Thanks, SD. It's hard to say how much it means to have good friends, especially the ones who ride 120-mile bike rides with you, and then throw a celebratory cookout for you at their home.
One of my two-year old goals was finally met yesterday when SD and I departed from my house in Florence and pedaled ourselves up the Natchez Trace all the way to the home of the 10AcUtes. They had come down on Sunday to spend the night at our place and invited us to celebrate a Labor Day cookout with them at their place yesterday evening.
With the hassle of finishing a dissertation, I have maybe ridden 25 miles on my bicycle in the whole of 2009. I have wanted to ride from Florence to Nashville (or the other way) since we moved here two years ago, but other things have taken priority. With those out of the way, this ride seemed like an appropriate end to my graduate career, and I was tempted to take my bike to Nashville on the day of my defense and ride it home to Florence immediately following the defense. (Logistics made that desire more difficult than what I was willing to hassle with, so I opted for the Labor Day ride.) I have a strange mind that thinks such physical suffering is an appropriate accompaniment to the mental and emotional suffering that is associated with earning a Ph.D., and I wanted the ride to effectively purge all of the frustration and anxiety that has been accumulating in my mind over the past few years. Now that the ride is over, I will admit that the dissertation and defense provided motivation in some of the more challenging parts of the ride, but it didn't change anything about me. I am still me, only I have completed a fairly significant physical labor that allows me to feel pleased with myself.
We left at about 6:20 a.m. under the crepuscular light of morning, temperature about 65 degrees Farenheit. The roads were fairly quiet, especially in the first 14 miles between my house and the Natchez Trace. There were still patches of fog surrounding many of the creeks which dropped the temperature 15 degrees or more in places, but riding through them was far from unpleasant. We hit the Trace at mile 338 and headed north. At mile 342, SD remarked that the Trace ended at mile 442, so we had a century plus about 4 miles before the end of our ride. At mile 339, we began to sing "99 bottles of beer" at each mile to distract us from the monotony and encourage us to count off the miles as they passed. I eventually opted for a modified version of the song, "99 miles left to ride on the Trace, 99 miles left to ride, we'll pedal along, singing our song, 99 miles left to ride on the Trace" and so on. It worked, but our math was off a few times. Having not been on the bike for any significant amount of time this year, my backside is not conditioned to sitting in the saddle for that long. By the time we hit the Trace, I was beginning to think I had made a terrible mistake. Fortunately, the pain eventually gives way to numbness, and an occasional stint out of the saddle allowed me enough relief to finish. I just need to be sure and ride a few hours each week so I can condition myself better.
AM and the kids caught up with us at Meriwether Lewis, just past the halfway point and we restocked our food and gatorade supplies. I ate a Clif Bar and suffered tremendously for most of the next hour. Just outside of Meriwether Lewis is Big Swan Creek and the longest, steepest climb on that portion of the Trace. We averaged 4.7 mph up that hill, and I felt like vomiting all the way up. AM stopped at a couple of places and took some photos of us suffering, but we eventually crested the hill and had an easier time of it from that point on.
CJ came along a couple of hours later and overtook us at the Tennessee Valley Divide. We stopped for a 15 minute rest, restocked once again, and only had 35 miles left on our journey. That rest was much needed and left us restored enough to actually finish the ride. We were both surprised at the long and winding climb from Leiper's Fork to Nashville. There are a number of places where the road levels out for a couple of hundred yards, but then ascends again for a hundred yards or so. We rolled into SD's driveway just after 3:30 p.m., about 9 hours and 20 minutes after we left Florence. We had ridden for 8 hours and 10 minutes, and our various stops along the way amounted to just over an hour. Total distance: 121 miles. Average speed: 14.8 mph.
We veged for a few minutes, then separated for showers and a nap. My legs are a little tired today, my knees are a little stiff, but I feel remarkably well for having ridden 121 miles on my bicycle in 85 degree heat.
Next year, we'll take the trace south from Nashville to Florence. Anyone willing to put up with a couple of slow moving cyclists is welcome to come along.