Saturday, June 28, 2008

Are You Serious?

How serious a rider are you?

No, really: I mean this question quite genuinely. How serious are you?

I hear you ask, “Well, how should we judge that?”

Well, how about this: Do you count your miles in a ride log? Do you keep a cycling computer connected to your bicycle? Do you worry about whether your jersey matches the color scheme of your bike?

Are you a triathlete, duathlete, monathlete, or just a half-lete? Can you ride 100 miles? 50? 10? Are you one of those superhuman folks who can reel off two or three hundred in one go? Does that make you a more serious rider than the gal next door, who just finished her first 20-mile ride ever yesterday, and is telling everyone she knows? Is she serious enough?

It seems to me there are as many kinds of riders as there are actual riders. Dividing them up into serious and not is pretty absurd. Yet I – and most of my friends – do it every single day. It's rampant in road biking culture, in fact. In the guise of just sharing a good road story, guys will tell, with unimpeachable humility, of that time last week when they got caught in some jam and had to ride an extra 60 miles in withering heat, on top of their normal century, due to (fill in the blank). But, shucks -- t'weren't nothin'.

Speaking for myself:

I spend a lot of time shopping for that right jersey. I finally bought a nifty one at a good price yesterday, having shopped for weeks. I also shopped for weeks for water bottles that set off my bike’s color scheme – now that I have them, I think the overall effect is dangerously cool, actually. I occasionally catch myself admiring my new body in the mirror when I’m all done up in biking shorts and a sleek, colorful jersey. I love my new, highly-defined quads and my widening calves and shrinking body fat percentage.

I’ve done the base miles, the hill repeats, the intervals, the hundreds of hours on the rollers to improve my form, the heart rate zones, the calorie counting, the stretches, the recovery drinks. I have read every technical cycling book in two local public libraries, and I’m currently working on a third. And I’m teaching myself to fix my own bike.

Now: Am I a serious cyclist?

See, here’s the rub: The more serious I became about my cycling experience, the more impoverished it became.

Any and all of the pastimes above can be great fun; stress-reducing, joyful, healthy, creative. Or they can be one more way to feel like I am not quite enough. There are days when I compare myself to every rider I see on the road, or compare my stats to those of my veteran friends on the Internet cycling forums. Needless to say, on those days, I don’t come out well in the comparison. On the days when I’m really enjoying myself, I don’t compare – I’m just plain happy for every person I see out on a bike, whether beginner, pro or in-between.

So, in order to not self-destruct my cycling passion, I began to work on distinguishing between the kinds of priorities that help and those that hurt. Here’s what I came up with: If I am enjoying myself, it’s helpful. If I’m not, it’s hurtful.

Pretty fancy, huh?

Note that enjoying myself can take many forms. On many days, it’s long, grueling effort and pushing past personal records. Especially if I'm doing that for my own reasons. But even then, I have to mix in some riding just to ride – to enjoy the sunshine, to see the wind in the grass, to have an adventure someplace new, to get the feeling of flying that comes over me on long, flat stretches, when I hit that rolling groove, and time and mind slip away. When I was a kid on that shiny new red bike, I didn't ride to look better than my friend. I rode because riding rocks.

Above all, I have to avoid comparing myself to other riders. I find that ridiculously tricky, although the more months of riding I string together, the easier it gets. After all, if I’m still cycling now, it’s got to be because I found something I hold dear, something real.

The trick answer to the trick question, “Am I a serious rider?” is no – because being serious is the wrong goal for me. It’s a trap. It hangs its hat on the wrong hook: What do/would others think of my mileage, my kit, my bike, my wins? If you think about it for 15 seconds, that becomes an utterly pointless question, spiralling back in on itself. However, precisely because it’s pointless, it suddenly becomes very dangerous when I invest it with importance, with priority. If being taken seriously is your goal, well, take it from me: You can never get enough. If, however, I can manage to truly take the enjoyment credo to heart, make it my engine of growth, I can look forward to many more years of true velophoria.

