Quick Update

My bottom bracket got repaired last week and I had two great rides this weekend on Winny: 41.2 miles Saturday and 21.3 today. Yesterday we hammered on those old bikes and averaged 17.1 mph.  I haven’t ridden over fifty miles in months but as I’ve said before, experience is a good thing. I know I can do the miles. Now I know I can ride the bike.

Breaking Barriers and Bottom Brackets

Since that postscript I’d been stressed with the underlying weight of being two weeks out from L’Eroica and needing to get back on my horse, but having no sense that things could change. You’d think I’d quiet down and take in my own words of wisdom. But we all know that when in the throws of something intense it’s nearly impossible to get perspective in the moment. The breakthrough most always catches me by surprise at first, and then I get the big, “Oh yeaaahh,” and remember that the struggle is never a brick wall. The trick is to remember that while in the thick of it; because no matter what the outcome, there is always the other side.

In other words, JSUAR.

After a beer and a chat with a close friend (and one of my biggest blog fans) Thursday evening I decided to ride solo on Saturday, while my WBF joined our group.  She concurred that maybe what I needed was some one-on-one time with my new steed to get comfortable without any distraction or risk ruining another ride for my WBF. So that solidified my plan.

When I was getting ready Saturday morning I had new resolve. The pressure was off. My WBF asked if I’d like to leave the house on my own or if I’d like for him to ride the first bit with me on his way up to meet the group. I wanted his company. And then I found myself changing my mind.  “Maybe I should just see how I feel when we get to my turn off,” I said to him. The pendulum was starting to swing back.

Now that I think about it, my decision to drop my guard and ride with the group that day came with the same clarity as quitting did the week before. If I’d been ten years younger I would have ridden off on my own for one wrong reason: because I had said I would. I would have ruminated that my dear friend and fan would think less of me for not following through on my word. Imagine the mess one can get into with this kind of thinking.  For me to act on what I think someone else is thinking can get me in trouble. And I know this would have never crossed her mind. Our friends trust that we know what’s best for ourselves and want the same.

So by the time we got to my turnoff 4.2 miles from home I was relaxed for the first time on the bike, and we rode up together to meet the group. The turnout couldn’t have been more perfect. Only five others showed up, a total of six guys and me. I’d ridden hundreds of miles with all of them, I felt well-respected by each, and without question I knew they had my back.

Last week I mentioned the idea that I wondered if my quitting the first of the two rides allowed us to avoid some unknown disaster. The opposite can play out, as well.  At about mile fifteen my WBF and I had dropped back to say hello to friends staging a rest stop for an organized fundraiser ride and while we took off to catch back up with the group I felt what I thought was a loose cleat but immediately realized it was my bottom bracket. It had worked itself so loose in the last few hundred yards that I’m surprised my chain didn’t slip off.

Surely I could have handled the same mishap alone. I’d have made a phone call and gotten a ride. In fact, the same happened on one of my newer bikes a few years ago in the pouring rain, only one ride after a friend of a friend did a tune up. But that’s not the point. Had I been on my own the mishap could have easily put me back in a funk about this whole thing.

As it was, it became another adventure. My WBF hammered to meet up with the group to tell them what happened so he got a good ride in. I called his mom, who immediately got his dad to drive out in his truck to pick me up. He had been about to leave to play golf but luckily I’d had good timing.

As I waited, a few cars slowed to see if I needed help to which I gave the universal sign of thumbs up. Safety crossed my mind but didn’t linger. And best of all, his dad arrived in his big old diesel, turned up the mud on the side of the road, loaded my bike, and I got to spend some great one-on-one time with him that I’ve never before had.  We chatted non-stop on our way back to the house.

That night I had a dream that I was asleep under an overpass in a sleeping bag with my bike parked safely nearby, and a huge mudslide was tumbling down overhead. I was warm and comfortable, dozing in and out of sleep, but each time I woke to the mudslide, I’d worry for a second or two, then realize I was under the safety of the overpass and slip back into sleep.

That seems to be a pretty good analogy of this whole thing. Waking and dozing, watching for my ride, the false alarms of other offers, and climbing around splattered mud into the safety of his truck. Best of all, I was finally feeling at ease.

I just heard word from my WBF that he’s on his way home from the bike shop with my bike. It’s a 1979 Windsor with a Campy Record Grupo. I think I’ll name her Winny.





Last Sunday I wrote but never posted this:

After all I wrote this weekend, figuring that writing about it would help me through to a powerful ride today,  I found myself still in the throws of this psych-out thing with my Eroica bike. Not even five miles out of town on our Sunday ride this morning I did it again. I couldn’t throw up my arms for dramatic emphasis because that would have really sent me to the asphalt, but indeed I quit, just like that. “Period-space-space,” my favorite high school English teacher would say.

