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.

Winny

 

 

Postscript

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.

Putting My Foot Down

Recently I found myself calling my commute a chore. But commitment really is a much more positive label. It connotes a hint of that chore-aspect but a commitment construes dedication where everything about a chore is something you’d rather not do. I suppose I could change the name of this blog to triplecommitment but there will inevitably be more things to which I will add similar focus in the future.

When I was starting out on my ride home the other day I rolled up to a red light, unclipped my right cleat, put it on the ground; and started to think about everything that makes up my daily trek, the rituals that have developed since I started, and how adamant I have become in the seemingly-small-but-so-very-important details in each direction.

At this time of year it’s a ride in the dark all the way in. Our little house sits off the street with a thirty-foot blip of a driveway that’s probably a 16% incline and takes a quick clip in my cleats to get up. There’s a 3% grade until the fifth house down but the rest of the mile to the bus transit center is downhill.

Etiquette stipulates first come first served for bike racks on the bus, and knock on wood but there was only a short time a few years ago that there was a thread of possibility that all six spaces would be taken. It wasn’t a daily occurrence and was during fair summer weather when gas prices were high, days were long, and mornings had sunshine; not the chilly, dark thirty-seven degrees of late.

When the bus pulls up, the line queues and I stand just ahead of it as it comes to a stop. Resa always puts his bike on first because I’m always the first one off. When I move to the bus queue, the guys who are regulars take a step back for me with a smile and nod, their signal that ladies go first. It’s such a dear gesture. It’s part of the ritual.

I use a $15 bus pass that subtracts the cost of my ride so I don’t have to carry cash. I put it in a slot, it gets swallowed up, Driver Eric hits a few numbers on the thing and when it reappears I snatch it up and return it to the back of my wallet as I move down the aisle to the second row on the left. Each morning I sit next to Richard and as I walk up he moves his helmet and trunk case to his lap and I plop down, unsnap my helmet, take off my gloves and riding glasses and drop them in, adjust the stuff in my rear pockets so I can lean back comfortably, and we greet each other’s morning. I thoroughly enjoy our chats. Richard’s head is filed with detail and we share the same profession. If we are not talking about data, he’s giving me pointers about blueberries or growing citrus where it freezes.

When we get to our destination, Richard and I jump off with a couple of other riders, lift our bikes off the rack and move to the sidewalk to turn on head and tail lights, and secure our gear before heading off to work. But until about a year ago you wouldn’t have seen me on the sidewalk. That outer-most spot on the bike rack put me in perfect take-off position to thank Driver Eric, wish him a good day, hop off, grab my bike, and roll before the other guys could get their bikes on the ground and lift the empty rack back into place. In fact, I would have had my Garmin with me on the bus so that I could turn it on as the bus was getting off the freeway.”Motion detected,” it would say and I’d smile at the thought of how I could fudge my average miles per hour by starting it on the bus before we reached the exit. Now it stays on the bike.

The important thing to recognize here is that once I knew there was little chance of my not getting a spot no matter what time I showed up at the bus stop, the impetus of this early bird status had become a self-imposed need to rush for no reason other than some old familiar feeling that being first gained some sort of importance or attention. And that played right into a lack of safety that took me months to recognize. Any spot on the rack is a good spot for a bike. It just took awhile to realize I’d rather have granola than a worm for breakfast.  It was one of our own getting hit a half-block down from where we get off the bus that plastered, “WHOA, NELLY” on top of my saddle horn.

What I heard described about the accident from an eyewitness was that our friend had ridden the half-block down to the signal on the sidewalk (FYI: it’s illegal in our city). He then rolled off the corner handicap ramp into the street while a delivery van was making an oncoming left hand turn in front of him. Now I wasn’t there, I didn’t see it, and I surely don’t know any circumstances in detail but what always goes through my head when I think about the incident is why, when seeing that a vehicle was going to be making an oncoming left turn into his line of fire, didn’t he just put his foot down? The result? He was hit, we heard for the fifth time, which pulled him off his bike for good. His injuries weren’t life threatening, but he re-injured previous ones from prior accidents. Riding for him now, we’ve heard, is too painful. At 69 and still on a bike, it was an unfortunate way to end his long career, and if I may be so bold, could have been avoided.