So, tell me: Are you serious?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Heal, Already! Living with a Nagging Injury (ii)

Part Two (Part One can be found here.)
So I actually did manage to be patient and follow the physical therapist’s strengthening and stretching regimen pretty religiously for a few months. And slowly -- very, very slowly -- I got better. It was very much two steps forward, one step back, but at least it wasn’t the other way around.

By March, I was riding a little harder and longer, and by April, I had almost forgotten I’d been injured. I’d been promising myself for months that, once I got to May and the insanity of my final semester of a multi-year grad school program was done, I would reward myself by riding as much and as hard as I wanted. I was salivating for this. Seriously.

By early May, I had gotten confident, strong and very happy. I was riding a little more intensely each week. I was building up carefully. I got to the point where I was doing climbing repeats on the steepest hill in town, and loving them to death (when I wasn’t heaving pieces of my lungs onto the blacktop.) It was going to be a great spring, after all. I was going to be at the front of the pack. I was going to shine.

And then one day I did one extra repeat on that hill, and felt a little twinge in my knee.

What? Did you expect a happy ending? Come on.

Now, the number one very most annoying thing about a nagging injury is that it’s impossible to tell the difference between healthily pushing the limits, and dangerously aggravating it. Often, I’ve pushed a little beyond my safety zone, felt a little ache here and there, and found out the next day that I had done a good thing. Instead of more discomfort, I would actually feel stronger. Then the next week, I might push it exactly as hard (or so it seems), and that night feel the hot irritation that signals the beginnings of re-injury. Then I have to pull back, and maybe even lose weeks of progress.

It was just that way on the very day of my last class in graduate school. I felt great after repeat number two, and so went for number three for the first time. That’s when I re-injured myself, and pretty good, too. It’s now seven weeks later and I’m still in the throes of recovery, progressing, backsliding, angsting over Web research, calling my PT. Yay!
Next: Repeat After Me: "My Knees Are My Teacher"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Karen Smyers: Those Who Could Really Boast Don’t Want To

The master doesn't try to be powerful;
thus she is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

- Tao te Ching, Stephen Mitchell, Trans.
My longest ride of the season today, out west beyond Lincoln and Concord, on the Western side of Walden Pond. Long, luscious stretches of ultra-smooth road surrounded by National Wildlife Refuge land that was so overwhelmingly pretty I found it hard to keep my eyes on the road where they belonged. I was so inspired I didn’t know whether to put the hammer down or slow down and soak in the beauty. I did a little of both, I guess.

About five miles outside of Concord the air became oppressive, the sky turned black, the wind picked up and got cold, and the leaves all turned upside-down. Uh-huh, you got it: Time for a classic summer thunderstorm. I got in the drops and went into time-trial mode, trying to reach some civilization and shelter before the clouds burst.

I made good time – thank goodness. When the rain came, it was biblical, catastrophic, like someone had taken the Atlantic ocean and dumped it upside-down on Concord, MA. The winds were ridiculous. I pulled up to the very edge of town just as things became torrential.

I had planned a stop at a cozy general store for my mid-ride sandwich break, but I made a very quick decision that huddled against the front of the generic convenience store right in front of me, with some shelter over my head, would be a fine place to dig into my mid-ride sandwiches.

As opaque sheets of rain dumped on the parking lot, another rider flew up to the edge of the porch and shouted over the sound of the storm, “That looks like a good idea!” I invited her and her bright red Trek to huddle against the wall next to me. She borrowed my cell phone to call her husband to tell him she was OK. We got to talking, in the convivial way of cyclists, and I asked what event she was training for. “Oh, various triathlons.” When pressed, she simply said, “Well, I’m a professional.” Hm, that’s certainly intriguing. I asked her name. “Karen Smyers.”

Uh... as in, the only person to win both the Triathlon World Championships and the Hawaii Ironman in the same year (1995)? Yup. That Karen Smyers. Just happens to live around here. When I looked her up at home later on, turns out the friendly, down-to-earth woman who just happened upon my six square feet of pseudo-shelter in a storm had a list of athletic accomplishments as long as my arm. She was a four-time Olympic Committee triathlete of the year. A Pan American Games gold medalist. On and on and on.

Oh, yeah. She survived cancer, various broken bones and too many maddening freak accidents to name. She’s also a mother.

