#30DaysofBiking: Day 21|Commute

I’d biked to work a few times before, but had been off it recently, mainly because I needed a new backpack to commute with and because my “soft tissue” saddle issues were too much to commute with. With a new bag and a new saddle, I decided it was time to start again. So I rode to work. First I wind my way through residential Maryland, then I get on the Metropolitan Branch Trail (which runs next to the Red Line and is a very nice path with some reeeally ugly views) to Union Station. From there I make my way to the Mall, going down to the Lincoln Memorial, cross over the Memorial Bridge, ride by Arlington Cemetery, up this hill that looks tame but is actually killer to the Marine Memorial, then I’m there! Today, instead of riding down the tourist paths to the Lincoln Memorial, I took Constitution. Big mistake. Tons of cars, four lanes of traffic, a stoplight every block. We’re gonna call that a failed experiment.

A Series of Unfortunate Cycling Events

A lovely ride with a lovely friend. That is how I planned to spend my weekend (okay, not last weekend. Or even 2 weekends ago. Try 3. Yes, I’m behind.). However, fate intervened and made sure that didn’t happen (The lovely friend happened. The lovely riding did not.).

It started innocently enough. Shannon had had a puncture on Tuesday, but no spare tube at home to replace it. So I brought over a spare tube, replaced it for her, and we were on our way.

We make our way to Dupont, then Georgetown (fun fact, Georgetown is not flat). As we’re heading out out of Georgetown, I notice her back tire is making a weird little “pffting” noise, and that her back tire looks a little squishy. But I don’t think too much of it. Maybe these types of things are normal- I don’t follow people’s wheels often enough to know these things. Shannon soon pulls over, proclaiming a puncture, which I’m sure is a surprise to no one reading this story. Feeling a a bit suspicious of the fact that it was her back tire again which had punctured, I dutifully and thoroughly checked the inside, and outside, of the tire for anything which could cause another flat. Seeing nothing, I continued.

We started on our way again. A mere 8 miles down the road, I notice that Shannon’s tire is again making the “pffting” noise and looking a bit squishy. Having been fooled once, I now know that this is NOT a good sign. We pull over. We examine the tire, find the puncture. But, alas, there was no stopping the air. Once it sees that sweet freedom, it will not be denied. At this point, I’m worried there’s something wrong with the tire- two flats in 10 miles, with punctures that seem to be in the same spot, doesn’t seem right. I swear I thoroughly checked the tire before putting the new tube in! But the biggest problem is that we have no air. I used my CO2 cartridge on the first flat and neither of us have a hand pump. So we identify the closest bike shop (4.8 miles away, and thank god for smartphones) and start our walk.

Shannon's happy on the outside

It’s really not too bad. It’s not too hot, it’s nice and shady in MD, Shannon and I have lots of things to talk about- it’s like a nice nature walk with a friend. With a bike. By the side of the road. About half way to the shop is when the bike fairy made his appearance.

Not the bike fairy. Just me.

This bike fairy came up alongside us in his car and asked if he could help us. Now, other bikers had ridden by and asked if we needed help and we’d said no. This is because a) I wasn’t sure what thy could do to help us (since I thought maybe something was wrong with the tire) and b) these cyclists are shouting as they wiz by- they don’t exactly seem in a position to stop. But when the bike fairy said he lived nearby, was a cyclist himself, and had a spare tube to give us, we were convinced. So we went to the bike fairy’s house. He was fabulous- he patched one of our punctured tubes and gave Shannon a new one (that apparently was a fancy racing tube, which he pointed out to us no less than 3 times. Not that that means anything to us.). While we were chatting, it came to our attention that not only did the bike fairy originally hail from Iowa (which is where I’m from), BUT he also has done RAGBRAI for the past few years and is doing it again this year! When my mom found out about the bike fairy, she proclaimed that not only was this man allowed to camp in our back yard when RAGBRAI came through my hometown, but he also earned himself a free St. Mary’s dinner. I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear this.

