Sunday, July 20, 2008

Group ride the lightning

A huge reason I was impelled to cycling was the independence it fosters. I was never a fan of driving nor much a fan other people so I tended to avoid cars and public transportation. Discovering a simple, practical and comprehensible form of transportation was at once liberating and empowering. After so long, solitary commuting evolved into solitary training. Shedding my hardened antisocial exterior-which took an entire upbringing submerged in suburban dystopia to form-was absolutely out of the question; and luckily for me that question never even arose. Riding became my own personal island where I had trained monkeys feeding me cocktails out of coconut shells and where I could sunbathe like a European without fear of making children cry.

Just last weekend my own personal pleasure island had been rocked by a force not unlike a category 5 hurricane: The Group Ride. Riding in groups is like taking a practice test, it simulates riding in a peloton without the emotional repercussions of being dropped, the financial blow of wasting money to be in a race, or even the the athleticism required to be in a real race. While constantly reassured this was a slower ride and hence I would be fine, the terror of being boxed in a cluster of roadies was paramount to any fears of athletic incompetence. Determined not to ride like a triathlete, I knew conquering this group ride thing was imperative to my development as a cyclist. I approached the ride like a child forced into eating spinach; I held my breath, grimaced, and focused on the ice cream I'd be eating soon enough.

The ride started out slowly, winding its way north and out of the city. Once into the suburbs, the group remained at roughly the same speed, which I assumed to be a warm-up of sorts, so I remained in the back waiting for something exciting to happen. While I maintain a healthily inflated self-concept in most areas of life, cycling is as of yet the only endeavor to systematically erode my wall of hubris into humble crumbles, and as such staying out of the way is nearly always the most appealing option. An hour and a few hills later I was convinced the ride would be starting at any second, and my death grip on the handlebars tightened in anticipation. Yet even later, a small group of us who had to work that day broke off to go home; the ride was officially over and I hadn't even known it began. Although the pace was relaxed, the perpetual anxiety I had been riding with and the tension in my arms was immensely fatiguing, but the most painful part may have been the three stings I endured after a wayward wasp wandered down my shirt.

I had mentally prepared to feel vulnerable, like a soft freshly molted salamander seeking camouflage on a carnivore's tongue, which was apparent in the way my jaw ached from grinding my teeth and from the numbness coming from my blood-starved pinkie figures. After arriving home I realized how overblown my fears and concerns were; I also realized that salty sweat pouring into an ever-swelling sting wound is shockingly awful. But like the first beer I drank as a teenager, this first group ride left me with nary a buzz, yet I'm inexplicably drawn to try it again.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ladies First

Ever since I was old enough to comprehend the nature of sexual dynamics in modern society--around five or six years of age--I decided that boys seemed to ruin most everything.
Apparently others out there agree. In light of this enduring fact, some radical women are putting on a women-only race tomorrow. While I must miss the festivities to "work" at the shop, for this event I gave a few bags to sponsor, including one with a meticulously crafted appliqué of an anatomically precise uterus. For those of you less scientifically savvy, the uterus is the moon-goddess organ seated in the depths of the abdominal pan's labyrinthine cavity, and is the source of our carnal power.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My other ride is a LSR

In the course of human evolution, our prehistoric ancestors crawled on the ground as mammals, lived in trees as more advanced prosimians, then came back down from the forest and began to walk and run as proto-humans. Because of this, walking and running are easy enough to learn; we evolved to be good at this. Bicycles have only been around for 100 years, giving zero time for our species to selectively repopulate the earth with scrawny yet oddly pear-shaped and totally hairless uber cyclists. As such, training is not a natural nor intuitive process.

To follow common cycling lore, one must first collect a large sum of miles, between 500 to 1000, before real training can commence. This acquisition of miles is referred to as base miles, named such because this set of miles is morally devoid, dishonorable, illegitimate, and has a pH over 7. It is not recommended to exert maximal effort during these, and hence the name Long Slow Ride (L.S.R.) is apt. It is during this establishment period that the body becomes attuned to the demands of the bicycle; capillaries branch, the heart becomes stronger, and unique muscle groups get used to working together. Like a funeral home beautician applying foundation to a corpse, the base miles serve to fill in the gaps.

