After canceling our plans to go to Kansas City for the long holiday weekend, I found our new plans included a chance for me to have a few hours to myself today to do whatever I pleased. So...Daisy and I loaded up and headed to Baxter (sun roof open and radio playing loud enough I could FEEL the bass) to hit the trail. I had my heart set on a nice long ride, but around here that involves more hills than I felt like tackling. The Baxter trail (I don't officially know if that's it name, it's just how we refer to it since that's the location of the closest trail head...about a 25 mile drive from home.) is a Rails To Trails path. The changes in grade are gradual and so visually unnoticeable the decision to shift gears is based more on the feel of your legs, cadence, and breath, than what you SEE about the road ahead. It's 20 miles end to end. There's sections open to the sunny skies above, but also areas where the trail winds through established vegetation which provide much appreciated pockets of shade and protection from the wind. Corn fields, small towns, small creeks, it's a beautiful ride and usually quite busy on the weekends.
Today's riders were as varied as ever. A couple larger groups, one with several generations of riders from a toddler in a trailer to a grandpa aged gentleman probably in his 70. There were you're typical pairs; younger couples, older couples, two older guys, two older ladies. And then us few solo riders. Sixteen miles in I passed a young family: Mom on roller blades, leash in hand leading to a beautiful dark chocolate brown Great Dane. Dad pushing kiddo in the stroller, leash in hand leading to a huge tan older looking Mastiff. Just enjoying the day out, though the dogs looked a bit tired and hot.
In addition to the people, and maybe surprisingly in spite of the people, there's always plenty of wildlife along the way too. Today's abundant critter: grasshoppers. HUGE, crunchy, fly up and smack you in the neck, grasshoppers. But there were also plenty of beautiful birds, a snake, a toad, two dead moles, the occasional squirrel, and what I'm pretty sure was a beaver who scurried across the trail about 30 yards in front of me just before I reached the bridge crossing a creek.
Lately when I've been riding, I've been doing so sans cycloputer. An effort to just enjoy the ride and let go of: "How fast am I going?" "What's my average speed?" "How long have I been pedaling since my last stop?". Today I wanted to keep track of ride time so I hesitantly clicked it onto it's bracket. While I did find myself occassionally checking my speed as I rolled along, I didn't feel controlled by what it said. My goals for the day (because when I ride alone it's hard not to set goals beyong just to ride...I'm working on it): For the first 20 miles ride a fast cadence with an easy push. Jason's always telling me that I cadence too slow and push too much gear. So, I consciously worked on that for the first 1/2 of the ride, reminding myself to drop my heels when I started pushing into my toes, and open up my shoulders and lengthen through my neck when I started to slump. As unnatural as it felt, the ride out went well, and I do think that with a little more training, I could bring up my cadence a bit.
As I reached my 1/2 way snack stop, I realized that today's ride would the longest I've ever taken solo. I think back to those first rides last year as I started training for my first RAGBRAI. The 15 miles out and back on the our local trail seemed like such a LONG way to go that I couldn't imagine how I was ever going to get through repeated 70+ mile days. Oh how one's perspective can change!
As a "reward" for my hard push out, I decided that on the ride back I'd just ride whatever cadence and push felt good/natural. I was somewhat surprised to find myself falling into a rythm somewhere between my "normal" cadence and that which I had pushed to maintain during my first 20 miles. I felt awesome, strong, and found myself on several occassions lost in the presence of the moment. Aware of nothing beyond the chorus of nature around me, the rythm of my legs as I stoked the pedals, the deep, smooth consistency of my breath, the low hum of my skinny rubber tires on the road. And then I'd reach a bridge, or a road crossing, or pass another group of rides and I'd wonder how long I had riden in such peace...thankful for those few fleeting moments of bliss. (I wonder if that feeling is what the Buddist tradition is refering to when talking about Enlightenment?)
My ride ended, I racked Daisy up and grabbed a few minute of post ride yoga on the grass beside Velma (our car). And yes, I checked the cycloputer when it was all said and done. Interesting fact of the day: It too 1 hr, 10 mins to ride the first 20 miles at a "push". It took me 1 hr, 11 mins to ride the second 20 miles at "my pace". Either my "push" wasn't much, or "my pace" isn't as slow as some think. Either way, I had a great ride...and in my book, that's all that matters!