Sunny ride in the morning, rainy in the P.M. – very unprevailing for the usual Seattle weather pattern. On the way home, as it started raining, and as I was fully half an hour late, and as the SurlyLady was steaming mad, and steaming from the rain that had just started, we caught up with IbisLad who was on his full carbon Ibis bike – sans mudflaps because he too had thought today was looking marvy sunny. I myself had worn sunglasses in the morning, such was the confidence, and of course they weren’t too great for the preternaturally dark ride home. However, it was nice to chat with IbisLad – he’s the team captain of our commuting crew for the Group Health May Commuter Challenge, and therefore gets all the sweet freebies including beer, tchotkes, Freddy Mertz frames, and so on.
IbisLad told me about his new 29-er hardtail and that got me to thinking… swirling music and montage of bicycle websites in rapid fashion to indicate the progress of time… and somehow I found myself finding out that Kogswell bikes are no longer, and that they are selling out of their 650b frames, 56cm for instance for $250! I’m very tempted. I’d have to get new wheels. But most of the Surly parts might go. Hmm. Lower trail rake for real randonneuring, with the handlebar bag and better handling? Ah, I don’t know. I love the Trucker the way she is. Hmm.
As for the title of the post. I’ve been talking to some people at work about health stuff, and certainly that includes riding bikes. It’s been a very interesting thing. Telling people you’ve lost 100 pounds really gets their attention. It sort of ‘validates’ anything you say, or at least sets up a context that’s big or epic enough. Rather than, say, 30 pounds. So, I’ve found myself talking to people and using the word differential.
For bike commuting, there’s a huge differential potential.
If driving or busing to work is the most stressful part of your day, or one of the least favorite, imagine taking that 1 – 3 hours out of the minus column and putting them in the plus column by riding to work. Riding through fresh air. Feeling the vibration of the tires on the road. Feeling the bugs bounce off your chin. Hearing the sound of the water spraying off the inside of your fenders, that tang your chain starts to get as it gets wet, that grinding sound your rims make in the rain as they’re full of mud and grit, the feel of a worn-in leather saddle against your pants, that familiar grip on the ramps above the brake hoods, your favorite gloves with their mingled smells of grease and snot and sweat and handlebar wrap, the click of your shoes in the pedals, the freewheel of course, standing up to sprint just because you feel like it and it’s a spring day and everything feels possible, hearing the saddlebag contents swaying from side to side as you jockey the bike up a hill – all of this and a thousand times more sensory inputs. Switching those for a sneezing neighbor on the bus, or a yakkity-yakker who thinks he knows about ‘The Market’, or the guy who sits on the aisle seat and dares anyone to take the empty window seat next to him, the traffic that you get stuck in as you near downtown. I won’t even bother mentioning the car commuters and their hell. Imagine those who say live in Black Diamond and drive to Seattle, it must absolutely stink to drive through that, the pain in the right leg from all the shifting, the blathering radio, the inordinate sense that this is all too inordinate!
Anyway, imagine being able to put your commute in the plus column. It’s a huge differential shift. I actually look forward to commuting by bike; on the days I don’t, I always feel a little off. When I do, after I’ve showered and logged into email to see what kind of crap has hit the fan, I feel like I have an invisible armor protecting me from those day-to-day pains; awful emails from people clearly unhappy with their job just bounce off. Days I don’t ride? Such emails stick, and fester, because now I’m closer to that tribe of folk unhappy with the way things are. I get a little grumpier.
