While the flu has managed to make big headlines this winter season, there is a far more dangerous killer lurking in the shadows that we all need to look out for. Spring Fever. Yes, indeed – this time every year, spring fever begins to growl beneath the surface of our subconscious, poking at the surface, testing the waters and looking for air. It begins as a little twitch the first time you see the bright sunshine peering though that thick deck of post-frontal stratus. It grows into an itch that’s almost undetectable when we walk outside in the morning to fetch the paper and hear a long forgotten birdsong from the neighbor’s tree. It begins to burn the first time the sunrise beats us to work in the wee hours, and not because we slept late. It breaks into a full-blown frenzy when the temperatures break 60ºF for the first time in months. Before long, we are like hockey fans pressed against the boards, waiting for the puck to drop – and like those hockey fans, (who will be waiting a long time this year) occasionally winter tries one last time to sneak something past the ref, which sends waves of disdain punching through the crowd, forcing us to sink back into our seats again, depressed. Transition is a tricky thing, but we all know who we are rooting for – and eventually it will win – Spring is fast coming, as the sun creeps back north in the eastern sky each morning. Like a flower on that east-facing window’s sill, we will all eventually look left, and smile.
As I made my way into work today I took a slight detour and wandered down a normally busy roadway, through some familiar territory from my younger days. To my right is the local swimming hole, and to my left is 97th Street which Tees up with Antioch right across from the pool. It’s a straight shot from 97th, directly into the water, which reminded me of one of my childhood dreams: a ramp extending off of 97th Street, over the fence across Antioch, and ending just above the surface of the pool – my friends and I would have been able to pedal our BMX bikes furiously down the hill, hit the ramp and be catapulted into the crystal waters beyond it. Bliss… That would have been KILLER. So many things like that remind me of youth – for some people it’s music (ok, for me too), for others its movies, or reading local history, that can bring them back to their youth. For me, it’s a bike and a location. 97th Street was the Avenue of Dreams for me, growing up. I remember the very day and parts of the conversation in the car as my Dad drove our Buick down Antioch, turned right onto 97th Street, as we made our way to the then new house on England Street. I think I was 5 years old at the time, but the smell of the car, the smell of the air, and remembering how the car lumbered up that long hill, seeing the house for the first time - on the way to the house my sister and I would come of age within.
In the couple of seconds it took for that road to pass in and out of my vision as I rolled north on Antioch, floods of sensations and memories like that came back, all at once. None of them had anything to do with winter, which caused my particular case of spring fever begin to itch uncontrollably. As a child, growing up, our world is largely contained inside the four walls where our senses and our memories first meet. Slowly, over what seems like an eternity to the young mind, our world grows. We go outside for the first time. We crawl a few feet from our mothers, and look back – and sometimes begin to cry because we are too far away and can’t seem to get back. Our world is growing, and it’s scary and new. Later on, we learn to walk, and our parents take us into the backyard, or a local park. We walk, and walk, and walk, and then turn around. We can still see her, but she’s WAAAY over there, like almost 50 feet away. The boundaries get pushed a little farther – now, not as scared as before, we begin to push those boundaries. I remember for me, I know that I had reached that boundary when I could get my mom to stand up from that park bench. I knew that I was too far away right at that exact moment, and she would call me back. Years later, sitting on a big wheel at the opening of our garage, I’d barrel down the driveway and cut a sharp corner onto the sidewalk and pedal until I couldn’t pedal any more, and then I’d look back once again. I could still see the house, so it was all good – but MAN, these wheels took me farther, faster. Hmmmm….
