Tag Archives: bicycle

Cyclists: Smug but Balanced

I have been a cycling enthusiast for over ten years now, though I’ll admit I have been more enthusiastic some years than others. I have done the century rides (100 miles, yes, in a single day) and the multi-day rides, the triathlons and team triathlons, the fundraisers, the group rides and the solo rides. I love the bicycle and the road and the hills. Not so much the wind or the “rumble bumps” engraved into the shoulders of the pavement, but what can you do? Another cyclist friend of mine has a friend and a neighbor who despises cyclists on principle: we don’t belong on his roads. There is a statute in Minnesota <169.222> that says we actually do, but as far as he and his like-minded buddies are concerned, that is beside the point. I kind of get it. It can be nerve-racking sharing a lane with someone who has nothing but two narrow spinning wheels, a helmet and some Lycra between him/her and the road. Keeping an eye on the distance between the cyclist and yourself as well as the oncoming traffic also can be a little stressful as I know from my own experience, especially when some bikers (like some motorists) can be a little unpredictable. But I don’t think these valid concerns totally explain the hate.

Having hung out with and observed cyclists individually and in groups for years I say this with conviction: we can be a smug, self-righteous bunch. We are in love with our bikes, our gear, our numbers of miles, our average speed and our highest speed. We love our tight molded calves and our endorphin rushes. We even love the “ring tattoo” of black grease many of us wear on our right legs after a few stops and starts. We love drafting off each other, our front tires inches from the back wheel of the cyclist ahead of us giving us free speed until our turn at the front, and when we get fancy and whip out the rotating paceline, where two tightly packed lines of cyclists synchronize movements in an aerodynamic road ballet, well then, we are downright infatuated with ourselves. Because it is cool. And it’s challenging to work up the skills and the miles and the confidence to do it all. We like that we power our own rides. We like the sounds, sights and smells of the outdoors (most of the time.) We like how the stress of the office, the relationships, the future all falls away as we press forward—building speed on the flats, heaving up the hills, shooting down the other side and doing it again as we push our hearts, lungs and muscles to go farther, or faster or just to go. You have to have balance to stay upright on two wheels, but spending time on a bicycle brings balance to life. Life just looks different from a bicycle saddle.

So we can be a little obnoxious, drinking post-ride beers in our sweaty Lycra with our grease tattooed calves, laughing uproariously at endorphin-fueled stories of the guy who got off the route and had to be chased down and returned. Maybe the conversation turns to bike trips in Napa Valley, or Europe or to the newest, best bike tech with the absurd price tags. We might groan about our aching whatevers, but we feel good. That can be hard to be around, but don’t hate us because we are celebrating our good fortune to be cyclists. Come join us instead.

Coming soon: an excerpt from Hollywood University. We are looking for representation, so if you like it and know someone in the publishing world, let me know!

Tour de Cure: The Finish Line

The first forty miles were pure fun, and that was a relief, because I had done a pitiful amount of training on my bicycle. The day of the American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure (bicycling fundraiser) was inarguably the finest weather day thus far in 2011. I had raised over $500 (thank you family and friends!) and committed myself to the 62 mile route (a metric century—100km.) The route was beautiful, the volunteers were supportive and the paths were not too crowded to keep a happy pace. I was riding alone in the midst of 1500 other riders, but I’m not shy so I struck up conversations here and there. Over those first forty miles I had several enjoyable encounters on some of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever ridden, through communities including St. Paul, St. Louis Park, and Minneapolis.

It was around mile number forty-two when I suddenly realized that what I was doing felt more like work than fun. The terrain hadn’t really changed—it was mostly flat with occasional hills into and out of river valleys. I was just getting fatigued. By mile forty-three my neck decided it was tired of holding up my head and started complaining. Loudly. Shortly after that I met Colleen, a woman not very much older than I am, who was wearing the distinctive red jersey that signified she was a diabetic. She had the slim strong build that many avid cyclists have and told me that her diabetes was diagnosed forty years ago. Forty years of finger pricks for blood tests and insulin injections. She had obviously taken good care of herself. The next rest stop on the ride, I eschewed the bananas and granola bars for a chance to lay down on the grass and stretch.

Later in the ride I met Amy, whose cousin Kristi died in her mid-thirties from diabetes. Amy told me that in her adolescence Kristi had made some rebellious choices about how to take care of herself, believing she wasn’t likely to survive past her twenties. Other stories I had heard about young people dying from diabetes illustrated that even when they made the best decisions they could, the insidious disorder could still steal a life away.

Miles forty-seven to fifty-seven were okay. I had a thrill zipping down Kellogg through green lights at thirty miles per hour, but otherwise I was just looking forward to the finish line. At the finish line there would be free chair massages, food, music and possibly some familiar faces. A party to celebrate the distance traveled and the accomplished goal of raising awareness and money for the cause. In the meantime, miles fifty-seven plus were starting to be a painful grind. My experience is that once you’ve been in the saddle long enough, the seat pain sort of numbs back to discomfort, which only surges back to pain if you take a break and then get back on (did someone sharpen my saddle?) or have something really unnecessary happen, like your foot slipping off the pedal after a stop and your whole weight crushing one place or another. I find that the neck thing doesn’t numb back. It’s cumulative. Additionally, in endurance rides, you can try to stay hydrated and take in enough calories but it’s tricky even if you don’t have diabetes to keep things level, and when things get out of whack you can start to feel sick. Finally, there’s a mental obstacle, in that the last couple of miles have that nightmarish stretching out quality that makes them seem so much longer. One could get crabby. But the blessed finish line appeared and the music played and the food was good and the massage was better. Mission accomplished, I was tired but back to feeling great. I could pack up my bike and go.

But those Red Riders? They are still on their journey. Day after day they must continue to grind through test strips and insulin injections and carefully consider their diet, exercise, stress levels, and hormone changes because that is life or death to them. In other words, they never get off their bikes. Diabetes is a horrible condition that affects about one in twelve people in the United States, but there is promising research happening. Be part of the cure: raise money, donate, or volunteer at a fundraising event. You know someone affected by this disorder; you can help them close in on diabetes’ finish line.

I am so glad you have stopped in to check out my newborn blog! My desire to be a successful writer is almost (but not quite) matched by the fear that I can’t do this at all. I remember when I first started riding a road bike (super skinny tires, handlebars lower than the saddle, shoes that clip to the pedals.) That first summer I found every way possible to fall over, usually in front of other cyclists and motorists. After the eighth consecutive phone conversation with my mom relating my latest kiss with the pavement she commented, “I don’t understand why you keep doing something you are so bad at.” She is not usually cruel that way and will probably deny she ever said it, but it’s true. My response was, “I like it, well, not the falling part, but all the rest of it.” Writing is like that, but more so.  Writing is therapy and escape and growth. It can also be a little bit like picking scabs. Sorry, but you know what I mean, don’t lie and say you don’t. It is agony sometimes and yet I can’t stop doing it. True love or psychopathology? The jury is still out, but I hope that  you will join me on the road to verdict, and that there aren’t too many crashes along the way.