As I said, I’ve had a chance to speak with a few people at work. They like my story. When they get a chance to put a word in (ha!) and the conversation turns to their needs, I do have to admit a private realization: I don’t think I’d ever want to be a personal coach, or trainer. I’ve had several occasions when I’ve told my story, I’ve lost so much weight sure but better than that, I’m happy! So invincibly happy! And confident. I literally feel like I can do anything. If I can lose 100 pounds, and join a gym, and sign up for a 5-mile run, I mean, I just know I can do anything. It pays dividends all across the board. The reason why I don’t think I could coach someone is I’ll mention something like how one tactic that’s worked for me is to have goals. Ink something on the calendar that pushes me, that’s incremental, that I need to pay to do or sign up for or in some formal way commit to. Have it be sufficiently far off enough so that there’s time to prepare, and also time to elongate the training/preparing/improving arc. And every time I say this, and mention that the goal should be based on some kind of movement, because movement is the key, whether it’s kayaking or walking or biking or whatever, I often get this sort of veiled look, an uncertain, ‘Yeah, I could do that… maybe…’ – they lack the vision to see themselves in an end state, a presumably better state. I look at them and I can totally see it. And so I guess I’m saying there’s this crucial criteria for success in this sort of thing. You’ve got to really, really want it. You’ve got to be willing to suffer for it. To seek out the painful. To be embarrassed by your size (by the way, if you’re biking, all those other bikers are so self obsessed with their team kit or fancy bike they’re not even going to notice you – throw on some sunglasses, feel the wind in your face, and breeze along in virtual and splendid isolation… keep at it enough, and soon you’ll become one of those self-obssessed bikers in team kit and matching bootie covers).
Finally, like all mortals, no matter their station or size, you’ve got to admit and submit to the age-old formula, i.e. burn more calories than you eat. Period. I wish I could somehow show these folks the vision that I see in my head, the possibility. The before-and-after snapshots I can so easily transpose on to them, because I see it in the mirror every morning myself. And it’s so much more dimensional than those hipstamatic instant snaps, it’s the whole shebang too, it changes your personal culture, and those extra dimensional changes become self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing; at the start of the journey you will find many Catch 22’s that prohibit or blunt progress; past a certain hump, you’ll find that one thing you focus or improve on will in turn improve on something else, so that you create your own butterfly effect, in your own personal universe, you’ll have anti- and sympathetic self-mutual benefitizations, that self-perpetuating dynamo.
One fellow, who happens to work in the lunch room, and as such is sort of like the bartender to the guy trying to cut out the alcoholism thing, is always commenting on my progress. Constantly. We talk often. Every time I make a point of being super positive, offering suggestions sure but really just offering logical positivism (ha!). Today I asked how his hypnosis was going (and really, to vent, if you have to hypnotize yourself to effect a change, then I mean, well that’s just screwy… sorry) and he said he’d lost about 4 pounds. And that his latest thing was he was drinking one real beer at night to relax, and not three light beers. He actually used the word ‘reward.’ All apologies to beer drinkers out there… but the reward trap is a deadly one. I wish I could find a way to say, if you felt better about yourself, you wouldn’t want to drink beer after a rough day… you wouldn’t have a rough day in the first place! Or much less likely so.
For my part, I’ve noticed a dramatic change in my palette. It really kicked in with the trip to Italy, I have to say. Tonight, for instance, the way I ‘rewarded’ myself for an okay day at work but a fun bike ride home, was to (with the ‘Lady) bake a loaf of home-made bread (we made them from scratch and stored the dough in the fridge and have been making loaves all week! Why is the ‘Lady laughing so hard?) and then make our own pasta sauce (San Marzano tomatoes and butter!) and then have some nice gemelli pasta, with that wonderful sauce, with a couple of nicely chewy fresh mozzarella pieces from Whole Foods, along with a nice bite of bread we made (again, have to keep saying that). Every piece of that combo has a distinct life or entity or place in the palette. Imagine Bob Ross as an Italian chef: So you want to put a happy little bit of basil green over here, see how that goes? It’s a happy bit of basil. Now let’s give it some nice little sprinkles of pecorino, not too much… just a little bit. Just a little happy little bit.
To wrap this up! (the ‘Lady is patiently waiting… I’m lousy for the new Twitter age aren’t I)… I don’t know shit. I mess up all the time. I make mistakes every day. I have huge cookies when I shouldn’t. I don’t eat enough veggies. I don’t do this or that. But every day I keep trying. I keep honest. I have expectations, but they’re long-term ones. I don’t expect miracles, and I’ve learned through hard experience that there’s no easy fix. When I talk to some people about taking two years to lose 100 pounds I can see they immediately start to tune out… which is too bad. I make a frankly crummy inspirational speaker.
So instead, I’ll leave you with some Helprin, who’s much better at it than I… from Memoir from Antproof Case:
Even after the war, even now, when faced with something that I fear, I tend to eat spaghetti. When I eat pasta primavera, or linguine with crushed tomatoes and hot pepper, I become tranquil and melancholy…