Getting Lost Out There
Written by Kristi June
Thursday, February 27, 2014
I am probably breaking every blog rule by posting this piece. It is very long because it is a short story (5,296 words) about a training ride out in Jackson a couple of months ago. I didn't plan to write about this ride, so I didn't take many pictures. Next time, I promise I will give you some more pictures. I hope you enjoy the read.
Getting Lost Out There
The “voice of nature” woke me up last Saturday morning. That was the name of my alarm. Well, it should come as no surprise that this array of voices from nature, which primarily consisted of birds whistling and streams flowing did not encourage me to jump out of bed and get ready. The fact that it was 6:15 AM probably had a little to do with it as well. To my defense, I woke up for a second, and in that second, I came to the conclusion that there was no possible way that I was getting up out of bed. The easy answer was hit snooze, but I complicated things wanting to reset it, which required using math while half asleep. I barely could open my eyes, much less do basic arithmetic: 6:05 now, the SCC Sponsor Ride….in Stockbridge 8 AM…twenty minute drive…leave at 7:40…no, ready to ride at 8 AM,…be there at 7:30…hour to get ready…ugh… 15 more minutes of sleep…ah, the hell with it…I can get ready in thirty minutes…let me reset the alarm for 7 AM. I dropped the phone, rolled over and pulled the covers over my head, taking a deep breath. I exhaled, feeling the warm breath on my face. Without a second thought, I was out.
One problem: I forgot to turn the alarm on. Fate had to tease me by naturally waking me up at 7:40 AM as if to say, “If you had only gotten up five to ten minutes earlier then you could have made it there in time.” I felt tortured by the fact that I was missing a free forty-mile group ride with friends that was going to also have food afterwards. (I cycle so I can eat stuff that I probably should not. Nothing better than sitting down to enjoy tortilla chips with chunky guacamole dip, two steak chile rellenos smothered with cheese dip, all washed down with a Fat Tire…and truly not feeling guilty about it.) I covered the blankets back over my head and shut my eyes, attempting to convince myself that I loved sleeping in and I’d rather be right there…in bed.
Didn’t really work so well. In my head, I kept hearing that voice saying “You need to ride. What are you doing in bed? You could catch them. You could start from you house and just go ride in the opposite direction of the loop they are riding and eventually you will find them.” Sad already, I turned on my phone, checked Facebook to only see pics of the group ride getting ready to start in the parking lot. Thank you social media for making me jealous. I immediately logged off and moved on with real life.
I jumped out of bed and walked downstairs to start the coffee. Opened the cabinet to find I was out of Starbucks and even backup supply of Seattle’s Best Level 5, so there wasn’t any really good coffee, only left over Maxwell House. It was something that resembled coffee at least, and it filled my optimist meter up to about half way. Life still equaled blah. The TV was on in the living room, and I couldn’t help but overhear the Weather Channel talking about winds and rain coming tomorrow because of Hurricane Karen hitting Florida. At that point, I realized that waiting to put the miles in tomorrow was not really an option. My half Ironman training schedule called for 50 miles on the weekend, but the weather forecast always dictated which day I could ride. I needed to get ready and get myself and my bike on the road.
Since I was forced to ride solo, I had one priority: to find some country roads that everyone else had abandoned and forgotten. This meant traveling far away from the city of McDonough, getting out of the suburbs. I knew just the place to go. I drove out to Jackson, Georgia and parked at the mountain bike trailhead at Dauset Trails, one of my favorite places in Georgia with over 17 miles of hiking/mountain bike trails. Dauset Trails had won my heart a few months back when I was out there on a trail run and unexpectedly found a trail that led me all the way McIntosh Lake at Indian Springs State Park.
