Saturday, August 20, 2011

A day on the Banks-Vernonia Trail

I had a wonderful ride on the Banks-Vernonia Trail this morning. It's paved, well-kept, and shaded almost the entire length, with beautiful views of farmland on the rare open stretches. The shade was welcome, today, especially at midday, when the temperature soared to ninety or above. I did the entire 43-mile round-trip in complete comfort, hardly breaking a sweat.

I took a break on the banks of the Vernonia Lake, at the end of the trail, and got to talking to a group of three cyclists who had also come from Banks. One of the three, a man in his sixties or seventies -- I couldn't tell, what with his helmet and sunglasses -- was joking about being able to best his two younger companions in his cycling exploits. He has ridden 2000 miles so far this year -- counting today's ride -- and has set a goal of 3000 before the year's end. I congratulated him, and told him of my goal of 80-80-8. Instantly, I had a new fan club, a veritable cheering section. As they resumed their ride, the old guy said to me, "I want to be like you when I grow up!" I think it's the nicest thing I've ever heard.

With such nice feelings associated with it, it's a shame that I can't make the Banks-Vernonia trail the route for my birthday ride. But the terrain just doesn't lend itself.

It starts out fine. As you leave the trailhead at Banks, the first five miles are flat, and then the grade begins to increase, and for the next 6 or 7 miles it's a steady pull. I did it in 2nd gear, and tried to pace myself, keeping in mind that I had more than 30 miles ahead of me. When my odometer read 11.8 miles, I had been riding for 104 minutes, which comes out to 6.8 mph. Which would have been okay, considering that I would be going downhill on the way back, because the return trip at 14 mph would have put me over the needed 10mph average.

But at this point the trail changes drastically. It is here that there used to be a long trestle spanning a deep valley with steep sides. The trestle is gone, and now you must take switchbacks down to the valley floor and back up the other side, with grades of up to 11%. If my notes are correct, it was only three-tenths of a mile from the start of descent into the valley to the top on the other side, but that .3 mile convinced me that this was not where I was going to succeed at 80-80-8.

A sign at the start of the descent reads, "steep grade -- walk bikes." I obeyed. I would not have felt comfortable riding down, and I simply couldn't have ridden up. Even if I had been riding a super-light ten-speed or 20-speed or whatever they have out there, I couldn't have done it. On my 38-lb three-speed, there was no point in even trying. I couldn't even walk my bike up without taking breaks and breathing hard.

At the top, before I'd climbed back on my bike, a stalwart young man rode up behind me. He'd pedaled the whole way. I congratulated him, and he said, "My wife's got the hard part. She's got the baby." And sure enough, 10 seconds later, a young woman hove into view, seated on her bike, towing a bugger with a toddler inside. She was breathing hard, but not panting, and never even took a break at the top, but kept on pedaling towards Vernonia. (The nerve!)

Well to summarize, from the start at Banks to the end at Vernonia, I averaged 7.9 mph. And coming back, my average was 9.8. Switchbacks and all. Which, it could be argued, with another six weeks or so to train, is within shooting distance of the target 10mph. Except for the fact that it's not counting the break of a half an hour or so that I took at the lake. And the fact that I'd have to do it twice.

So this trail is not where I can hope to do 80-80-8. But what a wonderful ride!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, sounds like a great day on the bike. I love finding new places to explore like that. And isn't it amazing the wonderful people you meet riding a bicycle.