As I said in my last blog entry, I just finished reading ‘The Motion of the Ocean’, and also mentioned that I used to have B-HAGs of my own, including my two or three years of long distance cycling.
I was living in Colorado at the time, didn’t know a whole lot of people, and started riding my bike for exercise. I then started getting more and more serious until I was riding organized rides with the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club, and in September of 1996, I completed my first metric century (100 kms) in a single ride.
In 1997, I got a lot more serious and started training for the Denver to Aspen Classic, a 200 miles in a day ride that is pretty damn hard, considering there are 4 10000 foot passes. I rode over 2000 miles in training that year, but in the end, I dropped out of the ride that day at 112 miles due to stiff headwinds, an aching knee, and a bonk that I couldn’t fight through.
My body physically gave out after that summer of training, and I spent most of the fall and winter fighting a case of mono that kept me out of work for 3 months, confined to bed or the couch for days at a time. It was, I believe, the lowest point of my entire life. A walk to the end of my driveway would sap my energy for hours. By spring 1998, I was healthy again, but I had lost so much weight and so much muscle mass, that I didn’t ride more than a few miles that year.
In 1999, I moved to Kent, WA, and never really got back on my bike. I rode a few times, but I had a much busier life, and never felt the desire to ride. Kent wasn’t the most friendly area for bicyclists either. Partway through my first ride, I was nearly made a hood ornament on some redneck’s jacked up pickup truck.
Today, after spending the morning doing yard work and having a late lunch, I looked forward to having a nice nap on the couch. I was actually on the couch, and asleep when two little ones who refused to take their naps woke me up. They were sent back to their rooms, and I tried to get back to sleep, but it was no use. I was awake. And my mind was on.
I was thinking about riding. The weather was beautiful today, the wind was light, and I still had some energy left in my legs. I fought the idea for a few minutes, the decided to just do it.
Things didn’t start out so well. Both tires were flat (expected), and the rubber nose piece fell off my Oakley riding sunglasses as I put them on. The cycle computer was dead, so I’d get no feedback on my ride for length or speed. It took me a few second to remember how to clip my feet into the pedals on my Bianchi, but after a few turns I was off and pedaling. It was just like riding a bike, but not quite.
In the past few years, I’ve lost a great deal of function in my thumbs due to Charcot Marie Tooth disease. I’ve tried physical therapy, stretching and acupuncture, but nothing seems to work. Today, I discovered, that functioning thumbs are really critical for two things: shifting gears, and braking. I figured out how to do both with less orthodox grips on the handlebars, but for a second, I was really worried.
The greater worry was that as I pulled away from the first stop sign, I heard a clunk. I looked behind me to see that part of my bike had fallen off. Specifically, my pedal had fallen off. I had taken the bike in to be tuned up last year, and apparently, they forgot to tighten it down. It took a moment or two to get it back on, and for the rest of the ride, I was a little worried, but it held.
Back when I was a serious rider, I often rode in pelotons, those large groups of riders that you see in races and organized rides that achieve mythical speeds by literally sucking the riders along in a draft. The rides in pelotons were some of the most awesome experiences I’ve ever had (on a bike).
I remember one day, I was about to take my turn at the front of a pack. It was early in the ride, and we were charging up a hill near Castle Rock, Colorado. As I pulled into the lead, I slammed into a higher gear, and shouted with bravado, “Okay boy’s, let’s go. It’s a big ring day.” Which basically meant we were going to keep the bikes in top gear all the way up the hill.
And we did, as I recall. I cranked with everything I had. There was whooping and hollering as we got to the top, and I began to drift back into the pack. One rider shouted at me “Thanks for the pull, buddy”, and the whole pack disappeared down the hill. Without me. I had spent everything I had on that climb trying to impress people with the hope that I could hang on to the tail long enough for the lactic acid to work its way out, but by the time it did, they were out of sight. It think I had 71 miles left that day in an 83 mile ride, and I was doomed.
Anyway, today was not a big ring day. It was barely a medium ring day. On a day with no real wind, I was downshifting on the flats and couldn’t carry speed down the hills. I got off the saddle only three or four times for short bursts of 4-8 pedals. I used to be able to stand up for a quarter mile on a 15 degree grade at the top of an 18 mile climb (Left Hand Canyon, near Boulder, CO, my favorite ride of all time).
I struggled over what might have been 8 miles, to keep my cadence up, and prayed I’d hit green lights at the end of the ride so I wouldn’t collapse on my shaking legs. I got back to the house, and parked the bike, and drank a lot of water.
But a few hours later, when the initial shakes had warn off, the euphoria of a good workout kicked in. The runners high. And I wondered if I could do it again tomorrow.