Who else out there can remember the nervous and anxious sensation the very first time you went around the block? It was like a totally different universe – none of the houses looked the same, the street changed a little, the curbs looked different, the trees, the cars parked in the driveways, all seen for the very first time by your own eyes – and you TOTALLY can’t see your house – scary, weird, exciting. The boundaries were getting stretched. I remember the first time my mom told me it was okay to ride over to a friends’ house, over seven blocks away – it was the first time I had ridden on 97th Street, long after the training wheels had come off. Seven blocks – not even a mile away, but what a weird rush – I had been taken there by car and dropped off by my parents on a few occasions, but I’d never gone that far under my own power. Everything looked strange, as if I’d seen it for the first time – inside a car the undeveloped childhood eye can’t discern all the details as they fly by, so it was truly all foreign and new on the bicycle. Upon arriving, I remember my friend joining me on the bike, and suggesting we ride to a local pizza joint off of 95th Street, which we did – talk about pushing the envelope! With a bicycle and a stack of quarters, we were set for the afternoon – time and distance began to take on new meanings.
But, the farthest away I’d ever ridden from home back then was when I finally rode my bicycle all the way to 97th and Antioch to go swimming at that pool – and as I remembered that moment, I rushed back to myself on the bike this morning, passing that very same intersection, and looking left. Having ridden so long and so far since then, it was strange to be so close to home once more. I remember that day, riding to the pool, flying down that big hill, around curves and bends, with wind catching my beach towel, tempting it to fly off my shoulder, clam-digger trunks catching air and flapping as I pedaled. It was hot, and I couldn’t wait to get into those waters on that bright day – the memory of which sounded so good as I glanced to my right to see a dark and empty swimming pool, yet to be filled. In my mind, it was glistening and warm. I almost turned around, to maybe climb that hill and fly back down again, to maybe capture a little youth and, perhaps better, a little summer-time. Where once the bicycle was a way to get far, far away from home, today it was taking me back again. They say you can never go home again, but sometimes it’s nice to get close, so long as you can smile about it.
Spring fever is a hard thing to shake, but in that short period of time this morning, I realized that the only sure cure for spring fever is spring itself, and a warm memory is only a band-aid; but still, for a brief second or two that itch went away, and a smile grew across my face, even in the near-freezing and foggy air I was riding thru. It all slipped away. I can’t wait until that pool is filled, and one hot afternoon I can chain the bike to the fence again, drop a couple bucks on the desk, leave the messenger bag poolside and rinse off some sweat. I think I’ll take this same route to work tomorrow, so I can think of spring and summer and melt away some of that mental ice that has been clinging on since late October. When I hit 97th Street, all I have to do is look left.
A call to arms …. errr, legs.
(First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JENNIFER! )
It’s getting hectic. Football is finally over. College hoops is well on it’s way to March, but they don’t call it March Madness because of college hoops… they call it March Madness because that’s the month here in the midwest when cyclists are finally starting to break free from their icy tombs and burst forth onto the roadways like poultry out of an over-turned Tyson truck.
I was mildly pleased that the Superbowl halftime show was performed by Paul McCartney – the only thing better would have been dragging Ringo onstage to play drums, especially considering that he and John are the last two remaining from the original Fab Four. Am I dating myself? Who cares? The Beatles rule. Period. If you think they’re lame, then so are you, because there is a really good chance that a lot of the music you think is cool by contrast was probably performed by musicians influenced by the Beatles… or influenced by bands that were influenced by the Beatles. Unless, of course, you listen to nothing but P.Diddy or 50 Cent. Yes, I like that stuff, too…. But I can cite a few instances where their backtracks were sampled from riffs made popular by the Beatles, or bands influenced by… ad nauseum…. (here he goes!)… but come on: the Beatles rule. That’s it. That’s all there is. In fact, sitting in my CD player right now is a group of tracks from DJBC from Boston, which is some Beastie Boys joints mashed up against …. drum roll, Ringo…. The Beatles. It’s hype, off the chain, diggity-diggity-dope, home-bread. Word to your tax advisor, you lanky mutha. I dig it.
How’d I get on THAT tangent? Oh yeah, the sucker-bowl, a.k.a. commercial-rama. It’s over. YEA!
