Wednesday, December 4

On the Paving of Tharpe Ridge Road

Roads can be forgotten.  There is a road that doesn't connect any popular destinations and only acts as a shortcut to those that live nearby; and even then is less preferable to the longer "faster" route.  It's curvy.  It's rough.

As a cyclist I gravitate to this road because it offers solitude and is a link in  the greater local system for creating loop rides that relieve stress and not magnify it.  I love it despite its carpet-bombed ambiance.  I know the potholes well, and even in the depths of a conversation with another cyclists can dodge them, and even point them out with little conscious thought.
A few days ago I drove past this road.  I was on my way to pick up chicken feed nearby.  I have a cargo bike.  Why was I driving, you ask.  My last jaunt to the feed store on the bike was almost disastrous.  Chicken feed ALL OVER the road.  But that didn't happen.  I digress.

Chicken Feed Run
I saw fresh asphalt.  A flagger without a flag.  I wondered if the entire mile long section of road had been paved.  That became the premise for my next ride.  It became the excuse and obligation for my next ride.
Early morning I headed out from home.  My wife was still sleeping peacefully as I rolled away from the house in the cold morning air.  I could have stayed and enjoyed the warmth of the bed, the quiet and comfort of my house, but I chose to ride. 
Along the river, Turkey Knob to us locals, I hung in my drops, fat legs pumping steadily, driving me along at a constant 22 mph.  The pavement was damp and with the temperature hovering around freezing I knew that could be unfortunate further down the road in the hollows and shadows of the route ahead.
Into the City and I slowed to just under 20.  I turned on the road across the river bottoms, dropped my chain, but then continued on after a quick resettling of the drive train.  There was a climb ahead.  It's possible that the particular climb ahead of me on the far side of the river was  the first paved hill I plied on a bike, though likely it would have been as a descent with my mom carrying the bike back up on our return home.  We once lived at the top of Pompeii Hill.  And once in the clouded past of antiquity that seemed a mountainous hill.  It doesn't seem that way anymore. 
The labor of rollers is a sublime exertion, and one that if executed with the right momentum can accomplish an exquisite efficiency of movement.  The crossing of Pompeii is a place where that efficiency of movement is possibly.  Gaining Tharpe Ridge Road is not.
I tailgated a pickup truck down to the Beech Fork Reservoir outflow and beyond, but at the bottom of the Water Church Hill (as some have called it) I fell away like a rocket stage jettisoned.  I stood on my pedals and turned on the pain as I struggled to haul my fat self up the ridiculously steep hill.
Without even getting out of breath I found myself rolling slowly along a wooded lane beneath the water tower.  My speed increased after I took a pull from my water bottle.  Water in my legs.  Water in my head.  Water all around.
Instead of enjoying the ride along fresh new asphalt I struggled to remove a glove and glove liner so I could take a photo with my phone of the new road and its winter bare corridor.  Then instead of focusing on the rollers at hand I struggled to return my phone to a jersey pocket and jam fingers back into gloves.  I lost out on two rollers to that process.
My skinny tires slipped along quietly.  A host of cars continued to not pass me.  Silence continued to bombard my senses.  The part of me that is hard to satisfy with small things wished this road went on for twenty miles.
And too quickly I was at the top of the last hill, having traversed the ridge so quickly, and then I was bombing the recently repaired section of road that once looked to be carpet-bombed.  My impact on the pavement was negligible.  How many eons of only bicycle travel would it take to necessitate another layer of oil and substrate?
I flew across Paint Creek then, dreading the ride back into town on 213, but for the moment doing my best to enjoy the continuation of a fine ride.  If I had time to cross over the busier road and pick up North Bend then I could carry on my imaginations of biketopia for a little longer.  Not that morning though.  I'd brave the Red River bridge on 213, taking the lane and forcing my opponents to hold off in passing on the narrow bridge.
Once across a short line of cars disgorged around me and sped on into town oblivious to the speed limit sign at the city limits.  I pedaled on.
Ironically there was little traffic except where the road was most treacherous.  The entire ride, 13 miles, I saw no more than a single car at once, except on the deadly bridge. 
I then carried over Cider Non-Hill on out of town once more and up my own creek with churning pedals.  On and off during the ride I reflected on the paving of Tharpe Ridge Road.  Why should the maintenance of a road that I hardly ever travel fill me with such happiness?  It never lies between me and my destination.  I only use it when I want to ride my bike and avoid the bicycle unfriendly road that runs north out of town, or as a segment of a longer traverse of the county west to east or east to west across the northern half...
Like I said, I rode that link in the system despite it's apocalyptic d├ęcor.  Potholes weren't enough to turn me away.  The climbs that stand sentinel on either end of the ridge are milksop under my crushing pedal strokes.  The allure of a quiet, rolling country ridge road is too hard to resist. 
There's just something about that new asphalt smell...

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