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The Elkridgean Cyclist: Introduction

Introduction to "The Elkridgean Cyclist" and adventures in bike-riding in the Elkridge/Ellicott City area.

Written on April 28, 2012

I'm the shy one in my family. On the other hand, compared to many mathematicians and software developers with whom I work, I'm an extravert. Where I work, they say you can tell the extraverts from the introverts because the introverts walk around looking down at their shoes, while the extraverts walk around looking down at other people's shoes! Everything is relative, and while I'm out-going at work, I come from a family with a very strong ham-gene so it is no wonder I fall quiet. I can't get a word in edgewise! But I digress.

I bike alone.

I go at my own pace, and I like it that way. No doubt I'd get a better work-out if I rode with faster riders, but while I do hope my bike-riding counts as exercise, I ride for the sheer joy of it - the wind in my face, the sun in my eyes, the trees and sky above. I tell myself stories, I solve problems at home and work, and in fact, I solve all the problems of the universe when I'm on my bike. If only I could remember the answers when I get off!

Today was no different. I set out on my "Highway to Heaven" ride, which I have been trying to do once a week. "Highway to Heaven" is a race in Ellicott City, which is only about a third of a mile long, but goes up an 18% grade from the Patapsco River to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, along Ilchester Road. While I live in Elkridge, Ilchester Road is only a third of a mile from my home, so it would be really convenient to take this route home when I ride in Patapsco Valley State Park, even though I'm not interested in competing in the race. Granted, there are other ways I can go. I could take Bonnie Branch to Beechwood to Ilchester. This is steep, but I can ride it without stopping (usually) and is not that much farther. Another nice way to go is to take Bonnie Branch all the way to Montgomery Road, to Ilchester. A question you might ask me is, "Why, if you are riding for sheer joy, do you torture yourself with this hill when there are many less challenging ways to get home from the river?" I asked myself this question this morning. This led to a round-about of dialog with myself, which went as follows.

Everyone knows the corollary to Newton's Laws of Motion, that an object at rest tends to stay at rest. In full, according to Wikipedia, it goes, "An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an unbalanced force acts upon it." I add to this a law of human nature, "A person will not expend any more energy than it needs to, to accomplish the task at hand." A further condition of that law is that the task at hand needs to have some strong motivating factors, enough so that it becomes an "unbalanced force." My Dad, for example, is an object at rest. Because he doesn't think he needs to get up and move about often, and it HURTS to do so, so he stays in his chair or his bed, until a task at hand requires him to do move - such tasks being limited to using the rest room, or going to church or the doctors office. I think he could make his own lunch, but I make it for him and put it in his reach, because he might decide that (1) eating is not more important than staying at rest, and (2) putting the mayonnaise away is not more important than going back to rest. He actually got up once to find a plug for his camera battery because he was strongly motivated to continue photographing my cats and dogs. That was impressive for him. That's my Dad.

I have a strong motivation to ride my bike, and that motivation is "happiness," so I get out on my bike whenever I can. There are also health reasons (more on this in a later post) but to really make bike-riding a "work-out" one should really push oneself into some optimum aerobic zone. But a person will not expend any more energy than it needs to, so as long as the terrain is flat, I spend more time thinking and looking around, than paying attention to my heart-rate. This is okay when I ride around Elkridge, because parts of Elkridge are at or near elevation 0 feet, and my house is around elevation 425 feet. There are hills here, and hills require energy expenditure, although no more than is necessary! So if I wanted a really good work out, and wanted to improve on hills, I would try to "hammer" (to use the proper cyclist lingo) up those hills, and "hammer" on the flats as well. But because my motivation is not primarily working out (though I need it), I end up doing "just enough" to get me back home again with minimal effort. Note that the effort is really not small, because what goes down, must go up. That's contrary to a Newton Law, I know, but I will call it "The Cyclist's Law of Riding There and Back Again." If you are going in a loop, or you are going there and back, whatever elevation you lose, you must eventually gain. My house is at one of the higher points in Elkridge. There's nowhere to go but down, and then back up! Of course I could cheat, and lug my bike down to the river on my car, and then stay on relatively flat land, but the motivation for NOT doing that, unless I'm recovering from a bad cold or something, is that I will NOT bother going out on my bike as often if I have to go through the extra steps (easy though they are with my handy-dandy bike-rack) of loading up the bike and equipment on my car. A person will not expend more energy... well, you know. I knew early on that I had to master some hills if I wanted to ride from my house. Even our driveway has a significant hill on it!

So I had a strong motivation, about 10 years ago, to get my hill-riding muscles into some sort of shape so that I could at least do a little 7 mile loop near my house. It took a lot of Hail Marys but I finally got comfortable with that loop, and moved on to bigger and better things. In 2005 or so, they built a little pedestrian bridge from Ilchester Road, across the Patapsco River, to the Grist Mill Trail in the park. This is too close to my home not to want to use it. More motivation. To use that bridge, I had several choices. I could ride from my house to Ilchester Road, (which requires climbing a steep but short uphill very early in the ride, which is most unpleasant), and come up Lawyer's Hill Road, to Montgomery, to Landing. Lawyer's Hill has a very challenging hill, which I can do with significant exertion, but the disappointing thing about it is that I lose elevation later on, and end up having to do some more significant climbs up Landing Road to my home. The worst of these looks so benign, but I hate it with a passion. It goes from Rockburn Park to Norris Lane. I call it the Grovemont Hill because of the "new" neighborhood across from Norris Lane. Instead of Lawyers Hill, I could stay on Levering and ride across Route 1 to Main Street, to Furnace Avenue to Race Road. This is a lovely flat route! That is, until you get to Hanover Road. Then you go up and up and up until you are nearly to Old Washington Road. Then you lose elevation again, and have to do those Landing Road hills. It seems like I'm wasting work, and a person does not want to do any more work than it needs to, right?