Time to ride again…. Maybe. The weather had something to say about that this year, as Kansas City buckles down and sits out the nastiest little dose of winter we’ve had in years. I can’t remember a time in recent history where I was forced off the bike due to nasty weather the way I have been this season. Add to that a rank little flu-cold bug that I’ve been fighting for over a week – I’m winning, by the way…
…and it’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Also, I have returned to the realm of mid-70’s General Motors transportation. Yes, yes. It’s all about getting a new house, baby: part of our rise to suburban stardom came with a price, as I sold off my gas-miserly and reliable Honda, and uncovered my old high-school car, which has sat for the larger part of a decade in my parents garage. It’s a gesture for which I will forever be grateful, to my father, but it came with its own unique set of problems. It’s a FACT: driving a car built after 1990, especially a Japanese product, makes you DUMB. You start to assume things. You insert key, turn it, and it starts. EVERY TIME. If it doesn’t start, it means someone stole your battery. Imports make you stupid. Lift the hood. Anything you’ll ever need to worry about is color-coded in bright yellow, so you don’t have to think. Washer fluid cap. Oil dip stick…and then, only maybe you need to worry about that, ever. Odometer reads 300,000 miles? Who cares? It’s Japanese, and it’s newer than 1990. Get in. Drive it. It’s ok! Surrender all of your residual automotive know-how to the collective brain-trust of automotive engineers and swami’s currently residing in Osaka. Let your ASA certification expire. Lose your wrenches. Burn your receipts. Weld the hood shut. Jumper cables? What’s that?
Anything built in Detroit (or Canada) in the mid to late 1970’s, however; you better know what the heck is going on. You better know where your gasoline was refined. You better know the last name of the guy that stamped the steel your valve covers were made from, because you’re gonna have to call him up. Assuming you know a valve cover from the power steering fluid filler cap. Open the hood. That’s that black lever under the dash with the words “get ready for the pain” etched into it. Heft it up – it’s STEEL. Examine the contents. It’s all the same color. Oil stained black. What’s THAT thing? And you thought a “carb” was something you counted to lose weight. Silly import driver. Dip stick? Uhhh….I know it’s on the driver’s side, somewhere...maybe down next to these wires, under those hoses and behind that big metal box with the wires coming out of it. Wait…where’s that steam coming from? Or is that smoke? No, no… its steam… wait…it’s not supposed to steam! What’s that green liquid??!!! AHHH! Suddenly, I find myself pouring over Chilton’s and Hayes manuals, instead of Bicycling Monthly. I suddenly find a use for that ½” box-end wrench that was sitting at the bottom of a toolbox full of freewheel removers, chain tools and hub wrenches. These cars don’t suffer fools gladly. They are General Motors cars from the mid-70’s, and they take no prisoners. They sneer at you from under the air cleaner assembly, and say “fix something… I dare you.” Because as soon as you do, you’ve given it the go-ahead for something else to break. By taking up those reigns from a dying muscle-car era, you are the only person you know to actually consider taking QuikTrip up on their “Guaranteed Gasoline” pledge, because goodness knows you’ve used enough of it. Your car holds more gas than many SUVs, and is physically longer than many of them.
I think you’d agree, it’s the perfect car for someone who calls himself the “commuterdude”, because it provides the strongest set of reasons for staying on the bike! Being an anti-OPEC, bike-nazi of sorts, you’d think I’d own a Toyota Prius, or Honda Insight… or at the very least, a late 90’s Geo Metro with no A/C and a 5-speed manual….which, if driven correctly, will out-gas-mileage the hybrids… but no. I am thinking about saving up for one, personally, mainly because I can’t get a bicycle roof rack for this Buick. Sadly, as Detroit was desperately trying to save itself from heavy government regulations and rising fuel costs, and getting out of its muscle-car mindset, it also seemed to have tabled such novelties as trunk space. I can’t get a bike anywhere in that car. And I’ve tried! Sad, ain’t it? Still, for all its faults, I love that car and the memories tied to it. But, I also remember it was the reason I got off the bike in the first place, and combined with the McDonalds drive-thru, made me fat. It made me into a typical America teen-ager.