LSR to me has come to mean Long Solo Miles, because at this point in my S.A.D. cycling career, no intermediate cyclist really wants to ride with me. Its not just the slow but erratic pace I likely ride at, but the lack of something referred to as bicycle "handling skills" which can realistically put others in danger. From what I can gather, all it really means is the ability to keep your bike upright, usually going in a straight line, but sometimes turning. The difficulty arises due to inconsistencies in the terrain and is further burdened by increment weather, traffic patterns, relative fitness and exertion levels, time of day, and of course the trajectories of the other riders. It seems simple enough.

Because I'm new to this city and because I'm much too cowardly to venture out forging paths of my own, I choose to do the bulk of my LSRs on a 24 mile paved bicycle path to Valley Forge. A somewhat lackluster rail-to-trail, this concrete strip hosts splendid views of industrial parks, busted-out industrial parks, and even: industrial parks under current construction. Yet it ends at a giant valley that is paved, pre-forged, and even chocked-full of somnolent colonial chronicles, so it has its charms. The park also features practical amenities which I take complete and unbridled advantage of; these include a clean-ish public restroom and close proximity to some off-highway mini-marts.

Two hundred years ago, this was the location that Washington and his troops spent a miserable, epic, and treacherous winter (however with so many stories about soldiers being naked and socially isolated it couldn't have been that bad); where they seemingly lost all hope only to meet a bountiful spring that restored them body and spirit, and changed the course of the Revolutionary War and thus the history of the United States. And it is here that I go on epic, treacherous LSRs then refuel with abundant, glorious amounts of gas station junk food. It's like my rides are microcosms of historical suffering being repeated on the hallowed ground, the ghosts of Freedom and Revolution urging me to keep riding, to forge on, and to promise "just this once" and to not tell anybody when I get back to the city.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Going #2

I never had younger siblings, so as a child I didn't have the opportunity to fully realize my most likely awesome potential as an instructor. Now that I am a wealthy, wildly successful adult I have the Internet, where I get to teach, praise, and even taunt freely and without fear of parental interruption or retribution. While I do have a surfeit of wisdom I could share, much like the greedy, maladjusted middle child I would have been, I have chosen merely one to delve into online.

This one topic is of course, cycling. As you may well be aware, I have been gracious enough to grant front row admission to my epic, coming-of-age journey of becoming a serious, amateur, dedicated (or S.A.D.) cyclist. I have been doubly generous in condensing and dispensing indispensable cycling sapience. Coinciding with my unapologetically ingenuous internet simulacrum and coupled with my passionate exhibitionism, I wish to squeeze off yet another glossy pearl of wisdom to adorn the collective bare heaving chest of my adoring audience.

Like losing your virginity, my first tip probably left many uncomfortable, confused, and with Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" stuck in your head. Why bother investing so much in something which real reprocussions include a 10PM bedtime and ingrown crotch hairs? Yes, cycling is unnecessary, painful, and brutally spirit crushing, but so is nearly every endeavor other than breathing oxygen and procreating. I could go into a lengthy discourse about the falsity of the American dream, of the hopeless persistence of suburban anomie, of self-induced existential dilemmas, but it is already 9 o'clock PM and I have to get up really, really early to ride tomorrow. So here is where the real carrot stick lies, why serious cycling has such an immediate allure.

More tersely, here's my Tip #2:

As a beginner, you will advance faster than any other time. Every month you learn new things, become stronger, smarter, faster, better looking. In the first six months of serious riding it's possible to double endurance, to shave substantial chunks of time off the same ride, and to rapidly increase muscle and lung function. You can progress from gooey fetus to full-blown, bedwetting, phallic-stage penis-envy toddler in the course of a year. When you've only been riding for seven months, even on your crap days you can tell yourself, "I'm not as crap as I was 3 months ago". And unlike pathetic rationalizations of poor performance in other areas of your crap life, you won't be lying this time.

Happy riding!