I started riding the other way on Landing first - DOWN Grovemont Hill (Wee! Note that it is much more fun to yell "Wee" when you are going down a hill like that!) (Sheer joy, remember?) Then I can either go down Hanover (wee!) or Lawyers Hill (yikes (it is steep and twisty) and wee!) and cut through the park to Ilchester Road. And there I am, near ground zero, and I have about 400 feet to climb to get home. But the thing is, the three routes I mentioned above are mostly steady climbs, some steeper than others, and I don't lose elevation that I have to climb again. There is one more "Wee!" hill on Landing Road to get home, but for the most part, I climb home. I started liking this more than the other way, because I don't feel like I waste so much work.

There are other places to ride from my house that are nice (such as Columbia), and do not require quite so much climbing, but gosh, that river sure is pretty, and that pedestrian bridge is so much fun to use!

So for sheer joy (my task at hand) I'm willing to expend the energy required to get me from the river up to the intersection of Ilchester and Landing Roads. But why the "Highway to Heaven" if I am not a competitive person, or primarily interested in calorie expenditure? There is another motivation. I feel like if I can ride up this hill without stopping, then I could ride anywhere! I don't know if that is true, but what if someday, I want to ride the Camino in Spain? Talk about sheer joy! But it takes a lot of stamina.

I asked my bike-friends the best way to master this hill. They said (1) get clip-in pedals. (My response is "NO!" I am 51 years old and clumsy. I'm not going to start clipping in and feeling trapped and have to worry about falling just so I can ride faster or stronger, when my original motivation is "joy.") (2) Hammer up lesser hills to improve my fitness and work my way up to Ilchester. But this won't work either because a person will not expend anymore energy than it needs to. I go into my day-dream/problem-solving/philosophical mode, and cannot stay focused on "hammering" - because I forget my task at hand is to improve enough to master Ilchester. My ultimate motivation is not fitness. So I came up with my own plan, which is to try the hill once a week, breaking it into intervals, until I start to improve. So far, I haven't noticed much improvement in my time up the hill (18-20 minutes) but I have noticed fitness improvement during other parts of my rides. So that means I must be making progress, without having fitness as my primary motivator. Pretty cool, huh?

So that was my ride today. I rode my road bike. I hoped the road bike would be easier, but so far, the mountain bike is the better hill climber. Back to the mountain bike next week!

So, fellow Elkridgeans, I hope you will watch out for me, a not-so-little old lady, pedaling around the area. I will try to stay out of your way and wear bright clothes so you can see me, and I hope you will stop yelling at me to get off the road!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Anne Gonnella May 17, 2012 at 04:49 PM
I admire your logical application of physical laws in your approach. But I admire your bravery even more. I live on College Ave and know all of the roads you are riding on. I see bicyclists on them all the time and I just can't figure out why. I don't even like walking on the roads, let alone biking, with no shoulders, blind curves and hills, and drivers who are oblivious to others sharing the road. It makes me very uncomfortable just thinking about taking my bike out on them. Be assured, as a long time road runner, that this driver, at least, is watching out for you.
Christine Barton May 17, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Thanks for the comment! I have another blog coming up on this subject - whether bravery or naivete or stupidity depends on your point of view. I do draw the line at College Ave - I was driving my car on it yesterday, trying to imagine if I could ride it, and eek - too many crests of hills and twists. But the other roads I mention are just more familiar to me, so they are my comfort zone (so long as it's not peak traffic time!).
Christine Barton May 19, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Hmmm. This is good to know.It's interesting that I've ridden Bonnie Branch many many times, and rarely does a car even pass me. I certainly don't ride it during peak hours, because at the end of it, I would have to make a left on Montgomery. I find it to have very low volume traffic during the times I venture there.
Nonlinear May 19, 2012 at 04:42 PM
It's anacceptable risk, but it is on the biker. But when you see 30 cars backed up behind you, please restrain your conceit and stop to pull your bike of the road for a minute. You can always get your heart rate back up. As long as it is still beating at all. I ride motorcycles and get limited considerations from drivers, and if I'm taken out, the car driver will not be blamed. It will just be my fault for taking the risk. When I think the car driver should be held, in many cases for manslaughter. Car on car accidents produce those very charges.
John Stechschulte May 21, 2012 at 12:33 PM
I like your statement of the law of human nature. I'm certainly beholden to that law, which was a significant reason that I gave up my car four years ago to switch to cycling as my primary mode of transportation (in Baltimore). I might have every intention to get up early and bike to work, but it's too easy to hit the snooze button if I know I've got a car in the garage. For me, it was a much easier decision to ditch the car, save the cash, and remove the lazy option altogether. Good luck with that hill!

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