It just makes another case for the fact that I was born a decade too late, perhaps. I like the cars from the late-60’s era – can you imagine learning to drive in a late 60’s GM product that produced nearly 400 HP? Yikes. Can you imagine a time when gas only cost 49 cents per gallon??? While the rest of the world was being very careful in it’s pricing, the USA was sitting high on a post and practically GIVING gasoline away, thereby growing a car culture that even the gas crisis of the mid-70’s could not derail. Heck, I remember when gas was cheaper than a dollar a gallon. To watch the gas price nearly TRIPLE in ONLY the time I have been legally driving (!!) is very distressing, and it makes perfect sense why I’ve taken up riding the bike. In my youth, cars were freedom, an excuse to get stupid and fat, and not worry about things like OPEC and running out of resources or polluting the air. Today’s cars are engineered to the point where people once again have that late-60’s mindset – drive where-ever you like, as fast as you like – as long as you keep buying gas. There is no reason to think. Only this time, hippies are fewer and farther between, and their voices are growing smaller because no one feels they need to listen. Cars may not have the same ‘dirty polluter, gas guzzler’ image that 60’s protesters fought against, but they still use gas.
Experts say we will be out of easily accessible natural resources as early at 2010. It’s not science fiction anymore, kids, that’s only FIVE YEARS AWAY. While I will chose car keys over dangerous roads NOW because I have that choice, you can bet I’ll be making very different choices if the repercussions of that come to fruition, and I’m betting you’ll be right behind me. I mean, yeah --- $2.50 a gallon is scary, and real – but you’ll still drive, right, because you can’t imagine it any other way, can you??? Cars have gotten SO good, you not only don’t have to think about the car itself, but it also guarantees that you will NEVER think about the ALTERNATIVE…which is exactly what they want. Cars so turn-key, so utterly reliable, that you would never consider NOT driving. You see what I’m up against. Why would ANYONE honestly consider riding a bike to work? What’s even scarier is that the very breakdown-prone mid-70’s gas-guzzler ACTUALLY gets BETTER gas mileage than ANY of the top-selling SUVs on the market today!!! Criticize me NOW. There’s only ONE of my cars on the road around here. Go outside and count SUVs. Argument over.
What happens when gasoline reaches $3.00 a gallon? How about $4.00 a gallon?? I’ll bet you drips-to-drops that the government smarts up and starts pricing gasoline by the liter instead of the gallon. If the sign say’s $4.00, you’ll think twice, right? What if that sign said $1.05? You’d pull right up and pop the gas cap, right? Who cares that the units changed? – we are slaves to advertising, and the sign says $1.05. Wait and see. That time WILL come, regardless of what the President said in his State of the Union address last week. Better hybrids, fuel-cell powered cars, and alternative fuels will NEVER catch on fast enough, will never be cheap enough, and the oil lobby will never back down. They are all great ideas, but there is already a track record at play. This nation won’t buy electric cars (case: GM’s EV-1), and hybrids don’t seem to do any better than smaller 4-cyl. Gasoline powered cars currently, so buyer interest starts to drop. We may become ‘less dependant’ on FOREIGN oil, which everyone clapped for --- but will still be dependant on OIL. Friends, you can kiss the Alaskan frontier GOODBYE, because when the chips fall people want their gas, not the scenery this great nation has to offer. America is about freedom, and freedom provides choice – given the choice, year upon year, people choose trucks and SUVs. BIG cars are the American way.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen in Europe offers a car called the Lupo: (www.lupousa.com) a smaller, commuter-minded car that runs on diesel fuel, and averages over SEVENTY-FIVE miles per gallon! YES, 75 MPG, and it’s on the roads NOW, it’s not a concept. It’s not a little dog, either – it’s a fully drivable, peppy car. Yes, it’s a diesel – but it’s clean enough to pass Germany’s super-tough clean-air acts. Why can’t we buy them here? Who knows…but I’m betting a few people in the oil lobby had something to do with it. I mean, it’s a GERMAN car – questions about safety standards, 5-MPH bumper requirements, lack of buyer interest, or any other published excuses just don’t wash. Someone doesn’t want it here. Volkswagen, although currently at the forefront of diesel technology, is not the only company enjoying good gas-miser sales in Europe’s market. The Toyota Yaris boasts 64 MPG on diesel, but again it’s not available in the states. Honda in Great Britain offers a commuter car called the Jazz, which gets about 60 mpg on the highway, only outperformed by their own Insight which also sells overseas, and quite well – while the buzz in the US about the Insight has waned, Honda has refused to rest and has continued to refine its hybrid platform. Recent tests now claim the current-model Insight is capable of over 90 MPG on the highway and a combined average MPG of around 84 – that’s over 700 miles on a single tank of gas, yet Honda dealers here are hesitant to order any. WHY?? As a small, quirky 2-seater, they lack too many of the things the American car buyers demand; space, luxury, status, and ‘me-first’ power. Honda has always done a good job keeping a pulse on what America wants, and, while I watched for the promised funny super-bowl commercials, I did see that Honda plans to capture their share of the SUV and pickup market with a new, huge crew-cab looking SUV thing. Those will probably sell well, while the Insight stays tucked at the back of the overflow lots, just in case.