Thing is, Karen couldn’t have been less pretentious, nor more pleasant -- even after I told her that I was simply training for my first-ever century. This woman has done more rides of at least 100 miles than I have done bike rides, period. Yet there we were, comparing injury stories and physical therapy tips. (Word to the wise: When in the company of great athletes, talk about your injuries and your recovery secrets. It’s something active people at every level have in common.)

When I think about it, I’ve only ever been cold-shouldered by local, mid-level athletes. My crude level of achievement scares them, because they haven’t put enough distance between me and where they are today. So, they speak only to their fellow, almost-accomplished buddies. They go about carefully boosting each other’s egos.

Karen, on the other hand, has nothing to prove. She’s been through it and back again – and then through it all over. When her husband pulled up to drive her the final ten miles home, she said they would be glad to give me a lift. It was quite far out of their way, yet she offered that ride no less than three times.

Karen, you are seriously cool, but I’ve got to finish this ride. Unlike you, I still have way too much to prove.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Heal, Already! Living with a Nagging Injury (i)

Part One
I’ve been living with a minor sports-related injury for about seven months now, and the fancy name for it is patellofemoral pain syndrome. Really, that’s just a ten-dollar way of saying that I have a problem that the experts don’t understand. It basically amounts to irritation and pain behind the kneecaps, and most of the gurus think it’s due to poor tracking of the patella when the leg flexes. Of course, the leg flexes many hundreds of times on a typical bike ride, right? So there you go: Recipe for nagging, recurring injury.

That’s the bumper sticker version of the science. What I really want to write about today, though, is the way that a nagging injury gets inside your head and fouls up your confidence, your athletic life and your sanity. There doesn’t seem to be much out there about that – which is surprising, considering how common sports injuries are.

When the injury first came along last fall, I buzzed off to my primary care doctor. He sent me to an orthopedist. Who sent me to a physical therapist. Which was where I wanted to go in the first place, but you know the wisdom of insurance companies: You have to go through the chain of command, or you get court martialed.

All three experts told me I had rock-solid knees, and I’d be back to 100% in no time. The cocky young orthopedist even turned on his million-dollar smile and said something like, “I promise you another 100,000 miles on those knees.”

Now, you’ll remember I said at the top “seven months,” right? It’s so easy for doctors to be optimistic about your recovery. If they turn out to be wrong, they just get more business. If we could sue for giving false hope, like we can for leaving surgical tools inside us, they’d be more circumspect, don’t you think?

The PT was one of those no-nonsense sports doctors: Young, confident, handsome. Runs his own business, always checking his Blackberry. Man of few words. Very nice guy, actually, and I think he’s probably pretty good. But I always worry that he’s finds me a bit neurotic. I go on and on about my symptoms, when they come, when they go, what the variables are, asking a hundred questions. I think he wishes I would just shut up and follow his exercise and stretching regimen. He knows I would get better; he's seen it many times. Meanwhile, he could put his attention on his other patients. There seem to always be other patients in PT offices, lined up on treatment tables and specialized equipment, waiting for attention from the doc, as if he were the maharishi about to bless them with his miraculous hands, so they could finally go run or swim pain-free. I wish they would all go away. Can’t they see that I need to get these knees fixed?

NEXT: The physical therapy actually works. For a while.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Running Towards What We Don't Want

For one reason and another, I haven’t been able to go on a “spirited group ride” (as the journalists like to call them) in about nine months. Extreme busy-ness colluded with nagging injuries to keep me away. I spent much of this time very, very frustrated, obsessed with how I could get back to that experience. It was my main goal when I started getting back into cycling seriously last fall.

For one reason and another, I finally felt ready to go on that particular weekly ride this morning.

I was really nervous as I was getting ready this morning. Last season, I managed to join this group only five or so times. I was just back on the bike for the first time in many years, and only in decent shape. I got dropped, badly, time after time. I would ride home alone, nagging myself again and again about the question of my fitness and ability, as if picking at a scab. I bored my poor wife with these involutions for weeks.

