Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Real Hero of the Ride

      I had a great day riding with my buddies from Coastal Bicycle Touring Club. I've been racing and training hard all Summer and I have only made a few rides with this group. I really looked forward to being able to join them on the 102mile Savannah Century ride. Last year I rode it solo, and it just seemed long, and boring, and I barely crawled in the last few miles. Old Louisville Road into Savannah seems like it goes on forever.
      I had ridden another century from Jesup to Darien and back, with the same core group of riders and it was one of those rides we still talk about. Nothing spectacular, just a shared time fondly remembered. As a group, we are not out to beat any records or even try to set a new personal best time. We just hold a steady, easy, pace, and we seem to pick up a few more riders. I call them strays. People who are riding alone, or got left behind by their group, and need someone to ride with.
     Road cycling is very much a cooperative effort. Cyclist in a paceline draft off each other, letting them ride faster and easier than they could alone. The rider at the front of the paceline works hard "pulling" the riders behind him, then rotates to the back of the line to rest while the next rider takes a pull up front. I often enjoy pulling for a while, especially after spending a lot of time wheel to wheel back in the paceline.
      Around 60 miles into the ride I became aware that one of the guys riding with us was having some problems. He was having cramps in his thighs. I've had them and they can be excruciating painful. I made the usual encouragements to eat and drink plenty, but I wasn't sure that was going to help. He seemed ready to give up, but after the rest stop he got back on his bike and continued on.
      At the next  rest stop he said he was ready to quit, and said he would ride back in the SAG van. He asked if I knew who to ask to call for him. I told him about when I had quit on a ride, that the trip back in the van took hours, and that he would regret quitting. A few minutes later he said he was riding ahead, afraid that standing still would worsen his cramps, and would ride with us once we caught up to him.
       After the last rest stop he said we should leave him and he would ride back alone, the last 15 miles. I've been that beat down before, when the only reason you keep going at all, is just to be finished. I knew he could make it back alone, but I knew he shouldn't have to. It's crushing, it's miserable, and I couldn't leave him. So we rode with him. And we stayed together to the finish.
       For the rest of us it was a pretty hard ride, but for him it was a ride that took something even more. It meant not taking the easy way, when it was right within reach, and it meant pushing himself beyond what he thought he could do, what he had done before. Seeing someone fight so bravely, struggle so hard, I can't help but feel admiration and respect for them, to feel honored to be with them in their moment. That time, when a person finds that place inside themselves where their strength lies hidden, and that's when they become "the hero".

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Can You Hear the Cowbells Ringing?

   No, I have not become a Swiss dairy farmer. Last year I participated in two local cyclocross races. I never really thought I would, but I had ridden my cyclocross bike offroad a bit, and had the opportunity to learn some skills from a national cyclocross champion. Besides, I already had the cyclocross bike. Hard to pass up.
   We practiced on the trails on some undeveloped land on Hutchinson Island, across the river from Savannah. There was mud, and a few good hills at the bluff by the river, and long stretches of deep, deep sand.  We worked through getting on and off the bike for obstacles, carrying the bike, riding in sand, running in sand, finding a good line through mud, and a bit about weight distribution on the bike. While I was having a blast getting muddy and eating mouthfuls of sand, and constantly crashing in bushes I never once really thought I was ever going to race.
   Cyclocross racing, for those outside the narrow interests of the cycling world, is an intense form of bicycle racing that is done only in late fall and winter. Cyclocross or CX or just 'cross is a sport of transitions, the surfaces of the course may change from dirt to asphalt to gravel, sand, grass or mud. While it shares some similarities with mountain biking, cylocross dates back to the late 19th century, and originated in Europe.
   Cyclocross differs from mountain biking in that the cyclocross racer will have to dismount and carry the bike past obstacles, and remount, and there is a whole other set of techniques involved with that. CX courses are not as technical as a mountain bike course, and CX courses tend to be fairly short, only a mile and a half to two miles, with many tight turns, forcing the racers to accelerate and decelerate constantly, over constantly changing surfaces.
   Examples of obstacle could be plank barriers about18 inches high, steep slopes appropriately called "run-ups", stairs, sand pits, off camber turns, and thanks to fall weather, mud, and in more northern climates, snow and ice, or frozen mud. Races are run for 30-60 minutes, depending on class, rather than distance.