I happened to stumble upon McIntosh Lake near sunset. The red sky slowly lowered the sun over the still water very carefully, and in that moment, I stopped, breathed in the fresh air. The sun blazed with strength and radiated powerfulness. I stared in awe, appreciating the last rays of warmth shining down upon me. Complete silence…the world seemed to stop. Maybe it wasn’t only just the world. Maybe it was me that had finally stopped. After all, the birds were chirping. Fishes were causing ripples to form in the water. Ducks swam by. Turtles sat on logs. No, the world didn’t stop. I was just alone. The phone was off. The TV was nowhere around. Not even Queens of the Stone Age were blasting in my headphones. No one “liked” my status of Facebook because I didn’t post about it, and I wasn’t even thinking of how I was going to post it later. I was present and awake and alive…feeling everything in the moment. I wanted to stand and watch the red sky turn black and the reflection of the pines fade, the glimmer of the sun hitting the water disappear, but it was quite a ways back to the car. I feared being stuck out on the trail in the dark without a flashlight or any food, all alone. I turned around, took a deep sigh of finality and exhale, and I made myself slowly walk in the direction of the car. The urge to look back at the water took over, and I could not take my eyes off the lake. The farther I walked the smaller the lake became, and finally, one last view remained, so I stopped to admire it all in once again before it was completely gone. Nothing but a memory now, one I would hold on to forever, a memory that would make me always yearn for a trip back to Dauset Trails and Indian Springs State Park, and so naturally, I found myself in the parking lot of the mountain bike trailhead at Dauset, unloading my road bike after all my plans fell apart.
At the trailhead, I was the only one getting ready to ride on the road. Mostly mountain bikers were at the trailhead when I arrived, maybe a few casual hikers. Even though I caught a few, “What the hell is she doing?” looks as I unloaded my road bike, I just kept unloading and putting on all my gear. Then, I walked to the road. The road quality was a little rough…as I remembered it. It was bumpy asphalt, but the trees and less crowded streets were what I was after. What I lost in comfort, I gained in peace from cars not almost hitting me, passing me like they are rushing to the hospital to save a life or deliver a baby when in reality they were going to the buy cigs and beer at the corner store.
Helmet on, Gatorade and Shot Bloks in tow, I was all set. Last minute decision, I turned on Strava for the first time. From the trailhead I turned left on Mt. Vernon, taking it all the way to the stop sign where it met Highway 42, creating a T intersection. I took a left to go towards Indian Springs State Park. My legs felt so strong; I held back some to try and get fully warmed up, but when I got to the first true climb right past Indian Springs, I was pushing myself. I made sure my shoulders were relaxed, and I focused on my breathing. I inhaled in my nose and pushed out that breath forcibly through my mouth…and again. I pedaled consistently, visualizing perfect circles while pushing down and pulling up.
On the way up the hill, a flea market sat on both sides of the road with antiques, what most people would consider trash. I saw a rusty Coca-Cola sign, and loving the television show American Pickers, the picker in me wanted to pull over, immediately. I realized I couldn’t, of course. I had just started and I couldn’t stray from the goal so quickly. Also, being on Strava definitely was a deterrent from stopping. I wanted a Queen of the Mountain. I put aside being a lover of all things strange, unique and slightly rusty to get to the top of the hill…to earn my QOM. I stayed seated while climbing and went at my own steady pace, imagining someone was right behind me and about to catch me. It worked for me. I made it up with energy to spare and it felt amazing. The wind rubbed my face and the sunshine warmed my skin as the salty sweat dripped down my face. The first climb was over, only 100 more to go.
