Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Ride "In The FlashZone"

When I awoke this morning I wasn't even sure if I was going to join Team Alameda for a group ride, having the feeling they were going to a less-fond place of mine. The morning was gray, I was feeling a little groggy from a full day yesterday, not so motivated. I checked the website and it validated my instinct about their destination, but as I started sipping my morning cup of Joe, the idea of seeing what was up with the group sounded good so I began preparations for that.

Saturday I led an easy ride designed for my wife Cathy aka Flashette, and was joined by Sweeps and Z_rider, Shel, Bob, and Rick M. I explained the ride would be "touring paced". It was. Everyone was ahead of us as Flashette is just getting back her hill legs. But all was cool and mellow, and we even did a bit of Shel-cutting, as he led us...well, actually I led us up the back side of Leimert which is never easy and illicited some moaning, then Shel took us on a scenic cruise of upper Piedmont down to mid Piedmont, then I again led down to Lake Merritt. It was a very nice 25 miler and a good workout.

So today I set off with a big group of around 2 dozen riders out to Berkeley, which is a flat ride that meanders through west Oakland, then Emeryville, then Berkeley along the waterfront. What I usually do is separate at Gilman street and head for the hills, solo, as no one opts to join me. That is what I did today as well. I almost had some company, but at the last minute they went with the big group. So solo it was.

My first priority was to get some oil for my bike's dry chain. It was dry yesterday, and even dryer today, and squeaking constantly. I just forgot to oil it. As I pedaled up Gilman St. I visualized the locations of the nearest bike shops. None were near by except for REI and that seemed awkward to take my bike into that place busking for spare oil. Just then I happened upon a Chevron gas station and the solution hit me square in the brain: scavenge the trash can for an empty oil bottle. Even an empty quart always has swashbacks in it, and that would be enough. So I dug into the trash and there it was: a blue bottle of 5W-20 motor oil. Eureka! I got some paper towels and set about dripping the precious lubricant upon my chain. Oh this made me happy! There was more than enough "black gold" to do the job. Thus oiled, I set out again, with a smoothly operating chain. Ah, so much better!

Just a half mile further east, I was passing the outdoor cafe on Hopkins and Monterrey and suddenly it sounded really nice to get a cappuccino and sip it outdoors. So I did that, it felt good to relax and the coffee was as good as it gets, dark, robust, delicious. I also ate a just ripe banana and half a power bar, made a phone call and used the restroom. Good to go to somewhere...but where?

So I started up Monterrey, which, if you have ridden this, is a fairly steep residential street. It looks easier than it is. The last two times I turned up this street I regretted it, as it hurt and I felt the lack of conditioning I used to have. Then, after Monterrey turns into Marin, comes a 3 block street named Los Angeles, and this one really hurts as it is probably 12% grade, at least. After that is a turn onto Spruce and a short steeper section before it levels out. A hard way to start into the hills.

Today, half way up Monterrey, I had the realization that it was not hurting like the last time. I enjoyed the relaxed climbing effort I was having. A bit later, on Los Angeles, I found myself spinning in a low gear, still relaxed. What was going on? This was quite different than a month ago, and as I climbed up Spruce I exulted in the feeling that I was in the "zone", a mythical place in cycling lore where the body does what is required without pain or suffering, with a feeling of abundant energy and power. I recognized the zone. Long time since I've visited that place.

I used to play computer games with my son, role playing games where you are a medieval figure questing for rewards, items, and power. The structure is simple: you start from level 1 and work your way up to, say, level 100 over time. As you gain levels you benefit from increased strength, dexterity, stamina, energy and life. You obtain better items, armor, equipment that makes your questing better. Today it occurred to me that what was happening is that I had metaphorically "gained a level" along with a strength and energy boost reward. It certainly felt like that. Maybe it actually happened and I got off the plateau I've been on?

Maybe it was the double cap combined with the food. Maybe it was the vitamin supplement I started this week. Maybe it was the Pearlizumi gloves that arrived in the mail yesterday (better items!) Maybe I'm bi-polar and going manic. I can't say what it was but I knew I was experiencing the Holy Grail of cycling, the Zone Ride where everything comes easy, everything comes together. The humming of the tires on the road, the bright sun, the wisps of fog blowing over the hill, my legs motoring along, it all seemed seamless and connected, and as it should be.

Soon I was cresting the summit of Grizzly Peak. The view to the west was splendid. I took my hands off the handlebars, sat up and rode with arms hanging by my side. What a feeling of...freedom. Just then two riders in team kit summited South Park and turned towards me. As we passed I waved and said "South Park....Woohoo!" They replied "YEAH!" I felt a bond of kinship with those guys, and they felt it too.

I pulled into the Steam Trains for water. Young parents were lined up at the bathrooms with their kids. For some reason I wanted them to know this was me 20 years ago and hey, look at get your life back! Strangely I felt like connecting with strangers.

I continued on down Grizzly, across the ridge to Tunnel Road, and stopped at Sibley. I saw a cyclist there I know from Peet's Montclair...Mike from Berkeley. He could be my son in another life. I actually remembered his name the moment I saw him. Man, I was having a good day! We chatted for some time. He was riding a new old Colnago he built up. It was a "Dream" model, white with tiger stripes. I almost won a similar bike years ago on Ebay. Almost. So Mike's bike spoke to me about my bike that almost was. Mike said he could not go back to his Orbea, the Colnago is so sweet. How would my cycling life story have changed had I won my Colnago Ovalmaster Titanium? I don't know, but my workhorse Lemond was feeling almost as sweet, like an eager steed.

I continued South on Skyline and Mike caught me and zoomed by. He's young and fast, he could be a pro if things went differently for him. I rode past Chabot Space where I work, and suddenly I had the epiphany that Tuesday would be my ride to work days from now on. How did that happen? I descended Butters Canyon, Monterrey, 35th to 38th, I was really booking downhill.

When I got to Alameda I was getting the "hollow stomach" feeling, a belly crying for food. I know from experience that the dreaded bonk follows this feeling about 15 minutes later, but I rolled up my driveway in 10, the "motor" running on fumes. Perfect timing.

I didn't set any records today. No personal bests. I've ridden further and faster many times in the past. But those things don't matter. The reason I cycle is to find the elusive state that enveloped me today. I found myself living in a cycling dream, being altogether in the present but sensing the weight of my personal history at the same time, a moment of intense nostalgia of remembering it happening while it was happening, it was so good. Its as if every ride I've ever taken on a bike that has led up to today was to make today happen. That's the best I can describe it.

Yeah, I'm thinking it was the cappucino.

Ride on my friends,


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