After we departed from the bike fairy, we made our way to the bike shop. We decided that a stop there would be prudent, just to make extra sure that there’s nothing wrong with the tire and get some more air, just in case we encountered more bad luck. By this time, I feel pretty sure it’s just sheer dumb luck that’s afforded us all those flat tires, so I’m not optimistic that they’ll find anything. And they don’t. So we buy some CO2 cartridges and head home.

Little kid rock band playing outside the Starbucks

About 20 minutes down the road, I hear the unmistakable sound of a tire going flat. But this time it’s me. I shout for Shannon, but she’s too far ahead and soon rounds a bend. I stop and weigh my options: Fix it by myself and catch up- I have a patch kit and the patched tire the bike fairy gave us. But I not have the most important ingredient: air. Shannon has both CO2 cartridges. So I walk and hope it won’t be too long before she notices I’m not behind her.

This was the most depressing part of the day for me. Walking alone, by the side of the road, not knowing when Shannon will realize that I’m not just being slow, I’m actually not coming. It had genuinely been a shit day (except for through times when were actually riding, ha), and I was just ready to be home. Eventually Shannon found me, we changed the tube, and went home without further incident.

But not before stopping for some food

So, what was supposed to have been a nice 3, 4 hour ride turned into a 8 hour slog. But now my transformation into the true cyclist is complete, as I have my first opportunity to fix not one, but two flats by the side of the road. Lessons learned during this misadventure? Have more than one air option. And Shannon should always bring her phone.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 20 | Teaser

#30daysofbiking day 20

Shannon's a proper cyclist

Today was supposed to have been an epic ride for me. Shannon and myself went on a training ride to that she used when she went on Climate Ride last year. Not only was it a longer route, but there was a killer hill right in the middle to wake up the legs. The route went along MacArthur Boulevard and up to Potomac, MD. It was a fabulous ride. The route is amazing- it’s like you’re riding through a forest. The weather was perfect, the roads not too crowded. I couldn’t believe how many proper cyclists were out! As in, proper cyclists out training for shit. Or cyclists who consider themselves to be proper cyclists (like, say, me!). While I was intimidated by all these fast guys in their team kits (plus one guy in a Rabobank jersey, one guy in a Cervèlo jersey [so pretty!], and one guy in a Garvèlo jersey), it was super cool to see all of them out on the road and know they do exist around here. All my time just spent riding around the trails doesn’t expose me much to the Lycra wearing cycling contingency. Sometimes it felt a little lonely.  But I certainly wasn’t lonely out here.

Sadly, our epic ride was epic for reasons other than route/steepness. But that story is best left for another day. To be continued…

#30DaysofBiking: Day 19 | Tweetup

#30daysofbiking day 19

Today was the first time I went out on my bike for a real ride since getting sick over the weekend. I might have waited a few extra days had an excellent opportunity not presented itself. A Twitter friend was in town and wanted to get together for a ride. I couldn’t pass up a chance to meet some Twitter peeps, so a  meet up (or “tweet up”, if you will) was arranged with Bob*, Chris (@cycleboredom), and Ryan (@TheEpicRide, who I didn’t realize had answered Chris’ tweet about our ride until after he’d left! So I thought he was just some random guy who decided to ride with us.).

We planned to meet up at Hain’s Point (which, incidentally, is where I had my first group ride). About an hour before we were supposed to meet, I got SUPER nervous. I felt like I do before a first date- a sick stomach kind of nervous. I think this came from two things. One, I have no idea how my fitness level would compare. I always get nervous when I ride with new people because I never know how my fitness level will stack up to theirs. I think this is why I’m also nervous to do group rides. I really want to do group rides, but I hate getting dropped, and always assume this will happen when I ride with new groups. As much as this goes against the logic that riding with these groups will help me improve so I don’t get dropped, we’ve discussed before how humans (me) are rarely logical. Moving on. The second reason I think was so nervous was because I essentially was going on a blind date with these guys. Twitter/social media creates such strange relationships- I know these guys, but only as much as one can know someone through the internets. While I would consider myself to be friends with these guys, how much can you really be friends with someone you’ve never meet face-to-face? Who knows if we would actually be able to interact in the real world.

