01 March 2009

Spring Training

Bumped into the Padres/ Mariners facility today, but not in the usual way. It was barely 11 AM, and I was on my mountain bike, on the backside of Peoria's complex of well watered fields, bouncing along Skunk Creek's rocky berm.

The bike's too small for my 6'3" frame and the gears stick, but it was a Christmas gift, so I've taken up riding. My journey started, as it typically does, around Granada Park (pictured),

near 20th St and Maryland, and today I was flying - under Glendale Ave and 16th, past the Italian-American Club on 12th, and the stately grove of eucalyptus hugging the water just beyond Northern.

Swooping through Sunnyslope Park between the Central and Dunlap underpasses, the first street level crossing was a quick one, several miles into my ride, across 7th Avenue. From there, it's a long asphalt straight to 19th, along the Army Corps of Engineeers' overflow channel, past Hatcher's scrap metal junkyards and the chorus of condemned howls from the back lot of the Arizona Humane Society.

You reach more ballfields, and a dog park, at the Rose Mofford complex (canal is bottom left in picture, below), then descend beneath I-17. On the far side of the freeway, a recorded carnival barker echoes across the midway of Castles N Coasters. Before today, the farthest I'd ridden was up to 43rd Avenue and back, but I felt so good, legs efficiently pumping, barely changing gears through the steep underpasses, I decided to extend on this beautiful spring morning.

There's a confusing tunnel underpass beneath 51st Avenue (slightly shorter than the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel), that spit me out on an unpaved equestrian trail, on the wrong side of a wide, bowl shaped green belt. Eventally, I found a trail to traverse the steeply-sided bowl to the busy asphalt bike path on the opposite ridge. Took a pitstop near 67th, for a cold drink and dipped back down into the vast Thunderbird recreation area, into this planned floodplain of underutilized playing fields, below trickling ducts and federal cataracts high on the sidewalls, feeding the now skinny waterway bisecting the length of the park.

The rec area ends in the mid seventies, and the bike trail deteriorates, especially if you dont know where you're going, and dont see particularly well, both of which apply. One senses a faint scent of sewage. Now, within sight of the Padre/Mariner light towers, I veered too far right and wound up in a subdivision, before reversing tracks back to the Skunk Creek berm, which abuts the rear of the verdant MLB complex. This is the less traveled Cactus League, and was deserted, except for an old man walking east towards me along the rutted escarpment. Embarrassed to be confronted in such unpromising environs, we exchanged the nervous "Hiya's" of lost souls on unspoken roads to nowhere.

Up a bit, my power shifting juggernaut flushed out a middle aged man and woman from the canal's thick brush. They sprang across my path like jackrabbits, but neither acknowledged me. He held a stick of some kind in his hand. Farther west, behind a nondescript warehouse, an even younger couple was having a snowball fight. A swimming pool-sized pile of snow lay in this weed strewn Peoria alley, enabling their childlike cold war.

This westward soul wasnt getting any younger, however, so I turned left, to the south side of Skunk Creek, past a wire fence warning No Tresspassing, and headed home. For the first time this morning, a breeze hit me in the face. I was having trouble pushing through the higher gears all of a sudden, so ratcheted down to the middle family. Turns out, I hadnt noticed the nice tailwind riding west. It took a good 15-20 minutes just to get back to 75th Avenue. I labored by three Hispanic girls pushing perambulators, and made two decisions. First, I would steal another drink at the rest stop on 67th. Second, I would hug the Thunderbird ridge and not descend into its bowl, to avoid exerting energy pushing up the sidewalls.

I took the promised drink, and wobbled and walked around. My lower back and rump were starting to stiffen and numb, which happened on shorter trips, so I lingered, tired but unalarmed. Took another drink. Stretched. Only 87 avenues to go.

When I hopped on the bike, the first thing I noticed was the wind. This wasnt going to be easy. The greenbelt that bustled with bikers and walkers just an hour ago was almost empty. I struggled back through the 51st avenue tunnels, and moreso under 43rd, grinding gears, so I stopped and dismounted. I was a little dizzy, my rear was numb, so I walked around, sat down and made two more decisions. First, the next time I rested, there would be shade. This place had no cover, but was where I got tired. It also dawned on me that it was getting pretty hot in the sun. I conceded that all future arterial crossings (there would be about a dozen), except the interstate, would need to be at street level - stop, look and listen style - as I no longer had the aerobic resilience to drive through underpass inclines.

Fortunately, it's a flat course, so I ducked my head into the wind, and eeked across 35th Avenue towards the I-17. It's a long tunnel and the incline wasnt as severe as I feared (ie I didnt have to walk the bike), but I was very fatigued. Despite frequent grip changes on the handlebars, the hands, arms and shoulders ached. Legs just about gone, and I was making miserable time, a long way from home.

I pulled in front of the dog park and took a long drink. Sat in the sand, under a shade tree, not caring if I was sitting on years of dried dog pee. It felt good to sit down, in the shade and I could've taken a nap, were there not promises to keep. I felt homeless, ragged, by the park's double gated entrance, as if happy, peppy dog people were afraid I'd ask them for money or a ride. Each time I stood up, I felt a little dizzy, but knew I'd feel more balanced on the bike. So, I took another drink and got on, against the wind.

