Finally rode again Thursday. It was mid-thirties in the morning, but then the sun came up and guess what! Cherry blossoms all along the BGT! That has to mean there will eventually be a spring, right? Also, the ducks are pairing up and settling in the murky water alongside the trail, so any day now we’ll start seeing fluffy little balls of cute waddling around down there. The ride home was fantastic, especially when, in a moment of perfect, wordless synchronicity, the lad and I neatly dropped the dude who’d been drafting me for several miles, preventing the execution of a much-needed air hankie. Friday was warmer, but gloomy. We got caught in a torrential drencher about 5 miles from home and were soaked before we could even stop to put on rain gear. I just splashed along, thinking about the cherry blossoms and duck babies…there will eventually be a spring, right?
This morning, as I rode along, thrilled with life in general, enjoying the positively balmy 40 degree weather, I was thinking about how far I’ve come … sound of harp thrumming …
This isn’t a bragging thing (mostly) but an encouragement to anyone out there who’s reading this and thinking: no way could I ride a bike to work, for reasons A, B and C.. Although maybe I’m underestimating the general population and overestimating how hard commubiking 18 or 36 miles is. Eh. Anyway, there’s a chap I work with, let’s call him IbisLad (I could just as easily call him BridgestoneLad or FatCityLad, which gives you the clue that he’s an old school biker).
He tried encouraging me to ride almost two years ago. I think it was around the May commuter challenge. I remember a stream of encouraging emails, assuring how easy it was, full of confidence that I could do it, even on my crappy old mountain bike (Reason A). But I resisted. To me it sounded like an absolute horror. Then in late March of 2008 SurlyLady woke up one day saying she wanted to get a bike and do the STP. Wow. Where the hell did that come from. Now I wish she’d wake up and say, “Honey, I think you should go put a deposit down on a custom randonneur frame.”
At the time I shrugged and we went to a couple of local bike stores. At the time I didn’t know these were ‘LBS.’ While she got fitted or was trying various models I did some looking around on my own. Hmmm, I thought. The very next day, partly out of jealously but partly because of something that had been sparked in me thick head, I went and bought a bike for myself. In both cases we used our George Bush $600 refunds to pass the money indirectly back to the Chinese.
And that was it. For the next few weeks I was the overweight guy weaving all over the Burke Gilman on my happy little hybrid. A much bigger part of me was having fun than was feeling self conscious, and that’s a huge thing when you tend to feel self conscious. We started I think with a three mile ride (whew!) and then a five miler. I remember Google mapping the route and getting super excited and telling SurlyLady.
For some reason, from that first day, I’ve just known I was going to love biking. I instantly began absorbing everything, every scrap of info, every review, all the brand names, technical names, articles on technique…
Jump forward a year. I’ve since ditched the hybrid (sold it a couple of months ago). In May, for my 40th birthday I used some music royalty money and some ‘allowance’ and bought a hardtail Kona. For some reason I just really knew I was going to love mountain biking. Then in July I got the Sarthe (I call him Jean-Paul). It’s amazingly light and responsive and I can’t wait to ride it again (fair-weather bike indeed). Then in August I had to get a Surly Trucker, as a sturdy touring/commuting bike. I’ve since put on around 400-500 miles a month on that sucker. I treat it like it’s a race bike, shifting through the bar-end gears, throwing it through curves, bunnyhopping bumps in the road, racing other bikers. It’s totally fun.
Obviously I outgrew the hybrid very quickly. The flatbars and the cheaper aluminum frame were awful on the Burke Gilman. My arms would get shivered a lot. But the posture was worse, sitting more upright was more fatiguing to me than a bike with drop bars, paradoxically enough, as I was convinced I was too heavy for drop bars. My point here is that, if you feel you’re too stiff or out of shape for drop bars, go ahead and get a bike with drop bars, have a higher stem or similar to help with a more comfort position, and give yourself about three days to get ‘unstiff’ about it. The variable hand positions on the drop bars are well worth it. If you’re commuting less than ten miles a day, yes a hybrid is totally going to work. Or even a mountain bike (if it has suspension try to change the settings to be as stiff as possible for pavement riding).
The point of all this is: I started riding about 11 months ago. I started commuting about 10 months ago, bus in the morning, 18 mile ride in the afternoon. That first ride home felt so epic, when I came around the corner to my house I was so happy and proud and gushed all about it to Surlylady telling her how awesome it was.
