Monday, April 26, 2010

A Fixed Position vs. the Eternal Flux

As a Navy cadet, I failed a course in celestial navigation, partly because of my innumeracy and partly because I thought the navigator’s perpetual quest to fix his position created a bad precedent for piloting through one’s life where the course must follow the eternal flux, a grand flowing that turns celestial fixes to flumdiddle …. A fixed position lasts only a moment, but the times when I remembered a particular run of river and what it was like… moments like those can reappear and last for hours, even until the end. The more miles I put under me, the more those recollections become the very vessels carrying me to the finish.

~ William Least Heat-Moon, River-horse
Velophoriacs know that I am constantly trying to reconcile my goal-oriented, driven side and my reflective, outdoors-loving, John Muir side.

I don’t know if it’s just that I’m tired out and distracted by our current, all-consuming adventure of buying and moving into a house, or if I’m really beginning to figure out which side of that equation I really fall on, but lately, I’ve been finding myself more and more just going out for a ride. I still have some large-scale goals, and I still do specific workouts and gym exercises, but less than I used to.

When I got my shiny new cherry-red Cannondale CAAD 8 last year, I couldn’t bring myself to mar the esthetics with a cyclocomputer. Eventually, I found that I rode with more zest and awareness without it. I left my heart-rate monitor at home a lot, and learned to feel the difference between a three-hour pace and a two-hour pace. I noticed my surroundings more. I varied my routes more.

With all of that feeling and perceiving going on, I found it really intriguing that I got faster and stronger than I'd ever been. Numbers didn't tell me that; rather, when I rode with friends, their breathing would be more ragged, or I would take more and longer pulls than they would.

That kind of large-scale, real world measurement was much more rewarding than, “I finished that route one minute faster than last month” or “I added 5% to my max elevation.” Those numbers, in fact, mean nothing beyond their own constricted frame of reference, because the variables that the “eternal flux” throws at me from one ride to the next – even on the same route – are infinite. The next time I rode with friends, it might rain. Or I might have ridden hard the day before, or be working on a demanding project at work. It boils down to this: I would either be stronger than them, or I wouldn’t. If I wasn’t, they would tow me. Next time, I might be able to return the favor (and take the credit). That’s the flux I want to be a part of, be at peace with. That’s the world-view I’ve been seeking since I was old enough to start thinking for myself, and realized that I was the only one making myself crazy with comparisons, measurements and expectations.

It’s almost May, and I still don’t have a computer on my bike. It’s been weeks since I wore a heart-rate monitor. But I’ve already made some sweet velo-memories for 2010 – and, at the same time, managed to be the one doing the towing on a couple of rides. I’d call that the beginning of a reconciliation of opposing desires. And of a great season.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fingernails + Chalkboard

How on earth does Sean Kelly manage to talk so much, say so little and sound so annoyingly monotonous?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pleasure Riding: Oh, Right!

I cannot recommend highly enough the practice of making a recovery ride also serve as a ride with your sweetheart. (Unless your sweetheart is more of a hammerhead than you are, in which case, maybe you should ask her/him to do a recovery ride with you.)

Mrs. V. is a fine cyclist, but her talent is not hammering (at least, not yet). She is a champ at riding for the enjoyment of it -- a precious gift, which I have lost to a rather embarrassing extent. However, without external motivation, she doesn't really get out much.

So, for the last few weekends in a row, I've asked her to accompany me on a quiet Sunday ride, and the results have been very fun and convivial. Pretty country lanes, burbling brooks, quiet, shady cemeteries, frequent stops, lots of good conversation, and an emphasis on pleasure.

For someone who often takes his riding more seriously than his talent merits, it's a terrific change of pace, a reconnection to why I started riding a bike all those decades ago. It's a re-direct from all the obsession over mileage, goal events, and invidious comparisons.

It's also a nice opportunity for Mrs. V. to feel a bit of excitement about this "hobby" on which I lavish so much attention, time and, occasionally, money.