I went on to spend much of the winter and spring sticking rigidly to a training schedule and trying to heal from that recurring injury. I fantasized about going back and showing them – uh, I mean, showing myself (yeah... right) – that I could pass the test. That, at 44, I still had a little of the spark of youth in me. Granted, a spirited group ride is not a race – but the front half of this one is pretty close to a race. And I wanted to be indisputably IN it – not off the back. I worried. I trained. I researched. I trained. I upgraded my bike. I trained. I lost weight. I trained. Through snow and sleet and hail. Literally.

Today was the day to put all that obsessing and research and training and healing and money and time to the test. Was I right to think I could do it?

As it turned out, I did well today. I exceeded the goals I’d set for my return ride with this group, goals dreamed up during countless dreary winter training sessions in my basement.

Now, here’s the interesting part: The experience didn’t mean all that much to me.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed it. It was exciting to ride hard and fast, to be in the chase, and, certainly, to be the one being chased. To feel the utter exhaustion and happiness at the end of the road, and the camaraderie with the other riders, the full kinship I couldn’t feel during the rides last year, because I wasn’t really one of them, couldn’t stick with them. I earned those things today, and they were nice.

But they didn’t thrill me like I thought they would. I mean, I poured myself into this goal, folks. I could not have done any more to make it real. Along the way, this nagging knee injury kept making me slow down, enjoy the scenery, ride like I rode when I was last really into cycling, as a teen. I rode in those days for the love of it, now didn't I? I seem to remember...

This year I kept moaning and groaning about how the injury was keeping me from what I really wanted. Turns out, what I wanted so badly? Not so much. It doesn’t do much for me to “rip someone’s legs off,” as the saying so tellingly goes in our sport. I thought it would really give me a frisson, make me walk taller. Nope. Fact is, I had at least as much fun last week exploring the Metrowest area on roads I’d never tried before, getting lost, intimately experiencing new places in my own backyard. Funny – Just like the stuff I loved when I was a punk teen. Huh.

I’ll probably go back to the group ride, and I’ll probably try to beat a few guys in a sprint here and there. It’s human nature to compete sometimes, and I like the buzz. But I’ve been healthily reminded that, if I ride for the love of riding, I will be happier both during and after. Whether that means meandering around new roads, or doing sprints that leave a long streak of melted rubber down my standard training route.

I have a stockpile of adages I’ve coined over the years to remind myself of the important stuff I’ve learned. One of them is: We run fastest from that which we really want. Today, I discovered a corollary: Sometimes, we run fastest towards that which we don't really want.

Let that be a lesson to me.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Succeeding at Admitting I'd Failed"

It wasn’t that I faced shame like some brave and noble human, but rather that the racing, the failing at racing, and the succeeding at admitting I’d failed, shone a bright light on the shame that was in me. I mean, there it was: I couldn’t not see it [....] I believe all of us contend with our own personal demons... and that for each of us, our obsessions, whatever they are - bike racing for me, stamp collecting, gardening, or whatever - can teach us all we need to overcome or learn to live with those demons.

- Bill Strickland, interviewed at
In my weekly bike-related browsing, I came across this interview with Strickland, executive editor at Bicycling Magazine, and, more importantly, author of Ten Points, a very good memoir that weaves together bike racing, growing up in an abusive family, and lots of other big themes. The book is worth reading in itself, but the interview put the icing on the cake for me. Strickland proves eloquent, honest and incisive.

If you like bikes, thinking, and great writing, don't miss the interview or the book.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Greater the Suffering, the Greater the Pleasure

After the finish, all the suffering turns to memories of pleasure, and the greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure.

Tim Krabbé, The Rider
Have you ever hated a ride so much that you wondered why you ever bother getting a bike? Have you experienced that wild moment of thinking maybe you’d give the whole thing up, and go for nice, quiet walks in the woods instead?

And then, after it’s all over, you're already scheming to get back on the bike the next day and see if you can do better?

Anyone who has ridden seriously for more than a couple of weeks knows that the reasons that we cycle are legion. To get out and see the countryside. To have fun, or be social. To improve mood. To lose weight and get fit. To face up to the pure, fierce test of competition.

Then there’s an intriguing one: To exceed one’s limits and grow in self-knowledge.