So I set off from work to find out. I didn’t ride to work, but brought it on the metro that morning. Which meant I had to leave extra early, so I’d be off the train by 7, after which bikes are outlawed for the rest of rush hour. Luckily, my ride down to Hain’s Point after work helped calm my nerves some. And I’m sure we all know how this story ends: we meet, it was great, everyone was nice, we were able to have a conversation longer than 140 characters at a time and without the help of a Twitter middle man.

But it was more than that, because Chris and Bob were super awesome. They were both super excited and impressed with my doing RAGBRAI, which made me feel good. In terms of our ride, it was a great workout for me. Being with those guys made me push myself further than I normally would’ve gone- I never would’ve done 31 miles by myself, at least not at that pace. It was a fabulous ride, I almost didn’t want it to end- mind and legs said “more!” but my saddle said, “enough!” I hope more cycling tweetups are in my future, because this was awesome!

*some names have been changed to protect the innocent. Mainly, me. Being associated with him is social suicide.

#30DaysofBiking: Day 17 | Puncture

#30DaysofBiking day 17

Proof of Puncture

#30daysofbiking Day 17

Back tire off!

Is it weird that I was strangely excited by my first puncture? Because that’s how I felt when it happened today. It hadn’t started out as a ride to get excited by. Despite having a bit of a scratchy throat, I decided to go out anyway. And that was a mistake. The heavy breathing and colder, wet air just killed my throat and lungs. Not to mention the whole still unresolved saddle issue. So halfway through I called it quits and headed home (still got 20 miles in, though!). In the way home, I heard the unmistakable hiss of a tire going flat. I was close enough to home that I just decided to walk the bike home and change the tube there. So I don’t think I’m a proper cyclist yet, as I think that doesn’t occur until one has changed a tire on the side of the road.

I would give you a play by play account of how I changed my tube, because that’s how excited I was about this puncture, but I’ll refrain. I will say the two instances when I felt the most proud was when I got the back wheel off and when the tire bead popped off the rim.

So, why was I so excited about this puncture? Mainly, I knew it had to happen eventually and I just wanted to get it over with. In theory I knew how to change a puncture- my LBS gave me a crash course- but theory is a lot different than real life. I was nervous to have to do it myself on the side of the road. So I was glad it happened when I was close enough to home that I could just do it there.

I like knowing how my bike works and being able to fix things on my own. I don’t mind taking it into the shop for bigger things, but I don’t want to take it in for every little thing. So knowing how to fix a puncture is one more thing I know how to do on my bike!

#30DaysofBiking: DAy 16 | Discomfort

Tonight’s ride was throughly dissatisfying. I was uninspired and depressed when I got home. I do not like feeling this way. And I don’t like that it was my bike that made me feel this way. I think part of it was because I was not interested in doing my regular route. I’m bored with it and I need to find something new. Also, I’m still not comfortable on my bike. I’m not sure if this is something that can be fixed through more tweaks, or something I just have to get used to. I don’t enjoy being on my bike as much as I have because of the discomfort. I don’t look forward to my bike rides. Was I expecting the bike fit to solve everything? Yep. Unrealistic? Maybe. There has been improvement, but I’m not convinced I can do a long ride without serious pain. I’m going to do a real ride either tomorrow or this weekend and see how I feel. And then go back to the shop to see if they can fix me.

The quest to fix the pain in my ass

My long delayed and much anticipated bike fit happened last night. Much anticipated because of my excruciatingly painful saddle and long delayed because of my anxiety about said bike fit. Now, logically I would not be apprehensive about an activity that would increase my comfort on the bike. However, human beings are usually not logical and I am no exception to that rule. I think the unease stemmed first from not knowing exactly what would happen at a bike fit and then the fact that I am still not 100% okay with how I look. Silly, I know, but since I had no idea how a bike fit would go, I was nervous about being scrutinized while I was on the bike, in my not so flattering bike clothes! So instead of acting like a sensible being, I continued to suffer on the bike, all to avoid whatever potential scrutiny might happen. Now you know that I avoid things that I’m nervous about when just confronting those issues would make the stress over those issues go away. Somehow, even the knowledge that just confronting issues head on will give me peace of mind and heart is not enough to get me to actually take any action.