Now? I have slowed way down. No more do I hop on my bike, turn on my lights as I roll down the street to that same signal before the bus heads down to that same intersection to make a right turn towards the local university, while I continue straight ahead. No more do I quickly scoot through red lights all the way down the quiet, almost-empty morning streets when headlights are approaching from right or left more than a block away, even when I know I have enough time to whip through. Now, until the light turns green I unclip and put my foot down. My hope is that by doing this I’m telling vehicles and pedestrians alike to take an extra look at bikes on the road the next time their paths cross.

Even when my light is green, I take nothing for granted. At that time of the morning I figure all the cars think they are the only ones on the road and can easily roll through lights themselves. I make eye contact. I wave, I mouth, “Thank you.” I smile, I use big, flamboyant hand signals. And I slow when cars are coming from right or left to make sure we see each other no matter whose way is right.

In the afternoon I do the same. Once, many months ago I was at a four-way stop and pedestrians crossing gave me a moment to roll through the intersection while a white jeep with it’s driver’s window cracked open, waited for them to cross. But I misjudged and the Jeep started out while I was still in his path. I will not forget the look of disdain on his face when I apologized over and over as I weaved out of his right-of-way. Though I beat myself up for a few blocks, I also knew I needed to keep my head present with the ride. The bottom line is I was rushing for no reason. This time I was feeling like a kid blasting down our old neighborhood block without any cares…or cars in our world.

But my ride home starts while I’m still at work with a ritual I take very seriously. I keep my bike in my office, which is on the second floor of our building. A few minutes before I leave I change into my riding kit, load my pockets with phone and a couple of Medjool dates or a gel, and push my bike slowly past each of my colleagues saying, “See you tomorrow, Ken; see you tomorrow Jon…see you tomorrow Carrie, see you tomorrow, Amber…,” and with each I look them in the eye. All return the gesture and all have their way of telling me to have a safe ride. For each I listen, take it in, and say thanks; not the kind of thanks as when one says, “Hey, how’s it going,” and is five feet past you before they’ve finished their question. I say thank you while facing them directly.

This is my way of letting each of them know that their words are important and make a difference in my well being. It’s my way of slowing down before I start, and of acknowledging to myself my serious commitment. It’s my way of setting my own stage for a safe ride with my head in the game. And it’s my way to let them know that I plan on seeing them again tomorrow.

The ride home is very different than the way in. The day is in full swing and traffic can be intense. It’s 3:00. Kids are walking and getting picked up when I turn left at the high school. Through town I look for blinkers but I don’t depend on them. I watch for heads in the driver’s seat of parked cars and anticipate their exit. I pause for cars coming out of driveways, making sure our eyes connect. I give a thumbs-up to cars behind me when they slow for me to pull in front of them to get clear of their right-hand turn lane, and I use a loud, “Whoa-whoa-whoa!” when I have the sense that a driver hasn’t seen me.  I’m on high-alert until I get on the highway.

Once there only three things can make that stretch stressful and two of them are rare. Occasionally debris in the lane can make maneuvering difficult, but generally the state highway department really does do an excellent job. I have been known to contact them to request a sweep and they respond immediately.  The second thing that makes me squirm is when cars are stopped on the shoulder. A vehicle has blocked the lane maybe nine times since I started this and only once has a car completely taken up the lane. Every other time drivers have pulled their car way over to the right giving me plenty of room to get by. And last, but in no way least, is the concrete bridge on the back side of my climb up that grade. For some reason the reverberating noise combined with the concrete surface and camber of that turn gets me each time I cross. This is a good thing. It keeps me focused rather than flying downhill full of endorphins.

