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Published: September 21st 2006
My Bike Tattoo
Now viewable at [url=http://cyclingtattoogallery.blogspot.com/]Squirrels Cycling Tatto Gallery[/url]
So it’s been over a month now since I finished BMB, and I still don’t have any desire to finish assembling my bike. I hung the pieces up and returned the bike box to the club, but after 750 miles in that saddle, I have no overwhelming urge to get it back together & get back on. Plus, I really, really need to do a complete overhaul, and I’ve got so many freelance jobs going on right now that I just don’t have the time. But today is one of those overcast, drizzly fall days, and it sure would be nice to have a functioning bike with fenders so that I could take Abby for a ride in her trailer without spraying her with mud.
Speaking of mud, a bunch of us went out last week for our inaugural semi-permanent weekly Ipswich ride. What with the Tidewater Mountain Bike Challenge just a month and a half away, some of us wanted to sharpen our offroad skills. The problem with Norfolk, Virginia for mountain biking is that, well, there are no mountains, and there’s precious little dirt to be found without driving twenty or thirty miles to the other side of
Jenn shows off Abby in her new tie-dye onesy.
the Chesapeake Bay. The sole exception being Ipswich.
Where the name comes from, I’m not really sure. I think the formal name is “Indian River Park,” or some such thing. But for a good chunk of “Southside” Hampton Roads, it’s quicker to ride to Ipswich than drive up the Penninsula to Yorktown, Jamestown or even Newport News.
So with that in mind I put out an email to the Team Tripower mailing list, asking if anyone was up for a Wednesday night Ipswich ride from the Conte’s Bike Shop on 21st Street in Norfolk. Sure enough, six people showed up, including one of the Conte’s mechanics, Josh. While Josh usually rode a fixed gear, he was borrowing Mike’s new Lemond ‘cross bike. Most importantly though, Josh knew Ipswich.
See, Ipswich is one of these organic trail networks that sprung up on the outskirts of the subdevelopments, without any planning, save for “Let’s put a big jump over there!” I think the city of Chesapeake named it a park after the fact (they’ve shown precious little inclination to set up many other city parks, not when developers are salivating to make a quick million by plopping Mexican-built condos
in yet another soy bean field). In fact, a few years back a good chunk of Ipswich was lost to a car dealership. But the trail rebounded inward upon itself, and a new set of twisting singletrack was hacked out of the swampy forest, threaded ever tighter than before.
The trails aren’t mapped, let alone marked. There are no informative brochures or donation boxes at the trailheads. It’s just a set of trails connected at times by sheets of plywood crossing old ditches, scrambling up old dikes, passing behind cul de sacs and underneath high-tension power lines.
So a few minutes after our stated departure time of six o’clock we finally rolled out. Liz, my co-leader for two rides now, was apparently feeling a little guilty for delaying everybody as she settled some broken fork issues with the shop because she kicked the pace up to twenty miles per hour as we headed towards downtown Norfolk and the Berkley Bridge.
Twenty miles per hour is no big deal on a road bike for any reasonably fit person, but it’s just about top speed for a mountain bike on the flats. The extra wide, knobby tires and more
upright, less aerodynamic riding position make mountain bikes slower in general than road bikes. So twenty miles per hour for nearly nine miles was a tough pace for Liz to set, and I was feeling it all the more so on my singlespeed.
I’ve blogged about my singlespeed before, and there are countless other blogs that extol the virtues of singlespeeds. Let’s just say that the biggest attraction of a singlespeed, the single gear, is also its biggest limitation. When I had put the knobbies on my singlespeed, I had also dropped the gearing down to something a little more comfortable for trail riding. Which meant that I was decidedly undergeared for a twenty mile per hour asphalt run.
Whenever my legs are on the verge of cramping at well over a hundred and twenty revolutions per minute, I remind myself of what a great spin workout I’m getting, and how it will really refine my pedalling. That usually keeps me going for a mile or two. After slogging over the third bridge, trying to keep up with Liz, I was grateful for every green light we missed as it gave me an opportunity to rest my legs
for a minute. Standing at the stop lights, the clouds formed a low, grey ceiling above, threatening us with the occasional rain drop.
But our luck held out, and we made it to the trailhead before the rain started in. We quickly formed into a single line with Josh, the most experienced at Ipswich, leading us and Sally bringing up the rear on what I think was her first time on dirt.
We made the requisite wrong turns that led us to trails cut off by massive windfall trees or into somebody’s back yard, forcing us to try to get six people turned around on a trail that was often narrower than our handlebars.
Ipswich is a reminder of what the suburbs used to look like before the trees gave way to asphalt. There’s none of the closely-cropped, carefully-tended order of a manicured park. Instead trees sprout randomly, and indiscriminately fall across the trail. “Log!” we’d call out in the front, then pause another hundred feet down the trail to make sure that everybody made it across. As the light dimmed even more beneath both cloud and tree canopy cover, we all switched on our headlights, making
it easier to follow eachother through the dense second-growth forest. “It’s like a jungle in here!” Julie exclaimed while we waited for the last of the group at one stop. With the wet, green leaves slapping against our legs as we pedalled, and branches occasionally forcing us to stoop down to our handlebars in order to ride under them, Julie was right. The near-jungle of Ipswich stood in marked contrast to the strip malls and convenience stores just on the other side of the rumbling highway that interupted the silence of the trees.
Most of us made it over most of the obstacles along the trail, although I think everybody fell at least once. I found myself scrambling up off the ground in one tight, wet turn after being reminded that you can’t lean a mountain bike over in a turn like it was a road bike. However my pride was bruised more than my knee had been slapping the top tube.
After a series of dead ends and lucky guesses, we miraculously made it back to the same trail head where we had started. We headed back to Norfolk as the rain truly began, and as we
rode through South Norfolk, a neighborhood struggling to emerge from decades of neglect and blight, we joked about the dangers of stopping,
“If you get dropped you’re on your own! Fix your own flat! We will not wait for you!”
Of course, the truth was that the group would stop, but South Norfolk and Berkley are still some pretty rough neighborhoods, and most definitely not the place you’d want a flat tire on a $1,500 bike after dark, alone.
With a big sprint over the Campostella Bridge, Norfolk tallest, we coasted down the other side in mad, wet glee. Thereafter it was an easy spin back to the shop where we all agreed that we’d be back next week for more.
Tot: 1.287s; Tpl: 0.058s; cc: 7; qc: 55; dbt: 0.0286s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb