walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Ride Report: in which Asher Loses the Riverwalk

I planned a ride for this morning on the Louisville Loop/Riverwalk Trail (LLRT for short). The idea was to ride to hook up with the Louisville Bicycle Club (or not) and ride the LLRT to Farnsley-Moreman Landing (and then back, if I was still able to walk by then). As is usually the case with me, however, the plans went right out the window pretty much from the word, 'go.'

First, I had some issues getting out the door. I dawdled a little too much getting dressed, and just as I was finally more or less clothed, my room-mate asked me a math question. By then, I knew I was probably not going to make the 9:00 start for the LBC ride. No big deal, though — they do this ride at least a couple of times a month, and I'll try to catch them next time.

I headed downstairs, lubed my drive train, checked my brakes, and put a little air in my tires (I was glad of that, later, when bouncing along the many-potholed streets of Portland in west Louisville). It was after 10:00 by the time I rolled out the door.

My ride to the start of the LLRT was as uneventful as any ride I have ever taken in this city. Few cars were on the road, the weather was beautiful (my knees were a little chilly, and I was seriously glad I wore gloves), and my newly-lubed drive train was humming along beautifully (well, except for a few times when I shifted to the largest chainring and threw the onto my right crank arm: this is more an issue with my gripshift ineptitude than with my bike; and no biggie: I just downshift and it snaps right back).

I paused at Waterfront Park to take a couple of shots of some giant chicken sculptures, and there my adventure officially began, though I guess it didn't really 'feel' official until I passed the spot where I get off the LLRT to go to work, when I ride in that way.

Soon I was on the trail and humming along merrily, snapping pictures (many more than I actually posted in my Flickr account) from time to time, in short order. As expected, the downtown section of the LLRT proved curvy, flat, scenic, and nearly empty: perfect conditions for a casual ride (so of course I decided to see if I'm still capable of moving along at a stiff clip: I am).

While I was taking pictures, a pair of cyclists in tights and safety-yellow jackets passed me; I would follow them all the way to Portland (I'm still wondering if they found my less-than-graceful railroad crossing -- which was marred by an unexpected sandtrap just before the rails -- amusing).

Once I was over the rails, it was clear sailing for quite a ways. I followed my fellow cyclists (since they were directly ahead of me) up onto the levee, where the LLRT sails along with beautiful views of Kentucky, Indiana, and down town (around the bend, in the distance). Though I stopped now and then to snap a picture, I always caught up with them. They, too, appeared to be enjoying a fairly leisurely trip on the LLRT.

The plan really fell apart, however, as the trail emerged in Portland. I could try to blame my buddies on the bikes, but in fact I had paused for a photo op shortly before that point, and hadn't yet caught up with them.

I lost the trail, and I lost it all by myself: instead of biking about a half block up Montgomery Street, then hopping back on the trail, I proceeded on the sharrow-marked bike route that was signed as part of the Louisville Loop -- which apparently diverges from the Riverwalk at that point (I admit it: I was excited about the sharrows). I figured the LLRT must pick up again somewhere along the way, so I kept on going, never realizing I'd missed it entirely.

I had almost caught up with my mysterious cyclist friends when I hit what has to be the worst light in Louisville, at Northwestern Parkway and 31st. Oddly, though it's on a road with a designated, signed, sharrowed bike route, it doesn't notice bicycles — in fact, I think it ignores them. On purpose. It was already green when the other guys rolled up to it, so they never had to experience its megalomaniacal efforts to totally derail the ride. It turned red just as I was rolling up to the stop line: no sweat, I thought to myself, it's just a light.

Yes. Just a light. A sentient, bicycle-hating light.

Apparently, the light in question also ignores cars if there are bicycles around. I sat for probably 10 minutes before a driver — yes, a driver in a car, who had also been waiting for the better part of 10 minutes — decided that the light should be treated as a stop sign. At that point, I figured if she could do it, so could I, and followed suit. It happens. Nobody was injured or arrested; life goes on.

I proceeded through Portland to Shawnee Park. I'd never been in Portland before, and though it has a bit of a rough reputation, it's a really beautiful area. The drivers also seemed entirely willing to 'play nice.' The roads were suffuse with clearly-marked bike lanes (and I am not a bike-lane hata, though I didn't ride in the curbside lanes where there was too much winter debris collected in them); where there weren't lanes, the bike routes were sharrowed (we could use a few sharrows downtown, for those drivers who might need the occasional reminder).

At the turn-off for the Shawnee Golf Course, I encountered a small pod of matching cyclists heading the opposite way. They interpreted my right-turn signal (I was heading up the golf course driveway to try to get a picture of the New Albany bridge) as a wave and waved back. I thought that was nice. When I turned into the golf course, they were waiting for some of their fellows; as I headed back onto the road, they were rolling up Bank Street, headed back (I assume) towards down town and points east, chatting cheerfully. I rolled on toward Shawnee Park.

In Shawnee Park, things got a little more complicated. I did intend to explore the park a little. Unlike Cherokee Park, near my house, Shawnee Park is relatively flat — but some small, rolling hills, large trees, buildings, and curving roads make for graceful, alluring sight lines (at one point, I spotted my friends from the LLRT — for the very last time: maybe they found a secret entrance to the Riverwalk?).

Still looking for the LLRT, I made several laps around the park. It's a heck of a nice place to ride -- the little rolling hills and curving roads make it very easy to pretend that you're an awesome cyclists zooming along in the scenic countryside, instead of a half-assed cyclist tooling around in Louisville ;) That Olmstead fellow really knew what he was about.

It probably goes without saying that I didn't find the LLRT in Shawnee Park: so I did what any good adventurer (at least, any good explorer without the sense to bring a map) would do: I forged on, seeking El Dorado. I headed further down Southwestern Parkway, into Chickasaw Park -- and somewhere in Chickasaw Park I decided that today wasn't going to be the day for Farnsley-Moreman: my stomach had started growling, and I wanted to be home in time for lunch. El Dorado could wait: El Dorito was beckoning.

I believe I have already mentioned that there are a plethora of marked bike routes in the West End. It was on my return from Chickasaw Park that I realized just how many there are: I'm used to the downtown and Highlands bike routes, which are few in number and pretty direct. I assumed that if I got on a bike route, it would not then connect me to ten other bike routes. I was wrong. So I took a bit of a detour through the neighborhood nearest Chickasaw park before I decided to get back on Southwestern and head home that way.

On my way back, I took another spin around Shawnee Park, this time just for fun. I passed the same older gentleman about four times; I'm sure he thought I was either lost or quite mad. I also saw the world's best-behaved fox terrier, off-lead and clearly aware of its boundaries. It did not attempt to give chase.

When I'd had my fill, I headed up Southwestern/Northwestern (they're the same road) to Bank Street, where the pod of matching cyclists had turned off. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found more bike routes, more sharrows, and more friendly drivers. Bank Street carried me to 29th Street, which led to Portland Street, which led to ... Northwestern Parkway. And that horrible intersection, with the Light That Wouldn't Change. I could see it up ahead, waiting for me. Laughing. (Okay, maybe it wasn't actually laughing.)

I realized that, while giddily zipping along, I'd overshot my exit. Oops.

So, once again, I shamelessly backtracked until, much to the relief of my stomach, I located the spot where I'd emerged from the LLRT.

On the ride back, I encountered three more cyclists and a whole lot of pedestrians, including a lady with a beautiful blue Pit Bull with an awesome grin. He reminded me of the larger of my two cats, Bruce (who is quite large, as cats go, at around 25 lbs of solid muscle and battering ram skull: I need a good picture of him; one that does his awesomeness justice). The blue dog watched my bike with a sort of serene interest — the lordly look of a prince benignly surveying one of his people — as I passed them on the way down to the rail crossing. I told his person that she had a beautiful dog -- both because he was a beautiful dog, and also because he was clearly a well-trained, well-loved animal, and Pit Bulls get an unfair bad rap. She smiled and said, "Thanks."

I took some more pictures on the way back, including a great shot of my bike (you can see that one below) and a pretty good shot of the Louisville skyline. I was having a great time -- such a great time, in fact, that when I reached Waterfront Park, I decided I wasn't ready to go home yet. I took River Road to the bike path through Butchertown, then followed that to the Beargrass Creek Trail, which is the first place I role Traveller on the day I brought him home from the store (I have to admit, Swift out-climbs Traveller by a stiff margin: I really noticed it climbing out of the creekside hollow to street level). I knew that doing so would bring me out at the bottom of My Nemesis ... err ... Baringer Hill (aka 'Dog Hill') — one of the steepest climbs in Louisville proper — but I felt so good I didn't even care.