Variability … I’d mentioned this the other day in a post. Having lived and breathed in the software world for the greater part of this century, I know first hand the frustrations that come with ‘hard coding’ or essentially painting yourself into unintended but forseeable corners, and so I was additionally thinking on the ride this morning, as SurlyLady declined to join due to the rain, that I need to be more flexible with things. If it snows in March, I need to be able to adjust and go forward. I probably won’t make my goal of hitting my first century in March (there’s a brother’s wedding this weekend and related events) but that’ll just have to be okay. I can pick it up in April. In fact, I can think of it as a nice, even anniversary date: as mentioned above, it’s getting close to a year ago that we bought our first ‘real’ bikes and both became hooked on this thing. Maybe I’ll try to get my first century in early April, to make that anniversary date.
Today marked the third in a row for me, bikkomuting wise. This was the first time I’d done three consecutives, at least both directions. And… I’m actually feeling pretty good. Yesterday morning I was again Mr. Lead Legs as Surlylady pushed me most of the way in. Then in the afternoon I perked up and we picked up the pace quite a bit. This morning, I started slow but then got all crazy, the reverse of the afternoon, where I was averaging 25mph on flats (yikes!) for a good portion of the ride, but then pooped out somewhat at the end on the heartbrake hills o’ Mountlake Terrace. Today I was all by myself, a gentleman bicyclist bacheloring it up.
This is all good because work has been crap city. My boss is stressed out and so that stresses me out. I sat awake for a few hours last night and could just feel the blood pressure rising as I thought about work stuff. I know there are lots of out-of-work people who would kill to have my job, and so I say this with some delicateness, but it’s a double whammy working in this economy, for a retail or soft goods company: resources are tight, we’re all doing more work than before, and yet how can you complain for fear of losing your job? Oh for the breakneck giddy stupid days of 2004 or so when everyone thought that sure it’s completely logical that house values will go up 30% every year forever (and hell even in heaven, if you can buy your ‘get in on the ground floor penthouse’ condo deal situated near desirable Lake Pius (papal humor there)(wow, just had a flash of the look on a recently-deceased Southern Baptist’s face as he’s taken on a tour of heaven and bumps into Popes Clement and Hilarius on their way to the beach, clad only in sparkling bathing shorts)(and wow I’m really being random)) and jobs were as plentiful as recent cases of Republican talking heads going on TV intoning about how we’re doomed to a vaguely dark socialistic future unless we turn to the lessons of Ayn Rand. Good grief that depressed me as much as the economy.
So, basically I’ve got a bipolar boss and we’re in a depressed economy and riding my bike to and from work is the only thing keeping me from sticking a fork in my neck.
As happy as I am to hammer home along the beautiful Burke Gilman and endure the peace that passeth from passing cars not hitting me there was one chap who flew past me on the big campus curvature area. Soon after, at the flashing light stop sign, for the road that winds and leads up to McMahon hall etc, he saw no cars coming from the left and only a truck coming from the right and so rather than slowing and stopping he got into an aero tuck and beat the truck by maybe 15 feet. I’m not moralizing–as a recovering southern baptist to me that’s all papal bull–but that was just a plain stupid move. Triangulating all the necessary algebra, in a semi-second glance and decision action, and then not even looking up to see if the truck was going to agree with the physics (the truck in fact almost seemed to speed up). But luckily my sanctimony was only potential as the chap sped through and all’s well.
The oddish daydream I had this morning referred to the manslaughter of crows that habituate the Lake Washington habitat, a swirling screeching mass of feathers that I notice now and then. The crowcaphony gave me an idea for a children’s book. If only I could win the lottery and take a year to write all the books I have ideas for… sigh… anyway, it would be about Canadian geese, who are sort of like WWII bomber squadrons, something like Bristol Blenheims I’m sure, being Canuckian, and how they’re ravaged by swirling swarms of crows en route to southern locales, not to mention buckshot-happy hunters. Anyway, a scrappy little bachelor duck notices the flight plight and offers to help harry and harass the crows, sort of like a green mallard version of a Hawker Hurricane (that’s ‘hurrican’ not ‘hurricayne’, being Canuckian) and so for short distances he flies as bomber escort and dives into the middle of a mass of crows to disrupt their disruptive designs, etc. And then one day the crows notice he’s not as long-distance capable as the geese and plan accordingly… mwhahahaha.
Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not winning any lotteries lately…
So – three days, 108 miles, two crazy daydream ideas, two mornings of lead legs, way less rain than the weather people predicted and a whole lot of sweating away of soul-crushing work stress. Not bad. Tomorrow I’m resting as I have a personal trainer appuntmento.
After Sunday’s bipolar weather pattern–snow, sun, hail, sun, rain, storm winds, snow, sun–when I read the weather forecast for today, 80% precip, definite rain, I had a feeling it might not be as bad as all that. True enough, didn’t get a drop this morning, even with a darkened sky. It was, in fact, a little creepy in that I was the only biker all the way to about U-Village. Unfortunately this morning I was a turd on wheels. Sluggish, as in leaving a gooey trail of shame. I could blame it on the wind-sprinkled tree debris or on my pneumatic phlegmatic that was quite emphatic but… the ‘root’ cause (that’s a little Burke Gilman humor) was my poor sleep account. That’s probably the one bad habit I still have that I can’t seem to shake or mitigate: staying up too late and getting up too early. Anyway, the sun threatened to emerge from the clouds a few times this morning and otherwise I made it in to work in fairly good time, just not the breakneck speed of late.
