A Day in the Mud
by Ainsley Wiles
Saturday. The sound of rain wakes me about an hour before I need to get up. A little voice in the back of my mind begins to giggle. "I'm going to ride in this today" I grin into my pillow. But first, one more hour of sleep...
A voice from the other side of the bed, "You're not riding today, are you?"
"Yes, I am", I reply to my wife.
"Well, when you get back we will see about getting a bigger life insurance policy for you." From there the conversation goes downhill. An hour later I'm packing my gear and getting ready to meet Russ, the only other guy I know who regularly rides fixed, and the person responsible for bringing me over to the dark side. I tell my wife about the e-mail Russ sent in reply to my "We are riding no matter the weather, right?" In the e-mail he quoted Shakespeare's Henry VI, "We few, we happy few!" My wife shakes her head and says, "Pride cometh before a fall." I think she means literally: "Pride is what drives you two, no-one else will ride on a day like this and you take pride in it, no one around here rides fixed gears and you take pride in it." She's probably right, but don't tell her I said so.
I don't want to back out. I've wanted to do a paved/dirt road ride for a month, but things got in the way.
I make it to Greenwood, late as usual, and see Russ sitting on the top tube of his custom Mercian waiting for me. He's wearing his English style riding cape. I'm not surprised to see that Russ and I are the only ones to show. I take my old Schwinn World Sport off the top of my car and fit the front wheel, hoping I have enough layers on to keep out the rain and cold. We first make our way down the rail trail, rain beading on my glasses. Last night, the local weather guy said that we might see some snow or ice. "If I see ice forming on my beard I will think about heading back," I say. Russ tells me that riders in the Pacific Northwest like the Damp Fixies would probably laugh at us. He's probably right. They ride in this kind of stuff all the time.
We come to the end of the rail trail and turn left on Florida Avenue, then cross Highway 178 and turn onto the Old Ninety-Six Highway, also known as the Canadian Mist Highway, so named for the thousands of Canadian Mist bottles littering the road. That takes us to Norris Road, our first dirt road of the day. "This used to be the norm", Russ says. He's talking about the early days of cycling.
"Yeah, but now everything is so performance-oriented. Speed isn't everything", I reply. As we ride down this sandy track of a road I realize that I have a wet streak up my back. The rain has turned into a mist and I look down to see that my legs below the knee are covered with mud. We come out on Scotts Cross Road and take a left. "I need fenders", I yell over my shoulder at Russ. "Yes, you do", he sputters from behind. A few moments later I'm the one complaining, as the Mercian gives me a face-full of road grime. A mudflap would have been nice, but at least Russ' bike has fenders.
After a few more miles on paved road, we talk about stopping in the middle of nowhere on a club ride for tea. We laugh, knowing the likely reaction of the other members of the club. On a day like today a good cup of tea would be nice. We turn down Warren Road for a long stretch of dirt and clay. For the most part the old Schwinn does well, the 65 inch gear almost ideal for the conditions. The road's in good shape with some soft spots the consistency of pudding, and we slog though with no problems. I mention that morning's conversation with my wife. "I tried to explain to her that we are doing the two things that little boys like best, riding our bikes and playing in the mud." Russ laughs as we spin down a hill and my front wheel slings a mix of southern red clay and sand in my face.
We are dumped on a paved road and stop to check the map. I wipe the grit off of the bite valve of my hydro pack and take a drink, wishing I had done a better job of wiping. "Which way, right or left?" Russ asks.
"It looks like we take a right then another right on 178, and then a left on Hammond, then we'll check the map again" I answer. We turn on Hammond after dealing with some traffic issues on 178. The map shows a right onto Pitt Road, also known as Forestry Road #589.
Up until now the roads have been, for the most part, unremarkable. Now, don't get me wrong, I like the farmland with its stands of hardwoods and pines, and the old homesteads, farmhouses and barns, but they're... well, just what you'd expect. Pitt Road was a different story. "I like this", I say and I don't just mean the hard pack under my tires. #589 rolls down to a coastal plain set with dwarf palmetto, pines, and lowland hardwoods. Crossing a swollen creek, you climb up into an upland environment with blue granite outcroppings that could have been the foundation of a colonial home of long ago. I could almost imagine seeing a red-and-black painted face peering out from behind the palmetto fronds as I rode by.
All too soon, the road finishes. We're at another paved road. We quickly check the map and realize that it's later than we thought. We turn on another, short dirt road and then on Scotts Ferry road to head back in. "Dog right!" I hear Russ say as I turn to see a mass of brown fur streaking in our direction. Before the animal reaches us it slows and lopes alongside of us, apparently happy to have something to do on a Saturday afternoon. After a mile or so, I begin to wonder if we will have to turn around and take her home. We start to build speed on a downhill. Movement to my left catches my attention and I notice two deer galloping across a field with their tails in the air. As the deer enter the woods I see that the dog has caught up. She gets wind of the deer and enters the treeline after them. "Good, we lost her!" I say as we start another decent.
"Here she comes!" Russ says as we near the end of the next climb. I look over my shoulder and see her in full sprint to catch up, and she does. We come to a crossroads and we stop, Russ and I to call home and the dog to take a drink from the ditch.
"I'll be home soon, we are running later than we thought. I just wanted to let you know everything is fine," and I hear my wife sigh, "OK, I'll see you when you get home, be careful." Then from behind me I hear "Hello my love." I smile and shake my head. Russ and his wife have been married for almost three years now and he talks to her as if they were still dating. Not that there's anything wrong with that! The dog crosses the road and into the woods, distracted by something. We take off thinking we lost her, but she reappears beside us for the next mile or so, until we eventually drop her on a long downhill.
We turn on Tillman's Territory, stop for a car at a cross road. It's time to choose between the paved or dirt route back. Something suddenly occurs to me.
"You know, even though it's been cold and raining all day, I haven't heard one complaint about the conditions, even from myself."
"Well, we knew what we were getting into," Russ replies. We have less than ten miles to go and I'm starting to get cold. We opt for the faster paved route.
"I'm going to have to stop by my office and change into some dry clothes", I say as we approach the parking lot where my car is sits all alone. "I still have a mile and a half before I get home" says Russ as I mount my bike on top of my car.
"We will have to do this again."
Russ rides off as I drive to my office to change for the drive home. I look at the clock in the car with some surprise. I'm cold, I'm wet, I'm covered in mud and road grime, but I had so much fun I lost track of time. That's going to be hard to explain when I get home.
The next Friday I send Russ an e-mail. "We're riding no matter the weather, right?"
The reply is, "Absolutely!"