On Sunday, Charlie finally had her chance to shine. My mom and Josh and I went down to Leesburg for the day and rode from there to Purcelville, VA and back on the W&OD trail which I had never ridden before. This is about 12 miles each way (we were originally going to do 40 but decided to start in Leesburg instead of Dulles). This trail had it's pros and cons. It was overall uphill on the way there and downhill on the way back (opposite of the crescent trail). Pro. It was under construction so there were very many detours. Some of the detours were on gravel which wasn't good for my skinny tires. Con. One detour took us through a vast neighborhood set on a hillside where all the trees had been wiped out to build massive houses that all basically looked the same and had three car garages because the residents probably have to drive miles to get anywhere. Despite the fact that it would have been sweet to have such a large yard, it gave me a new appreciation for the house and neighborhood I grew up in. Pro. It was pretty hilly with lots of rolling hills. Pro (for me, not for Josh). The parts that weren't under construction were newly paved and so smooth. Pro. It was a 45 minute drive away. Con. It led us through two small towns that were reminiscent of Ragbrai. Pro. The trail was narrower but far less congested than the crescent trail. Pro.
So the Pros heavily outweigh the cons and if it didn't take almost an hour to get there, this would probably be my trail of choice. Although, not if I hoped to ride with Josh very often. Josh and I hadn't been on a long ride together since before Ragbrai and it was quite apparent the difference in both our strength and our outlook. After Ragbrai, my attitude toward riding has become much more about challenging and pushing myself and less about pacing myself. I prefer rolling hills to flat surfaces because they are a challenge and also more interesting. Josh, however, did not embrace the hills with such enthusiasm. He had a similar approach to riding as Betsy, something I didn't notice about her until Ragbrai, and him until Sunday. It is the pace-yourself mentality that generally leads to less pedaling and more coasting. On Ragbrai, my dad complained to me that whenever he rides with my mom, he gets ahead of her and has to coast for a long time to wait for her to catch up. When she finally does catch up, he is ready to ride hard again but she feels entitled to her coasting time and refuses to pick up speed to satisfy my dad's desire to push himself. My mom is great to ride with for her conversation skills, her positive attitude, and her colorful bike jerseys, but she is just slow. This won't offend her... she knows she's slow but she perseveres and doesn't try to hold anyone back with her. She just rides at her own pace and you can either ride at her pace or ride without her because she's not riding at yours. On Sunday, Josh had a similar attitude. I, like my Dad, don't care to coast much and prefer to pedal even when I'm taking pictures of myself and others! So when I tried to ride back with Josh and my mom, it was a little frustrating. At one point, I powered ahead, giving myself a quick hard workout and then turned around to meet them. I'm not the fastest rider by any means, and, in terms of sheer strength, my legs aren't half what Josh's are. So it was incredible to see how hard these hills were for him to endure.
As proof of his struggling endurance, Josh's muscles cramped up so badly that he lost the ability to bend his left knee for three or four minutes. We were on the way home on a long, slight incline when Josh mentioned that his left leg muscle above his knee was cramping up. I brushed it off thinking he was just complaining but he started to make weird faces and seemed to be in pain. Then his right muscle did the same thing. He kept pedaling but the constant bending of the leg wasn't helping. Eventually he stopped to stretch and take some advil from my mom's trusty first aid kit. He got back on and claimed to feel much better. It wasn't long before we came upon a steep incline that required lots of muscle power and strain on the knees. About 4/5 of the way up the hill, he sort of toppled over, dropped his bike and hobbled around the path frantically, claiming that he couldn't bend his left leg at all. He was clearly in pain but there was nothing my mom or I could do... we just kind of stood there staring at him. I couldn't help laughing which is sometimes, unfortunately, my natural reaction to stressful and uncomfortable situations. My mom suggested that I massage the muscle which I did but it was putting him in more pain. He started to force his leg to bend but Betsy worried this would cause the muscle to snap. Not being sure whether he'd be able to ride again, we had a frantic few minutes. We were on a part of the path that lead us alongside a semi-busy road up to a bridge crossing over the interstate. This would have been an unpleasant place for Josh to sit alone with his bike for an hour while waiting for us to ride to the car and come back for him. It would have also been an awkward point to pick him up and load his bike on the car. Luckily, after a few minutes, his muscle loosened and he regained control. He decided to get on his bike and pedal minimally. He coasted as much as possible, using what momentum he could gain on the downhills, and got off to walk uphill when needed. That plan worked and we all made it back to the car to head home.
Despite the muscle cramps, the 90 degree heat, and the detours, I really enjoyed this ride. If nothing else, the reminiscence of Ragbrai made it so worthwhile. To some extent, every bike ride makes me think of Ragbrai but there was more on Sunday. First of all, we began with a meaty lunch at Doner Bistro in Leesburg which left me feeling similar to the way I did after the many gyro and hot dog-fueled bike rides I had in Iowa.Additionally, I got to feel that same old thrill that a water tower sighting brings upon approaching Purcelville. Though I like to brag about how we could ride forever and how I love biking so much, I will admit that there were times when the road's never-ending nature was exhausting. At these times, there is nothing like the feeling you get when a water tower comes in sight and you know that another one of those small Iowa towns is just around the corner with excited residents waiting to provide you food to eat, grass to sleep on, and music to listen to. Sunday wasn't one of those rides where I had only the end in sight but I was excited by the water tower, nonetheless.
Finally, I felt Ragbrai in the small town life that was Purcelville, Virginia. I had never been there before but it was a small town in every sense of the word. Well, obviously, there was the water tower. There were also many antique and consignment shops, one of which we perused. There was one high school, whose paraphanalia was sold by the only sports store in town. Just throw in 20,000 people with their bikes and we could have been in Manchester, Brit or Algona.
Though this wasn't Ragbrai, it's fun to know that these small towns exist and to see how close they are to DC. On the way home, my mom and I talked about an idea she and my dad had to ride from DC to Leesburg, stay in a Bed and Breakfast, and ride home the next day. Hopefully this idea becomes reality and hopefully Josh gets his muscles under control so he can join us. Sunday's ride = Pro Pro Pro!