I kept going straight and only slowed down to take a right onto Old Springs Road, a small road that intersects with Highway 23. Riding up to Highway 23, cars and 18-wheelers flew by sporadically, so I stopped and looked twice before crossing the highway. Once across the street, the traffic was left behind. The name of the road also changed to Higgins Road. Although the first part of Higgins was rough asphalt, after I crossed Highway 16, the road was superb quality and really had some fast sections to it where I was pushing 20+ mph. It was sort of like a roller coaster…wavy. The hills weren’t so big where I was slowing down to 6 mph. I slowed to about ten to fifteen mph on most of the hills to speed up again downhill. Higgins Road ended too soon and landed me at a stop sign with the choice to go left or right onto Halls Bridge Road. Immediately, I remembered riding Halls Bridge Road, and it was not my one of my favorites…slightly more cars. I took a right. When I reached the 4-way intersection, I took a left on Stark Road, one of my favorite roads. Overgrown pastures spotted with ponds and limbless pine trees that wore Mohawks. These funky trees sporadically lined both sides of the road. Stark Road led all the way to Highway 36. It was hard to make a left turn, but it wasn’t impossible. I simply gave a left-turn hand signal, claimed the lane, stopped at the sign, and waited until it was clear. I went straight until I reached the light. Then, I took a right and headed to Downtown Jackson. The church crowd had just let out at that time, and the crowds lined up outside gave me clues as to which restaurants were really delicious. The Mexican place was busy. A line of people in their dress clothes were walking in as I took a left onto South Mulberry Street. Next, I was hit with the aroma of steak coming from Jimmy’s Steak & Seafood. The parking lot was slam full. Didn’t even see one parking space open and people were waiting outside. I was hungry, but I decided I would come back and try out the restaurants when I was not in spandex…or at least the only one in spandex. Staying strong and on course, I rode past all the restaurants, and I took a left onto to Brownlee Road, back towards nature.
I wasn’t even on the road for a minute when a car that was taking a left out of his driveway started to pull out into the lane I was riding by in, exactly where I was riding. On top of that, a car was coming in the other direction while he was crossing the lane. He ended up realizing that he was about to hit me and he decided to pass me. Luckily, the other car coming towards both me and the driver slowed down dramatically, avoiding a head on collision. I didn’t understand the driver’s initial impatience since I rode directly behind his vehicle up until he turned right a quarter mile down the street. The speed limit was 35 mph, and he followed the speed limit. I thought to myself, “Well, there is a riddle for you. Why follow one speed limit yet not follow the three-foot law? Was the three feet law, the law that states motorist are to give cyclists three feet when passing, not known or simply just not being enforced?” Right then, no answer mattered. An intense flash of adrenaline spread throughout my body, giving my legs the momentum needed to follow the car very easily. A jumble of slurs crossed my mind. I couldn’t help but think, “What gives him the right to endanger my life and risk crashing into another car filled with people?” It took everything in me to not continue to follow him as the car turned right and inform him of the three foot law myself. I kept myself from following him because once the scene played out in my head it really went nowhere good…especially for me. If I would have followed him, I could have let off some steam, but what would it have really accomplished? Nothing, but I would have been putting myself in danger, and I wanted to live to ride my bike another day. I chose to dismiss the slight, and I tried to forgive him in that moment. Maybe he saw a girl on a bike and thought I was going to be riding at 10 mph instead of 25 mph. I just chose to be thankful that he didn’t hit me, and I continued to ride.
Breathing and pedaling slowly, trying to get my heart rate down from going into fight or flight mode, I saw a guy on a Walmart Next mountain bike, riding with no helmet on the road. After my close call, this disturbed me even more than it usually would have. I caught up to him easily. Passing him without saying anything was not an option. I pulled up and rode by his side for a second. I turned my head, looking into his eyes. His eyes were tired and his face suntanned. Creases engrained into his skin to show the hard years he had lived, but his shaggy golden blonde hair glistened in the sun. I said, “Hey man, you should really get a helmet. I know a helmet looks stupid, but if someone wrecks into you and you are not wearing one, you are automatically dead. It can save your life.”
“Oh, I’m just going up here,” he said.
“I know, man, but people get hit by cars all the time. You don’t always hear about it. Sometimes a cyclist will get killed by a car, and it’s almost like it never happened. If anything happens to the driver, it’s a slap on the wrist. The driver might get a ticket…or a misdemeanor…for taking someone’s life!” I exclaimed. I shook my head, raised my eyebrows, and looked him dead in the eye and said, “You need to look out for yourself.” He gave a nod, and I nodded back. I added, “Hope you have a good day!” Then, I took off…making it look effortless.
