A bad day on the bike…

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Set out Sunday morning to bag an epic climb here in central Virginia: Thunder Ridge!

i’ve done it many times before… on my road bike. Sunday was the day to make it happen on two fat tires! The off-road climb to the top of the longest continuous climb on the Blue Ridge Parkway in The Old Dominion!

i met up with some friends, unloaded my bike and noticed… the rear wheel was out of true! What the heck? How have i not noticed this before. i started checking spoke-tension and found to my dismay: a broken spoke! This went from inconvenient and annoying to an actual problem!

It’s mostly gravel, fire-roads, and double-track so i figured i’d roll the dice and make the ride. My compatriots, who were serving as guides as i didn’t know the route, assured me that the only serious section of single-track was on the way back down. Risk was now solidly in the acceptable zone for me! We loaded up and rolled out.

The weather was perfect. The route proved to be gorgeous. Conversation was entertaining. Oh, and my allergies were kicking my asthma! i’d meant to take a couple of hits off the ole inhaler before leaving, maybe taking it with me but i remembered all of this a couple of miles in… Oh well, cost-effective altitude training maybe?

Soon we were up an over the first climb of the day (the smaller one) and my rear brake started acting up. It wasn’t long before it was really compromised. i stopped on a long gravel road descent and did some trail-side adjustments. Not long after that we rolled onto the foot of the big climb for the day. 3000+feet of elevation gain to go! (after bagging about 1400 feet already)

i like climbing. The rhythmic suffering of it. It’s very “blue-collar”, just keep spinning the pedals, just keep sweating, find that edge you can push yourself to and keep chunking the coal into the burner to keep yourself there. This was the moment i had been looking forward to for days!

This epic climb started out alright. The grades felt a little steeper than they looked, but sometimes that’s just cycling! Just keep pedaling… Just keep spinning… chunk the coal in that internal motor…

But i was fading. Fading hard. It wasn’t until we were about 3/4 of the way up this miles-long climb that i started to get suspicious. We hit a little down-hill and everyone else zipped away as i had to dig hard just to keep my speed up. i stopped, hopped off my machine, and gave the rear wheel a spin. It made about a revolution and a half and slowed to a stop… The rear brake was dragging. After some fiddling drastic measures were taken. i removed the rear brake and started pedaling, i was a free man! i could climb again!

Well, i could climb again for about 10 minutes, then the fatigue from riding with a sticky brake for the majority of this massive climb really set in. i was toast. My legs were done. But there i was in the wilderness, no idea where trails go. My friends had their own aspirations for a great day on their bikes just like i had when i awoke that morning. So i sucked it up and limped up the mountain. Made it to the top of Apple Orchard (leg cramps and all).

Shortly after we had a pow-wow and i had to admit (tail tucked and shame-faced) that i was cooked… i felt like i had let them down. One of them kindly volunteered to serve as my guide back down the unfamiliar trails and to the cars. i’ll be in his debt for quite some time.

So here’s the thing that really cheeses me the most: It was ALL MY FAULT! i had not properly maintained my bike and it had cost not just me, but friends of mine as well.

Lessons learned? Take care of my crap (this is a lesson i keep “re-learning” in life). My inactions didn’t just affect me, they had an effect on my friends (who had graciously extended the invitation to roll out on this epic route with them).

On a positive note: it was still time on the bike. Bad rides are better than no rides! And the views i saw, the trails i experienced, and the graciousness of my friends were all things that were beautiful in their own ways.

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