Mission Accomplished. (Unlike That President)
Well, A Dude Abikes did it! He not only met his original goal of bicycling 4,000 miles for the year (or almost 77 per week); he totally crushed it by 1,300 miles, finishing at 5,306, averaging 102 per week. He (OK, I) bicycled the equivalent of going from Key West, Florida to the edge of Mount Denali park in Alaska. Here’s my Strava summary chart to prove it to the doubting Thomases out there. (NOTE: Pictures forthcoming.)
As you can see, I climbed over 134,000 feet (that’s 25 miles of elevation, folks) in 528 rides spanning just under 487 hours (that’s moving time; my Garmin watch auto-pauses for stops, but I didn’t have it all year). Readers of this blogito know I completed two century rides, 104 in April in the Hill Country Ride for AIDS and 107 in October in Bike Austin’s Armadillo Classic for 50 then another 57 on my own. The other statistic of note is that the last week of the year I managed 200 miles, though this included 3 miles on New Year’s Day, so that did not count toward the 5,306. I could go on about the statistics, but I’ll leave that for the curious to peruse my Strava page: https://www.strava.com/athletes/12498368
Last Ride of the Year: 80 Miles to Hell-gin and Back
The last ride of the year, on New Year’s Eve, was due in part to me adding in a bonus 100 miles, and also a way to get a 75-miler under my belt. I’d done 50, 60 and over 100, but nothing in between. So I put the call out and two fast, hard-core and awesome riders joined me: Bryce and Seth. The former I met on the Southern Walnut Creek Trail and then at a Please Be Kind to Bicyclists Ride of Silence; the latter on the Hill Country Ride. Unfortunately it was after I’d already done 25 miles, so they’re legs were much fresher. Fortunately for me, Bryce was recovering from a cold and Seth had not been riding much. They still kicked my butt all the way to Elgin (sausage capital of Texas) and back, but they also did not drop me (leave me behind them on the road). Scholars and gentlemen, both. I’d been there before but this time hurt. Like going through a sausage grinder if it left your legs in one piece but you couldn’t tell by looking at ’em.
After having to go to the lab to have my blood drawn, which maybe was not the best idea, I rode around a bit to get to Govalle Park, the base of the SWCT. I met my helpers in the parking lot. Bryce offered me two Cricket Bars, mostly dried fruit. I joked it was about the only time I get dates. Seth was trying out his new cool Felt bike. And then it was on like Donkey Kong. Bryce took the lead as pacesetter with Seth bringing up the rear, making A Dude Abikes the meat in the sandwich. Like a well-marbled brisket, I was about to get chopped up, mixed with sauce and made a meal of. (Reminds me of a joke: A Brit corrects an American who ended a sentence with a preposition. “OK, you limey,” says the American. “I know not what you speak of… asshole!”) And mine would sure be sore by the end of the day.
Dog-Tired, and Gone to the Dogs
Heading up the trail at a steady clip, I was reminded why group riding is so helpful. One tends to slow to a comfortable pace on solo rides. Bryce is no slow-poke, but he didn’t completely hammer us either. After 6 miles we ascended to the top and decided instead of doing three laps to do an out-and-back to Elgin, Texas. With a stop in Manor at the convenience store where nice-guy and clerk Samuel has stocked Pickle Juice at my request (one of A Dude’s many contributions to humankind, thank you very much), we continued on to very bad roads and even worse, a stiff wind. Unlike the supported charity rides, this one was just three guys on bikes with a convenience store. No cheers, or hugs, or “atta-boy, you can do it’s!”. But they were basically doing a charity ride since A Dude’s slower speed was a bit boring for them. Hey, every tortoise needs a hare, and every dog has his day. A Dude earned this help.
Speaking of devil dogs, at one point, a very vocal and hungry-looking Dobersherperdweiler charged out into the road. Seth had gone by before the potentially rabid cus and cousin of Cujo threatened Bryce and yours truly, so A Dude began barking back at the top of my lungs. I then slowly circled back to not provoke the great beast, water bottle in hand. (Mine, not the dog’s. Dogs have paws and are horrible at holding water bottles.) Bryce had wisely stopped and was probably going to be fine, but I squirted the hoary hound of the Baskervilles. He ran back to his hidey hole, tail between the legs, I imagine. I didn’t wait around to find out. On the way back I was dog-tired and fortunately our frenemy did not greet us.
This Ride Goes on Forever, and the Suffering Never Ends
Even though it was mostly a flat ride, I was cramping. Stopping to “photograph cows”, drafting off Seth and trying to keep Bryce’s workmanlike pace, grimacing into the wind, slowing down, watching the pretty countryside go by, hydrating and taking on carbs, gels and whatever I had and getting a second wind — it’s all a painful but beautiful blur. Coming back through Manor, we encountered a group of racers out doing a 120-mile ride. Admiration mixed with a little envy, but A Dude knows his limits. I just wanted to finish the day and year in one piece. Toward the end of the ride, knowing it would all soon be over, I found some reserve dilithium crystals, fired up the turbines, and led our trio charging downhill on the Walnut averaging 19 miles per hour, hitting 30 in some spots. Twisting and turning, braking and accelerating, trying to stay in our lane and not wipe out into other riders.