I’ve always enjoyed sports and the outdoors for a combination of all of those reasons. But that last one has always been the zinger for me. The things I learn about myself on the bike, for example, and the feeling of competence I derive from riding further (or faster, or higher) than I ever have are enormous rewards. They drive me, from the inside out.

I am forever in search of that towering sense of calm and happiness that comes to me after a supreme effort in which I surpass my limits. The high usually lasts 24 hours, and during that time, nothing can bother me. The world which yesterday seemed mean, random and nasty, now makes perfect sense. Every part of it fits oh, so sweetly.

Funny thing, though: While I’m actually exceeding that limit, I usually go through extended bouts of the most forceful disgust and anger known to humankind.

If you’d asked me on Saturday, at about 4:30 pm on the first blistering hot day of the season, how I felt about finishing my longest ride of the year, my answer would have been too raw to print. I was hating it. Worn out, legs weak, drenched in sweat, and using a ridiculously big gear to get up a pitiful rise in the road. Every tiny distraction -- a pothole or a new squeak from my bike -- was occasion for bitter loathing. My thought process (to the extent I was capable of one) was familiar to endurance athletes the world around. Why the ?!%@ do I do this? What possible reward could make this worthwhile?

You get the idea. You’ve been there.

Yet within five minutes after I had rolled into the parking lot and begun stretching and cooling off, I began to feel elated. Not just satisfied; I mean really happy. I was singing softly to myself. I was relishing little blessings like the cool, earthy breeze from the woods behind me. The stop I was planning at the nearby grocery to get a sports drink seemed a grand adventure, ripe with promise.

You might say my mood had shifted.

I’m sure part of it is neurochemical. Endorphins, and so on. I’m sure part of it is relief – I don’t have to push my bike through that ridiculous heat anymore! Part of it is pride in my accomplishment. I could probably analyze it down to the smallest component parts.

But I’d rather relish the sweet insanity of it all. Rather than wax eloquent on the reasons why suffering leads to pleasure (as Krabbé so simply depicts) I’d rather revel in the way that dynamic neatly reflects life itself. The old cliché: You can’t enjoy the sweetness without a little sour mixed in.

Maybe another great book on endurance sports sums it up best. Bill McKibben, in Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously, quotes track coach Bill Bowerman. Just substitute your sport of choice for the word “running”:

Running is basically an absurd pastime on which to be exhausting oneself. But if you can find meaning in it, you can find meaning in another absurd pastime: Life.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Having Fun vs. Winning: At Odds?

I’m doing triathlon because I love it and because it’s fun, and not because I want to win it in every case. I know that Americans, they say “Oh, second [place] is the first loser,” and “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.” But for me, really, the most important thing is the fun and not the win.

- Faris Al-Sultan, 2005 Ironman Triathlon World Champion, interviewed on The Competitors radio show

Friday, June 6, 2008

What Did You See on Your Ride Today?

Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.
- Louis L'Amour

Sometimes, when I'm recovering from an injury and I need to ride lightly for a period of time, I use a trick I discovered this year. I find riding at a modest speed very difficult, especially when I'm on a road I know well and I'm alone. So, I set a rule: I have to spot two things on each block that I've never noticed. A tree that's budding, or the color of a house, or what animals live in that pasture, what that sign says. It doesn't matter if it's something pretty -- just has to be new.

This has an amazing effect on my mood, by the way, and, oddly, often can result in a much higher average speed than the day before, when I had my head down and was pushing more.

Three days ago, I was riding a route I've ridden 15 to 20 times in the last few months. I thought I was burned out on this route. I was going a bit slower than usual, recovering from re-activating a knee injury. I saw a sign that marked the entrance to a college campus I've heard of. I was stunned. This is where that school is? The main entrance to a whole college and I'd never seen it (granted, it's a small sign). I rode in and wheeled around the campus, checking it out. It was a reminder: It's good to ride hard. But try to put your head up now and then.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Doping and Realpolitik

Athletes have doped from day one. When the world was magical, dope was magical; when the world was chemical, dope was chemical; now that the world is biological, dope is biological; when, in the future, the world will be genetic, dope will be genetic…. Competition produces doping, just as taxes produce fraud.

