November 29, 2008

How to ride a bike forever

This has been a hard year for me and the bike. Sadly, I've fallen out of love with it and only occasionally glance at where it leans against the wall on one side of the "sunroom" in my apartment. The downtube and fork are crusted with dried mud from a few wet late-summer/early-fall rides, and the spokes are probably collecting cat hair from the kittehs rubbing against the wheels. A fellow blogger recently wrote about the development of his own bike love affair. Mine's unfortunately taken a different course. So what happened? What caused my nearly obsessive, addictive two-wheeled adoration to fade?



I've always had a bike, ever since the first tricycle Santa left under the Christmas tree four decades ago. As I outgrew one, my folks would make another one magically appear. Back then, there was no thought involved in riding, it was just something you did, either with the neighborhood kids or alone. As I hit adolescence, the bike took me farther. I somehow discovered that we lived near something called a "bike path" (the 45-mile long W&OD Trail, to be specific) and suddenly I was off, riding my bike to the comic book shop, to 7-11 for Slurpees, or just to explore. There was never any thought of how fast or far I was going, and having to get off and push the bike up that last incredibly steep hill on the way home was just something all the kids did and the idea of being humiliated by not being able to pedal up it never crossed my mind.

When I grew up enough to move out and live on my own, whatever bike I happened to own at the time went with me. It was casual riding, just around the neighborhood (and still to 7-11 for Slurpees) to learn my way around the new digs. Sidewalk, road, school ball-field, it was all fair game for my wheels. Then, as happened in my teen years, I discovered a nearby trail: the C&O Canal towpath. I had to drive to get to it, so I scrimped from a few paychecks and shelled out for a bike rack on the car, then began loading the bike up to explore the sections of the C&O closest to home. This was like discovering Nirvana. I quickly developed an appreciation for the car-free atmosphere and the gorgeous natural surroundings, the peace and the solitude (though there were more than a few bumpy rides that left my hooty-hoo wishing I'd take the bike back to the sidewalk).
I was blissfully happy on the C&O for years, zooming or cruising along on my cheap little Schwinn Frontier as the mood struck me.

But as time went on, I began to think about my riding. The milepost markers on the C&O made it possible to keep track of how far I was going. And, by keeping track of my miles and the time I was out, I was able to begin estimating how fast I rode. But I seemed to have a limit to both mileage and speed, and it didn't take long before the craving to increase one or the other, or both, grabbed hold of me. The first bit of advice I was given was to get a bike computer and watch my cadence in order to pace myself for longer rides. Done. Worked for a while, but then the insidious craving for a new bike began to creep up on me. I think I talked to salespeople at a total of three shops, and ended up buying the first bike I test rode (the guys in that shop were the only ones smart enough to actually get the bike down and tell me to go ride it, and I fell for it).

The difference was amazing. The computer showed that I was immediately riding faster, and the carbon fork on the bike smoothed out a significant amount of the towpath bumpiness that had left my hooty-hoo so frequently disgruntled. Within a few rides, I was clocking twice the mileage per ride. Is there a second level to Nirvana? If so, I'd found it.

Then I discovered the forums at Team Estrogen.com. The forums attact a tremendously wide variety of female cyclists, from comfort-beast cruisers to custom carbon racers and everything in between. I could relate to the women who rode at a more relaxed pace (though I'll admit I was a bit perturbed to discover that I qualified as a slow rider) and I could learn from the very experienced roadies and mtb'ers in the bunch. A handful of us in the DC area even began meeting to ride together, and these ladies soon tempted me off of my beloved towpath onto hilly country roads and gentle singletrack. They've challenged and inspired me, and we've had a lot of fun together.

So what happened this year?

There've been a couple of things, I think. First and most obvious to me is that I had a handful of bad rides this year. Some were just a case of unpleasant circumstances (crappy weather, etc), but others were more serious and indicated a possible medical condition that I need to have checked out. After so many years of riding the pancake-flat C&O and similar paved bike trails, beginning to ride hills has been a hellatious challenge for me. I had more than one ride this summer that left me gasping at the top of a comparatively small hill, light-headed and in a cold sweat, feeling that I would pass out if I stood upright and with my heart erratically pounding as if it would beat its way out of my ribcage. Heatstroke? Perhaps, but the symptoms made me paranoid that I've developed a heart condition. (And of course I'm procrastinating in getting to the doctor about this. Denial's become stronger than the urge to ride.)

