Hiking!

Last Wednesday when we were out bike adventuring in our favorite recreation area, Brian and I decided to hoof it down one of the walking trails just to see where it went. We discovered an old spring pavilion and a little waterfall flowing into a creek full of darting minnows. The walk was so lovely we knew we had to return soon with our backpacks and hiking boots to explore more of the trails. “Soon” wound up being Saturday.

Exhibit A: Ow.


We began from the Nature Center, having chosen to start with the easy main trail and all its moderately hilly/rocky loops for a total around three miles. Speed wasn’t our focus; there were too many interesting signs identifying vegetation that we both wanted to stop and read. Besides, you can’t hurry adventure. We hit the first loop around seven minutes in. Three minutes after that my foot got caught on a root and I face-planted into the hillside (Exhibit A). Once I stopped laughing long enough to get up, we continued on our merry way. Leave it to me to crater on the first loop.

The loops themselves were fascinating. We had learned from a short film at the Nature Center that the trails cross through ecotomes where forest transitions into grassland, and these areas are weirdly pretty (Exhibit B).

Exhibit B: Prairie Loop ecotome.
Exhibit C: Pretty!

Seeing cacti among the prairie grasses and wildflowers is too cool. While I did take a few pictures of the first two loops, most of them were fairly craptacular. Exhibit C is the one good shot from the ecotome flowers. Back under the canopy we were surrounded by a variety of elm, oak, dogwood, maple, and even the occasional sycamore. With the weather beginning to turn, the breezes on these trail sections carry the pleasant smell of acorns and fallen leaves. For me that scent is right up there with honeysuckle on the happy scale.

Eventually we made it back to the Nature Center, where we stopped for a break and Brian was conscripted to take photos for a large group of women also out adventuring that day. After eating our lunch of PBJs and pretzels in the company of a pink-nosed feral forest cat, we decided to go hike another three-mile trail around the small lake nearby. The entire path around this lake is paved, but some of the hills on the far side are just gnarly, so it still made for a good hike. I got a couple of nice shots here (Exhibits D and E), and was able to pay more attention to the wildlife because I didn’t have to focus so much on where my feet were going.

Exhibit D: Nifty marsh area. Also, Brian’s elbow.

 

 

Exhibit E: Lake view from the top of the gnarly hills.


Exhibit F: So green! Photo credit to Brian Landis.

Back on the first loop we had come across two armadillos rooting around in the leaves. One of them crossed the trail not three feet in front of us and appeared to give zero cares that we were in the vicinity. On the lake path we were able to see many more birds, including ducks, cardinals, ravens, mockingbirds, and jays. We were escorted by a few cute little striped lizards with red tails on the far side of the lake, and there we also found the prettiest snake I’ve ever seen (Exhibit F). He crossed the path in front of us and we stopped to watch him pass. Also, dragonflies. Dragonflies everywhere. We even got checked out by a few bees and I managed not to have a runaway.

When we got back in the car to go home we were hot, sticky, itchy, scraped, sore, and slightly bloody. When I was a kid, those were the hallmarks of an excellent day. Turns out they still are.

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The Ride

This post has been a long time coming. It’s my own fault. I let my brain go on vacation for a few months while I tried to get back into the work groove and have had a hard time getting it to re-fire. Some days it’s as uncooperative as my bod. Some days one works while the other isn’t interested, and some days both are firing on all cylinders. The latter are not as common as I’d like at this point, but recovery isn’t always a linear process. It’s a bumpy, frustrating, rewarding pain in the ass. The rewarding part is what I want to focus on today.

Overall, I’ve had a pretty smooth, complication-free recovery. The surgeon cleared me to resume normal activities at my six-week checkup after surgery, so we decided to celebrate that weekend with a bike ride to see how it felt. We went a little over seven miles up some gnarly hills. While it wore me out, being able to push myself that far felt rather awesome. Given that performance, we figured I could probably handle the 10-mile route of The Dehydrator, the annual ride to support the Duncan Band Boosters, which was scheduled a little less than a month away. We had been planning to join this ride since last year and were excited that we wouldn’t have to skip it after all.

Training began immediately. We started riding several times a week, going a little farther each time while working on cadence and speed. Having a goal to meet and something to look forward to were good for my brain and, along with the exercise, helped me heal. I was having a difficult time keeping up with Brian on our training runs, though. When we first started to ride a few years ago, we bought a couple of “comfort” bikes from Walmart, and they were great to get us going. Then last year I bought Brian a Giant Roam commuter hybrid for his birthday and haven’t been able to catch him since. My old Schwinn was definitely comfortable, but it was not built for anything resembling speed.

So, as an extra bonus and birthday gift two weeks before my birthday, Brian bought me my own Giant commuter bike (a Rove) for the big ride. He had been saving up all year to take me to the bike shop and the surprise blew me away. This bike is sleek, light, and fast. I love it. Remember when you were a kid and your best friend let you ride his new bike while his mom wasn’t looking? Riding my Rove feels like that. The stupid grin on my face every time I get on it should be sufficient proof. Our training rides for the week and a half before the Dehydrator were made of pure wheeeeeee. I felt like I’d been fired out of a slingshot.

Me and the Rove out gallivanting with hubs this past Wednesday.

 

We were both excited when the day finally came, even picking up our rider packets the night before because I was paranoid about being late. We got up at 5:00 a.m. to make sure we were fueled and ready to go for the 7:00 a.m. start. The morning was unusually gorgeous for late July as we pulled into a half-filled parking lot just after 6:00. The sun rose over a fairly large herd of enthusiastic cyclists preparing for the different routes ranging from 10 miles to 82. The array of bikes and fancy road gear kept us entertained until it was time to line up for the start. We listened to the mayor welcome everyone, the band director thank us for our support, and a few other announcements (sadly no one said “gentlemen start your engines”), and then we were off!

I had been nervous about riding in a group with hundreds of other cyclists, but that actually turned out to be the best part. Everyone gave each other plenty of space, so being in that huge pack at the beginning fostered a feeling of good-natured solidarity. Nobody was in a hurry. And, to be honest, it gave me a brief little thrill to pretend I was in a race as all the long-distance riders went whizzing past me on their road bikes. Brian and I didn’t see many other people on the short route, but it was a beautiful morning for a ride and the ladies at the way-station cheered us on as we rolled past the halfway point.

We hung around after finishing our route and found out when we went in for the luncheon that I had even won a door prize (free bike maintenance, woo)! So, in addition to giving me free stuff, the Dehydrator got me out of the house, out of my head, and back into the world after a pretty crappy few months. Talk about doubly rewarding. And neither of us are super social people, but we really enjoyed feeling like a part of something positive at that ride. The experience is worth repeating, so next year will see us going for one of the longer routes!

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