   Cyclocross really is an all out effort, your heart pounds to bust open your chest, you gasp for air so hard your lungs hurt, and your legs are just on fire.
   I don't really have the body, experience, or the personal drive, to be a great athlete. I don't have the time, money, and frankly, the kind of discipline to train hard enough to get there either. On numerous occasions I have managed to get way in over my ability, or more truthfully, I almost always do that. Sometimes I manage to tough it out, but sometimes I am just so far off the back I might as well be off riding alone.
   A few times I have even just called it quits. I don't like quitting, I almost always regret it, because I ask myself did I quit because I was really physically spent, or did I just get tired of trying. What really disturbs me is there is a part of my mind that is continually creating new and crafty excuses for why I should quit, or slack off. I have to ask myself, is this thing always on, and what other garbage is it feeding me?
   I am enjoying learning the technical aspects of bike racing, but far more interesting is observing the people around me, and the different responses that they have to events in races, but mostly observing myself, and learning what motivates me. I'm still trying to find where in my psyche that push for the final sprint comes from, or closing a huge gap after being dropped off a paceline after a hard pull. This year I'm a little faster and a little stronger, and it should make racing more fun. I've been racing and training in Criterium races, and riding off road a good bit. Crit racing has helped me realize just how much of the race happens inside my head.
   What I have found is that there is within me the will to push myself beyond what I am certain I can do, to endure a just a little more exhaustion and pain, to try to discover what my limits are, and to realize that my limits change. I am realizing just how much of the race is mental, how much the performance is in my head, rather than my body. Nothing can substitute for good physical training, and learning the skills and strategy needed for racing, but my real race happens mostly in my head. The part of me that wants to just give up when it gets tough is not very strong, but it is very persistent. I realize that as I train I need to train the part that doesn't quit, but that keeps racing, keeps pushing on anyway, even when the race is futile, when there is no hope of even making a good showing
   Last year I just raced the two Savannah races, but I'm hoping to be able to make it to about 8 or 9 of the Georgia Cross Series races, (there are 13 on the schedule). Most of them are closer to Atlanta, which makes a long drive on a weekend. Hopefully I can find some camping at some of the two day events and save a little money on a motel room. There are still a few minor things I need to address on my bike to get it fully ready, including buying some new tires for mud. Aside from what I spend on my bike for repairs and upgrades, I need to figure out the costs for gas, meals, lodging, and entry fees.
   The season in Georgia starts in early October, and while in the heatwave of August that seems far away, I am already feeling like I am behind where I should be in training.  Of course, last year I had only about a month of preparation, and not even a dozen rides off road. Right now I need to rework my training plan to start including some cyclocross specific workouts each week. But before I do that, I'm going to take a short break from real training, to give myself some time to recover from having pushed myself so hard this summer. 
    My description of cyclocross racing may sound horrible, but it's really so much fun. I like the challenge, I love riding off road on a fast, light, maneuverable bike. I like wheel slip, and recovering instead of crashing. I like that there is much more to the race than brute strength, although it helps. I like that it's sort of a silly sport, one that's never afraid to make fun of itself, even though it's a very serious thing for many racers. I like the camaraderie between competitors. I like the struggle, I like the dirt, and I like being fearless, like I'm ten years old again.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Things I believe, subject to change.

This is just something I have had rolling around in my head. Now I am tossing out into the universe. I don't expect it to mean anything except to me. I am pretty sure I will revisit this later to add some more.

Part 1
     I believe there is a higher power. Be it gods, God, Goddess, Creator, however you personally see it. I use the word God since that is the one I am most used to. God interacts with us humans on a regular basis, but rarely is it on the level of our daily consciousness. I believe God to be more of a force like magnetism, or heat, or solar flares. Its action on us is often in small, undetectable methods, easily ignored, and easily dismissed, as chance, or coincidence, if you aren't looking for it. It is one of the many forces that govern our human nature. He has spoken to me, and set processes in motion through other people, who are unaware of the effects. We were created in Gods likeness, as sentient and sapient beings. We have his power of creation within us, and infinite love, and eternalness, but we lack the perfection to control our gifts properly. When we look for this force I mentioned earlier we will find it, and we let (the whole free will thingy) it have more influence on our actions, since we begin to understand the interrelatedness of our world. What I do does matter because it does change the world.
Part 2
    I, like many, have “felt” the presence of God. The awe and wonder of the moment when you realize that you ARE in the presence of god. There are many practices and even experiences that can open a person to notice this invisible force that surrounds us constantly. For one person, it may be oneness with nature, for another prayer or meditation. Or maybe some kind of life altering event.
     Then there are sometimes just moments of absolute clarity, when you see all the “little strings” that tie the universe together, but then you realize that you've only seen one tiny system of strings. That if you look from another direction these “strings” go other places, and that if you look deeper the “strings” go all the way from a million suns to the smallest subatomic particles. And ideas are tied up in the whole thing too, concepts, thoughts, feelings, perception, memory, time, etc… That every particle or idea or life that has ever been, or will be, or might be, or could have been, is all tied together somehow.
Part 3