You've probably heard of the Slow Food movement, a response to the inundation of fast food. It looks like I'm starting my own personal Slow Ride movement. Won't you join?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hills and More Hills

Three hours and forty minutes of solid effort today, up and around Montague, Leverett, Shutesbury, and back south into town. Lots of long, steady climbing, at one point seven or eight miles of mostly up -- anywhere from five to 14 percent.

I hesitate to think what such a ride, on a cloudy, mid-40s, windy-sprinkly afternoon, would have been like without the stalwart companionship of my trusty iPod, playing everything from Chick Webb swing to Bruce Cockburn folk-rock to early, edgy Dire Straits. A good friend, in lieu of someone who would actually do the ride with me. At my pace, that is -- fast on the flats and sloooow on the hills. (I need more hill training.)

About 60% of the way through, I developed wicked ITBS in my left leg, an old acquaintance re-met. Here's hoping I can un-inflame and stretch out that puppy to keep training on track. I'm thinking I can.

The incomparable Mrs. V had a turkey dinner on the stove when I got home, and listened interestedly (or faked it convincingly) to the tales of this semi-brave Ulysses. ('Dja catch that, Wrecking Ball?) I really am blessed beyond measure in my marriage to her. As the Rev. Sidney
Smith (my pop's favorite philosopher) said a few years ago, "Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today."

Onward to a movie and dessert. Life is sooo good.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Baiku #1

Spring day after work
Short climb over local hill
Wife waits patiently


Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I have a somewhat obsessive personality. For the last few years, that obsessive lens has been focused on cycling.

If it’s a beautiful day out, I note to myself how much more beautiful it would be if I were out riding in it, wind streaming over my skin, sun soaking me warm. If I’m driving a particularly attractive stretch of road on the way to work, my body starts to feel the sensations it might feel if I were riding that road – the hills, the turns, the rough or smooth surface.

When I don’t have a client at work, and I can’t make myself do any more of the lovely paperwork I’m supposed to be churning out, I’m on-line reading someone’s blog post about Roger de Vlaemink’s tendency to shift with his ring fingers rather than index fingers, and tracing the lineage of mythical lore which that gave birth to over the years.

Mrs. V and I got married almost three years ago, and haven’t yet had our honeymoon, due to other life events getting in the way. We’ve been talking lately about where we’ll go, because we hope to make it happen in 2011. My number one choice is Italy. Yes, I do want to go there for the food, the culture, the beautiful countryside, and the unique people. Probably enough so that it would be on the short list anyway. But the fact that it is the birth place of Coppi, Bartali, Colnago, Campagnolo, and, especially, the Giro… well, that’s enough to edge it up to number one. My wife understands, bless her (and, thankfully, is also interested in Italy).

The obsession before this one had nothing to do with bicycles. For nearly thirty years, off and on, I could think about nothing but music, and especially guitars, and especially [[[my guitar. I listened to and bought and played music compulsively. I could talk about it for hours. I came home from work, had a bite to eat, then disappeared into a room and practiced one lick until midnight. These days, I disappear into my laptop to research whether I should buy 23 or 26 mm tires. But I’m married now, so I do it in the dining room, where, when my sweet wife walks by, I’m reminded that I could be spending time with her, and I generally tend to shut the computer off a little sooner than I would have in the past.

It kind of scares me, this obsession thing. It’s so “all or nothing.” I mean, when it gets to the point where I feel lost if I can’t stick to my training schedule because of a short cold, well, doesn’t that seem like the line where a passion turns into a life-limiting, short-sighted stranglehold? Am I afraid of something? What would happen if I were to back away from this thing a little? Probably what has happened at other times in my life when I’ve been just doing the day-to-day without any particular focus to my passion: A kind of flaccid hollowness to my days that looks eerily like depression.

I know more men who are like me in this regard than women. Women (as I’ve observed them, on a very abstract whole – save the hate-mail, please) seem to derive their life force, their true north, from a variety of places. Work, friends, family, house. If they have a hobby, they often have more than one. Maybe cycling and blogging and cooking and gardening. Take one away, and they lean on the others. That’s called “healthy.”

I’m working on something that hovers comfortably in-between the two poles of obsession and pointless diffusion. I’ve been consciously tinkering with it for a few years now. Like most changes, especially the important ones, it’s acutely uncomfortable, and I mostly learn the hard way.

