Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Nowhere to Go But Up

My all-too-level commute is killing me.

Yesterday, in an afternoon of swiftly plummeting temperatures and 20 - 30 mph winds, I got it into my head to ride. I realize I'm in shape wholly inadequate to the MS 150, which I intend to ride with friends in June and I can't afford to wait until March's warming to start piling on miles.

And of course, yesterday's ride hardly qualifies as piling on miles, but time, fitness, and did I mention wind, conspired to limit my options.

Seriously, though? -- hardest twelve miles I can remember, at least since I first started riding.

Start with the stepped 7% / 5% / 7% grade of Stanton Avenue for a warm up, the shorter but equally steep brakeless controlled descent down the other side, and then enjoy a relatively lazy ride up through Highland Park and Shadyside. Add to that a not insignificant but considerably milder climb up Beechwood Boulevard, a pell-mell barely controlled sprint down Forbes Avenue, and a stop at a friend's house in Wilkinsburg / Point Breeze / Regent Square, where he and his SLF were painting and making bread in an old bread machine, bemused by the fatigue evident in my expression.

After water and a half-hour visit, return to the porch to find the wind stirred up even more, an impatient frigid playmate who doesn't know his own strength, and the temperature significantly reduced from what it was. Enjoy a scenic return through some of the most depressed streets in East Liberty and a relentless wind carrying a chill wholly unfamiliar from the outbound leg of the trip, every inch of the return like trying to tunnel through the elastic membrane of a rubber bladder.

And then a final uphill slog up the back of Stanton Avenue, which you've been praying for the past mile or so will not require you to fight both wind and gravity at once, but only a small part of which is under the windshadow of Stanton Heights. Near the top, try not to weep with a sort of fury at the wind's blithe, repeated insult and your own imminent inadequacy to the task, and then (finally) inflect over the crest of the hill into the final descent, a 7% / 5% / 7% step down the hillside into Lawrenceville.

The only kindness afforded me the whole ride was that the wind on the downhill side of Stanton did a lot of the work for me, fierce enough that it essentially regulated my speed with its callused palm against my upright chest. When it relented momentarily, hidden behind looming rowhouses to the right, the bike slipped its tether and tried to run away from me toward the cemetery; not for the first time, I heard myself barking a creative, and wholly unpremeditated series of obscenities, as I summoned what little strength I had left in my thighs to restrain Susan's flight.

This morning, my thighs are stiff and cramped with the fatigue I never stopped feeling last night at a smoky Morgantown bar. and I'm appalled at how far I have yet to go to prepare myself for the big ride in June.

This morning there is an inch or two of pristine snow on the ground, snow which had only begun to fall in the city when I returned around 2:30, but which I had seen in its accumulating form on Interstate 79 through Washington County, the lanes difficult to divine in the orange glowing chaos of a thousand snowflake collissions per second against the windshield.


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