- Paul Fournel, The Need for the Bike

I’m with Fournel.

I don’t support the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. I would love to see every sport rid of them forever. Unfortunately, that is a fantasy. A positive fantasy – but it’s important to grasp that, while we should work toward it, it will never happen. Never.

Go ahead -- argue with me. Problem is, I agree with all of your points: It’s bad for athletes. It’s bad for the fans. It’s bad for kids getting into sports. It embodies all that’s wrong with our bigger-stronger-faster, instant gratification, self-absorbed society.

You’re too right.

It’s also as old as sport itself. Endurance athletes in the early 20th century tried anything and everything to get an edge, from cocaine to brandy to doses of strychnine – yes strychine, the pesticide, of which just 5 mg can be lethal. Even athletes in ancient Greece took all sorts of stuff, including stimulants.

Journey with me now, as we turn back the pages of time: Somewhere on an athletic field, thousands of years ago, a trainer was the very first person in history to have this thought: "Hmm... That weird potion that my friend made for my horse to make him run faster… What if I gave that to my runners?’ Of course, the horses collapsed in foaming, bloody convulsions after the race, but our guy wasn’t thinking about afterwards. He was thinking about what he was expected to think about: Winning.
As he walked toward the stables to hide that potion bottle under his toga, he muttered to himself, “Apres moi, le deluge.”

There are parts of this soiled yet beautiful world that will never – never – be as I see them in my heart. I will never be able to admire without reservation the character of a national politician, no matter how much good she or he might do in the world. There will always be parents who raise their children with the most hateful distortions of love imaginable. There will always, until the last day of the world, be motorist who hate us simply because we are riding bicycles.

This isn’t a philosophical post; I’m not saying doping is right or wrong. And it’s not a political post; I really don’t have the answer as to how we should fix this magnificently screwed-up situation. This is a psychological post. It’s about a reality that I’m beginning to grasp.

Now in my mid-forties, I’m just beginning to calm down and simply accept those unchangeable things. They make me sad and frustrated, but letting them make me crazy is a sure road to an impoverished life. I get up every morning and work for positive change, I work toward my ideals of kindness and fairness. The work I do is directly tapped into those ideals. But if I cling to them, I’m doomed. Some days you just have to toss out right and wrong, put on your best kit, and go out and leave a 30-mile streak of melted rubber down the road. Somehow, everything in the world seems in its rightful place when you get back.
I ask you to seriously question, for at least a moment, the likelihood of cycling's governing bodies getting us to where not one person in our sport is doping. The mythical "level playing field," right? I will bet you my left hamstring that there would soon be at least one athlete who thought to himself, “I think I can dope and get away with it. Boy, what an advantage I'll have!”

Human nature has survived in its current form for millions of years. It ain’t gonna be changing a winning game anytime soon.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ciao, Regazzi!

I awoke this past Monday to the wrenching awareness that I wasn’t going to be watching a stage of the Giro d’Italia on television.

I had subscribed for the month to RAI, the international Italian-language cable station. I only let the fact that I don’t speak Italian daunt me for a moment.

See, this was my first bicycling grand tour; I wanted to do it right. I'm proud to say that, for the last three weeks in May, I went through a tiny version of the ups and downs I imagine the riders go through while racing the Giro. (Okay – a very tiny version).

I watched the first handful of stages with great excitement, then got a little burned out after many days of flat stages, watching the poor guys slog through the chilly rain.

It only took about three stages before I started picking up a handful of serviceable Italian phrases, like testa della corsa (“lead group”) and ultimo chilometro (“Final kilometer – run to the TV for the sprint finish”).

I also began to get a better feel for the zesty European heritage of this unique sport. I got a primer, for example, on the deep importance of style to the Italian riders – like the critical issue of the angle of the sunglasses on their team caps during the jersey ceremonies, or the sweet little ritual just before they win a race: Zip up the jersey (to show the sponsor on TV), hand the sunglasses to the team car (to look pretty for the finish line photos), kiss the wedding ring, cross yourself at least once, throw your fists in the air as you cross the line, and then – burst into tears. It all seemed so perfectly Italian.