I saved that for the ride home! For most of the Burke I flew along just as I had last Friday. On that section where the Burke splits into two one-ways, I slowed down behind a mountain biker who was toodling along when from way back some racer wannabe yelled out in that sort of imperative snotty way ‘on yer left’ and blew past us… I don’t like passing people on that stretch if, again, they’re the sort of ‘first time on a bike’ weavy type. So after I safely got around the mountain biker girl I thought, hell, that’s a big fat gauntlet that got slapped in my face, I’ll show that dude in the wanna-be orange Kona kit a thing or two, and spun and geared up and… the guy was long, long gone. Oh well. But, as I was cruising along at about 20 mph I figured I’d stay that way. About this time the sun started to peak out from the clouds now and then, the air had that clean, crisp post-rain smell, life was good and so I flew along. I realized, after a bit, that a chap was drafting along behind me. It’s kind of creepy how they creep up on you all stealthy… what if you had to stop suddenly? Anyway, it was ON! I mean, we pounded along but then I guess I lost him at some point. I was hoping he’d pull in front and then I could try drafting (never really done it before).
Along the way I detoxed from work stress and had lots of odd daydreams. Chief was all the fun I was going to have building up the old Diamond Back frame (see below). Secondo was this idea to call Jeep Chrysler and make a suggestion: build a bare-bones SUV, modeled on the old Isuzu Trooper or Suzuki Samurais, but not crappy, that comes with a 4 cylinder or a hybrid option, only available in one color, drab olive green, call it the Willys, have the interior super spartan, like the old Land Rovers, and a totally utiliarian exterior. Perfectly timed for all the bad economy let’s get back to basics vibe, as in no largesse, simple, sort of a VW Bug mentality, but resurrecting the old Willys idea except not ‘modernized’ with unnecessary otions like leather.
Then, as I left the Burke, I was just about astonished not only at the full sun–requiring me to strip off yet another layer, till I was almost a nudie patooty and considering taking off the long pants to expose my shorts but deciding not to so as not to blind drivers with my pale and precious legs–but also about how much juice I had in my pale and precious legs. I powered up the hills better than ever before, including the frisbee park hill… I was up and over it before I realized it, and was hardly breathing hard. Very cool. Long live incremental progress, and may I never reach a peak!
Looks like it’s either the elliptical machine, the gym (if I can get there), some ‘adventure urban snow day mountain biking to the strip mall hardware store for some inconsequential item I suddenly have to have’ or, maybe a return to winter projects like cleaning the bike room and finally installing the wheel truer Surlylady got me for Xmas. Another winter project I just picked up for next to nothing yesterday on Craigslist:
I stripped all the old junk off last night and had a ball doing it. Next will be deciding what to do with it. I got this for a ‘grocery getter’ bike, ‘cuz I’d rather not lock up the Trucker or the Kona to the flimsy stand at our two nearby grocery stores. As such I’m leaning toward turning it into a sweet little urban assault bike, with slicks, a 1×9 (or 1×8) setup, lots of old band stickers, and some insanely expensive bottom bracket. Kidding.
Apparently all the whining does some good: after taking the pups for a walk in the snow, I thought I’d head down to the gym. After I’d been there for about an hour or so I was winding things up with cardio work and starting a session on a treadmill near the window when it hit me: it was sunny out. I looked and all around were blue skies. So I ran out of the gym, raced home, threw on the bike clothes and was just in time to be greeted with a downpour of rain with snow and hail mixed in. Sour and grumpy I sat around in my bike clothes, doing air wheelies. And then about 10 minutes later, the sun came back out and I went for a ride. I especially wanted to try out the new handlebar bag (Ostrich) and get in some hill work. I’m not quite sure I like the handling of the front end with a handlebar bag. Toward the end of the shortish ride I was getting used to it, though. The biggest annoyance was the rattling. I’ll have to chase that down.
Having not ridden der bikenspiegel since last Friday and being summarily sated in the intervening days with the… elliptical… machine… Surlylady and I suffered the indignity of busing our bikes to work Thursday morning, partly due to the mid 20s weather and partly for my early morning personal trainer session. (Note to self– throwing on a jersey, track jacket and two thin rain jackets do not winter gear make!) The ride home however offered the indignity of creaky bones and tenuous trepidity. How is it that five days off the bike can cause me to almost forget how to ride a bike? However the broad blue sky and winking sun made up for everything. Toward the end I was feeling my oats. I, uh, carry some oats in my jacket pocket.