Much like other challenging rides and the year overall, I enjoyed it, but it was hard. Thrilling and exhausting I was astonished and yet unsurprised by my effort. I may be slow in comparison to many riders, but as one of the guys said, I did alright. If there’s one thing five thousand, three hundred and six miles has taught A Dude, it’s this: everyone’s ass looks better in black Lycra. Oh, and that I can and did set my mind to a goal, I can (usually) accomplish it. And if A Dude can do it, you can too, whatever your goal may be — IF you’re willing to dig deeper than you ever thought you could and ignore the naysayers. But like Daniel Day-Lewis, if you ruthlessly risk it all to get what you want, There Will Be Blood. Just do like A Dude, and try to keep it inside your body. (P.S. You don’t have to be totally ruthless — the occasional Baby Ruth is fine.) Mmmm…. Baby Ruth. But I digress.
A Ride for (My) History Books
We finished the ride and my Garmin vivoactiv watch said 78 miles. I asked for some indulgence to make it 80; Seth relented and Bryce headed home. Seth got the OK from the missus to seek out libations and we found ourselves at the Dog & Duck. An Austin institution I’d been to more than a few times that was — like so many before and after — displaced and destroyed by high downtown rents, it had found a new spot in East Side. But that’s a topic for another blog.
Seth and I sat at the bar and fell into silence, devouring our well-earned fish and chips, hamburger and adult beverages, replenishing our tanks. Arriving in time for the 6 pm New Year’s Toast (midnight in the U.K.), we were given party hats, beads and complementary champagne. Some acquaintances Howee and Linda were there. A Dude doesn’t frequent bars but he owed Seth a brewski and it was the perfect place to end the day and the year.
A fellow cyclist was there having a party, and we chatted her up while she awaited her beer order. Turns out she was a record-holding canoeist who had done (and won) some long-distance races like 38 hours non-stop from San Marcos to the Gulf of Mexico. Short and powerful, but with a cheerful disposition, I recognized a look in her eyes: a steely reserve saying “Out of my way, nothing’s going to stop me!” It’s the same 1000-yard stare Lance Armstrong had in his Tour de France racing days. Performance-enhancement aside, he still rode every single mile. I’ve seen that look in the eyes of many athletes, including my own. Even if you’re not a cyclist, runner, or what have you, it’s in yours too, I bet. Eye of the Tiger, baby!
So many times it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive
It’s the eye of the tiger
It’s the thrill of the fight
Rising up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watching us all with the eye of the tiger”
Rising up, straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I’m not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive
-Survivor (the band)
Introducing… A Dude AHikes!
I’ve waited a week to write this blog, for several reasons. One, to let the experience sink in. Two, I was really quite tired after the day, and year. Three, life goes on: job, chores, errands and the (dis)like. I’ve also not touched my bicycle in a week on purpose. I began walking and using the bus, I used a free 7-day pass to the YMCA to swim and lift weights, and I continue my daily yoga. Somewhere in there is and will be the ongoing attempt to eat healthier. I’m still the guy who more than once went out late on a Sunday night to get another 20 miles on the bike, even when he’s dead on his feet and it’s cold and rainy. But instead of that he’ll be writing, reading, or better yet… sleeping.
The main reason to bike less is TIME: It takes (me) roughly 10 miles per hour on average. That’s a part-time job — time I want back to blog and do other things, including write a book about 2016. And, surprisingly, I did not lose weight. I actually gained about 6 pounds (presumably muscle). Which is not fair, but I did eat to bike, and bike to eat. Walking burns more calories and adds weight to the bones, which is good for density. So while A Dude Abikes will most certainly continue to bike, there is no crazy mileage goal for 2017. I’ll go where I need to, and join in the occasional social ride, but I will be doing a lot of other things to improve my overall health.
No more charity rides, either. I’m retired from that racket. While part of me is tempted to do the MS 150, I just know the time, effort and suffering while at my weight without a new bike, is not worth it at this point. I’m only proving to myself that I can do something that on its surface is admirable, but also self-destructive. There are plenty of other ways to contribute to community and good causes. If and when I get to my goal weight and I can ride up hills fast and long distances without too much pain, I may try it again. But if the internet rallies to buy me a new bike, get me to training rides, and otherwise get me in shape without sacrificing the rest of my time, I’d consider coming out of retirement.
For now, I’m going to do what people have been telling me to do my whole life: Take a hike, dude!
What Does It All Mean? Was It Worth It? What Now?
In the end, 2016 will go down as The Year of the Bike. A combination of fitness goal, mid-life crisis, and incredible adventure, achieving a goal I never thought I would even attempt continually blows my mind, and sometimes that of others. Maybe even you. But what does pedaling my feet in a circles, going on big loops around town and even bigger ones in the Hill Country, mean? Much sound and fury, signifying nothing, perhaps. But there was effort in every pedal stroke, every bead of sweat, every curse or victory cry coming across my lips. More effort than most people who don’t bike or do other similar activities can appreciate.
It was definitely worth it if only one reason: to prove to myself I could achieve far more than I ever thought. If I can do that on a bike, maybe I can do that in other areas of my life. My effort, while in the grand scheme of things is certainly small and insignificant — frivolous even, given ongoing war, poverty, famine, cruelty and environmental degradation in the world. But hopefully my biking from Florida to Alaska (or twice around the border of Texas) showed me, and maybe you, Dear Reader, to heed the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau:
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.
In the end, I hope to have inspired some people along the way. Whether someone wants to bike 100 miles in a week or a month, just be more active, or have some other goal, maybe my modest contribution has been of some help. (If you’re one, let me know!) Part of my plan with this blog was to inspire myself to write, and then to write a book. While I was much more productive with miles than words, I am taking steps down that path. It will be a hard and hilly one as well, so we shall see where it leads. With some luck, grit, and the help of some friends, one thing is certain:
I like to ride my bicycle / I like to ride my bike / I like to ride my bicycle… / I like to ride it where I like! –Queen