It is this section of the ride and that of the remaining ten miles home on a small country road for which I had labeled my commitment a chore. Traffic can be loud on the highway and I hope that the fumes dissipate enough before entering my lungs that I’m not doing myself more harm than good. There are days that the climb up the grade is great fodder for a good grumble. It’s this section that I have no desire to put my foot down. And though the rest of those ten miles are mostly flat, they just take time and by that time I often want to just be done.

But upon arrival home I roll down our steep short driveway shifting my bike into an easier gear to be ready for heading out the next day, unclip my right foot, turn off my lights, then unclip and put my other foot down. My WBF most always meets me at the door and asks me how I’m doing. “Better now,” I always say. He takes my bike, clears my Garmin, and rolls it into the bike room. After the evening chores of making lunches and coffee that must get done as prep for the following day, we eat a good dinner and chat.

Then we turn on our current episode of whatever series we’re currently marathoning and we put our feet up together.

I Want to Ride My Bike

Last Week…
It’s 4:43 Monday morning and I took a shower thinking I’d just drive to work early because it’s going to be another rainy day but I have had enough sips of coffee to realize I’d better check the weather:twenty-five percent chance at 5:00 this morning but that is it. Guilt has gotten me to … HA…unintended pun: SWITCH GEARS… and I am changing into my commute kit. I’m going to ride.  A few minutes ago I was trying to think of a valid excuse but I don’t have one. If the commute was more rural I’d be dodging road debris but my route will only require a good wipe down upon arrival to work and home. Roads will be wet but it looks like the sky will not.


5:05 a.m. Today…
Today is Sunday. It has been a week since I started this post and yesterday was the first day clear enough to ride again. We’ve had three more inches of rain since.

Our Saturday group did a short out-and-back. We climbed to the top of a well-traveled highway with a broad shoulder, in all about 2000 feet of climbing. It was the best bang for our buck to get a quick ride in before the next wave of rainfall that afternoon without dodging debris that’s been piling up from all of the storms on the usual rural routes we take. Even this highway had sections of mud and tree parts not yet scraped up from last week’s rain and crazy up-to-sixty mph wind gusts. As a group we are adamant about choosing not to ride when it rains. We don’t care about getting wet. We care about our safety. Okay, maybe we care a bit about getting wet…we got drenched on our way back in with the afternoon storm starting earlier than we had expected. Drops zinged like bee-bees on our face and the temperature dropped. “Not fun,” we said, but we’re athletes and it makes the post-ride hot shower all-the-more satisfying.

While we were heading up the climb, my amazingly strong, positive, double-riding (six of them!), sixty-plus year old girlfriend and I were commiserating about how last year at this time we were doing 100-plus mile rides on the weekends and how we feel like we’ve gained eighty pounds. We’ve probably gained two. Big whoop. We’re going to be fine. She simply said, “Every season is different.”  She is the same person who, back in Moments, when before I realized I was having one of my own and was whining about getting left behind, said so sweetly not to worry, that our friends will always wait. I love how she is always so at ease and encouraging. Today while we get to do another group ride, she will be swinging a chainsaw cleaning up the trees that have fallen on her own property from the stormy weather!


5:05 p.m.
…and the group ride was perfect. Only seven or eight raindrops fell and it was one of those kick-back, casual, social, easy 26 miles with some of our good riding buddies and a few we hadn’t seen in awhile. Afterwards my WBF and I chatted about how great it was to have the window of dry weather, and how we can forget that those non-hammer rides are so important for so many reasons.