Today was an even bigger improvement. We rode in together in the morning and, aside from the near-frostbite moments down the four miles of hills to LFP it was lovely, so lovely. The easter-egg sky over Lake Washington was priceless. I like the daylight savings for giving us more light in the evening and timing sunrises for when we ride past the Lake. I don’t like it, the daylight savings, in that I’m old and creaky and it takes me about a week to adjust to the time change. I have to ask, if the average American’s savings is less than zero percent (at least it was in 2007 I believe) why do we need Daylight Savings? Couldn’t we just get like a big home equity loan and float not having to change the clocks?
This morning Surlylady was in top form, both in biking and hawking loogies. At one point in Sandpoint–oh it was so awesome–she passed a bunny rabbit dude on a hybrid bike on an uphill section. I was right behind the action and caught the whole scene: startled head turn, then a second head turn, then what must have been eye peering to determine that the blithe pedaler was indeed a woman, then sudden shrill gear changing with creaky cogs groaning in protest, then RPMs increasing… the fellow tried to catch up to the blithe antelope but all he succeeded in doing was blocking my progress as I tried to stifle some laughter. Classic.
Apparently the same thing happened to me, on the afternoon commute. It was Friday, forecasts called for 147 days straight of rain, and I was loving the spring-like weather and the spring-like springs in my legs so I was cooking along on the Burke, averaging 19mph (numbers!), and passed a chap who I noticed had passed us way back on the University bridge. Apparently passing him served as a similar kind of provocation, according to the Surlylady, as he got kind of huffy about it (?) I guess I missed all the fun. Maybe it was my slightly flared hips and coquettish giggle as I passed him?
At any rate, we absolutely flew down the Burke. There were several stretches where I wasn’t content with 19mph and had to ‘open it up’ a little. My dad used to claim the same was needed with our family cars back in the day, as he would occasionally and surprisingly goose the engine and get this look in his eye that was a direct transport to being 19 and driving his ’57 Belair Chevy. Maybe I have more in common with the old man than we realize!
Oh yeah, that reminds me… (shaking fist at Old Man Winter).
On the ride this morning, as I could tell the tenuousness of the evening prior had dissipated and my good form was back, I was daydreaming about the addictive characteristics of my bike riding. To wit, I try to ride at least every other day, if not more (typical addictive behavior, check), regardless of circumstances, rain, shine, etc. Let’s all ignore all my cold-weather whining for the sake of argument, shall we? Yes? Thank you, very kind.
And so, there’s an expectation or rhythm or cycle, heh, but the catch is, I constantly carry in my head the image of the ‘ideal’ ride. Oh, something along the lines of:
1) having the feeling you can ride forever, sprints are poof! nothing, hills are sought after for the ‘larking’ factor, you have the jauntiness of a Merckx and the effortless endurance of an Indurain
2) all mechanical and bio-mechanical elements, functionality and comfort are ‘dialed in’ perfectly, there’s only the faint noise of the chain running through cogs, all else silent and effortlessly competent
3) it’s neither too cool nor too hot, the sky is blue and so horizons are visible and sought
The catch is that rarely do I have rides like this. Every time I go riding I have this ideal in my mind, like mental blinders, and so even in service of commutes or rainy weekend ‘training’ rides I keep plugging away, I keep rolling the bike out ‘o the garage, I keep lubing the chain and tweaking the brakes, and never once have I regretted that first pedal stroke. Even that difficult ride around Camano Island and the mental gymnastics that were required to get over the physical pain, even then at rock bottom I was RIDING and that was enough.
So back to the daydreaming about addiction (I’m a recovering daydreamer… whoa, where was I? I blanked out there for a few minutes). I’ve never been addicted to anything other than fast food and coke. As in cola. Therefore I’m not exactly suited to discussing addictive behavior, although I am wearing a hand-me-down pinstripe jacket. Weak as the analogy is, I think the logic is serviceable, and so even as I was addicted to that fast food crap and was at least partially cognizant of the law of diminishing returns (super sizing the value meal may have provided a short sodium and calorie high but wasn’t it odd how soon I started wishing for a super-super size option?) I kept plucking down my 4.99 even knowing it couldn’t possibly be as good as that one Jack-in-the-Box cheeseburger combo I had back in 1992. It was a form of doubling down on a bad bet. Or, continuing to contribute to my 401k when every penny evaporates as soon as the direct transfer takes place.
What am I trying to say? I’m sort of unsure, to be honest. I think what I’m saying is, even the worst ride is still the best hour or two of my day. That’s it.
To summarize the five days I was unable to ride due to snow, blinding snow-rain or 22 degree weather: Old Man Winter, come on out! I’m gonna kick you in the shin!