Last week, with a completely unrelated topic, I talked about being nudged by a familiar feeling and questioning what they hey was going on with myself. This most recent disruption is not a nudge. It’s a slam. It was the same as the day before, the same as what led to my Moments post last year though then I didn’t actually quit, rather just whined on the road; and the same, I remembered today, as failing my triathlon team way back in 1987.

I had signed on to do the swim portion of a local triathlon with the two sports anchors at the local TV station where I worked behind the camera doing production. I was swimming daily in the city pool at noon and had done a couple of ocean swims to prepare, but when race day came I dove in the water with hundreds of others, took two strokes, stood up, and walked back to shore. These past two days I have been avoiding using the word, “PANIC,” and I’m not even sure if that is the right descriptive. But what happened that THIRTY years ago on the beach and what is now happening on these Eroica bike rides is very similar: for many strokes, pedals or arm, my drive to go forward gets overtaken by a complete and stubborn desire to give up.

Okay – I know this is “out there” but maybe it is this:  When I was growing up I didn’t want anybody to be mad at me so I never did anything to be a rebellious kid.  At some point I remember deciding to keep my opinions to myself because I was tired of being countered or challenged. And somehow I never found the power to disagree or say, “STOP! I don’t have to do what you say!!”

It’s easy to displace the past with things like a bike ride when everything about the bike ride brings up a familiar nudge of defeat. Compound that with being an adult, having the power to do anything you D-W please, then using the past as the barometer to make a judgement call when the real discomfort is just old shit that has nothing to do with the present.  And THAT’s what this Eroica experience is bringing up. It may be a far stretch for one who’s had a less complicated upbringing, but it makes perfect sense to me. Call it discombobulation!

It’s not about the bike. It’s about separating the past from the present, and figuring out how to do that when you’re in the throws of that discomfort. It’s easy when you have the grace of time to sit and write. What I want is the presence of mind in the moment so that I have the grace of patience to get through the whole ride.

I’ll try again next time.


Hammer On vs. Hammer Out

So, one can hammer on a ride or hammer out kinks on a ride. Today was truly the latter and I will never know if we were merely avoiding some other disaster, yet with a universe that works the way it does, it makes me wonder.

The plan was to get some good hilly miles on our Eroica bikes. But after 7.5 miles and a couple of stops to adjust my seat angle I was at my wit’s end and I gave up.  I hate giving up but I was spooked by traffic. My Eroica bike is a size too tall for me so riding it is fine, but stepping off is precarious. I kept pushing myself back on my saddle but constantly slipping forward, felt completely clumsy getting into my toe clips, and car traffic was crazy for that time of the morning. It’s Zinfandel Weekend and we thought we’d avoid the increasing crowds with a route that was off the winery path. But we had to get out there first. Now that I think about it, for next time we should keep in mind that we can drive our bikes to any abandoned road as a starting point. But instead I whined about wanting an empty parking lot on which to ride laps for a few hours, apologized for being such a complainer, and cashed it in. At the risk of failing my WBF we decided to turn around and go home. He is such an amazing partner. Never have I known someone so supportive, understanding, and solid. He knows I ride. He knows I’m strong. He knows I was spooked. And he put all of his own desire and need to get some miles on his legs aside for me.

We had ridden a big 7.7 miles before turning around.  On the way back I realized I was riding in shorts that were period-specific. They didn’t make women’s shorts in the day. Ummmmm there’s a seam where there shouldn’t be and I kind of remember something about Lycra shorts hitting the scene and, how even though it ended the delightful aroma of sweaty, damp, wool shorts and being banished to the empty sections of restaurants (true story), there were issues of saddle slippage. I don’t know, on a different day I wouldn’t have been phased. Never did that mantra cross my mind that I had recommended in some past post for getting through one of these moments: “I am an athlete,” I’d said. Ha. I had forgotten.

So we got home, my WBF adjusted my seat and his own on his Eroica Bianchi, I changed my shorts, and we started out again; a different route but a challenging and shorter one. Starting up the first climb I slipped out of my pedal and spooked again. It was probably a six or seven percent grade, my opposite foot – what do you call the foot that usually stays in your pedal when your dominant foot steps out to the ground? – that foot was dangling and I had to stop with a frame that is an inch too tall with oh yeah, with my Detto Pietro cleats that are as slippery as socks on a polished linoleum floor. Against my stubborn-self I gave up and cashed it in again. Before I knew I had decided, I turned around and heard myself say aloud, “I’m done,” and we coasted downhill a mile or two home. I’d like to think we had avoided disaster; the car that was going to pull out in front of us or the pothole that was going to pinch-flat both tires …or something of the sort.