There's also, though, been that issue of thinking about my rides. That desire to go farther and faster, and to try to conquer the hills, led to logging every ride at bikejournal.com. Once upon a time, a good ride was one on which I'd just plain had fun, and the endorphins from just pedaling were more than enough. Suddenly, a ride wasn't good unless I'd accomplished something. I had to either maintain a smooth pedal stroke at a high cadence, or I had to maintain a high (for me) speed for the entire ride, or I had to reach a farther distance than I had before, or I had to get up a certain hill without stopping three times on the way. I had to when I rode.

I think this has all been in the back of my mind for a while. I'd gotten to the point this summer that I was flipping the bike computer around the handlebar so I couldn't see it while I rode. And days would go by before I'd log rides at bikejournal. I started thinking more about just riding the bike to do nearby errands and such. Finally, in October, I leaned the bike against the wall and ignored it. Then, this morning, urbanvelo.org posted this:



Eureka. That makes me want to ride, though it's a damned shame that the folks at urbanvelo couldn't have posted it before temps in the DC area dove into the 40-ish degree range (that is one obstacle to riding I doubt I'll ever overcome). But I'm inspired to do things differently next year. Whether it means removing my bike computer or just not logging into bikejournal, whether I ride 40 miles on the C&O or just up the street to the 7-11, I want to get back to riding just for the sake of riding. Whatever it takes, just so that it's once more "joyous and simple".

7 comments:

Groover said...

Whatever you do, please keep riding. It would be such a shame if you gave it up for good. I loved your early childhood account of riding a bike. It's so similar to my experience.

KaliDurga said...

I doubt I'll give it up for good, at least as long as I can still swing a leg over the top tube. The timing of this is good- I usually take a break from cycling during the cold months and get back into hiking for a while. And I have an appointment for a physical in January so I can talk to them about what I think might be a heart arrhythmia. By spring, hopefully both body and mind will be ready to crank the pedals again. Sans computer, though ;)

BettyBetty said...

No wiser words spoken...I often long for an easy carefree ride...just for fun.

human being said...

i signed in to post some of my new ramblings when i noticed a new follower is reading me... when i clicked to discover, i was shocked first... gosh! so many similarities... female, 43, year of dragon, a capricorn... and the favorites....OMG!
then i was in your blog reading... biking! my old beloved!
What a discovery...
HI!
so happy to find you KaliDurga...
and regarding your bike, it's your sword dear goddess...
interesting... two of my newest posts (going to publish them) are about liberty.... and habits... think those themes are present here...
your unconscious knows how to behave to avoid being imprisoned in the habits, lest you would not enjoy what you do...
this most probably counts for the fluctuations in your interests...

all through my childhood and early teens i never departed from my bike... i crave so much now for a long ride with a bike... just me and my beloved!
(in Iran people look down upon women cycling in the public but nearly half of the cars are driven by women!!!)
:)

KaliDurga said...

BettyBetty: They've (the ubiquitous "They") done studies showing that workers are more productive if a break or two is included in the work day. Perhaps a carefree ride from time to time would have a similar effect on your training. If you ever feel a desire to slack off, you know who to come to for encouragement ;)

human being: Very nice to "meet" you. I was attracted by the name of your blog, as the crow is one of those creatures with which I've had interesting encounters and I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts, as well. And your reason for changing that name jives with one of the current books I'm reading (Batchelor's Living with the Devil). Gotta love synchronicity :) I'm really interested in knowing more about your experiences in Iran, it's a country I'm beginning to become fascinated with.

You make a very good point about the unconscious knowing how to avoid the imprisonment of habits. What's a shame is how long it sometimes takes to hear the unconscious...

MDHillSlug said...

We may be united by cycling but we can have wildly different goals, desires, and aspirations. One size definitely does not fit all! One thing we all need to learn is to listen to our bodies and to find joy wherever we can. I hope you find you way back there.

Nicole

KaliDurga said...

Hey there, nice to see you! And, yes, you're very right. That's exactly what I need to remember the next time I get on the bike.