Free from people and away from traffic…finally…it was me and the bike and the open road. I was alone at last. The only problem? The 4-way intersection where Brownlee crosses Mt. Vernon was up ahead just a little ways, and I still didn’t know which way I wanted to go. Left went back to the car. Straight led to a road I went on last time. It was short and somewhat familiar from last time. I wanted something new. When I got to the stop sign, instinct kicked in immediately. I knew which way to go, and I took a right. I knew it would take me to High Falls Road and from there I would find a new undiscovered road that piqued my interest.
It scared me to go on High Falls Road, just a tad. Sometimes cars go fast on country roads…especially country roads that actually go somewhere. A left on High Falls Road went to I-75 and High Falls State Park, but a right on High Falls Road led to Highway 16, a busy road which would either take you to Griffin or Jackson. I completely stopped at the stop sign. Good thing. A car was making a left onto Mt. Vernon Road. Taking the left was easy. No cars were in sight. After riding for just a few miles, I noticed a road on the left that I wanted to go on last time, County Line Road. I had no clue where it would end up but thought: “Maybe it will take me somewhere beautiful,” my ultimate hope in every ride.
There were some respectable hills on County Line Road, but once I saw a big, red barn on the corner of Carr Road, I knew exactly where I was on the map. I had come Carr Road on the way back to the car on my last ride. I clearly remembered this one house that had tall evergreen trees in front of a wood fence. Also, there was an especially giant rock near the road that highlighted the unique upside down Y-shaped gravel driveway. I couldn’t wait to see it again in the middle of the day, so I took a right onto Carr Road. I got to the end of the road and I took a left on Blount Road. I knew the road went back to Highway 42 and I would have an opportunity to go down some really unfamiliar roads since I had never been on the other side of Highway 42.
After reaching Highway 42, I took a right, taking me away from Indian Springs State Park. When I saw a road to the right that looked abandoned and paved, I took a chance. Three things I wanted: to get away from cars, a good quality road and beautiful scenery. I saw no cars. The road was smooth, and it was a tree-lined road. Perfect. Just a mile or so of riding down the road, the trees became sparse. The sun shined brightly over rolling hills of pastureland where cows roamed in the distance. A modest home with an old, tall oak holding a tire swing sat a ways off the road, the traditional red barn behind the house, off to the side. The street winded alongside the property, prolonging the view as I rode by slowly, taking in the rays of sun and the picturesque little farmhouse.
I didn’t want the scene to end. It was like riding by a movie set, but it was real. I realized that real people’s lives were being lived there. Something was simple, yet refreshing about the idea of living out in the middle of nowhere, still trying to make a living off the land. The wild wind gently caressed my face and blew a ringlet of hair that escaped my helmet. The only sound was the wind rushing past my ears. Not knowing exactly where I was liberated me, changing a gear in my head. All the pressures of real life floated away as I rode farther away from everything familiar.
On the bike, the problems were usually manageable. As I was going up a hill on Stokes Store Road, I thought I might have found a problem not quite so manageable. The problem was with three German Shepherds set on trying to protect their domain. They were sprawled out in the grass in the front yard, off the leash and resting, in sleep mode, as I was passing, but my cycling woke them. They sprang into action, running all the way into the street, following aside me while barking. My heart rate skyrocketed as the dogs chased me. My inner Cesar Millan came alive. Sternly, I yelled, “aaatttt…get back!” My hand was ready to squirt him with my water bottle if he came any closer. Two of the dogs gave up and stood still, but the last one wanted to argue. Obstinately, he obsessed over me making my way up and over the hill. The farther I went away from the house, the less the dog barked. Seeing I was not a threat, he stood still in the road, warning me that he would be ready if I decided to come back. I didn’t like the idea of being scared of a dog, but I was at the very least a little intimidated.