It is a ride like this that makes me have to believe that I am a rider. The rides that work are easy no matter how brutal. It’s like when you’re on a diet: it is easy until that scoop of Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch in the freezer, that you didn’t toss before you started counting calories and fat is, for some reason harder to avoid for the moment. It’s then that it’s really a diet. I know I’m a cyclist. I commute. I ride with my good friends on the weekend. We support each other and fit into the groove. I know I am strong. I know I can trust my legs. But today was a Diet Day. I was…hmmm…I was discombobulated.

Last week I rode my Eroica bike with our Sunday Group. I don’t remember as much discomfort and I definitely wasn’t feeling like I did today. When we were returning home for the second time I said to my WBF that I wondered if I would have been so apt complain or quit it had we been with our group, but I knew the answer before I asked.  I don’t like others to see me sweat.

And it is this for which I find it imperative for me to share again. I’m a broken record but I need to remind myself as much, if not more, than you-readers of this blog. I’m not sure if it is the same for men, but for my women-riding friends: we are athletes. We have days of focus, days of confidence, and days of insecurity. And it is on these days of question that we must remember that 100% of the time we persevere.

Many years ago I was the local program director of a mentoring program for kids. One of our counselors who matched the kids with their mentor was a professional triathlete and sponsored by a major nutrition/energy bar company. He pushed his athletic-self to places many of us will never know.  It became clear to me that for one who had pushed so hard physically, nothing, let alone the likes of our ineffective executive director was going to change the course of his day. He was in no way insubordinate, rather he was not phased in the least by her shenanigans.

I have no idea if he was even aware of this connection, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Because what matters is that which I want to bestow onto you: no matter what your MO and no matter what your fitness level and no matter what you accomplish each week, we have good days and bad, strong rides and weak, stints where nothing can phase us, and others where it takes every ounce of strength to say no to that ice cream.

The thing to remember is that this is part of The Big Picture. And it’s the days on which we flail that we must remember we wouldn’t react so strongly to these off-days had we not had all the good ones before and those that will be in our future.

Indeed, we are athletes.


Making It Happen

Sometimes I am nudged by a strong familiar feeling that seemingly comes out of nowhere and lurks in my body so strongly that it makes me have to pause and ask myself, “What the hey is going on?? Why am I feeling like this??!!” I can usually trace it back to an incident seemingly unrelated to the present until I dig a little deeper and realize that whatever is going on is giving me the same feeling as did something that happened long ago.  Clearly this can go in a positive or negative direction. It can be relieving to figure out that someone who’s giving you grief for the moment reminds you of your older brother who wouldn’t let up from teasing you when you were eight. I guess you can call this, “Getting Perspective.” But it can also help explain why we do things the way we do. And this, I’ll call, “Experience.”

So when I thought I should tell the story about how I got to Vermont to lead bike trips for the premier bicycle touring company of the day, I traced it back to all the creative things we did when we were kids to make things happen. For example, when Frisbees were popular and none of us on our block had one yet, we used cottage cheese lids. Then, when my family moved from the city to forty-acres a few hundred miles north and there were no other kids around, I used our little cassette tape recorder to play duets on my brother’s trumpet. I’d record one part and play it back while playing the second part. And with the grocery store now twenty-miles away, when we didn’t have all of the ingredients in the house to make cookies, my best friend Cindy and I would make them anyway. We had a cow so there was always butter, my mom made our own bread so there was always flour, and we had bees so we had honey even if we were out of sugar. It was the rest of the stuff like chocolate chips that were not staples in our cupboard. Sometimes our experiments worked and sometimes not. Once the cookie batter was so runny that we decided to use food coloring and make a cake instead.  It turned into a dry green sponge; not a sponge cake, a sponge. Maybe this is how the term, “Thinking outside the box” started.  We never made cake from a box. Everything was made from scratch, and that in itself lends to my whole theory of late.

In 1986 I was 24 and working for a small-market television station doing news production making six dollars an hour. It was a job that grew directly out of my major in college. Cable TV was in its heyday and all sorts of things were broadcast on public access stations. I came home from work one evening and my roommate had been watching some new travel channel that afternoon, and when I turned on the television I saw the last half of a video wooing customers to pay big money ($699 – $799) for a week of fully-supported riding through the rural Northeast. By that time as I said in one of my early posts, I’d been riding seriously for eight years, had been a TA for a bike touring class in college, toured down the coast of California and across Europe, and led a weekend trip for The American Lung Association.

