There are far too many excuses in my life.
It's too far. It's too hot. There won't be any showers. There's nowhere to park. My tires are too skinny. My tires are too wide. I don't have fenders. I have fenders. I have gears. I don't have enough gears. I have too many gears. It's the wrong geometry. I don't have this, that, the other.
Honestly, I need to adapt a new mantra: "don't have excuses... have reasons."
Reasons are legit - excuses are, well, excuses. "You can't compete in a technical mountain bike ride on a racing bike shod with 23c tires" - that's more of a "reason" to have a mountain bike, lets say. Just about everything else I can think of, I can debunk: You can't time trial on a mountain bike? Sure you can... you just won't be as aero as the guy with the TT bike. You're still riding a bicycle against a clock. Simple. I've heard myself say I can't ride Dirty Kanza, because I've got the wrong bike... as if there were such a thing. At the time, perhaps I just didn't know better.
In this world of niches within niches, it's actually become more difficult to "just do" anything. There is an advanced and specialized piece of equipment for just about everything you can involve yourself in these days, and for many it can turn any would-be endeavor into an excuse festival. Sometimes it's better if you DON'T know about gadgets and gizmos. What you don't know can't hurt you... but what you don't know can't hold you back, either. Skipping a camping trip because you don't have the correctly-rated sleeping bag, for example. So it goes, to my discredit, I default to the formula that because I don't own "x", I can't do "y".
There are innovative people in the blogosphere that have come up with really cool stuff to solve unique cycling problems... and sadly, I'm not one of them. One of my favorites in this category is Kent Petersen, and if you haven't read his blog - you should. Can't afford fenders? Can't find just the right handlebar bag? Fine... make your own. Kent does this. I tend to stare blankly at the wall, and wish....which eventually leads to making excuses. I once stood in the garage and mentally talked myself out of riding a 600km brevet, on the notion that I couldn't carry enough fig newtons. A LOT of that is confidence, yes. This I know. No matter how many ridiculously long rides or strings of long rides I do, there is still a tiny part of me that screams "you can't."
This brings me to this weekend, and gravel roads....vs. my brain. 'nuff said? Perhaps.
In uncharacteristic fashion, instead of defaulting to my pile of excuses for not going on a ride that I REALLY wanted to do, I instead just suited up, sent a text message to a friend that knows the territory, and headed south on Murlen Road. Upon reaching 175th Street, instead of turning left or right, I went straight. Straight to where the pavement ends.
Backtracking a little, I don't really know WHY I still have this hangup surrounding my "road bike" vs. gravel. Thinking back to the bike-camping trip I took last year and the awesome gravel ramble Randy led me on, I did a 15-miler on mostly gravel and had a decent time. No falls, no nothing... but, perhaps I chalked it up to something else. Maybe I forgot the feelings, maybe I didn't spend enough time to truly get comfortable. I remember feeling relieved to get back on the pavement, though.
Earlier than that, Ort and I once tore up a fairly hilly and lengthy chunk of gravel road while taking part in the 2006 Lone Star Century.. a short-cut to head-off a sizeable peloton. A short-cut that didn't pay off, but led instead to fond memories and countless smiles and stories about "that time when we..."
So, let's call this latest run a "re-education".
The first few miles, a little tentative. I found myself trying to stay in the tire ruts. I found myself braking on downhills. When an oncoming car approached, I tensed up and came to a stop near the ditch. I had images in my head of being perfectly balanced right up until the moment the car would pass me, wherein I'd lose footing and fall right into the path of a tire. I found the first concrete deck bridge a relief. I stopped after crossing 191st street to take a photo...
...but it was really to take a break. In retrospect, look how perfect that gravel is! These things take time, though.
Finally, a mile-long section of pavement between 207th and 215th streets.... odd, but there it is.
Gravel started up again at 215th... "ride loose..."
By the time Randy caught up to me at 223rd street, I would stop a couple more times to relax and reset. I think Randy catching up to me was a good thing... some of the personal pressure was off and I could observe the riding style of someone that had far more gravel under their wheels than pavement. His riding style typifies relaxed, patient, confident... I took notes, took a following position, and adjusted. A few miles, and I was settled a bit. "This isn't so bad...." Even a dog darting at the road didn't faze me much, and eventually I was doing things the same way I'd do them on pavement: grabbing a bottle, taking a rolling picture, the like.
Taking a rolling picture was probably not the BEST thing I could have been doing, though I'm happy with the results:
Here's Randy rolling south on Somerset Road near 250th Street, right before crossing the grade of the Union Pacific RR.
Seconds before I took this picture, I was fumbling with the zip-lock baggie, blind, inside the back pocket of my jersey. Inside that same plastic baggie are my credentials: driver's license, insurance cards, debit card. In the process of getting my phone out to take a picture, I inadvertently and unknowingly removed and discarded my driver's license and insurance card out onto the road behind me.
Still, I managed to pull off the requisite half-panda head-shot.
Actually, if I squint hard enough I think I can actually see my DL and insurance card sitting on the gravel behind me... ok, maybe not. (I really tried, just out of curiosity, but they're lost in the pixelated image noise.)
I.. am... Sparticus.... muahahahahahaha!
A Traditions, or Century Farm - basically a farm or piece of property that has been held by the same family since staked. Something to be proud of.
Randy, and the 100-year-old bridge.
Yep, and it didn't hit me until later on when reading up on BridgeHunter.com about this one, which was built ca. 1910. Wouldn't it have been weird if the day we rode here was the bridge's birthday? Hard to tell, tho... on these smaller bridges, the actual year isn't usually posted... at least not anywhere you can safely get to it. Welders and iron-workers often leave their marks on things... but I wasn't about to go swimming to find out: a three foot long gar was trolling about in the grim waters of Wea Creek, while we watched... like an evil, tiny submarine...
From here we continued east on the road in the background, which curves a bit and goes up a wicked little hill, popping us out at New Lancaster Road for the final jaunt south to K-68.
I'm told, upon reaching the highway, that I need to someday just keep on riding south on the other side of the highway. I may have to do that someday...
The traffic count multiplied probably six times over in the next two miles that led to the Louisburg Cidermill. I don't know if I've been here since maybe 2006... at least, not that I can remember. Maybe it was '07? A while. I was happy to find that not much had changed. I visited the restroom, grabbed a cold Lost Trail Black Cherry Soda. This is where I discovered my DL and insurance was missing... and my mind raced for a few minutes.
At least I don't NEED it, technically... although riding without ID crossed my mind, and I absorbed a couple tips from Randy, which reminds me that I really need to invest in a Road ID. It's a long overdue purchase, and I'm doing it tomorrow. I'm out here enough, I deserve it.
The ride back, I thought about the two places where I'd taken my phone out of my pocket to take a picture, and Randy and I planned to scan the roadside for the discarded cards. My worst fear was that I'd fumbled them at the bridge on 267th street, and they'd fallen between the boards, into the creek... and probably into the gar's maw. Hmmm... fish for dinner...
My only regret for this ride is that I didn't have as much time as I needed to turn it into a true "ramble". I had started off in the right spirit, slow and easy, stopping, taking pics, and enjoying. I still ended up enjoying, but dinner plans had been pushed up since I'd left the house - something I found out luckily enough while exchanging texts with the wife when I discovered I'd lost my DL. Time to pick up the pace a little... and, certainly, no more photos on the move lest I lose the rest of my stuff.
We still found time to stop along the way, and checked out another old bridge that someone was lucky enough to have as part of their private drive. This one had a larger structure, and was really interesting looking... more here.
After that, I picked up the pace a little bit and before long we were back at the railroad tracks where I'd fumbled the cards... and sure enough, there they were. The DL has a nice divot pressed into it from where a truck ran over it, pressing it into the gravel upon which it had rested. Kinda neat, having a scar with a story... even if you are just a driver's license.
We had to leave at 4:15pm.... and it was nearly 3:00pm when we'd left the Cidermill. Upon reaching 183rd Street, I looked at the clock one last time and honestly wasn't sure if I'd make it. I bid farewell to Randy, as this was his "exit", and started to work my way north in earnest. There was a lot of gravel to be covered still, and whether I had the legs or not had yet to be seen.
The phone rang in my back pocket at 3:57pm... and while I normally stop to take calls I choose to answer, I knew who it was, and what they were wondering - so I took it on the fly. The wife promised a change of clothes, a cold bottle of fresh water and an open garage waiting for me. I was at 173rd Street, back on pavement, and hammering. I don't know if I've ever transistioned from bicycle, to shower, to car in such fast time. I hit the garage at 4:07pm, I think, and left a trail of cycling gear behind me as I made it to the shower, did the best I could, dressed, and met the family in the car in record time. Shortly after that, dinner.... ahhhhh....
Not a bad afternoon, I must say...
So, verdict? Is there more gravel in my future? Absolutely. This was my longest foray onto the rough-stuff yet, and I'm beginning to get hooked. The history, the lack of traffic, the bridges... it's like I blinked and didn't realize I was still "in town". I indeed plan on making gravel a bigger part of my riding. Sure, I've lived here a while. Sure, I've ridden here for a while. Sure, it may be that I've probably ridden a large percentage of just about every possible paved route leading to and from the neighborhoods I've lived in over the years of my cycling.
But, there's more to discover... and the bike underneath me never even flinched at the idea.
No excuses. Get it on.