Shortly afterwards, the road split. I had a choice between right and left. Since it was already late afternoon, I went left. I didn’t know where the road went, but it felt like the right way to go to eventually get back to the car. I wanted some more miles, but I didn’t want to end up in Monticello instead of Jackson. As I rode, I noticed that to my left was the smallest fire station I had ever seen. Just so happened that a man with a rather large belly and a white beard walked out to his old beat-up, red 69’ Chevy pickup truck. This was the first person that I had seen in quite a long time and I thought to myself: “Here’s my chance to figure out where in the hell I am at.” I hesitated to engage in conversation, but he was wearing overalls and reminded me of a hillbilly version of Santa Clause. He was already in his truck and about to drive away, when I waved at him to get his attention. I pulled up beside his truck. The engine rumbled loudly. His window was already half way rolled down. I yelled to be heard over the roar of the engine, “Do you know how to get back to Indian Springs State Park?”
“Where?” the man asked.
“Indian Springs State Park?” I said.
“Hmm…well, let me see here. You can go…” He rambled off some way I should take and then once I started repeating and trying to memorize the route, he said, “Hold on, no, no, no…I know an easier way. You just go straight until you get to the stop sign. Take a left onto Lassiter Road. Next, take a right onto Freeman Road. Then, a left onto Craig Road. That will get you back to 42. Take a right to get to Indian Springs.” I repeated the directions, fumbling over them a couple times. Once I repeated them correctly, he gave me a nod. “Now, it could take a while to get over yonder and everything. You done got yourself a ways out from the park, young lady.” Letting out a chuckle, half smiling, he says, “It’s a good ways away, but I reckon you know what you’re doing, right?”
“Oh, me? Yeah, I am fine. Been riding all day. I need the miles, and I love to ride on these peaceful roads. So pretty and no traffic. Thanks for your help. I really appreciate it.”
“No problem. Good luck getting back,” he said with a sideways look.
That half smile was still on his face as I took off to the left. I wondered as I pedaled away if he thought he might see me on the news soon: dead, hit by a car, lost, kidnapped. Whether anything did happen to me or not, I realized I would never see that man again in my life. He sped off the opposite way. The grumbling of the engine faded more and more as a growing distance separated our paths forever. I was alone again with the bike. My phone almost dead, I hoped his directions were correct since my phone’s battery only had five percent of charge left, as usual.
With no worries or cares, the daylight persisted and so did I. There was time to get back, time to stumble with the directions, time to climb more hills, and when there wasn’t so much time left, there would be just enough time to sprint. With the sun blazing and only a slight wind, it was perfect riding weather, and I didn’t mind being out there. No one, and best of all, no cars to bother me. Complete silence. The bright blue sky with puffy white clouds hung over a deserted and overgrown pasture with brown, waist-height grass. Barbed wire fencing lined the pasture keeping strangers like me out, off their property. I felt as though I was trespassing almost, enjoying the view of the overgrown pasture that lined the long stretch of abandoned road before me. In that moment, I felt alive. Cruising through the country, hair blown pony tail waving in the wind, beads of sweat dripping down my face, a calmness spread throughout my entire body despite the fact that my heart rate was 160 beats per minute and I was going 20 miles an hour. A smile formed across my face. I thought to myself, “This is freedom.”
