There is something especially poignant about the last day of summer. Especially, for me, this year, although I can’t tell you exactly why. Perhaps it’s the memory of last year’s awful winter, though the chance of another such within the next 25 years is slim. Perhaps there’ll never be another such, until the next global cooling cycle begins in a few eons. All I know is that I don’t want autumn to arrive just yet. And yet it will, despite my wishes, descend shortly after 10 p.m. in these parts.
I think my real reason is that I want to extend the string of nice days for cycling. We’ve had a wretchedly hot summer on the heels of our wretchedly snowy winter, and the count of days with 90+ degrees stands at 65, I believe, as recorded at Reagan National Airport down by the beautiful, (mostly) blue Potomac. On many of these days, especially in midsummer, the air was so humid and the heat so firmly held in the ground that the temperature would shoot up at early dawn (around 6 a.m.) and beyond a reasonable level for beginning a bike ride by 7:30.
And so today, as a salute to the end of the freest, laziest season of the year, I took off for Leesburg. It’s about 25 miles down the trail, so the ride ends up being a half-century. Putting myself in “touring speed” mode, I didn’t rush it, didn’t push too hard, but kept up a steady, fairly high pace. It is amazing how much difference that makes to one’s energy reserves. I usually ride, I think, at the fringe of the “red zone,” almost but not quite at my lactate threshold of 85% of maximum heart rate. That’s the point at which the body can’t get rid of the lactic acid forming in the muscles quickly enough, and first pain and then cramping results. At touring speed I am probably doing 75% of maximum heart rate, and the difference in stress on my system is palpable. I don’t go quite as fast, but only about 1 to 1½ mph slower, down from 16-15½ to about 14½.
The ride today was idyllic. Being Wednesday, the Trail was practically empty, except for the inevitable Park Ranger truck and the more unusual cluster of police vehicles just this side of Herndon. They’ve been having occasional trouble with indecent exposures, and I wonder if there was another episode. Luckily I wasn’t wearing a trench coat. It was sunny, but I eschewed sunglasses today, partly because of the low light angle and the light/dark contrast factor. I started at 10:30, and as the day went on the shadows stretched farther over the homebound side of the trail. That was perfect, because the temperature was in the mid-seventies when I started out, but climbed through the mid-eighties on the way home and was 92º when I got there. But it was a dry heat, and my body never felt under pressure. Being out of direct sunlight also makes a huge difference.
Another huge difference was my hydration. I used the Lezyme today because of its large capacity. The adjustments I made after the first ride resulted in a dependable and comfortable feel. I carried not only ice water (though it was “ice” only for a relatively short time today) but also PowerBars to keep the nutrition up. I ended up eating one 280-calorie bar in two stages, and drinking at least one liter of water. I also noted for future reference that the pack on this system has a perfect pouch for stowing gear on those autumn days when I might have to start with a warmer outer layer that I want to ditch halfway through a ride. So this system will get even more extensive use as the season moves on. Today my ride would not have been nearly as successful without a big hydration pack, because the sweat was pouring off as it warmed.
And yet there was a refreshing feel to the breeze, as if the wind were picking up the earth-cooled air from the bordering woods before it blew over the exposed Trail. I never felt as if I was gasping for air, as I can when it’s humid. The summer left with heat but also with a sense of comfort and finer weather to come.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2010.