From the end of the Beargrass Creek Trail, it was just a quick sprint down Lexington Road into Cherokee park, then a short descent ... and then, like an idiot, I decided to attack the hill on the large chainring, at speed, fully expecting my legs to fall off about halfway up.

Surprisingly enough, they didn't — nor did my lungs explode. I climbed the first half of the ascent like a madman, accelerating uphill, and then slowed to a more reasonable pace when I reached a spot where the multi-use lane was full off walkers and joggers traveling in both directions. I will admit that I was puffing like a freight train — but not unreasonably so.

The ascent was over before I knew it: I will admit that I was puffing like a freight train — but not what you would really call 'out of breath.' By the time I made it to the picnic shelter loop that sits on the ridgeline, however, my breathing was back to normal (now would be a good time to plug Advair, I guess, since without it I would've died halfway up the hill: can't wait 'til the patent expires and it stops costing me $40/month *with* insurance).

This, by the way, was a thousand times better than my last Dog Hill climb, which was humiliating, slow, and painful. I'm pretty sure I was dropped halfway up by an 89-year old woman with a walker the last time, and I reached the top only because I was too stupid and stubborn to stop, and then I laid down in the grass and died. Or something like that. All I remember is that my lungs were on fire and my bike looked ashamed to be seen with me (note: this was Traveller, not Swift).

I wanted to document the occasion of my first non-murderous Dog Hill climb, so I pulled off at the picnic shelter overlooking the slope Louisville fondly calls 'The Pit,' where everyone brings their dogs to play. I tried to portray the climb I'd just conquered in pictures, but, frankly, they didn't do it justice. The steepest part is pretty much invisible from where I was standing, and the rest — well, you really have to ride it to appreciate it. In the full-scale version of one of my shots (which I may post), you can just make out another cyclist fighting his way up the hill. He actually seemed to be having a harder time than I did (yes, I admit: I felt just a little smug). Unlike me, he didn't stop at the top to celebrate. Too bad; I would've bought him a Gatorade (if he had enough left in ihm to make it to the nearest quickie-mart). Oh well — to each his own.

At that point, I was less than a mile from home — a very easy ride on Swift. I thought about pressing on — maybe taking a victory lap around Cherokee Park, or heading down the road a bit — but then my stomach reminded me that I had given it only a puny little apple for breakfast and some water since then, and I glanced at the clock on my phone. It said, "12:33." I decided to pack up and call it a day.

From the top of the hill, the ride home was just a quick dash down into a valley, then a short, steep climb back up Willow Ave (it amazed me how easy that climb was, in comparison to Dog Hill). I took an extra lap around the block to cool down, then rolled up to my house, locked my bike, and went in.

I was kind of surprised how un-daunting the stairs to my third-floor walk-up seemed: perhaps climbing Dog Hill puts everything in perspective; perhaps it was that I'd just finished a ride of close to 27 miles and the pressure of my shorts on certain sensitive regions had finally caused my entire lower body to go numb (yes, I will ... dare I admit it? ... very probably be purchasing some proper cycling shorts in the very, very near future: like, before next Saturday).

The upshot: I know 26.7 miles isn't that long a ride. River City Cycling Society, with whom I'd very much like to ride if I ever feel sufficiently brave to make their acquaintance, has a 40-miler coming up tomorrow (no, I won't be doing that one: not this time). For a lot of people, 27 miles is barely a warm-up.

However, it's the longest ride I've done in a very long time, so I'm pretty happy. Besides, I got some nice shots of my bike:

Return Trip - Swift

...and the scenery:

Return Trip - Skyline

And even a halfway-decent self portrait:

Return Trip - Me

And I had a blast, and that's the most important part.

More shots from the trip (and a few that weren't, but were requested by friends) can be found here:


The pictures actually appear in reverse order for some reason. I should probably fix that.

I mapped my route using Livestrong.com's Loops tool. I think I left out a couple of the myriad laps I did around Shawnee Park while trying to locate the exit (LOL). You can find my route map here if, for some reason, you feel compelled to recreate my mad journey on your own bike:


Tomorrow, I'm planning on a much shorter morning ride, and then I'll be procrastinating some more cleaning the house. At least, part of it.

It's time.

Spring is in the air!

PS: I have noticed that my self-portrait makes me look disturbingly like a long-haired version of good ol' Dubya in his younger days.

I think that scares me.

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