away of the day is established.

At the head of the ride now is Rick, Richard, myself and Brian (neo transplant from Ocean City Maryland – flatlander). We layout a steady pace swooping through the wide turns and maintaining a high cadence through the shallow rolling hills, all of us but Brian have a 11-28 cassette or higher, Brian had a 11-25…around here you are either really strong and showing off to ride that, suicidal or unfortunate but Brian was able to hang on to the group till the last climb Maynardier Hill before the regroup point where gravity greatly exceeded available cadence and VAM for him. He clawed his way back to second regroup spot.

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The rest of the group trickled in and we listened to Richard and Rick compare which of their posts was longer, enlighten us on the things women look for in a man (apparently that he rides a bike is number one) and some other life lessons all in all it was the most educationally stimulating rest stop I think I have ever had on a bike ride anyways. We head out and Brian elects the stay with the group but I look back to see Tom and Scott sit in for a little bit then back off. I figure this is going to be the A group today only to see the resident mountain goat John who also just bought a new bike silently infiltrates the group. We turn onto Maynardier Rd and enjoy the shaded empty road then take a Ricktor (Rick’s Detor) onto Foy road a small beautifully shaded climb. The weather today was just perfect mid 70’s, slightly overcast with the occasional solar spurt and light breeze. At the top Rick gives the signal for pace line (rotating index finger pointing downward) calling for 30second pulls, it was one of the better paclines I have been on this year though I had to lobby to sit behind the 6.3″ Rick as opposed to the significantly “smaller” other guys John and Richard.

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We rode this to Subway in Deepcreek where the group had lunch

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After lunch we headed to US 219 N towards Bear Hill Rd and as expected there would be some ricktors on the return leg of this ride. I put in a plea to Rick that I was looking for an increase in distance and not necessarily elevation he said ok and I prayed he meant it. I  was already experiencing some “lunch legs” which was quickly shaken off once we were on Rock Lodge road, (the best part of the Gran Fondo as you are about 95 miles into a 102 mile ride and it’s relatively flat). About a mile into this stretch Rick had to adjust his breaks, any other good person would wait but I put down the hammer a little just so we tire him out a little and he doesn’t decide to guide us up Bowmans or some other ridiculous climb like Killer Miller or something…I don’t think he had too much trouble latching back on. We rolled all the way to Springs Md where I was ready to head back in.

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The final stretch from Springs to Chestnut Ridge road was beautifully rural. John showed us the farmers marker and site of the fall Springs festival, there were beautiful banked switchback turns and a dirt road section. I was beginning to suffer but the climbs did not exceed 5% and the group was moving at a accommodating pace, we were moving at a high enough clip that a very nice draft was still available, we crossed a closed bridge where I found $10 on the floor, I turned it into the nearest police station…I mean gas station. We turned onto Rt 40 which was the final climb up… This climb was exposed  and one too many for me. I got dropped when Rick whose wheel I was sitting on put in an unexpected might I add unnecessary surge (I think he intentionally tried to drop me). I lost contact, shifted into my easiest gear and limped back in.

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I met with the rest of the group for ice cream before we disbanded. This was an incredibly unbelievable ride. Before we started the day Silvester the fearless leader of our ride today told me “This is a  “Heads-up” ride, if you sit in the drops and power through it you have missed the point. It was a beautiful ride that I felt it was fast enough and I truly experienced and shared it with friends.

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Got Any Gears Left?

Killer Miller is  a climb about half a mile long and has about three levels, it kicks up then gives you a little break, kicks up again, gives you another break for about 15 yards (just long enough to prevent your heart from exploding) then it serves the final segment which is a solid 17% grade where most resort to slaloming just to not have to walk. At the top you are not sure what to attend to first: your heart feeling like you are about to have the big one, your lungs convulting like an accordion playing a Sicilian tune or your leg muscles which feel about twice its original size. On the last lip I honestly would have been thankful for a triple crankset or a 11-36 cassette.

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I have always wondered what to do about gear selection on big climbs, like every other rider I have tapped that shifter a couple times in the middle of a climb begging for an extra gear though I am fully aware I am in the tallest gear I have but we all believe in miracles… we all pray and hope somehow we forgot to or didn’t needto go to our easiest gear till now. .. alas there’s never any extra. This is one of those things I have always wondered about…. When starting a climb do you immediately go to the easiest gear you can push or do you save it for when you start hitting the Redzone? Some think you always save that for when the pain comes other claim maybe if you ride in the easiest gear, the pain will never come.

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In life it is pretty much the same dilemma we get to contend with…Isn’t it?  Do we do it our way till things are as bad as they are going to get then go to plan B or do we just go to that granny gear (God) and ask what his will and plan is. We ride life like we do our bikes we do not usually think about the distance of the ride or the consequences of starting out too hard. I happen to be one of those guys who would make a great domestic, I would rather ride hard and go fast and then bonk in the last 10miles than sit on someone’s wheel the whole ride and have someone else dictate the pace all in the name of energy conservation. I might finish last but I know I had 90 miles of fun (I know! I stink at racing). Someone told me you want to start every climb in a gear you can complete it in, easier said than done especially when you are in a group ride or running strava.

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The thing though is life is not quite a group ride, its more of a marathon you don’t gage your performance by the HR monitor, power output, cadence or speed of the peleton, you go at your own pace with focus on finishing strong and not have a coronary…

share: Do you ride save the easiest gear for when you need it or do you start a climb in the easiest gear so you do not have to need it?