The sit down helped some, propelling me to 19th avenue, past the condemned dogs off Hatcher, all the way to Sunnyslope High. Seeing the school was a lift, as Central Ave borders the property's far side. Once there, on the east side of town, I would feel "almost home." I waited for traffic to clear on Central and leaned ahead, but already, recuperative benefits of my canine siesta were spent and I set the bike down just shy of Seventh, under the last acacia tree, across the canal from a mortuary.

My acacia spread from its elevated bed, contained by a concrete barrier about a foot wide. I lay on the barrier, on my back for the first time, as if in a stretcher or coffin. It felt peaceful, and my face welcomed the shade of yellow pistils swaying overhead in the beneficent breeze.

My wife rang me on the cell. At least I brought that. I'd been gone three and a half hours. She asked if I needed a ride. The thought had crossed my mind. "Not yet" I said, but cautioned I might need one soon. Her call was a comfort and challenge. I could go a little further, with the upcoming water fountain at Northern, and told her I should be home within the hour.

I needed ten more minutes under the tree, then gingerly traversed Seventh St, three lanes at a time, and was pretty sure I'd stop before Northern, which I did. The fountain there barely dribbled and was hard to drink from. I sucked in air with coolant, and sat in the rest area, and lay on my back once more.

A model and photographer exited a Porsche and she posed by the magnificent stand of eucalyptus. My last leg had been too brief and I wasnt feeling well. I thought about calling home and pulled the phone from my shorts. A rescue would be nice. Help was only ten minutes away and I visualized sitting right there, being brought waters and a banana, and my kid hefting the bike into our SUV. I'd already ridden farther than I ever had. A hundred avenues out, and nearing ninety back. Maybe that was enough. But I'm 48 years old, and even though (and perhaps because) it's painfully obvious this ride was a mistake, I dont know if I'll ever venture this far again. This was either the long bike trip where we rescued Dad, the one he quit, or the long trip Dad finished against the elements.

I had just seen a doctor for the first time in a decade, and there was nothing seriously wrong in the basic physical. Thirty years and forty pounds ago, I had run high school cross country.

Even then, I was predisposed to heat stress and stomach cramps, occasionally vomiting after the finish line surge. I never won a race but had always finished. I put the phone back in my shorts.

It took a long time to cross Northern. Traffic both ways, plus my feeble pace required additional seconds to cross. Twelfth street was skinnier and easier to span and 16th more difficult. Normally, at this juncture, I cross a tiny bridge, zip under Glendale Avenue and follow the canal past my neighborhood, down to Granada Park. I didnt have the strength nor stamina now. My sunburned face was cool and dry, caked with salt. I would cross the six lanes of Glendale Avenue, hopefully before delerium set in. Three lanes first, camp in the turning lane and wait. And wait. I pushed hard for the far sidewalk and made it.

Now I could take my shortcut, a hundred shady yards east, completely level, to the 51 freeway overpass. I beat a minivan across the southbound on ramp to the overpass bridge. At the off ramp ahead, two lines of westbound cars idled, close enough I could touch them. I tried to catch my breath and wits from my concrete perch. The pole position car motioned for me to take the crosswalk before his light turned green. I motioned him forward instead. I needed the blow. He smiled and led the gassy procession past. I looked around the off ramp bend - and bolted - then dipped behind a white pickup, across the last of the four freeway crosswalks.

It was downhill from here, coasting down 19th street, leaning into a left before punishing my dead weight over the final, steep lip of the driveway. Home. Thirsty and hyperventilating, I dispensed a tall water and fell into a plastic backyard chair. My wife said something about our summer vacation plans and I grunted. Another glass of water and the best banana ever. A couple of small oranges. I lay in bed soonafter, achy, half beathing-half groaning, shrouded with a beach towel, once I got the chills. I asked for the big red plastic bowl, and vomited the fruit.

Then a warm, wobbly shower and I put on fresh, loose clothes slowly, like an old man. It had been more than four hours in the sun, and thirty five, perhaps forty miles, on an unseasonably warm and gusty day, by one normally hard pressed to jog by five or six consecutive telephone poles. A couple hours later, after modest sips of Gatorade and licking the salt off crackers, there were stories to be told.

I am a loud vomiter, and when my body eventually progressed to the living room, the teen belatedly asked - in sarcasm more than query - if I "was going to die". I am, of course, but not today. I smiled sheepishly at the involuntary cachophony and assured him I'd be alright.

Two weeks ago, at his parents' request to get more involved at school, the freshman tentatively joined the track team. He thinks the coach runs them too hard, but he's dabbling with the discus and shot, for the time being. Now, I asked him to pick my bike off the driveway and put it in the shed. This was the better rescue, for him certainly. I am a jaded soul on an unspoken road to nowhere, but he's still young. At least I had brought it home. A few more crackers, and Providence, and maybe we'd both find our legs.


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