Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Jim Thorpe can't get no satisfaction

Bonnie loves to tell the story of how one Friday afternoon, on our way home from work, we decided to go to Cooper's Seafood Restaurant to take them up on their free lobster birthday dinner (show up with your driver's license to prove you're a year older and they'll give you a free lobster dinner to make you feel better). Instead, through a series of wrong turns, we ended up spending a wonderful weekend in Jim Thorpe .

Nestled within a steep valley through which runs the Lehigh River, the town of Jim Thorpe feels like the spot between a mattress and a pillow. It's a nice little town steeped in its rich history, peppered with art galleries and little shops. Little seems to be an adjective that easily attaches itself to the words I use in describing the town: nice litte town, quaint little shops, little facades of coffee shops and art galleries along Race Street. Perhaps in my mind I wish the town to be small enough that one can put it in one's own pocket, to be pulled out and once in a while to be gazed upon. Like a snow globe, which you can probably purchase in one of those quaint, little shops.

Jim Thorpe also happens to be an excellent mountain biking town. Lots of trails in the area. Last year, my brother Uly, coming out from another 6-month stint as crew doctor for a cruise ship that sailed around the world, spent a couple of months visiting us in Scranton. Bonnie and I took him out to Jim Thorpe to bike the Lehigh Gorge Trail. He did pretty well for a smoker who alternates between a stick of cigarette and his asthma inhaler.

We had the entire two months planned, capped by a major road trip from PA to Florida with several stops in between. After the second week, before we could hit the first mile of the trip, we were sitting around in the kitchen, drinking an assortment of beer that we rounded out from the store, he says to me, "Tol, about this trip,... there's kind of a snag." His voice had turned one level in earnest and it seemed a coincidence that he chose the moment when Bonnie stepped out of the kitchen. He then proceeded to tell me that his girlfriend had called him from the UK to tell him that she was pregnant. I don't know why but my reaction to this piece of information was an incredulous, "You schmuck!" Meanwhile his face was a painting of happiness, he all but went Costanza on me, a-la "My boys can swim!"

He had to go to fly out to the UK the following week. Nine months later, out came Gabriel, shown here growling out System of a Down's Toxicity.

This spring, Bonnie and I went back to Jim Thorpe to ride the entire length of the Lehigh Gorge out and back. It was a nice Saturday to get in some miles on a flat terrain. After the ride, we checked into a hotel, hit the showers and took a little nap.

In the evening we met up with our friends Sam and Carl. Sam is one of the nicest persons I've ever met. She went to our Haloween partly last year as a nun. Those last two statements are not necessarily related. Carl came in with a huge screw through his head and won funniest costume. He's also a big Rolling Stones fan.

We walked around town, downed a few drinks at the bar at Antonio's, then had a dinner in the same place. Antonio's is my favorite italian restaurant.

We then headed up to the Mauch Chunk Opera House to see the Rolling Stone live!

Well not quite the Rolling Stones, but it's next to the real thing. The band's name is Satisfaction, a Stones tribute band. When the band members walked onto the dimly-lit, smoke-filled stage, if you allow yourself to be deceived you can almost swear it was Mick and Keith and the rest of them. Mick had all the moves down and he never went out of character for even a second. Keith had the signature throwing his picking hand up in the air. And they sounded just as close to the real thing.
It wasn't the Rolling Stones. But we didn't have to pay an arm and a leg.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Anchor

My google searches indicated that the IT-band syndrome is common at the start of cycling season since the knees, and the body, need to get used to the physical exertions again. Suggestions included starting with easy rides and ramping it up within a 2-3 week period, stretching exercises, bike fit adjustments, and some medication.

Bonnie and I decided to do a section of the Lackawanna Heritage Trail in Dickson City. The actual trail begins in Olyphant and stretches along the river and goes up to Mayfield. The main trail is flat, no climbs, a good hardpack surface (mostly). This probably should have been our first ride. It was, in fact, my very first mountain bike ride.

I had bought my first mountain bike, a Jamis Durango Sport, from Cedar Bike in Dickson City. Cedar Bike is located at the corner of Main St and Lackawanna Ave. This corner is referred to as the Blakely Corner. Or, "the anchor." There is a real anchor, taken from the U.S. Navy Destroyer Johnston Blakely, that serves as a memorial. The anchor serves as a virtual anchor too. If you ask for directions to a place around the vicinity, the anchor almost invariably is used as a reference point. "If you see the anchor, you've gone too far."

I used to live a couple of blocks from the anchor, in a rundown 3-story apartment building along Main St. It was an old building. I rented a unit at the 3rd floor. My apartment unit consisted of four rooms lined-up in one straight row. Bathroom/kitchen, room, living room, and then the master's bedroom. The master's bedroom faced the street, right next to the traffic light.

On summers when my windows were open, the thunderous revving of motorcycles filled the room. The kitchen was a little warped. It seemed to defy the laws of physics and geometry. When I placed a ball on the floor it would roll off towards a wall. The kitchen cabinets always seemed crooked. But the location was alright. I was ten minutes from Walmart, and a couple of blocks from the bike trail.

So I walked into Cedar Bike one day and purchased a bike. As it turns out, Dave, the owner of the shop, used to be in the military and he was once stationed in Clark Air Base, a former US Air Force Base in the Philippines. His father, who was also in the shop, also happened to have been stationed there.

After I paid for the bike, Kenny, the mechanic, told me that they have Tuesday night rides and that I was welcome to join. They could show me where the bike trail was. He assured me that nobody would be dogged. Perfect.

So I showed up that Tuesday night. It was early April then and the temperature hovered around 45 to 50 degrees. I wore sweats and sneakers, and a helmet that I bought from Dick's Sporting Goods. We started off from the shop, right at the anchor, then down Lackawanna Ave.

There were five of us. One of the guys had a flashlight strapped on his helmet. There was still a good amount of daylight but it was beginning to fade. We rode behind the CVS and then along a couple of backyards and then we were on a trail that was right beside the river. Already I was falling behind and was out of breath. Kenny fell back to give me some pointers. He told me to ride along the more solid sections of the trail so the bike rolled easier. That helped. I looked ahead and the rest of the guys were no longer in sight.

We crossed a wooden bridge that led to a parking lot. The rest of the guys were already there waiting. We proceeded to take side streets for a couple of blocks and then we were on the trail again. I did my best to keep up with them but I was slowing them down. And then we got off the main trail to go up a hill. The trail became rocky and my chest was hurting from breathing in the cold air. When I finally made it to the top I told them to go ahead without me. I said I was going to turn around and be on my way and I thanked them for showing me the trail. They were nice about it. They moved on.

I turned around and made my shaky descent, and got back to the main trail. The main trail was mainly flat and I went a little bit farther before I turned around and pedalled home. I would go back to the trail countless times after that.

That was six years ago. And now I was back right on the very same trail. Bonnie and I had ridden up to Mayfield and were on our way back. We passed the turn along the trail that led up the hill. We stayed on the main trail and I stole a glance up toward the hill. At the top was
a guy standing beside his bike. I got the impression that he was trying to catch his breath. Or maybe I just imagined it.

We were close now to where we parked the car. I started to go faster and Bonnie matched my pace and then we started to race. Not an all out masher, but neither of us wanted to be the first one to let up. After only a few moments we fell back to normal pace and laughed at ourselves.

Then the parking lot came into view and just like that the ride was over.