Then I got excited again – more than ever – when the peloton entered the Dolomites. Boy, some of those weekend mountain stages – particularly Sunday’s Mortirolo climb – were high drama. I loved it.

Finally, there was Sunday, the last stage. I knew that, after all the boys and I had been through together, I had to watch, even though there was little chance Riccó (or anyone) could pip Contador. The time trial ended up being as boring as I had feared. I had to force myself to stay in front of the TV instead of getting on my own bike and heading out on that very fine day. They do say that the final day of many grand tours are ceremonial, at best. I rolled out of my garage that afternoon feeling a little funky (perhaps contributing to the off-key ride I reported on here).

It seems only natural after all those highs and lows that I should wake up feeling blue the day after. It was like waking up the day after returning from a long trip abroad. You certainly don’t love every minute of that kind of travel – but once you’re back home, you’d give good money to re-live any random minute of it.

Da Vinci Smiled

The chain-driven “safety” bicycle with inflatable tires was, in essence, the culmination of an age-old dream: a valid human-powered vehicle that was both pleasurable and practical.

- Author David Herlihy, interviewed on the thoughtful, well-written blog, cycloculture

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Mojo of the Perfect Ride

So, the ride on Sunday, the day I posted that piece about anticipating a terrific spin on a gorgeous spring morning, ended up kind of crappy.

It happens, you know? You get all pscyhed, and maybe you psych yourself out a little. By the time I got out there, I was a little tired and cranky, and my knees hurt (I'm working through a recurring injury) and I worried would they ever fully heal, and blah-blah-blah-I-ruined-my-ride. That's all there is to it.

But yesterday. Oh, yesterday.

Yesterday (Monday) was one of those rides that remind me fully why I push through agonizing injury recoveries, why I rode on rollers in a dim basement all winter, why I struggle with the crazy demands of this sport-hobby. High 70s, mixed clouds and sun -- the kind where the clouds roll away every ten minutes, and you feel like you've been given a new gift of sunshine each time. I rode a new route -- always enlivening. It took me through areas I knew somewhat, but there was that nice challenge of trying to mentally map where I was as I rode. I got a little lost, but I always knew basically where I was -- another wonderful feeling.

Best of all, the scenery. Eastern Mass has some of the loveliest little back roads in all of New England -- you just have to go looking for them. You won't see them from the big routes people use to commute, no matter how wide the shoulder and comfortable the road surface. I found a long, gently rolling street with zero traffic, no stop signs, and the most beautiful land on either side. I found a small pasture with two goats grazing. (I took a cell-phone photo for my wife. She loves goats.)

I happened upon a road I knew well, and decided to change my course spontaneously -- another reliable source of fun. I took an unplanned detour and waded in the icy waters of beautiful Walden Pond, while I snacked on my wife's home-baked bread. When I got back on the bike, my legs were like new.

I rode further than I have for weeks -- the knees were strong and fluid. By some miracle, they seemed to have healed themselves overnight, and I woke up knowing I could go a little long today.

You can't anticipate or create a perfect ride. You can't plan velophoria. You can only listen when the knees whisper, "Go!"

Dangerously Free

This blog is meant to be dangerous – free in a sort of no-limits way – a form of riding and writing at the same time, in the way that riding takes you beyond your limits and so does writing – the freedom of the road, the freedom of the writer and the writer writing my bicycle.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


There’s something about a morning when you know you’re going to go out for a special ride later on.

It’s early on this gorgeous first day of June, a Sunday. A cool, gentle breeze wafts in through the windows, sunshine bright and crisp against the leaves of the trees outside, pale blue sky full of promise for smooth roads and good encounters just a few hours from now.

I woke up with that extra bit of anticipation – “Oh! I’m going to ride somewhere nice today!” It fed me through my morning rituals, bubbling just beneath the surface: This gorgeous day will not slip away unappreciated. Just the opposite: Soon I will be wheeling down a back road, farm land or lawns stretching away in the broad sunshine, earthy perfume rising from the warming ground, muscles and lungs working hard, bearings in my freewheel offering that wonderful clicking song that goes on and on as the miles pass.

It’s a good day.