Sunday, March 15, 2015

Ode to a Headwind

"Spring" has arrived here in hoary New England—with quotation marks in full force. Time again to trot out that trusty piece of doggerel I penned a handful of years ago:
Ode to a Headwind

When the trees are all blown halfway over
And grit in your eyes makes you half-blind at best
When the handlebars fight you like cobras
And the roar of the wind in your ears leaves you deaf 
When the roads are all pot-holed and mangled
And you struggle to keep your front wheel pointing straight
When you fear for your rear triangle
And you crawl at a glacial, detestable rate

When you can't feel the skin on your knees
And your teeth start to freeze in your mouth
When the wind chill reads six degrees
And the birds are all flying back south

That's when you know that you're cycling New England
Might as well go do an ultra in Finland
If you're cycling New England in March
#     #     #

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Goals: Both Helpful and Harmful

Whatever you ride, however you ride, for the love of everything real, PLEASE: Ride for your own reasons, ride to your own standards, and if you don't know what they are for all the screaming out there about what's important, just keep riding and keep thinking, and it will come to you, slowly, in increments.
~ Velophoria, September 25, 2013
I got back into biking with a passion seven-and-a-half years ago, and very quickly started swallowing all sorts of ideas about what kind of rider I should be, from all the media messages around me, like Internet message boards and cycling magazines. 

I immediately set out to make myself in the mold of the lean, tough cheetahs in the Big Photos of the Big Races. In the process, especially at the beginning, I literally made myself sick. Long-term knee problems. Exhaustion. Pneumonia. Black moods from having to be off the bike and miss training.

Several time, I saw the light, and set off in search of my own weird muse, maybe "bike photo safaris," only to find some passionate dude on the other side of the country with a blog set up about exactly that kind of riding, with gorgeous photos and eloquent posts. VoilĂ : another picture in my head.

I'm thankful for those painfully unreachable goals. They've led me to glorious adventures, a boatload of knowledge, and even brief, exhilarating whiffs of almost-fast fitness. Over the years, I've gone from dyed-in-the-wool-jersey roadie to hard-core gravel rider to zealous fat bike convert to baggy-shorts-clad mountain bike addict.

I've also learned many of the roads and trails worth riding in the area, and become "the dude with the unique bikes," and an unofficial rep for my great local bike shop.

I've spent egregious amounts of time angsting over being that limbo between recreational rider and fit competitive cyclist. The fact is, I'm neither of those things, or—better yet—some third, unique thing that doesn't even overlap with them at all. 

I guess what I really am is both much simpler and more complex: I'm a guy who loves to have new experiences on two wheels. 

I like that description best of all. It allows for the times I feel sprightly and torture myself with the idea of signing up for a race for the very first time, and the times I want to meander down the road to find a new nook just a few miles away, and the times I put together a six-township epic over hill and dale, and the time I want to do a 15-mile gravel hill-climb. It allows for whatever new bike experience is over the horizon, and whatever old one is calling to me from the past. 

It even allows me—and this is maybe the biggest miracle—to get off the bike when my knees hurt, and let them heal.

This is not a young man's lesson. It's something that had to be forced on me by the inarguable, concrete limits of middle age. I just don't have time, health, or energy anymore for things that aren't truly me.

When I befriend both my limitations and strengths in cycling, I can thrive in concert with both. And that ripples out to the rest of my life. Beyond the disappointments of middle age lies the freedom from those tyrannical pictures. 

I like to say to my clients, "If you don't do your thing, who will?" If you go over to the giant bubble where the masses hang out, and act just like them, there's a small but crucial hole in the world where the real you--quirky, flawed, flavorful--used to be. That's a pity. 

Let's live out to the edges of our real selves, and, when it's time to go, perhaps we'll be able to say good-bye with a sense of peace instead of regret.

Seems like a worthy goal—for riding, and for living.