Riding the ACA Chicago-New York Bicycle Route.
Trigger Warning! A flying insect of some variety dies a strange and horrible death. Those with delicate dispositions or a rather wide definition of animal cruelty might want to read elsewhere where the text is rather less vomitorius (if such a word exists).
Ohio is great! Yay Ohio–you kick ass. So much of this state is graced with rail trails that I think I have done more miles off the roads than on them. That is remarkable considering that Missouri was all rail trail and the whole way from Pittsburgh to DC will be car free. I am surprised that anyone even bothers with Kentucky with its cars and hills and dogs–just come up to Ohio where it is flat, 72 degrees, and possessed of a gentle tail wind. In short, the state has thus far has been a perfect ride. Perfect that is in all respects saving one, as I shall now relate. To begin with, let me clarify something. Riding all day is relentlessly physical. Body parts become very much components of machine that is focused on one thing–turning energy into forward motion. Food becomes elemental and primarily about the kind of reward each item offers. Sugar means energy jolts, carbohydrates are slow release energy, protein is maintenance, and roughage keeps the system clear. More than anything else, vegitables appeal, although V8 and orange juice are much prized. Also, potato chips–a worthless food if ever there as one, is a frequent friend I think mainly for the salt. Gels and cycling food are always on hand too, but mostly as emergency rocket fuel. The goal of it all though is to keep the legs moving and keep that whole neck of the body’s woods working with the most efficiency and least pain possible. At home I have an ideal place–my cycling happy zone. That is at 90 pedal rotations per minute holding at a speed of 21 MPH in ideal conditions. To do that I generally keep my gearing at 50/18 or so. In cycling jargon, this high rate of “cadence” (rotations per minute) is called “spinning” and it seeks to use the power of the legs with minimum muscle fatigue. Heart rates go up and so does wind capacity. This in fact is one the main benefits of cycling and as I have gotten more serious as a rider, my resting heart rate has dropped dramatically–it was at 50 when I last checked and once it was a bit lower. When one finds one’s sweet spot, one can ride there all day. And that is what I have been doing out here–trying to nail down that ideal place–that perfect combination of gears and terrain that will allow the most efficient spinning. Out here, on a loaded touring bike, that seems to be a gearing of 44/24 on the flats and dropping the front ring down to 32 on sharp inclines. Ohio though has been efficiency heaven and making 75 miles or so a breeze. When this happens, the whole leg system goes on auto pilot and just does its job.
Now comes the part where the trigger warning applies. Riding can be a breeze, but breezes, gusts, zephyrs, and various vents are still out there. The horrible jockeys I left behind in Kansas are a distant memory, but the air still moves even here. On this day, riding along happily on a one such gentle zephyr was a medium sized winged beastie. I am sure he rode the air from destination to destination, using its patterns to save his own energy–in his way, he was, like me, spinning, having a lovely day, and feeling in a general good way about the blue sky, the intermittent clouds, and the pleasant temperature. He had every thing to live for, and all of his two or three week life span in which to do it. Up he floated. Down he dived. Buffeted and blustered–not a care in the world. But, like the terrible gust that filled the sails of the ill-fated man-o-war Vasa as King Gustavus Adolphus and all of 1620s Stockholm watched in horror, one preternaturally strong gale (for indeed, at his size it must have seemed a gale) caught him and pushed him to a terrible fate.
I wear sunglasses when riding because I once caught a bug in the eye. Each bit of cycling kit has to prove its worth to me before I buy it, and sunglasses did that job years ago. Sadly though, there are no sunglasses for the mouth. I did once ride along the Potomac at dusk and found the bugs so bad, that I tied a bandana to my face, bandito style and rode on looking as stupid as Martin Landau in a silver-trimmed sombrero. I wore no such bandana today though. Nor a sombrero. There was no time to dodge or react. The bug flew into my mouth before I even knew it was there–such was the wind it rode. I knew right away what it was and was suitably horrified. A host of religious and physical objections make a swallowed bug a horrid thought, and so I immediately began the logical removal procedures. The brain took over. The legs stayed steady at at a high cadence and about 16 MPH. Step one was that raspy throat clear that precedes most dramatic spitting, The idea here is to reverse all downward throat movement and transform swallowing into expelling before an irreversible process begins. I can only guess what the bug was thinking, but there is something singularly disconcerting about autonomous uninvited mouth guests. The intial hack though did not seem to do the job, and I had to do that delicate operation whereby one checks one’s throat, but in such a way so as to keep everything very still. I could tell the bug was still there, and–still holding at 16 MPH–began Plan B: water. The water was intended to flush the bugger out while being very careful to not wash him down. Only in the most desperate of circumstances is the long wet swallow the way to deal with a bug. It can happen that the little rascal can get so lodged mid-throat that no hacking and rattling can dislodge him. In that terrible moment, the only way out is down, as much water as possible must be used to flume the creature down to the stomach acids that await all who venture too far down under. I was determined not to come to that crossroad, and I could tell that the bug was still as yet not committed–the battle was not lost. Not yet at least. I leaned right and reached down for my bottle, and that is when a wonderful thing happened–a joyous, delightful, and most welcome thing indeed. The legs were doing their job keeping the whole train in motion and making good time. The throat was on silent running and was doing all it could to freeze all activity in place. The hand was reaching, and the brain was controlling the whole procedure. “Slowly” it said, “careful…care-ful” it cautioned. And then, the cavalry showed up–like a miscast Martin Landau, the stomach kicked into gear. “Don’t worry boys, I got this one” it said, and with no warning at all, it heaved out a full bottle of orange juice I had propitiously quaffed a few miles back in Cedarville. The propulsive power of the orange juice forced out all that was in its way, and in a second, and with no nausea whatsoever, the bug was gone. It was nothing short of miraculous. The sudden and wholey unexpected reaction truly impressed me–and as the snail said after being mugged by a gang of turtles –it all just happened so fast! There really as no warning sign at all–just a body system working to its full potential with each part performing its tasks perfectly. I salute you stomach.
There was a downside though. Sadly, my reach the right was not quite completed when the stomach took matters into its own hand, with the result that significant portions of the front of my bike and bags bore the worst of the incident. Still holding at 16 MPH though, I took my water bottle and sprayed down the bars and bags. Then I took a second bottle and did it again. A few miles later there was a water fountain where I filled the bottles and did a few more spray downs. Soon there was no trace left of what had transpired. In a way, that saddened me. I had a lot to be proud of. After all–even King Gustavus Adolphus had to watch in helpless horror when wind threatened to ruin his afternoon. Maybe if the collective stomachs of Stockholm had reacted with the speed and efficiancy as did mine, well, who knows, Vasa might have been saved and all her crew too. They had plenty of water on hand to clean up with too.
Spare a thought though for the poor innocent bug just living life on a breeze. They say orange juice will keep you from getting sick. For me, that is a yes and a no. But for the bug–well, he would have been better off on a day without sunshine.