My return to this life of riding is now almost three years old.  June 28, 2014 is my anniversary date. When I was riding in my twenties I wasn’t old enough to have a real sense of time or experience. I didn’t keep a mileage log and definitely didn’t have a sense of seasons. Somewhere back in one of these posts I called them streaks. But today as I reflect and think about my friend’s wisdom, about my post three months ago welcoming you back to this blog with all good intention saying the double season had begun, followed by these three months of silence; I’ve decided that whether or not I’m able to ride this season, I will write. I’d been letting my rides dictate my blog – hmm that’s one far-reaching unintended pun. But really, all season last year my keyboard-discipline kept me focused.  There’s plenty to write about each week on or off the bike. I already know without a doubt that I’m a rider.  If I want to be a writer then I’ve gotta write.

It’s supposed to rain more tomorrow through Wednesday which is going to put my commute on hold until Thursday unless winds change.  Luckily whether it rains or not I can sit where I am right now and hammer away.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Where It Started

The first day I rode a two-wheeler the bike wasn’t mine.  We were visiting friends and one of the kids in the family had a small bike without training wheels. After a few warbles I figured it out. I was five.

The first long ride I did was eleven miles on my green stingray. My friend Rupert and I rode our bikes from our farm on Rocky Canyon Road, five miles to Creston, then back up 229 to his house, then back home.  I don’t remember any details other than just being two kids without a thought of time or mileage. I was ten.

The second long ride I did was with my friend Cindy when we were in high school. She grew up on the top of Park Hill Road and from her house we rode to school in Atascadero. I had spent the night and the next morning we left with books in our backpacks and a note from her mom in case we were late. We were late. I remember that she was stronger than I and the ride wasn’t easy.  We must have been sixteen.

Two years later in college I signed up for a bike touring class for PE credit and after our first class ride I called my mom and excitedly told her I’d ridden fifteen miles that day.  Little did I know that fifteen miles would become a mere warm-up. We culminated the class that quarter with a weekend tour out to the coast and back.

And then that summer, I drained my savings and bought a Peugeot PX-10 for $400: Vitus tubing, racing geometry, Simplex Grupo, and down tube shifters. To initiate that beauty, my friend Mark and I did a three day, two night bike tour. I struggled carrying weight on the hardest climb (San Marcos Pass) and Mark lightened my load so I could make it to the summit. I sure would like to track that guy down and see if he’s still riding.

san-marcos-summit

When I was in junior high I asked my stepdad if I could have a minibike. We lived on forty acres, five miles from a town with the population of 270. I thought it would not only give me a bit of freedom but shorten the time it took to ride my first single-speed (and only thus far) to get around. I wasn’t asking for a freebie, just permission any twelve year old kid would do. He grumbled a negative, saying I needed to know how to fix one if I was going to have one. Just about everything I remember him saying to me felt either like some sort of power-trip mystery (“One day you’ll be in therapy and find out why you leave kitchen cupboards open.”),  or void of logic: How the hey would I have been able to fix a little two stroke minibike if I didn’t have one on which to learn?

But still under the shadow of parents-know-best when I acquired my Peugeot I figured if I were going to be out on my own I’d better learn how to fix it. So one rainy day in Eugene with new tools, loose bearings, and that classic green tube of Philwood grease on hand, I spread out an old sheet in my kitchen where a dining table would have been if my housemates and I had had one, and repacked my headset, bottom bracket, and hubs just for kicks. They didn’t need it, but in those days I was unable to separate the emotional power of a stepfather and whether the content of that message had any merit. I’m pretty sure he had no other thought to that minibike interaction other than adding one more thing to mess up his day, but obviously that two second conversation made its impact because I still carry it with me.

That fall I signed up for the class again but this time as a TA. Smart: college credit for riding and…um…yeah…teaching bike maintenance.

The rest of this story starts with my first blog post.

These riding friends pictured at the top of this post met on a cold Thanksgiving morning last week to put some calories in the bank before our feasts. They are a few of an amazing group of people with whom I ride the roads of the northern part of our rural county almost every weekend. Looking at them now two things cross my mind:

  1. How thankful I am to have settled into a group of people with whom I feel at home, and
  2. I wonder how they all started riding. I plan to start asking on our next ride.