Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Heaving Moisture

Hill repeats this morning. Tired of watching everyone disappear when the going gets steep. Hot and humid today, heaving lungs, moisture-filled, the the peristaltic metallic tang in the back of my throat that comes just before vomiting, on the steepest pitch of the final repeat. That's about right.

Suffering is good, but it has to be done in measure. Life is for living, not preparing for living.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Adieu, la forêt!

Down I flew, enjoying the steep descent, a smile twitching at the corners of my mouth. Then -- a sudden sharp bend, lined with buckets of marble-sized gravel. A quick skitter, a futile application of fancy disk brakes, a full-on macarena-style shimmy in the front wheel, a leg out to correct myself, nearly okay now, but OH, NO, a DITCH! hidden in the grass at the edge of this thing they call a "road," and then...

... sailing... over the bars and through the forested air...

...the usual thoughts have plenty of time to make their leisurely way through the mind: "Not again!" "How much will this hurt?" "I'm all alone out here..."

WHAM! goes the body. BAM-SLAM!! goes the bike, ahead of me somewhere.

A choice expletive splits the quiet morning air. A few moments to see if a) I can breathe (check), b) there are any broken bones (negative), and c) I can move -- which I start to do, gingerly. Oh, so gingerly.

This happened last Saturday morning, about an hour and a half into a very rugged back-country ride through protected land in Shutesbury and then Wendell State Forest. The rest is the short story of a long, sweaty wrestling match with a tweaked rear derailleur, and an even longer slog back to the car, and thence, back home.

I was okay, not seriously injured. But how many times do I get to tell myself how lucky I am not to be seriously injured, before my luck runs out? In years of road cycling, I've crashed maybe twice on the road (once badly, but I was 16 and stupid). In one-plus year of off-road riding (mountain biking or, as on Saturday, nasty double-tracking), I've crashed about six times -- four of them serious, and three bad enough to leave me sleeping upright on the couch, or limping in abject pain, for weeks afterward.

                                    *     *     *

Now, Mrs. V is the most supportive wife you could imagine. She knows I have to get my ya-yas out; she supports me in every way as a cyclist. But even saints have limits. When I recounted the tale to her upon my return (c'mon, I had to tell her, guys), she smiled sadly, and eventually worked her way around to the long-awaited moment where she asked me outright not to do any more off-roading.


Heaven knows, she's put up with a lot -- Saturday mornings with me gone for hours on rides. Weeks of yelping and whimpering from painful injuries. Sudden, lightning-like decisions to buy whole new bicycles, costing a lot of money. And yet she still gets happy that I get excited to ride, she loves that I love it. She's like that with every part of my life that's important to me -- encouraging, compassionate, forgiving. She is the original 24-carat gem.

So when she asks me directly to stop something, it's time to hit the brakes.

And here I was working my way around to buying myself a modest mountain bike! "Hey -- 26-inch wheels, that would certainly solve the problem, right? More maneuverability, lower center of gravity!" Yeah, right.

The bottom line is, I'm not meant for mountain biking. I've quickly reached the limits of my potential. I grew up in an apartment building in Manhattan, surrounded by pavement 24-7. The first time I climbed on a MTB, I was 45 -- and I came home with a deeply bruised trocanter (thigh bone) and various badly torn muscles. It took months to recover. She just smiled and rolled her eyes. I couldn't quit, I loved it too much.

Well... I have to quit. I'm 48, starting my own business, adopting a child, I have a wonderful marriage. It's time to think of others first. I can't do any of those things well with a cast on, or from a hospital bed.

The road riding stays -- that's a given. Its my provenance, my roots, planted way back in 1980. And I'm keeping the Vaya for now. It works beautifully on dirt roads, and I love dirt roads. I'm just going to have to stick to the tame ones. No farm fields (injury, caused by a hidden, rock-hard tire-rut). No single-track (headers, teetering sideways destructos). No "gravel roads" which are actually washed-out stream beds (Saturday's debacle).

I'm off to cry under the covers.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Weekend Warrior

Tonight, I was browsing the well-lined hallways of an online database on American history (see reference at bottom) when I discovered a delightful manual by Oliver Wendell Holmes (Senior, that is -- poet, physician, and daddy to the Supreme Court Justice of the same name) on how to handle the indignities of what was then called, rather amusingly, "Old Age." The piece was written in 1858, when Holmes was 49 -- one year older than me.

Far from being put off by musty language and staid Victorian advice, I found myself wishing I could call the guy up for a ride. He's one of us. And my man can write!