You’d think in today’s SUV-crazed market, Detroit would not bother working on anything but the next big truck platform, but like Honda trying to capture their share of our SUV market, US-based car makers are rightly targeting Europe’s commuter-car market. It’s not just the Japanese and Germans that have achieved big gas-mileage numbers recently. While it seems the big Detroit heavies would rather you NOT have a choice at the car lot state-side, you can now add insult to injury, because it’s not because they have nothing to offer: AMERICAN auto-maker Ford DOES produce a gas-miser powerplant, but not for OUR use, no, no. Only in Europe and South America can you get the Ford Ka and Fiesta which can be had with Ford’s ‘Duratorq TDCi’ direct-injection turbo-diesel engines for gas-mileages in the 60-75 MPG range. You can even get that engine in the Ford Focus, which is the same as the Focus here in America, but you can’t order that engine in this country! Who suggested that Ford NOT bring those engines to this country? I’ll give you a guess. Oil-lobby conspiracy theories aside, the bottom line is “sensible” just doesn’t sell, and it’s our own fault. The very people that complain about high gas prices are the same people that refuse to drive anything less than what they ‘deserve’, no matter how impractical. Those little egg-beaters are for other countries that ‘need’ them.
It’s automatically assumed that if a country isn’t littered and criss-crossed with super-highways, it’s a third world nation. Can you call Holland a third-world nation? China? Not hardly. Yes, there are economic reasons that not everyone drives – you have to have a car in order to do so, yes. But, from several friends overseas, and people I know that have lived and worked over in Europe and Japan, it’s a very different world. Gas is outrageously priced, and sometimes exceeds 3euro per LITER. That’s over $10.00 a gallon. Cities are well designed, some of the older bergs never having been upgraded for cars since the horse-and-buggy days. Businesses and living areas are close together. Perfect for bicycles, and it shows. In this country, it’s harder to do – stuff is spread out. America is BIG, and we take full advantage of it. I personally live 15 miles from work, and that’s CLOSE by many standards. I sit right next to someone that lives over 45 miles away. Someone else I know, who was a telecommuter until a recent company policy change, lives over 50 miles away to the north. That’s over three hours by bike at a good clip, if there was a straight road between here and there – and there isn’t. The fact that he will now have to drive that every day, two ways, where before he did not, has to be VERY frustrating on several levels. Where telecommuting seemed like a good way for a company to go, that environment is changing. It saves gas, saves employee expense, time, office space, heating and cooling that office space, etc. – but not anymore. What will people like him do when gas prices spiral out of control again this summer?
For the rest of us within that 10-15 mile radius of our workplaces, there is fast becoming no good reason NOT to choose a bicycle over a car. Yes, I am guilty in recent months of turning the keys instead of the pedals. Yes, with two kids, a wife that works, and endless obligations to fill, I simply have to have a car in the garage. I live in a town where there is nothing within walking distance of anything else. Combined with illness, badly treated roads, and impatient drivers, this winter has been a very hard season for me. I am fortunate enough to have options, like that mid-70’s car that gets me there in 5 inches of snow – once it starts. It has cost me quite a bit this month, in gas and repair bills – but I will balance all of that out once the roads improve and the climate changes, which is coming very soon. One more day of melting, and respiratory healing, and these streets are mine once again. Thin excuses, yes, all padded by the fact that I still have a car to fall back on. Just because I drive doesn’t mean I feel good about it, even when I owned the Honda. I have to tell you, sooner or later, I will absolutely put both feet down before I turn the keys again. The trend is set, the summer price forecasts are coming out, and soon everyone will be complaining about the heat and the high prices again. I know what I’m doing. Do you know what you’re doing? Will SUVs sales finally take a down-turn?
Complaining does nothing. Action is needed. Sell your SUV and if you MUST drive, demand more practical transportation. For the amount of trade-in value that monster SUV offers, you can buy a Jetta TDI, a Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, or if you still must have an SUV, the long awaited Ford Escape Hybrid is coming. For those in fair-weather climes, get some wind back in your hair and try a Vespa, a good-ole Honda 750 – and if you MUST have power and status, get a Harley. That’s a whole other ball of complaints from yours truly, but I tell ya – they still get better mileage than many small cars do. Better yet, put down the keys and get in the ever-growing paceline of bicycle commuters. I’m tucked in the pack, ready to begin another consecutive-days run of rides to work. Last time I managed 247 days of continuous back-to-back commutes before the weather forced my hand the other way. This time, who knows how many I’ll get – but I’ll betcha I’ll be saving money, for me AND you. The more people that DON’T buy gas, the lower the prices can get. Simple supply-and-demand at work.
Be a part of the equation this spring and summer. You don’t have to be hard-core. You don’t have to go broke on winter cycling gear. But you owe it to yourself, your health, your bottom line, your fellow countrymen and women, to ride to work at least once a week this summer. Get a cheap bike, get a backpack – chances are, everything you need is already in the garage, waiting for you. GET ON IT. The government is not going to lower the prices. It’s up to you and me. You may be driving a car that doesn’t make you think – but you still have a responsibility to think, and think hard. Will you wait until you are forced, or will you make a choice to try and make a difference now? One way or another, I’ll see you in the saddle – and if you’re driving a hybrid or other responsible choice, I’ll at least wave at you – you gotta start somewhere.
The Waning Moon. 01/13/05
With each passing day, it becomes easier to stay off the bike. It’s a frustrating spiral, one that has me reconsidering my very nickname lately, even though it’s only been two weeks since I have ridden to work by bicycle.
Blame it on whatever you will: weather has certainly been nasty enough of late to make the roads a mess, in one form or another. First, it’s the ice, then sleet, then snow of last week – which was only afforded one day or so to melt by nature, which is not fast enough for the safety of our local drivers. As if the frozen precipitation was not bad enough for a bicyclist, local cities dumped tons of salt and sand on the roads, the excess of which has collected near the edges of the roads where traffic normally doesn’t tread – but bicycles do. Not even studded tires would help here, sand so deep in places it’s like riding on the beach. Flats abound, traction is always under scrutiny, and safety a bigger issue than usual; to avoid the mess in the shoulders, I’m forced to ride a little farther into the lane than I might otherwise. More so than normal, I constantly wonder if I can be seen at all on these almost-rural streets, pre-dawn, with fog and mist hanging thick in the air. More often than not lately, I’m not even risking it. I have logged more miles in the car over the past two weeks than I had logged ALL of last year, and it hurts both in the soul and the pocketbook. Like a medical bill you didn’t plan for, paying for gas lately is like a stab to the heart on many levels.
“I, the CommuterDude, used a GAS PUMP? FOR SHAME!”
But even when that is pounded home, even when I get excited and plan to ride, laying everything out for the morning, lubing the chain, and psyching myself up, something happens during my slumber that has me second guessing, smacking the snooze button, knowing that I don’t REALLY have to suffer through a long, treacherous commute. My conviction is waning, like a cold winter sliver of a moon.
Last year when this happened, I was a lot closer to work – it was a smaller differential between drive-time and ride-time, and a lot easier to talk myself ON to the bike, regardless of the conditions. Even in the nastiest conditions, like that ice-blanketing we got last January, I simply woke up earlier and toughed it out. It was a small enough taste of victory, and it kept a dim fire alive thru the darkest months. This year, by contrast, it seems that even the hottest of embers have cooled to the touch, and not even the stiff north winds that would have made for a record run-home on the bike can coax a flame from them. It’s as if the fuel is gone. After cleaning out the garage early in the fall, my time in the garage tinkering on the bikes has also diminished, keeping them farther from my reach and out of my mind a little. The two remaining bikes need such little attention, that I often miss those “have to test it” rides that used to help keep that winter motivation alive. Now that everything is set up and dialed in on each bike, there are fewer reasons to change something just for the sake of changing it, and then NEEDING to ride it the next morning to see if the ‘fix’ took.
In the past two years, I have enjoyed a bit of local publicity – on an appropriately small scale – generated by this website. I have been held up as a motivational icon, an anti-car zealot, and often times a retro-grouch nut-case. I have been recognized in bike shops, and on the road alike, by cyclists that otherwise might not have given me a second look. I am fortunate to have founded a few friendships out of such situations, and even though we have only ridden together a handful of times, it’s something that I truly value. I’ve had people email me, and post quips in local forums, citing ME as their motivation for riding thru the winter, which stirs a cauldron of guilt in my soul – which is one of the reasons why I am writing this piece: I should not be held up the way that some of you have. I am certainly not super-human, and certainly not as accomplished a cyclist as most. I am proud to have the attention that I have received, and am pleased that my advice and tips on the webpage have been used in good health by many – but I will be the first to tell you, I have hard times, hard days, hard weeks, hard months – and I am certainly not the die-hard that some of you may think I am. In a world rife with hypocrisy, and an internet bogged down with false idols and thin arguments, I want NO mistake to be made: It’s been a tough month, and even though in the grand scheme of things this website means very little, I feel almost guilty for having it, as I walk out to my car at the end of the day lately, dodging questions from the work bunch, as they ask me if I rode the bike today or not. I find myself pouring forth excuses like a broken spigot of self-loath. It’s pathetic.
I find myself lately trapped in a quagmire of self-doubt. Ready to tackle 2005 head-on, I participated in a local New Year’s Day ride at Longview Lake, sponsored by my favorite charitable organization, The Midwest Chapter of the National MS Society. After looking over the maps, I plotted out my route from the new house and made the journey east, in the rain, to the lake, about 25 miles away. Not wanting to get the ‘good bike’ dirty, or myself, I mounted the single-speed commuter, complete with fenders and lights, which seemed appropriate after all, since I was supposed to be having a touch of an ‘off season’ to burn off some body fat that I have accumulated since late summer. I even wore the heart-rate monitor for the first time in over a year. After a successful ride outbound, I arrived at the lake, saw some familiar faces and enjoyed some good conversations over the 30 minute or so break between my ride there, and the official ride start. There was a fairly good contingent of local race talent in attendance, but I was not worried, because I had come to enjoy the ride – I’m not really training for anything, supposed to be base-building – but as the ride started to roll, I felt a little of those competitive juices trickling forth. It had been so long since a good group ride, and I could feel a little spark – unfortunately, no matter what excuses I’d managed to come up with on the road, regardless of how much will-power I may have appeared to exercise to stay within the heart-rate limits I’d set for the day, I was spiking all over the place, and when it came time to push, I didn’t have it. For the first time since 1999, perhaps, I honestly felt WEAK on the bike. I even felt like I was descending slowly. The bike felt heavy, my legs and body felt heavy and lethargic, and all of the old snares that I’d thought I could ride past began to sneak back up again. The elite group began to pull away up the road, leaving me behind, and I could not answer; the mental blow it delivered sapped any will I had to try. Was it because I was on the single-speed? NO. This drove it home even further, as the pace-maker for that group was a Cat.2 rider on a FIXED gear. No excuses; my failure was mine, and mine alone. Sure – he’s a Cat.2 – and I’m barely worthy of the Cat.5 group – but for someone that was used to logging 21-23 MPH averages back in July, this was frustrating to me. In a true heat, I would stand no chance against these riders, even with my July fitness intact, but still: I had honestly hoped I’d been a little harder to drop than that. The self-assessment began, and it haunted me for the rest of the ride, and all the way home into an unforgiving SW headwind. I had officially let myself slip, and the result was the slowest 76 mile ride in a long time – and it was not because I was trying to take it easy. By the end, I had no smoke left at all. I didn’t even clean off the bike afterwards.
Holding a masters-degree in self-assessment and second-guessing sometimes has its advantages. Yes, I was on a ratio-limited, heavier, fender’ed bike, but that did not matter in the summertime. This same bike was beneath me when I hammered with the faster groups on the summer-time evening rides that I used to tackle after work – after having ridden to work, with a full backpack of my gear. I’d arrive home, on the single-speed, with an average in the high 18’s, after a morning commute, a fast ride after work, and then a ride home from there – sometimes those days would exceed 80 miles in total, and I was right back in the saddle for work the next morning. What had slipped? Were these winter doldrums REALLY that strong? I thereby resisted the notion that my single-speeding days were over, and I needed gears again to be competitive, which kept the flying dollar-signs at bay. Still, I had lost track of myself sometime after the MS-150 this year, and I wasn’t sure where. I looked at the inventory: I stopped taking E-Caps back in October. That CAN’T be it – certainly some of those performances were ME, and not a supplement. I had pledged to enjoy riding more, and not concentrate on the numbers so much by removing the bike computer. Perhaps, after all, I still need those numbers to motivate me? Especially since my training partners are in the midst of their off-season, and still others have disappeared, I have not been gauging my efforts, nor doing intervals, nor appropriately paced recovery rides, and perhaps the entire period from summer to now has been spent in the “no-man’s-land” heart-rate zone? It’s been written how damaging that can be, and perhaps this is indeed that result? The long and short of it is this; whether I want to admit it or not, I am a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none cyclist. I like randonneuring, I like fast road rides, and I like commuting. The result is, no matter how I approach it I cannot excel at any one of those disciplines without TRAINING, and I have not been training: I have been RIDING. There is nothing wrong with that – I have spent many lines typing out the benefits of the latter, and whether I begin to TRAIN or not, I will still enjoy cycling immensely. BUT, part of what makes cycling fun for ME is speed, and drive, and trying desperately to catch that blip of a rider on the horizon ahead. I am that kind of rider and I worked hard to get there two years ago, by dropping nearly 50 lbs. over the winter of 2002-2003. I need to do that again. I mean, after losing weight in ‘03, perfecting my climbing technique and enjoying a fair amount of time off the front of a few good rides, IT STINKS to get passed on a hill now. STINKS. Yes, other stronger riders are out there, but I, and I alone, gained weight this year – FAT weight, not muscle --, got slower, and stopped paying attention. I refuse to chuck it all because I’ve been off the bike for two weeks, and I’m ‘outta shape’.
I have to tell you, journaling this out like this has many benefits. Perhaps someone out there, reading this, is also in a slump of sorts and needs a little push. Perhaps it’s kindling for a new-year’s resolution for another. But, this time, I’m largely writing this to myself. Putting a website out there has certain responsibilities tied to it. I’m honest about the fact that I have not ridden to work in the last two weeks, because you deserve to know. Many of us, casual or competitive cyclists alike, go thru the occasional slump – many seem bottomless. They are not. No matter what reason you can find, there is indeed a reason to pull yourself out. On that long ride home from Longview, I found and examined ALL of my reasons – and after letting them stew a couple weeks, I am ready to fight again. The sun will come out again, and passion will burn again.
“How badly do I want it?” is the big question.
In this self-assessment exercise, I think I just found a seasoned log for that fire that’s been dying.
Thanks for listening…