But I digress. What motivated me to finally call the bike shop was a little cut in my tire that I discovered when I was out for my ride on Sunday. I was thinking I needed a new tire, and was afriad to really ride until I had it looked at. So I finally called to see about going into the shop. So now you know about the part of my personality which only allows me to get things done in a timely manner if I have a hard deadline (RAGBRAI is another example- that hard deadline got me to finally buy a bike). And I think we all know how this story ends- the bike fit was fine, I didn’t feel uncomfortable or scrutinized, and I was nervous for nothing.

I’m not sure if I can convey to you the amount of pain my saddle caused me. I have never been kicked in the nuts, so I can’t say how it compares to that. But I can say that it felt like a small person was stepping on my crotch with all their weight. Getting rid of this pain apparently wasn’t going to happen with a few minor adjustments. We talked extensively about where the pain in my lady bits was happening. Basically, I was not sitting on my sits bones at all- my lady bits were supporting my whole weight on the bike. I don’t know if this is my fault or the bike’s fault. In the end, the saddle was exchanged for a new, wider, saddle to accommodate my large butt (or rather, my widely placed sits bones, common in women), with the saddle tilted back a bit and a shorter stem to force me to put more weight on my sits bones.

I don’t think this fit fixed the problem. There isn’t as much pressure on my lady bits now, but there still is some. I have to actively push myself back to relieve the pressure and sit totally on my butt. It was hard to judge how much of an improvement these adjustments made, as I was already pretty sore from sitting on the saddle for the duration of my bike fit. The rides I do in the next few days will tell.

(side note: tire was fine, didn’t need to buy a new one. And the guy inquired if I had a trainer, as there was so much wear on the tires. I said, nope, I just ride a lot! He seemed impressed.)

#30DaysofBiking: Day 15 | Trailer

#30daysofbiking day 16

Post bike fit ride. It was quite lovely out and the trails weren’t that busy. On my way back, I rode behind a bike pulling a trailer. We had one when I was growing up and I remember using it to drag my siblings around, to deliver papers, to get groceries for my mom. We got rid of it ages ago, but seeing this one today, and @cycleboredom‘s shot towing his kid, made me miss it a bit.

#30daysofcycling day 16

#30DaysofBiking:Day 14 | Ice Cream

#30daysofbiking day 14

No good picture from today, so you get this instead

Today I rode my bike to the store for ice cream. I’ve been having major sweet cravings lately- especially for ice cream- and could be denied no longer. I tried to justify a trip by trying to come up with a grocery list for the week, but was unable to take my mind off of the delicious ice cream that I was soon to have in my possession long enough to concentrate on the task at hand. So without even changing out of my work clothes, I headed to the store. Despite rolling up my pant leg, I still, as @cycleboredom likes to say, got hipster on my pants. But it was worth it, because the ice cream was delicious.

#30DaysDayofBiking: Day 12|Sun

#30daysofbiking day 12#30daysofbiking day 12

Today the weather walked that fine line between spring and summer. The wind had a bit of a nip to it, especially if you were in the shade. The sun was warm, but not with its trademark summer scorch.

This weather has helped me understand the point of armwarmers. When I started my cycling adventure in the cold winter months, I thought, it’s either cold and you need a coat or it’s warm and you don’t. Arm warmer wouldn’t be useful in either situation. But I forgot about the weird transition period between spring and summer. When it’s cold and hot at the same time or it’s cold when you start but warm 15 minutes in. Can’t take off a coat if it gets warm or carry it in your back pocket! So think I’m gonna invest in some armwarmers.