Let’s just say I’ve got some sore muscles right now. First the hike — the Hobgoblin and I are hoping to go on a backpacking trip this summer (if we can fit it in), and so we’re trying to take long hikes now and then to get in shape for it. If you’re thinking that we’re probably already in good shape because of all the riding we do, you’re wrong — climbing up mountains all day requires its own special set of muscles.
So yesterday we drove up north to the Appalachian Trail, taking two cars to park at each end of our hike, and then we walked from one car to the other. I like doing an end-to-end hike when I can, rather than an out-and-back hike where we have to backtrack the whole way; it’s much more satisfying to end someplace new, to be heading in one direction only and to feel like we’re making progress of a sort, covering some ground. We chose an 11-mile hike over a part of the trail that we know very well — in fact, we know the entire trail in Connecticut very well — and took about 5 hours to hike it, including some long breaks.
It was a great day for a hike, sunny and cool when we started, but warming up eventually. We started the hike just outside a small, very New England-ish town; the trail runs by a very posh prep school at the beginning, and then after climbing a small mountain (probably a large hill), we could see the church steeple and could measure our progress by it as we walked along a ridgeline. The trail went over some rolling hills before plunging down to a river — and I do mean plunging; we headed down St. John’s Ledges, a series of boulders and rock steps that take you down a cliff, requiring some scrambling along the way. Some snow still lingered there, and in places I had to work hard to keep from slipping.
Then the trail follows the river for 5 or so miles and is mostly flat here, until it heads up another hill, taking you to a campsite about halfway up; we’ve camped here before, and it’s a nice site with a bit of a view. It used to have a swing, but one of the trees holding it up fell over and now the swing just sits on the ground. After climbing a bit farther, the trail immediately starts heading downhill steeply to the road that took us to another New England town. This town doesn’t have much in it, but it does have a very good deli, so we rested here and ate sandwiches and candy bars.
All that was great, lots of fun, but when we got home, I noticed just how stiff and sore my muscles were. I’m not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to go on a long hike on Saturday and race on Sunday. In fact, I’m always underestimating just now hard hiking can be. It’s just walking, right? What can be so difficult? But it IS difficult, as I discovered last year when we tried to hike something like 50 miles in three days, and I hurt like you wouldn’t believe at the end of it. I’m trying to decide if I’m experiencing more pain now that I’m older (I’m well into my 30s now, after all), or if I tolerate the pain less well, or if I just have a bad memory of what pain I’ve experienced in the past. What keeps me going on backpacking trips again and again, after all, is the fact that I so easily forget just how much the last trip hurt.
So this morning I got up early to ride my race and wasn’t feeling well at all; I felt sluggish and draggy and sore. I’m usually draggy in the morning, and I warm up for the races week after week wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed. It didn’t help this morning that the temperature was about 31 degrees. But my pride and the fact that I’ve paid in advance to ride in this race and the fact that my teammates would wonder where I was if I didn’t show up kept me going, although I did so complainingly. I did a couple warm-up laps telling everybody I saw just how tired I felt.
I’m not proud of this, actually — it’s a highly annoying habit I and many other people have, to complain about how badly we feel so we won’t feel bad if we don’t do well in the race. It’s setting up an excuse, so that when we fail we have an explanation other than “I’m not very good.” But it really does help me, to complain like this — I’m not looking for an excuse for failure so much as I’m letting myself take it easy, giving myself some room to back off the intensity of a race a bit. If I give myself room like this, I relax, and then I’m more likely to ride better. I’m happier working hard if I don’t have to work hard, if that makes any sense.
Anyway, once the race got going, I forgot my soreness and fatigue and rode pretty hard. The race started off slowly, but then people began attacking off the front and the pace sped up. As the race went on, I noticed how much I was hanging out in the back of the pack and tried to move up toward the front, to where the riding is easier. I had no trouble staying with the pack until the very last lap; at the beginning of that lap the front of the pack started speeding up, and I found myself behind someone unable to keep up and had to go around and work hard to stay with the group. I chased that group pretty much the entire last lap; going around the corner to the backstretch, I felt like I had nothing left.
But I stayed with the group, hanging on to the very back, until the end of the race; along the way I must have left quite a few people behind me because I ended up getting 15th place. For me this was a good result, close to last week’s 14th. I’m starting to get used to finishing with the pack and to seeing my name on the results sheet, and I’m liking it a lot.
But now my muscles hurt. It hurts to walk up and down stairs, and it hurts to sit down in my chair and to stand back up again. Sometimes I hurt even when I’m not moving at all. I should feel better tomorrow though, and maybe by the weekend I’ll have forgotten how hard it is to do a long hike and I’ll be ready for another one.
Back to books tomorrow…