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.

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