The zen moment passed when I ran straight into a dirt road. Normally, I would just take it, but with my half-Ironman distance triathlon right around the corner, the risk was too great if I fell. Realizing I missed my left turn onto Craig Road, I decided to take a break, and I gently laid my bike on the grass. Right next to my bike, I sat on the side of the road, and I ate a Clif Bar as I stared at an empty cow pasture. I checked my phone, only two percent charge left. Strava was still on, and I was at mile 35. “At least 15 more to go,” I thought. I picked up the bike, got back on, and started riding again. The road was not that hard to find. It went right back to Highway 42, and I was on familiar territory again. I took a left, and I retraced the way I had traveled before, just to try and reach my goal of 50 miles. At that point, I wanted to stay on familiar ground so that I could find my way back before dark. When I finally reached Mt. Vernon Road and was almost back to the car, I still needed seven more miles. I took a right onto TW Leverette Road, a horseshoe loop that is short but really pretty. However, when I got back to where I parked my car, I still needed 3 more miles. I thought about cheating, giving it a rest. I thought, “47 miles is a long ride, long enough, just let it go. You are ready to get off the bike.” I slowed down to 10 miles an hour, glanced over at the car, thought about it, and kept going. I actually visualized stopping and walking over to the car, but just the thought of stopping early made me feel sad. I knew then that I couldn’t stop without finishing the miles I set out to ride. I told myself, “Oh, no. You’re not getting off this bike until you get 50 miles on that odometer. You can’t cheat now because you can’t cheat on race day. You have to do this because mentally you want to know that you can push yourself farther than you think, even when you are tired and ready to quit. These 3 miles are the most important miles of all the 50 miles.”
Pushing on was more of a mental struggle than an actual struggle. Once, I decided to not give up, riding was easy. I added a gear, kept my cadence steady and picked up a lot of speed relatively easy. It was absolutely beautiful with the sun just starting to go down, even though to be honest, by that time, I was mainly staring at the pavement. I attempted to get lost again, taking a left onto Cenie Road, but it turned out to just be a shorter route to Indian Springs State Park. It put me at the red light at Highway 42. I took a right and climbed one more hill for the day. It hurt too. Last road, I veered right to go back to the car. I was back on Mt. Vernon Road. I looked at the odometer almost the whole way back to the car. When it hit 50 miles, I was so excited because it meant I could actually stop when I reached my car. Upon passing the 50 mile point, I slowed my cadence, lowered my gear and started the cool down, enjoying the pinkish-purplish sky over the green pine trees as I finished up for the day. My heart rate slowly dropped and a calmness engulfed my whole being. The fence, the gravel road, my car was in the distance and I unclipped, landing one foot on the ground to balance myself. Carefully, I got off the bike and took off my shoes. Walking up the gravel driveway was challenging, but not too bad. I pulled out the protein powder and quickly made a recovery drink with some left over water. I chugged it and washed out the after taste with some left over Gatorade.
The 50 miles were completed, 51.5 to be exact. Training for the day was over. I opened my trunk, took off my front wheel, and maneuvered the bike into my backseat, carefully placing the front wheel on top. I was drenched in sweat. Since no other cars were left at the trailhead, I dried off and changed into clean clothes right there. Once in fresh clothes, I sat in my car staring toward the still forest. The car door was wide open, one leg hung outside the car, and I was reclined in the front driver’s seat, exhausted. I wondered, “Hmm? Why was my ride so much fun even though so many things went wrong? After all, I ended up riding alone. I got lost. I was almost hit by a car. I was chased by dogs. I climbed way more hills than I planned to climb, or wanted to for that matter. I gave an impromptu lesson on the importance of wearing a helmet to an old guy that should have known better. I had to get directions from the redneck version of Santa Clause. My cell phone’s battery died! Yet, the day was perfect. Was it because I improvised a little and took chances?” I wasn’t sure, but I understood in that moment that life was trying to teach me something through the bike. I thought to myself, “Don’t let obstacles stand in your way of success! Maybe it’s okay to get a little lost once in a while. It’s just a part of life to have setbacks, but don’t let those setbacks deter you from the goals you set for yourself.” I knew that the month of training I had ahead of me to get ready for my first triathlon, a half Ironman distance, would be intense and very challenging to plan, but I decided right then that I would do whatever it took to get in the training, even it seemed the world was telling me to go back to bed. I fully expected tomorrow’s 10 mile run would present its own challenges, but I took a moment to be proud of completing the day’s goal, 50 miles. I was one step closer to being ready to compete.