Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bicycle Break

As I make my way north there are fewer places to stop, fewer available services and fewer places to find modern comforts near the trail, including internet access. While I try to keep the site up to date, I have to first concern myself with more pressing needs such as stocking up on food. Recently though, I had an opportunity to get off the trail for a day to witness some world class cycling.

Before I had even started hiking the Appalachian Trail I had an invitation from Mechanical Man and Crayon Lady (their trail names) to visit with them in Smith Gap, PA, a stones throw from the Lehigh Valley Velodrome. For those of you not familiar with track bicycle racing, the riding takes place on a banked track and the bicycles have only one gear, quite similar to those bikes used in a spin class.

There was a little wrinkle in the plan though that I first had to contend with. As I was hiking along over the course of one particular morning I began feeling some discomfort on the lower outside portion of my left leg, just above the ankle. I realize that in doing nothing but hiking all day, a small amount of discomfort can quickly become an annoyance, soon thereafter chronic pain and potentially a disabling injury. In an attempt to stave that off I decided to make it a short day and spend the afternoon resting my leg. If you check the Miles/Towns page, you will be able to tell which day it was. While I made the right move, the pain had subsided only until I had made it another 15 miles up the trail on the following day. At that point though, I figured it wouldn’t kill me to walk on it so I continued doing so.

Mechanical Man was kind enough to pick me up at a road crossing so that I could catch the bicycle racing action at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome. Some of the racers were those that will be representing their countries at the Olympics in Beijing. A number of the coaches already hard their Olympic hardware. Track cycling is a completely different animal that road racing, not least of which is that the only option you have to make yourself go faster is to pedal harder. The speed they generate on those bikes is unbelievable. I stood at the top rail for a good portion of the race and the wind gust that is produced when the riders pass by is enough to blow papers out of your hand should you not be paying attention. Not too surprisingly, watching the race made me long for my bicycle, which following my most recent cross-country bike ride was disassembled in its entirety, cleaned and put in a storage box. I would love to try track riding at some point, but at this point my cardiovascular fitness is pretty much a joke. I would have to train at least a little bit so as not to embarrass myself.

As part two of the bicycle interlude, I got to watch Mechanical Man’s son race BMX. While his son is a little young to be an Olympian, BMX riding will be an Olympic sport in Beijing. I think it is part of a campaign to cater towards youth by bringing in newer sports. On one BMX Olympic advertisement they had even stolen the catch phrase from Oldsmobile, “This isn’t your fathers Oldsmobile”. Well, in the Olympic version the word Oldsmobile is replaced with Olympics, but you get the idea. It’s not like Oldsmobile is using the phrase any longer.

The comic relief on a scorching afternoon of BMX racing was watching the four year olds race. It seemed that in each race, at least one of the kids couldn’t make it up one of the mounds on the track. Someone would have to give the kid a push up the hill and they would carry on. It was a riot. People seemed to cheer more for the little kids than anyone else.

Watching two forms of cycling was a nice diversion from my cycle-less world of hiking. Huge thanks to Mechanical Man and Crayon Lady. And while the break was pleasant in and of itself, it also gave me a day to rest my leg. The only option I have now is to hike on and see what happens.

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