It was with the same feeling that those homemade Frisbees, trumpet recitals, and cookies evolved that without hesitation I thought, I’ll just write them a letter and find out about their employment opportunities. Employment opportunities???  So officious I sounded. It makes me smile now. This moment I realize that this was thirty years ago almost to the day and I obviously wasn’t yet ready to settle down.

Just as I wish I still had every bike I ever owned, I wish I still had that letter. Yup, letter. There was no internet in those days. I couldn’t Google the company, check them out, and click on the “Careers” link. I wrote a letter using erasable paper on my typewriter, licked a twenty-two cent postage stamp, and sent it off. Two weeks later I received a response.

“We are getting our application materials together for the season and we will send you the packet when they are ready in a couple of weeks,” Marilyn wrote. Time was different then. Today we’d have gotten an instantaneous automatic popup window telling us the same. They didn’t even have to write that interim note, but that’s the way distant communication worked in those days. They could have just waited the two weeks and sent the packet off. Two weeks then is like two seconds now.

It was on Wednesday, February 17, 1988 that I flew to Vermont for an interview on my own dime during what turned into the worst storm of the season. I was delayed for five hours at O’Hare, got in late that evening, and was picked up at the Burlington Airport by my then-future boss, Bruz Brown. Bruz had invited me to stay with his wife and him through the weekend at their home in Bristol, Vermont; the sweet little town where they lived and home of Vermont Bicycle Touring. The next morning, twenty-four inches of fresh snow was on the ground when Bruz and I drove a mile up the road to VBT Headquarters, I had my interview, and I was hired on the spot.

Two months later, after subletting my apartment, I packed up my Honda Civic, clamped my Peugeot PX-10 and 1952 Dixie Flyer on my Thule bike rack, took three days to drive across the country without using an interstate, and that sweet little town became my home for the 1988 season. One could say I was paid $200 a week to schlep duffel bags from luggage racks of vans to the foyers of bed and breakfasts, sleep using wet towels for blankets in their hot and humid unfinished attics when our customers slept in the air conditioned luxury below, create gourmet picnic lunches where grocery stores were scarce, and deal with irritating customers long before I had any understanding that irritating customers were just reminding me of my brother. But I say I got paid $200 a week to ride some of the most beautiful country ever, see colors that a postcard can never match, swim in the quarries and swimming holes of my dreams, and meet interesting people from all over the world.

At the end of that season I drove home. I had a chance to stay and work in the VBT office for the winter but something called me back. Perhaps it was the same reason for which I went to Vermont in the first place: I didn’t have the capacity to settle anywhere because I wasn’t yet settled within my own self. And it was for this reason that when my boss called just before the 1989 season and told me he was short of leaders that I accepted his offer to fly me back for a second season which turned out to be just as lovely as the first.

But soon after the start of that season I had a dream that someone was moving into my apartment back home and I said, “You can’t move in here! This is my apartment!”  At the time I didn’t know the phrase, “No matter where you go, there you are,” but that was exactly it. This didn’t make me feel like I could then stay on in Vermont at the season’s end, rather I had the sense that I’d be able to return home with a resolve that I’d not ever known.

Before a season begins new leaders meet on a Friday afternoon at one of the B and B’s used for trips for a weekend of orientation and training. Saturday evening veteran leaders arrive for the remainder of the weekend to get to know the new group. Because I was a late hire and traveling from so far away, I missed out on that weekend bonding session. Bruz was confident I could “hit the season running,” as he said.

And I did. But not having gone through the weekend I didn’t get a chance to meet any of the new leaders nor say hi to my old friends before trips started that season. This was not a problem whatsoever. Anyone who knows me knows I’m at ease and love meeting new people. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been leading in the first place. In an indirect way it also gave me a wonderful and subtle sense of distance, a feeling that because of the positive impression I’d left, I’d been asked to fill a spot temporarily to help out. And that temporary status framed my stay with the sense that I had a home to which I would return.

One of the things that frustrates me the most is when people cut themselves short of possibility. I can say that I ride up the grade and someone else who is quite fit, even another rider will say, “Oh I could never do that!.”  There are clichés countering such negative thinking, the most popular of which might now be, “Just do it!” Sometimes, to steal another cliché, it’s not that simple. But I don’t think the actual doing of it is as important as the feeling of freedom when no matter what it is, one has the grounded sense that there is a way to make it happen. And getting to Vermont after watching only half of an amateur sales video then writing a letter is a perfect example of just that.