On more than a dozen occasions recently, I have thought, “I should write about that!” and then never gotten the words out. I’ve been spending a lot of prime blog-writing time doing other things—binge-watching the first season of American “Masterchef,” programming my diabetes app, watching le Tour de France, cleaning house, etc.—and I’m pretty happy with my choices. Yet, I do miss writing stuff here and seeing all y’all’s comments. Unfortunately, the freshness date has passed for some things, but I can probably still squeeze a few topics in. Here’s the first part.
I. Do you know about Strava? If you ride or run with a GPS bike computer (or iPhone or Android device), you can upload your bike rides to their web site, see what your cycling/running/swimming friends have done, and “compete” to become “king or queen of the mountain” on climbs, flat roads, and downhills. It’s not great for swimming or running without a GPS, but it’s the best site for cycling that I’ve seen. You can find me there. There are even groups for TeamWILD and JDRF folks.
At the end of last month I was feeling very energetic and also a bit unsure about how my cycling was going. Usually I’m not bothered by seeing people on Strava doing parts of my regular routes just a little (and sometimes a lot) faster than me, but for some reason on the 28th I felt like I needed to prove something to myself. As I headed out on that hot, humid, and windy afternoon for an uphill ride to Grafton, I was feeling pretty good. After sprinting to make a couple of yellow lights, I decided to keep pushing, and the next thing I knew I was pretty much time-trialing to see how fast I could make it to the turnaround point. I remember thinking at one point, when I realized I was somewhere in the neighborhood of wanting to cry from exertion, that this probably wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. Did I slow down? No. Should I have? Probably. Do I now have the 2nd fastest time on a 6.7-mile, uphill segment? Oh yes. Was it worth it? Maybe. (See below.)
II. I suspect I paid the price for my exuberance a couple days later during a solo, 80-mile, three-state tour. I had tried to do this ride before in 2010, but Lisa had to pick me up after only 40 miles when I broke a valve stem while repairing a flat in Connecticut. The first part of the ride through Massachusetts and Rhode Island was good . . . a bit hilly but manageable. Unlike the prior ride, I was going for distance, not time. I realized mid-way through that I still have my personal pride and was probably pushing a little harder than I intended. There was something incongruous between the intensity I felt I was giving, how fast the world around me appeared to be moving, and my actual speed. Basically, the world didn’t seem to be moving fast enough even though I was making good time, so I was probably riding a bit too hard.
About the time that I crossed the border back into the Commonwealth, my ride pretty much began to suck.
I had been going up and down hills for a few hours already, and now the really big hills were coming thick and fast. It shouldn’t have been a big deal; I’ve done this before, and 80 miles ain’t no thang. I mean, I’ve ridden 40 miles to end up at the top of a mountain, turned around to ride 40 miles back home, and felt fine. On this day, however, my power and speed dropped.
At one point I rolled up to a stoplight, arriving just behind a fellow cyclist wearing tennis shoes and riding without pedal cages. Now, I try not to be a bike snob, but there’s often a pretty high correlation between the cost of gear and the capabilities of the people who are using it. Plus, bike shoes and clipless pedals—or even regular shoes with pedal cages—just make you more efficient. So I was a bit surprised when I really had to work to keep up with the guy when the light turned green. It reminded me of the time a few years back when I was going up a big hill into Grafton and I got passed by a guy on a BMX bike with his basketball shorts hanging down to mid-thigh. That was a bad day. This day seemed to be going that same direction.
Somewhere along the line I missed a turn. I was still headed in the homeward direction, but I ended up staying on Central Turnpike, a straight-as-an-arrow, two-lane road laid out in the early 1800s to get goods from one town to another as directly as possible. Instead of following the contours of the land for six miles, I was on a road that went directly up one hill and straight down the other side in order to meet the next one immediately. Dozens of these small, medium, and large rollers wore me out and ground me down. My spirit was hurting, and my energy was flagging.
It had been a while since I hit the wall, but I ran into it hard after 60 miles of the ride. My mojo was totally gone. I was really tired, and I just wanted to be done. I thought about calling Lisa to bring the team car out to spare me the last 20 miles of riding, but I felt like a little suffering would make me a little stronger in spirit, so I kept going. The last ten miles home were the hardest. There are three big hills, one of which has been my nemesis since I discovered it a month ago. Each one exceeds 10% grade somewhere on the climb and averages over 6%. On one of the hills, I tried to remember the last time that I had gotten off my bike to walk up a hill.
“What would Scott Johnson do?” I asked myself, thinking back on his 2012 Twin Cities Tour de Cure century ride. “He would find a landmark up the road and make little circles with his feet until he got there. That’s what he said he did. That’s what we’re going to do today.” And that’s what I did: little circles with my feet. I dropped into my lowest gear and watched the numbers on the GPS drop down into the inconceivably small range. For the first time on a solo ride, I didn’t care about the speed or about how well I thought I should be performing. I was making progress and making it home, and at the end of this ride that was good enough.