The Perfect Ride

Some days all the ingredients come together just right to make this bike ride the Perfect Ride.

A sunny day. An open road. Perfect.

Have you ever had a Perfect Ride? The kind where everything comes together to make it one of the best you’ve ever had? Weather . . . personal fitness . . . equipment performance . . . beautiful scenery . . . even the right shorts with the most comfortable pad.

It all combines to leave you cruising along in paradise, saying to yourself, “This is perfect. This is why I ride.”

I had one of those rides on a Sunday morning. It was a beautiful fall day near North Creek in the southern Adirondacks. My girlfriend and I had gone up to her cabin to spend some quality time together after both of us attended to other commitments over the past month.

The weather was cool and rainy on Saturday as we slept late, went out for breakfast, and just hung around enjoying the day, making some jewelry, watching a movie. Relaxing. Slow and easy.

So Sunday morning when I rolled down the hill I was loose and feeling ready for a nice long ride after a couple of bagels washed down with plenty of hot coffee. The skies had cleared and a light breeze rustled the trees. There was a sharp chill in the air and a hint of color here and there. The green deciduous trees had just faded a bit, while the evergreens provided a brilliant dark green contrast. The milkweed leaves were starting to yellow. The sky was that deep, brilliant blue of a new tarp from the hardware store.

This is perfect. This is why I ride.

I headed over toward North Creek, over the Hudson, and onto Peaceful Valley Road. My bike was working flawlessly, the gears snicking up and down with barely even a noise. Clean bike, clean chain, new rear tire, saddle, and pedals. Full bottles, and my most comfortable pair of shorts and matching kit – a present from a cycling friend.

I headed up the first big hill, a bit tentative because a long cross-country group ride two weeks before had left me totally drained. I took it real easy the next two weeks when I realized how much it had taken out of me. I can normally push my heartbeat over 175, but the previous week my max wouldn’t go over 165 – a sure sign of overtraining.

Now we’ll see if the rest did any good. I watch the heart monitor as I start to ramp it up . . . 156 . . . 164 . . . 170 . . . 175! Great! I’m back to my normal max. This feels good!

This is perfect. This is why I ride.

The sights unfold as I ride on toward Johnsburg. An old van by the side of the road covered with vines. Small country churches with cars outside. Goldenrod everywhere, lending a fringe of yellow to the fields so they match my yellow bike.

The apple trees along the road are bearing and the unpicked fruit dropping. There’s a sweet odor of rotting apples as I glide by.

There’s wildlife, too, of a sort. The fall’s first woolly bear caterpillar crosses the road. I go by too fast to see exactly how broad that black band in the fur is, and I don’t remember exactly how to interpret it anyway.

A flash of orange is a newt wriggling across the pavement. I pause beside a lake near Athol and there’s dozens of them on the pavement. I veer back and forth, avoiding them with my tires, but still there are some that have obviously not been so lucky in their encounters with traffic.

Across the lake, there’s a frantic flapping as a trio of ducks takes flight. As I slowly crawl up a hill, I catch a glimpse of movement by my front wheel – it’s an inchworm on the pavement, climbing the hill with me. Good luck!

This is perfect. This is why I ride.

I ride through Sodom, Johnsburg, Athol, down the hill to River Road and along the upper Hudson. I’ll follow it all the way back to The Glen, then across the river, up past Friends Lake and Loon Lake, and back to the cabin.

The pavement rolls by under my wheels. The river is gleaming in the sunshine. There’s just enough breeze to keep me cool. I wave to people. A car passes and I look up just as a child’s hand waves out the window. Most car drivers don’t wave back. The motorcyclists do, though. They understand . . .

River Road brings me to The Glen, where I’m greeted by the rippling blue river beneath the highway bridge and the silent purple school buses of the river rafting center. Their doors hang open, waiting for the rafters who won’t be here again until spring, and they sit next to rack upon rack of abandoned orange life vests. I stop to take pictures of the vests, the river, and marvel at the beauty of the scene and the moment.

Some days all the ingredients come together just right to make this bike ride the Perfect Ride.

The pavement flies by.

Now up the hill to Friends Lake. It’s steep, but even the pain in my legs in enjoyable because it’s bearable and my quads keep pumping hard. This is difficult, but it feels so much better than it did a week ago!

On the way down toward Route 8 I pass the first other cyclist I’ve seen today. Man or woman? I can’t tell in the cycling garb. But I’m flying down the hill and can’t help but yell “YEEE-hah!!” as we pass. He – she? – waves and laughs.

This is perfect. This is why I ride.

Now I cross Route 8 onto White Schoolhouse Road. Up the hill. Not as steep as I remember it from last time. Over and down, then turning onto Igerna Road. It’s only five miles back to the cabin now.

Take it easy. Make this last. I’m getting tired now, but the sky is still as blue, the trees and flowers still glowing like before. I shift down and climb slowly, my leisurely pace a combination of lactic acid burn and a burning desire to want to keep riding, to want to keep enjoying the bright sun, the way my bike is surging up the hill under me, and the bittersweet impermanence of this season. There’s only a few weeks left before the temperatures begin their inexorable slide toward winter chill.

Finally, I get to the entrance to the dirt road back to the cabin. I lay my bike down, retrieve my sandals from next to the rock where I started, and strap them back to my feet before starting to walk up the rocky road to the homestead. As I get close I see my girlfriend loading things into the back of her truck. She looks up and walks to meet me.

“How was it?” she asks as she gives me a kiss and turns to walk with me. What can I say?

“It was perfect. This is why I ride.”