Bonnie and I did our first ride of the 2008 season at the end of March. We had been anticipating a significant rise in temperature as the end of the month approached. It got warm, not by much, but it spiked to about 50 degrees, and we figured the season had to start some time. The Sunday was sunny enough. It was warmer than it had been in the last three weeks, so we set out to Tobyhanna.
The Tobyhanna State Park has a 5-mile hiking/biking trail that goes around the Tobyhanna Lake. The trail itself is a mix of hardpack gravel and dirt which is a nice surface for the mountain bike. The terrain gently rolls up and down and winds through the woods. You don't see any vehicles until you get back to the starting point which is the parking lot and picnic area. It's an easy trail. A beginner can do it. An intermediate rider can do laps and go faster and won't be bored. An expert, well, is an expert, and probably could not be bothered. It's a nice, fun trail and was perfect for an easy start-of-season ride.
It was cold but we figured we'd warm up after a couple of miles. After the first mile I felt the familiar dull ache on the outside of my left knee, as if a cartilage was rubbing against my knee joint as I pedalled. My excitement turned to dismay and I fought to quell a mild surge of panic. The first time I felt this knee pain was near the end of last season, in the middle of a century ride. I found out later that it was the iliotibial (IT) band syndrome (the IT band becomes irritated from overuse). I had thought that an entire winter of rest off the saddle would get rid of it.
But it was back. Barely a few minutes into the season and I found myself half-seriously thinking of an outdoor activity to replace biking. Hiking maybe? I'd enjoy a hike but it just would not be the same. Too slow a pace. I'd miss tinkering with bike parts. There's really not much to maintain on a pair of hiking shoes.
I guess it doesn't have to be outdoors. I can get a video game console, get a biking game and ride like an expert and never have injuries. I can't get saddle sores from a couch.
It was an amusing thought. And it lasted for a few seconds. The trail had begun to climb and I had to concentrate on spinning. I looked over at Bonnie. She was wearing layers to keep warm, and she had a scarf wrapped around her neck. She hates being cold. She looked at me and we both gave each other a look that said, "Yeah, we're out of shape. I'm feeling it too."
Funny how a look could transmit a thought even though it wasn't what you had in mind. Well, not entirely. I was out of shape and I was feeling it alright. But... the trail had begun to descend. We swooshed down along the twisty path. It was colder with the wind blowing against us. My thighs were burning on the next ascent. My breathing was heavy, fast and shallow. The dull pain on my knee had begun to flare.
We reached the parking lot, completing the loop. I asked Bonnie if she wanted to do another lap. To my relief she replied with an out-of-breath "No." I wasn't up for another lap either. Then I told her about the knee pain.
And just like that, the ride was over.