My topic today, on this ominously gray and pre-stormy day is my State of the Ride Address, a dose of Flash Filosophy as it were. Most of us just do our rides, fewer of us write ride reports about them, most of us do not even comment, and this goes on seemingly ad infinitum, rinse and repeat. We have our interests, our goals, but we don't really say why or talk about them. People just do their things. This being Flashblog, I will endeavor to philosophize a bit as to where The Ride is for me. Simply because people don't talk about it much... not Bicycle Magazine, not Bike Snob NYC. I emphasize the me part, I don't presume to know other people's intents.
I see The Ride, so far, as being three distinct phases. Phase 1 is the beginner phase, which for most people lasts a year of so. Phase 1 is learning the ropes, improving rapidly, excitement over what you can do. Phase 2 is the “Proving It” phase, which can go on indefinitely. Phase two is all about exploring your power, pushing the limits, setting benchmarks, personal bests and the like. Phase 3 is after the goals are met, this is where I find myself now, and the phase I will attempt to describe.
(These Phases are not to be confused with my personal Incarnations, which are timelines in my cycling history. My First Cycling Incarnation was as a child and teen, the Second was in 1985-'91, the Third was 2003-April 2010, the Fourth was after April 2010, when I found myself pretty much starting over from square one. Not unlike when Jerry Garcia had a stroke, and when he came out of it, had to teach himself to play guitar again)
The Ride evolves, always. This is the thing that intrigues me. The Ride is like life in that we hopefully grow more experienced with each passing day; but sometimes we regress, and if we remain static, hopefully we see the same things in a slightly different shade of light of understanding. Perhaps even a molecule of wisdom shall reveal itself along the way. Gather those molecules together, and eventually you will form a Zeitgeist that seems to oversee your cycling life. You no longer need to try, it just happens.
My life is much changed from what it was five years ago; career, money, kids, health, security have all changed. I was forced to evolve or die. Evolution is hard, I am here to tell you, but the alternative is worse. There are numerous good things as well, such as my sitting here in Cafe Trieste on a Tuesday morning, watching a cafe full of people, anticipating the storm rolling in, gathering my thoughts over a cappucino and writing this blog. That was unheard of five years ago. Oh, believe me, I wished for it back then, but never thought it would ever transpire. I can say that about a lot of things.
I am a better rider than I was five years ago. Of course at that time I was only two years into my third cycling incarnation, and just beginning to gingerly explore group riding with Team Alameda. So that comparison is not even valid. Like apples vs. avocados. Both are fruit, but quite different.
Let me try this: I am a better cyclist now than I was in 2009, when I rode 5,500 miles, completed the Death Ride with some style, rode up Mt. Diablo 2.5 times one day with a raging headache, did Mt. Hamilton in record time (for me) and rode 200K in the rain at the Wine Country Century. That is a much stronger statement, and one that begs an explanation seeing as how I rode probably half that total distance last year with no event rides logged at all, all the while recovering from a heart condition. What I am talking about is the classic quality vs. quantity argument.
The explanation is that having gone through that Phase 2 crucible of fire and emerging upon the other side, I have a new appreciation and respect for my body; of what I had built it into as a cycling motor, of what high expectations I had of it, of how certain myths and heresays imbedded into the sport worked against me, of a new awareness of the inherent dangers involved, but most importantly, a new respect and admiration for my parts, which includes a lot of internal organs that can't speak for themselves until something goes drastically wrong.
Many people my age push themselves hard, as if the harder they push the more time will slow down. I am all for being the best you can be, within constraints. I wish to preserve my abilities as long as possible, to be riding when I am 85. So my new philosophy is restraint, withhold the last 20% of effort as a buffer for my body. I do not want to push my body or my heart to its limit any more than I want to drive my car's motor at red line. It's easy to say “That's not my issue, I ride hard so I am in great shape”. Yeah, I used to think the same thing. Its only when something breaks, and you start studying fat and alcohol and genetics and lifestyle choices that you realize that sure, you might have strong muscles, but the parts you can't see are going to hell in a handbasket due to a half century of ill-informed habits.
I'm a better cyclist because I pick and choose my efforts. If I don't feel like riding, I don't force myself to go out and train because I “should”. If I am tired and it seems more like a chore, I don't do it. I want cycling to be a thing I am up for, that I look forward to, not something that I have to do in order to meet arbitrary goals. It's working out well, I am able to ride with the form and strength that I feel is at the level of what I want to be doing right now. In terms of a ride, its something in the range of 2-3 hours of pedal time, 2-3 thousand feet of hills, somewhere in the 25-50mile range. I don't want to say its diminishing returns after that, but certainly the neck, ass, and other parts start complaining, as they have every right to. And it depends on what happens when I am out there, I may cut the ride short if I'm not feeling it, or make it longer if I'm really having a good session. I'm done with self criticisms, I remind myself that just being out on the bike is much more than the vast majority of people my age do, regardless of how short or easy the ride.
So people, having no idea where I am at, ask me what rides I am doing this year. Of course they are talking about event rides, centuries, benefits, fondos or what have you. The truth is, currently I have no inclination to do those sorts of rides and I can honestly say “ been there, done that”. For me it seems kind of pointless to repeat the Death Ride or do a century, just to do it. Having said that, I absolutely encourage you to do these things if they are on your list. For instance, my '08 and '09 Death Rides fulfilled my bucket list wish, a wish I had made back in the '90s when camping around Grover Hot Springs and accidentally finding myself amongst thousands of cyclists. Back then I thought it was an impossible dream, that I was too old, that I could never prepare for something like that. But I did, and many years later, accomplished that goal, and it will remain the Crown Jewel of my cycling career.
Having done those big rides, I find they are always with me. I often recall the good and the bad, and memory being what it is, the bad, in time, also starts seeming like the good. The event rides of the past inform and strengthen the ride of today. They give you confidence, but they also act as seasoning as it were, they flavor the ride with subliminal suggestions, encourage exploration and new approaches.
These days I am much more about form than ultimate fitness. I strive to be an example of a serious, studied cyclist, quiet upper body, smooth pedaling form, an expert in traffic, yet friendly to other cyclists in their own stages of incarnation. It is a great thing to feel your own form. Its a feeling of perfect synchronization with the bicycle, a feeling of bottomless energy, a feeling of power, a feeling of being your personal best and serving as a rolling ambassador of our sport.
Bottom line is that I am grateful. Grateful that I have been given a second chance. Grateful that all my parts still work and I can continue riding into the indefinite future.
But most of all I am grateful that every time I go out on my bike, I get this feeling...a feeling that I am truly alive, in the fullest sense of the word. Its a wonderous thing this rare, ephemeral feeling. Its the antidote to the drudgery and mundanity of life, it's what keeps me going and gives me something short term to live for. Its hard to describe to people, what it means, or why it happens, but you know what it is my friend. This feeling becomes who we are.