Any helpful thoughts, or perhaps just empathy, would be appreciated.

When Domestiques Raided Restaurants

This is just one more reason the Giro will always be the grand tour in my eyes. It's very possible riders did all this in France and Belgium at the time, but there's an Italian flavor here that is undeniable.

Pay special attention to :53, when the waterboys go nuts looting a local store, and a beautiful moment at 2:07 when a rider uses an old-school technique to open a mineral water bottle. Try that on a carbon stem today... Ah, the good old days.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ode to a Headwind

I wrote this a couple years ago around this time, so forgive the reference to the wrong month. After three hours today in the wind, I couldn't resist posting it here:

Ode to a Headwind

When the trees are all blown halfway over
And grit fills your mouth 'til it's cracked and it's parched
When your handlebars fight you like cobras
You're cycling New England in March

When the roads are all pot-holed and mangled
And you're struggling to keep your front wheel pointing straight
When you ride on the flats at 10-degree angle
At a glacial, detestable, crustacean rate

That's when you know that you're cycling New England --
Might as well go on a long tour of Finland --
When you're cycling New England in March

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Egg Recovery Ride

Took Mrs. V. on our first joint ride of the spring today -- it was Easter Sunday, and 71 degrees with blues skies. The Valley is just delightful right now, birds busting out all over, trees showing that first faint veil of lacy yellow-green, pine-cone aromas wafting out of the roadside woods.

The missus was lamenting last night that we don't have any Easter traditions yet, as we've only been married a few years, and, moreover, I'm Jewish. I pondered this after she left for church this morning, and remembered a brilliant idea, passed on to me by the ever-thoughtful No One Line. I had told him that I wanted to get my sweetheart more into cycling, and he suggested that I take her for short rides around the neighborhood, having hidden a picnic basket or such-like not too far away, and surprise her thusly. I liked the idea at the time, had been pondering it ever since. When I began puzzling over the Easter question this morning, and then remembered that we'd discussed going for a ride this afternoon -- well, as the Brits say, the penny dropped.

I threw some pedals on my winter bike (now seasonally re-incarnated as my town/pleasure/dirt-road bike) and dashed around the neighborhood finding sweet spots to hide chocolate Easter eggs before she got home. I live in the country, so it weren't too hard.

Mrs. V is a particular fan of New England cemeteries, so the first couple were hidden behind time-worn 300-year-old headstones, way in the back of our little local burying grounds. I hid others in other pretty spots along the way home; by a stream, behind fence posts. This part was almost more fun than actually taking her on the ride later.

When she got home, I was lounging about, and tried to show only the usual enthusiasm for the idea of a ride. When we got to the graveyard, I dropped a few cryptic (Get it? "Cryptic?") hints about searching around gravestones with certain names on them, and let her loose -- thus adding a dash of treasure hunt/history adventure to the usual hunt approach. You should have seen her smile when she found the eggs: Sweeter than Easter candy.

It was an ideal ride home, happy, chatty, and beautiful. She reports now that she had no suspicion that I had hidden eggs in any other locations until we stopped the seond time. I gave vague hints each time, and she was as game as could be.

We had a blast, and she was happy as a little girl on Easter. Mission accomplished!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ford F 150:TT Roadster::Giant OCR 3:CAAD 8

Busted out the CAAD 8, last year's NOS purchase, in honor of the advent of April, and of the temps in the 70s (??!!).

Beautiful day, beautiful ride. Legs felt awfully sluggish, and I finally figured out: Duh! I'm short two low gears now. Welcome to the jungle.

Last year, started riding the 'Dale in early spring, out of shape, couldn't tell the difference in handling. This year, rode the "Gigante" (as No One Line calls it) Jan.-March. Got on the 'Dale, and in the first two minutes, I was blown away. What a beautiful-riding bike. Fast. Light. "Handles like a dream," to quote Tony Stark.

The Valley this morning spread herself before me like a come-hither maiden shedding the virginal snow-laced wedding dress. She is ready -- and so am I.