If you’ve made it this far I suppose I should point out that the extreme use of ALL CAP words and sentence fragments and abundant commas are especially common for people who write rather bizarre manifestos, like this personal declaration of some of my beliefs. I have tried to filter down the essence of what is personal to me without making any blanket statements about other religions or other peoples beliefs. It is not my intent to try to convert or “save” or prove or disprove anything. Ask why. Question all teachings. Believe nothing that doesn’t survive doubt. Crazy break over.

     This creator always listens to our cries for help, and sometimes answers. Rarely how or when we would demand. His mercy is great, but always uncertain. I believe God works to meet our individual needs, but more importantly the needs of all the parts of the big ball of “string” that is the existence of the physical, and spiritual, of all things. I suppose that idea smacks of preordination or predetermination, but I also think that allows room for free will. We do make choices, they do have consequences. This supreme power can and does sometimes override or nullify our choices.
     Something had to set the universe in motion, perhaps some big bang, alien world builders, maybe some ancient creation story, I don't pretend to know, but I do believe God performed the infinitesimal or colossal action that set the whole ball of string rolling. I think the real mystery is where the raw material came from in the first place. Where God came from? What point in time or non-time he exists in?
    Physical matter is organized in patterns, in reoccurring themes, not randomness. Like music, or the patterns in sand after the tide recedes, or snowflakes, or the grain of wood, or the swirls in a fingerprint or DNA. People are organized in other patterns also, thoughts, ideas, actions, motions, etc...
     There is much more to the universe than just us, more than the physical eye can see. Physicists are discovering more and more, that often there are multiple answers or results, that there are things below the subatomic level, and that they may exist in other dimensions. The really scientific stuff is all way too deep for me, and my laymens interpretation does not do it justice. READ.

Part 4
       I believe there is one TRUTH and one WORD, but religion always corrupts it, because it is an institution, created by humans, who are flawed, and practiced by humans who are fairly imperfect. I believe many religions have attempted to write the truth and the word, but none are infallible. Despite the horrible atrocities throughout the ages committed by misled followers, directed by self seeking leaders, and condoned by religious institutions, humanity is still better off with religion, than without it. We, (each of us individually, as well as humanity as a whole) are entrusted with the care and safe keeping of the earth, our fellow humans, and all the creatures on it. It’s YOUR job.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Morning

5:20AM I turn the alarm off on the second beep. Slip from the bed, fish around in my dresser drawers for socks and a tee shirt. Quiet, I try not to wake him. I open the door to a dark closet in a dark room. Inside my hands feel the texture of my work shirt and the smooth fabric of my pants. I grasp my bundle of clothes and tiptoe off to the kitchen to dress, the cat is waiting for a morning treat and the dog soon follows, to be let out, then back in, than back to bed for him. Lazy dog. I heat some iced coffee from the fridge in the microwave, while I pour a bowl of cereal, usually something wheaty or branny. I take my vitamin, and slurp down some coffee, while I wait for my cereal to get mushy like I like it. I start rounding up the things I need to leave for work. Keys, phone, wallet, bike helmet, bike light, what to take for lunch, bike light, where did I put the bike light. I spend five minutes looking for the bike light. Turns out it's in my bag, with lunch. Helmet on, grab my bag, forget my gloves, grab the bike and head outside, lights on and off I go into the dark morning.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Empty Bucket List

My cousin put a bucket list up on her blog. She had some really neat things on it, like hold a grand-baby,  have a screened porch, visit Paris in the Spring, see her son living independently, her daughter get married, see the grand canyon, live to see cancer cured. All really good, worthy things, and I hope she gets to experience them all.
    This got me started thinking, I should make a bucket list too. So I sat for a few minutes and thought what one thing above all else would I like to experience before I die. I could think of plenty of places it would be nice to visit, but there weren't any that if I don't get to see, I would regret. There are no activities I feel I would have missed out on. Nothing I've done, that I feel a need to ask forgiveness for, or wrong I need to try to set right somehow.
    I really have just never had any long term goals, Nothing I couldn't do in a year. I only set short term goals related to my interests. I can be very effective at completing them. My last one was to cyclocross race. I did that two weeks ago, it was fun, I will do it again, more than likely. But I don't have any goal of being a champion, or even being competitive. I raced to race. From start to finish, I did that in almost exactly one month. I didn't think I would, I said I was giving up, but I just went and did it anyway. I'll have to talk about my theories on successfully doing things by quitting some other time.
  In the end, I don't know if I could come up with anything for a bucket list.Nothing I feel the need to check off. I might could if someone told me I had a very limited time to live, but that's very different idea to me since the question would not be, "What would you like to do before you die?" but rather "How would you want to spend your last number of days?"
   The first question to me is like being overwhelmed by a huge menu at a good restaurant. There are a lot of great choices, so whatever I pick will be OK. This is about items.
   The second question frees me to focus on what is most important to me, without having to keep all the stuff from my current life in motion. This is about ideas.
    My answer would be to spend some time with my partner and family and let them know how much I love them, spend some time by myself reflecting on my life, do the things I love, (bicycling, working with my hands), and weirdly enough I would spend time volunteering, somewhere I felt I could be of use to someone else, since I am my happiest when I feel useful, and that I am making a positive difference somehow.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tearing Up Paper Hearts

Chains round angels ankles, bear them down to earth. Dear God, reach out to catch them. Pray nightly for a blessing till I can stay awake no more. My hand goes to my mouth, to hold back my breath, and hold in my my fears. To not speak. holding in my breath. Wanting to scream out, then finding no voice to meet my needs.   There's too many voices and too many faces, the clock ticks away at my head and that year mercifully just goes away, more forgotten than most.

Chains round angels ankles, bear them down to earth. Flapping their useless wings. I have been blessed, and blessed, and blessed or so I've been told. Where does innocence go and who's it fooling now? Learn to smile sometimes, cause that is what I do for people that I love, because I crave attention, and approval, and enthusiasm. There's never enough to really spread on anything. Not when I need it, not when I'm hungry. I'm always hungry now.

Chains round angels ankles, bear them down to earth. Fuck 'em. Let them fall. Have you been blessed, and blessed, and blessed till you can't stand no more. Have the lies turned into truth after all these years? I just hide mine better. Hidden, like a a sleeper cell or a Flat Earther, just blending right in. Handing you back penneys you curse and then toss in the ashtray. Worth only enough to not be dropped in the parking lot. My hidden heart, whose beat I never share, nor wear on my sleeve, anymore. It beats only to endure this siege, this week, this disease. Just breathe. Breathe and wait, and act like it's all going to be OK.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Experiments in Camping by Bicycle

The basics
I was biking on the Silver Comet Trail and then The Chief Ladiga Trail from Coot's Lake Trailhead to Jacksonville, Alabama, which is about 60 miles, then back.
My gear
I rode my Giant TCX2 with it's wide 35mm tires, outfitted with a rear rack and two homemade pannier bags. I also carried a small tent and a Thermorest sleep pad, In one bag I had a few clothes; underwear and socks and shirts. I took a poncho, which doubled as the groundcloth for the tent, and a light windbreaker (I can get very cold very fast) and toiletries, and  firstaid kit. In the other bag was my spare tire, tubes and food. I had a lot of "bike fuel" snacks, but only carried two real meals for dinner each night. Flat bread, Vienna sausage, and  a premixed packet of tuna salad. I wasn't cooking and would have no campfires. Lunch would be had while passing through towns. Each bag also carried a 32oz  bottle of water, to supplement the two smaller water bottles on the bike. My bags, tent, and pad weighed 25 lbs minus water, almost 33lbs with the water. I skipped the sleeping bag, instead just taking an old sheet.
The Plan
The first days ride would head out towards Rockmart and Cedartown GA and across the border into Alabama and the Talledega National Forest, near the Pinhoti hiking trail, (about 40 miles), where I would camp for the night. The second day I would continue west to Jacksonville Alabama, where I would have lunch and rest around noon. From there I would head out east behind Duggar Mountain along Co Rd 55 through the Talledega National Forest and camp again in the wilderness. (another 40 miles) The third day I would take Co Rd 49 north to it's intersection with the Chief Ladiga Trail near Borden Springs Alabama and head east back down the Silver Comet to Coot's lake where I started. (about 50 miles)
What worked, what didn't.
Most of my gear worked great, I'm not sure how the tent would handle rain. I wouldn't take a windbreaker next time, unless it was colder. I really overpacked on Clif bars, snacks and Gatorade mix packets. but otherwise food was not an issue. I would carry even less and just rely on buying in town each day. I would take some kind of packable pillow, since sleeping with my head on wadded up clothes was not comfortable, but the thermorest pad is super comfy. Taking the quart Gatorade bottles to carry water in each bag was a lifesaver. I had just enough water to get to my campsites each evening, and then back to civilization in the mornings.
 The plan changed...  After almost an hour of climbing my way up a road across the mountains, with really crazy drivers, and threatening clouds overhead. I turned back, towards Jacksonville and the safety of the trail. I just didn't think I was ready for hills that big. I probably was, but I didn't know and I sure didn't feel it, and so I just gave up. I will have to face this struggle again a few days later, while on a slightly different adventure.    At this point, I have to ride back the way I came that morning, and find a camping site for the night.  I did not have ONE map with all the information in a single place. The first day I rode past where I would need to camp, and had to ride back about 7 miles. And the second day I was probably only a mile short of finishing the hard climb outside of Jacksonville, when I turned around. Again I rode past the camping spot, but pressed on to a trail side camp on the far side of Cedartown.  I would also liked to have had maps of the area around my route, as I might have gotten off the trail at a few points had I known towns were within ten miles or so.
The bike rode great, considering I was using a cyclocross bike for loaded touring. No flats. Loved the big fat round tires. I had put a kickstand on it, but the load was not balanced well, and it wanted to fall over, so usually I would just lean it against something. A double legged kickstand would be a wise investment for bike camping. I also learned early on that with a load on the bike, I had to unclip and put down both feet, every time I stopped. I could see where a front rack and handle bar bag could balance the weight better on the bike, and make it more convenient to get to maps, snacks, camera, and what not.
The Results
I had a great trip, that proved I can do this, and that I want to camp by bike. So, I am now beginning to plan my next bike camping tour. It may be a "door to door" trip , leaving from my house, with no driving at all, since I spent more on gas (and way too long driving) than the entire rest of the trip. I'm looking at maps and starting to think about Charleston, and maybe the Francis Marion National Forest. Who's in?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Century I Decided Not to Ride, But Did

  I decided a while back, when I began started getting stronger on the bike, that I wanted to do a Century ride.  For a weekend cyclist like me, riding a 100 mile century ride is about like a casual runner completing a marathon. I felt like I was ready, I had ridden a couple of 70 and 60 mile rides, so a hundred miles seemed like the next logical thing. I started looking for upcoming centuries, and this one in Franklin, Ga on July 31st was the next one I found. I knew Franklin had hills, so I tried to ride hard up every bridge and overpass that I could incorporate into my rides and commutes. I no idea what hills were yet. I’m also a pretty thrifty guy; call it cheap if you want to, whatever. I just don’t like spending money on “extravagant things” like cushy hotel rooms, so I figured I’d just sleep at the school gym where the ride was starting. I also wanted to start camping again, so I got a real cheap tent and a decent sleeping pad, but that leads into my adventures on camping by bicycle, so I’ll leave that alone for now.
    Franklin, Georgia, where the ride started and finished is a small town 20 miles north of LaGrange, Ga , 20 miles west of Newnan, Ga and ten miles east of the Alabama border on the Chattahoochee River.  I realize when I am driving into Franklin, that there were a lot more hills than I expected, and they are steeper than I thought, not the gently rolling hills, but the ones that trucks have to downshift gears for, and just hill after hill. I’m already thinking there’s no way I can ride these, I’ll  just do the short 25 mile ride and call it quits.
I had problems with an extremely hilly road on my camping trip, so I have lost any confidence in my hill climbing ability. I pick up my registration packet and find that the air conditioning in the gym where I will be sleeping is barely working. I take my first real shower after  three days of camping, but there is no hot water. So much for being thrifty, but at least I feel clean again, so I head off to find some dinner. I end up at the Fish House on the square in “downtown” Franklin overlooking the Chattahoochee River and I have their nice buffet which has about seven or eight different kinds of fish, and shrimp, and vegetables, etc…
    Back at the gym some of the other riders mention they are going to head off before the officials start time at 8AM to ride the final twenty five mile loop first so they don’t have to do it in the heat at the end. I get the impression that most of these people are hardcore cyclist. They had been discussing different rides they have done this year. Still it sounds like a good plan to me, so I set my alarm for 5AM, drink a bottle of water, roll out my sleep mat, and try to get some sleep on the now slightly cooler gym floor. I’m still not at all convinced I can even make the 25 mile ride.
    I get up at 5AM, and already my mind is creating reasons not to ride: my sinuses are a little stuffy, I have a bit of a headache, my knee is a little sore, and of course the most honest, it’s just way too hilly here and there’s no way I can do this. I’ll just do the 25 mile short ride. I’m pretty disappointed with myself. I drink another bottle of water, get dressed in my bike clothes, check over my bike, drink more water, eat a Clif bar, fill up my water bottles, and wait for the sun to come up. While I’m waiting, I spin around the parking lot for about 5 minutes, but I’m not seeing anyone else heading out, and now it’s getting light out, so I head on out. Its 6:4O and I am the only cyclist out here. The first ten minutes are fine, I find the course marks painted on the road that I need to follow, and I’m getting loosened up, and finally hitting my groove. I’m pretty sure I can do 25 miles of this.
    At around 15 miles the hills start to get a bit steeper and I pull out the cue sheet and map and realize that I have missed the turn to do the final 25 mile loop first like I had planned and now I am just following the normal course which means I’m out here before the rest stations are open, and I am on the 50 mile course. I hope the second rest stop will be open by the time I get there, but I see a store, so I stop and buy a Gatorade to refill my water bottle. The cashier wants to know which way I’m headed, I don’t know the road name, so I point West and say “Alabama”, and she laughs and tells me that it’s too hilly to ride a bicycle on that road. I take off and in a few minutes I get  passed by a some cyclist who say “Jump on the back” which means I could draft behind them in their pace line. I try for a half mile to keep up, but I realize they are too fast for me, and I’m just wearing myself out trying, so I fall back. I’m still trying to figure out where I turn off for the 50 mile course. I have never really ridden on hills, and these hills north of Franklin just kept coming up at me , sometimes like steps, where when you think you’ve climbed to the top, there’s just another hill, and at the top of that another one. I keep thinking, after the next one there will be some downhill, but there was no significant amount of descent till after the 30 mile mark.
    I arrive at the second rest stop just as they are setting up, I eat a banana, fill my water bottles with icy Gatorade, and use the porta potty.  A few minutes later I climb back on my bike feeling refreshed and ready to continue on to do the 50 mile course. I realize I am really climbing these hills, even if I am crawling up them at 9 or 10 mph, but at least I am still moving forward.
Suddenly the trees give way to open fields, and as I crest the high ridgeline that the road runs on, I can see for miles, I can see behind me the hills I have worked so hard to get over, and my eyes are wide open to the beauty of the rolling rural landscape. On both sides of the road the neighboring ridgelines are visible miles away, and through the morning haze I can make out more rows of hills behind them. I begin to see all the things I hadn’t been seeing, like cows wading in a pond under pine trees, and rustic barns, and even just the full shape of the dark green trees in midsummer. I feel an enormous flood of emotions, overwhelmed by the awe and wonder of this glorious world I live in, the marvel of the all these roads I travel on and the freedom I have in this country to just go when and where I please, and at the idea that I could ride the full 100 miles. This sudden realization makes me feel like laughing, or crying, or doing both. I decide to concentrate on all that, and not look towards the top of the hill I am climbing. When I do look ahead it just seems so far away and unreachable. I become aware of the muscles in my legs burning and how my lungs ache as I gasp for air. I think of a friend from Facebook, Teddy Herrera, who is riding 10,000 miles around the country to raise awareness for childhood obesity, . His mantra has been “one pedal at a time” and I so I made it mine now.
    One more pedal, one more hill, I decide to stay in the moment. I watch the road slowly disappearing under my front tire even as I fight to keep pedaling uphill. I know that above all I have to keep moving, especially on the hills. I now have fifty miles behind me, and the finish at seventy five looks competely possible. From time to time I see a rider or two disappear over the hill ahead of me, or a group of a few fast riders will come past me, or I pass the occasional rider, usually also working to climb a hill but mostly I find myself alone.
     At the third rest stop, I spend a little more time cooling off and resting, I drink down several bottles of Gatorade and water, eat some more bananas, use the porta-potty and I tell the volunteers who are out in the heat on this side of the highway in July that I appreciate the job they are doing.  The next few miles of hills are tough and I am alone again, except for the SAG vehicles driving past looking for riders who need help. I think there is nothing wrong with quitting after the 75 mile ride. I could be happy with that, I’ve done great to get where I am.
     I am joined by the faster competitive cyclists who left at 8AM at the fourth rest stop. They must have been flying over those hills. Some of them are really hurting from the extreme effort. I see one throw up, and several are complaining already about the heat.  I hear someone say the next four miles are all climbing, which is not at all what I really want to hear. People are hanging out longer, and being more social. I’m less focused on my struggle and becoming more interested in other people and how they are coping.
     I talk briefly with this teenage kid who is riding a real cheap looking Schwinn road bike, he says he was told this ride wasn’t this hilly. I tell him I wasn’t expecting hills like this either and I’ve never really had any experience ridding hills till a just few days ago, and there sure were not this many. After the four miles of hill climbs, I see him pulled over on the side of the road, but then he catches up with me. He tells me he’s 15 years old and this ride is killing him. I laugh so hard, I almost choke on my mouthful of Clif Bar. My first instinct is to say something stereotypically adult about wishing I was 15 again, but then I really think about it. I never could have ridden like this when I was 15, so I tell him that instead and that he’s doing really well, and to just hang in there, he’s going to make it. We’re at about mile 68, less than ten mile left to the next rest stop, and for me, the decision point.  Do I call it quits after a very  a respectable 75 miles, or do the 25 mile loop I intended to do this morning and make it the full 100miles. The young rider drops back behind me on a long hill climb after a few more miles,  and  whether he finishes the 75 miler, the full 100, or even ends  up riding home in the SAG wagon, I hope he knows how well he was doing,
     I started thinking about the stretch of road where I quit on my camping trip when the climb got too tough, and I told myself that it was OK. It was better to have had to turn around and head back down, than to have never even tried to climbing the hill at all. The road gets a little lonely again, but the horse farms with huge hilly pastures and fields bordered by white fences and the neat and trim barns and stables are a nice and pleasant distraction, and the goat pen with the children’s playground equipment in is amusing. I really like goats, I just don’t know why. The next few miles slip by with a few tough climbs and I arrive at the last rest stop before the turn off for the final 25 miles. There are more people here than all the others and they are happier and laughing and spirits are pretty high. The finish point is about a mile away, if you are doing the 75 miles, or you have already done the 25 mile loop this morning, (which I missed).
      Leaving from the fifth rest stop, there is one steep hill before the turn off to the middle school, The rider I am climbing behind seems to be doing fine, so I am a bit surprised when he says he is turning off for the school, he says he planned on doing the hundred, but after that last hill he is calling it quits. I try to get him to go on with me, since I really needed someone to share the struggle with, but he heads off to finish a good 75 mile ride. I think to myself, no shame in that, but my mind is set on the full ride now.  My arms are aching from pulling up on the handlebars so hard during the climbs, my poor right knee feels like I’ve got a hot coal under my knee cap, and I can tell I’m a little sunburned, even though I put on sunblock this morning. My plan is to either ride until I fall off the bike or finish this ride. I realize that I have probably never pushed myself this hard in my whole life, that I am an athlete, something that I’ve never really been. I’m sure that I can finish this. I’ve got a lump in my throat and I know that I’m fatigued, and my emotions are running a little strong.
      Climbing a hill I pass a women cyclist riding a triathlon bike, on the downhill she passes me, and we give and take on each hill, with no sense of competition. I can climb faster, she’s better at getting her speed on the downhill. We come to expect one another and this goes on for about ten miles before she finally gets the long downhill run and leaves me behind.
     I get back at the same rest stop where so many riders were having problems earlier, this time the volunteers are having problems, water, ice and food are running low, and the guy there is mixing the last remaining three flavors of Gatorade concentrates together to make a flavor that could best be described as “didn’t make me vomit”. The crew is hot and tired and ready for this long day and all the preparation that it’s taken to put this ride together to be over.  This was the 61 mile marker, the first time by, but for those like me on the final 25 mile loop it is now the 86 mile marker and the final rest stop. I have about 15 miles to go, so I chug down another bottle of “didn’t make me vomit” flavored Gatorade, and head off to bring this thing in.
      The actual finish is pretty anti-climatic, there is one cheering, no banner saying “finish line” or “congratulations”, I pull in to the parking lot and there it is it’s done.  It’s 2:30PM I’m looking for someone to take my picture to “immortalize” this moment for me. I stop at my truck and get my cell phone. There’s just a group of guys jumping starting a truck with a dead battery, so I head towards the gym with my bike and the phone to get a picture, and find the friendly vender Russell, who I met yesterday, at his booth with bike art and jewelry. He takes my picture and one of the volunteers reminds me that to get my Chick-fil-a sandwich I need my number tag and that the raffle has been drawn, so check with Vicki to see if I won anything. I get my sandwich and a soft drink and go back outside and sit down and eat. I’m talking to Russell and I’m start getting the shakes, so I drink the Pepsi I had randomly fished out of the cooler. I start to feel better immediately.
     I call Michael, and tell him I rode the whole 100 (102) miles and he says “well that’s nice”. He really just doesn’t get what I do. It’s not his fault. He just doesn’t get it at all, so I just tell him he should be more excited for me, and he acts like he is, and I feel a little better.  I didn’t really make a big deal out of it because I wasn’t convinced I could do it, and I didn’t want to really hype it up and then not be able to finish it, I think I did that to help keep my expectations low. I didn’t need the pressure of this big goal that just seemed so far away. So his reaction pretty much just matches what I had put out there. I text it off to my facebook status, where some of my bike friends congratulate me.  They get it. I decide I’d better get showered while the gym is still open, there’s hot water, but now I don’t need it or want it.
     As far as my times and what not, I did check out my bike computer after I loaded my bike in the truck for the ride home. I know I was gone for 7hrs and 50 minutes,  and the bike computer says that 6 hours and 47 minutes were actual riding time on the bike, which means my long rests stops totaled up to 1 hour and 3 minutes or about ten minutes at each of the six stops I made. I reached a top speed of 38.5 mph, coasting downhill around the 66 mile point, and I had an average speed of 15.3 mph. The online course map said I had climbed 3304 feet of hills and descended the same 3304ft, over the 102 miles I covered. And that is the Century I decided not to ride, but did.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Midlife Crisis or Midlife Epiphany

    I'm 42. OK there it is, I said it. So what does that mean for me? If I expect to live to 75, (the current US average for men) then I've got 33 years left. Of course that isn't guaranteed, I realize how fragile life and health really are. Does that seem depressing or morbid? I don't think so. 
    A mid-life crisis can be defined as a period of dramatic self-doubt  in the middle age of life, about 40, as a result of sensing the passing of your own youth and the imminence of old age. I suppose I don't really qualify since I don't really feel like my "youth" is passed. (maybe I'm just immature) and I don't feel like "old age" is imminent. A lot of the hype of the "mid-life crisis" has been dispelled but it still seems a lot of people at my age get disillusioned with life, have affairs, buy boats, fast cars, get hair implants, etc..      I actually started to think about this a few years ago, it was part of an overall realization that led me to stop smoking and to get into better shape. I have been very fortunate in that my health has always been very good, and of course has even improved in the past few years.
    I also became aware of my personal impact on the earth and society, and began to make some other changes in my life that better reflected my beliefs. Being involved in social, environmental, political ,and humanitarian causes that I believe in. My beliefs are nothing if I don't do something about them, even if it's just something small.
    So what do I do with 33 years. I don't have any children, so I don't have all that to worry about. I see my goals as working to make my little bit of the world better in the little ways I find, and spend some time doing things that allow me to experience the beauty and  truth of our world and it's inhabitants, and of course at the same time, earn an income and support myself. 
    I have found few things that interest me and express so many of my beliefs like bicycling, I love the mechanical aspect, the fitness, being outside, the adventure, interacting with my community, teaching, politics, the environmental and social element of commuting by bicycle. And the social connectedness I have experienced by meeting like minded, (and not like minded, but still on bicycles)  people through bicycling and bicycle activism.
    So would I change anything in my life? Absolutely, but it takes everything I have lived to realized what those things would be. I don't really think knowing those things would have made me any better of a person. Most likely I would have been more arrogant, more outspoken and even less thoughtful, and less trusting, less caring, and less compassionate.
     33 years. I think of all the things I had seen and learned and experienced by age 33. If that's what the final 33 hold in store, then I am a rich man. If it were all to end tomorrow, that would be alright. It's been a great ride, with great family and for the past 12 years with the true love of my life.