I have excerpted some of the essay here for your delectation:

As to giving up because the almanac or the family Bible says that it is about time to do it, I have no intention of doing any such thing. I grant you that I burn less carbon than some years ago. I see people of my standing really good for nothing, decrepit, effete, la lèvre inférieure déjà pendante [the lower lip already hanging], with what little life they have left mainly concentrated in their epigastrium. But as the disease of old age is epidemic, endemic, and sporadic, and everybody that lives long enough is sure to catch it, I am going to say, for the encouragement of such as need it, how I treat the malady in my own case. 
... I have found that some of those active exercises, which are commonly thought to belong to young folks only, may be enjoyed at a much later period.
...For the past nine years, I have rowed about, during a good part of the summer, on fresh or salt water. My present fleet on the River Charles consists of three rowboats: (1) a small, flat-bottomed skiff of the shape of a flatiron, kept mainly to lend to boys; (2) a fancy “dory” for two pairs of sculls, in which I sometimes go out with my young folks; (3) my own particular water sulky, a “skeleton” or “shell” race boat, twenty-two feet long, with huge outriggers, which boat I pull with ten-foot sculls, alone, of course, as it holds but one — and tips him out, if he doesn't mind what he is about. 
In this I glide around the Back Bay, down the stream, up the Charles to Cambridge and Watertown, up the Mystic, round the wharves, in the wake of steamboats, which have a swell after them delightful to rock upon; I linger under the bridges, those “caterpillar bridges,” as my brother professor so happily called them; rub against the black sides of old wood schooners; cool down under the overhanging stern of some tall Indiaman; stretch across to the Navy Yard, where the sentinel warns me off from the Ohio, just as if I should hurt her by lying in her shadow; then strike out into the harbor, where the water gets clear and the air smells of the ocean, till all at once I remember that, if a west wind blows up of a sudden, I shall drift along past the islands, out of sight of the dear old statehouse — plate, tumbler, knife, and fork all waiting at home, but no chair drawn up at the table — all the dear people waiting, waiting, waiting, while the boat is sliding, sliding, sliding into the great desert, where there is no tree and no fountain. As I don't want my wreck to be washed up on one of the beaches in company with devil's-aprons, bladderweeds, dead horseshoes, and bleached crab shells, I turn about and flap my long, narrow wings for home.
When the tide is running out swiftly, I have a splendid fight to get through the bridges, but always make it a rule to beat, though I have been jammed up into pretty tight places at times, and was caught once between a vessel swinging round and the pier, until our bones (the boat's, that is) cracked as if we had been in the jaws of Behemoth. Then back to my moorings at the foot of the Common, off with the rowing dress, dash under the green, translucent wave, return to the garb of civilization, walk through my garden, take a look at my elms on the Common, and, reaching my habitat, in consideration of my advanced period of life, indulge in the Elysian abandonment of a huge recumbent chair. 
When I have established a pair of well-pronounced feathering calluses on my thumbs, when I am in training so that I can do my fifteen miles at a stretch without coming to grief in any way, when I can perform my mile in eight minutes or a little less, then I feel as if I had old Time's head in chancery, and could give it to him at my leisure. 
Oliver Wendell Holmes " On Old Age," Annals of American History. <http://america.eb.com/america/article?articleId=386212>

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Salty Old Dog Learns New Tricks

The year presses on. The trees in our backyard are deep green, baked daily by summer sun. The weather here has been hot, but dry, so the breeze is still refreshing. Despite water emergencies in nearby towns, I'm grateful for this. It reminds me of my beloved Southwestern summers -- only without the afternoon monsoons. Rides are sweaty, but feel like a thorough workout. July is sweet.

We had a delightful overnight at our favorite North Shore beach town for the Fourth. Walking amongst the marshes and over the protected dunes, sniffing those earthy-salty perfumes that only the sun-bleached beaches yield, feeling the bite of Ol' Sol on my shoulder...  heaven. Time with Mrs. V, away from the press of daily life? Priceless. We go visit this shore town nearly every year, and don't look to change that any time soon. Ice cream, laughter, and old black-and-white reruns of the Twilight Zone in a quiet room at the inn. Life doesn't get better. I am a rich man.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the dentist tells me that Old Man Time wants his pound of flesh... or tooth. In the blink of an eye that was the six years since my last check-up, during which I finished grad school, got married, moved, moved again, bought a house and moved again, started a new career, began the adoption process, and watched my father pass on, things have been going south in the mouth. Who knew? Dentist visits were perpetually on the "must do sometime soon" list -- until the pain began a couple months ago. Today, I was told that two molars must come out (and that's only the worst of it; there's more). Truth is, I'll miss them. They've been with me well over 40 years, and done yeoman's service. I'm told I'll be reunited with them in the afterlife, so I guess it's more like "See ya" than "Farewell."

What does it say about me that one of my first thoughts, as I was being told this, was "What is this going to do to my riding schedule?"

Never mind, I think I know.

Look, life is good. I'm off on a jaunt with the Mrs. to pick up antibiotics, but I'm sure we'll slip in something fun along the way. Heck, nearly every time she's along for the ride, it's fun. Time will have his due, but it ain't gonna stop me from havin' fun and doin' good.

I'll leave you with some sandy treats: