The Learning Curve
Finding His Own Way
Being a good cyclist sometimes means revising your idea of good cycling
Yesterday I rode up a bike trail
. It was perfect weather. Nobody needed me to be back at any particular time, so I pedaled steadily without pushing. Swarms of a tiny, annoying bug filled the air, hanging onto me as I whizzed along and trying to bite me even as I endeavored to shake them off. It was like one of those Indiana Jones movies where he’s simultaneously holding a rope and fighting off three assailants on top of a truck going 60 mph.
Other than that, it was proving to be a fulfilling ride. Gorgeous scenery poured past me, pine trees giving way to farms giving way to brooks giving way to marshes full of even more bugs. My fellow cyclists were sensible and courteous. Only one car almost hit me, and that was 50 percent my fault. (The police would learn a lot more if you to had fill out reports on accidents that didn’t happen.) But I think what I liked best about the ride was that I wasn’t thinking about my riding. By that I mean I wasn’t conscious of how far I was going, or how fast, or whether I should climb more hills or do intervals.
That’s unusual for me. I’ve been writing this column for 18 months, and I set out last year thinking I was destined for nothing less than to conquer rides like gran fondos
, which stretch on for 100 or more miles and often include Everest-scale elevation gains. But in the past year, I stopped training for a century on the Maine seacoast, which I started training for after I stopped training for a gran fondo in Vancouver. And of course, I started training for that after I stopped training for a two-day, 150-mile ride in Massachusetts.
Now that I’ve discovered this technique, I think I can expand out. For example, there’s a gran fondo in Kuala Lumpur in 2013. If I start training now, I can realize I’m not ready in plenty of time.
But there is one thing I did do over the past 18 months: I kept riding. I kept going out to pedal up various trails, and kept showing up for the group ride I joined last year. On a good evening, I’m stronger and faster than I was a year ago, when my goal was to not be 26th in a pack of 25, and to avoid that fate I had to execute a pulse-pounding sprint to overtake some lady who hadn’t yet figured out the gears on her new bike.
Yesterday, at least, I felt clearheaded and very much one with my bike and the universe. Ram Dass, a teacher of spiritual thought, says spiritual transformation “brings us to the point where we realize that in our own being, we are enough.” That’s where I was, cycling-wise at least. No part of my body hurt much more at the end of my ride than it did at the start. I was looking forward to a well-earned dinner and a cold beverage produced by the brewing and fermentation of cereal grains. Bliss.
It struck me that even though I’d still like to do a fondo sometime, and believe despite all my starts and stops that I will, I’m never more happy than when I go back to just riding, spinning the pedals for 25 miles with no particular purpose. Sometimes that’s more than enough.
At one turn near home, I passed three young women headed the other way. One of them said to another, speaking about the third, “I think we have to stop. She can’t feel one of her feet.”
I’ve had that happen. Once, during a group ride, I lost the feeling in most of my left leg. I learned afterward that that’s often a result of your saddle being positioned wrong, and I almost turned around and went back and explained the not-uncommonness of that. Because I’m that kind of cyclist, too: the kind who likes to help the tiny population of cyclists even less adept at this than I am. But I knew they’d figure it out.
Also, I’m training for Kuala Lumpur. It takes every bit of my focus.