After many miles over the last four and a quarter years, I’d like to think I mostly know what I’m doing on a bicycle. There’s ways more to learn, of course. Still, it just takes one mistake and you could find yourself in a spot of bother, or should I say spot of splat. Today, I went on a ride with a friend that involved social distancing to avoid other riders, and there were many sidewalks. Towards the end, after about 20 miles at careful pace, a light turned green and I crossed a busy street — but it was the wrong light, not the crosswalk I was waiting for. Suddenly, I found myself in a lane where a car was coming by on either side. Fortunately there wasn’t a lot of traffic and my fellow rider told me I was wrong, so I quickly returned to the sidewalk. I was never in that much danger, as both cars slowed down. It wasn’t my best moment in what’s been a long journey, reminding me that being mindful in the present moment instead if the destination is one key to survival on the bike, as in life.
I chalked up the error to the fatigue of riding 110 or more miles a week without any rest days in almost six months. While I still enjoy every ride, lately I’ve been finding myself less excited by it. Maybe watching Curb Your Enthusiasm with my roommate is affecting me. I mean, just what is the big deal with riding my bike 110+ miles a week? Six months of consecutive days is coming up April 10, and I should probably take a break. I may very well be forced to by circumstances. But then again, riding even just one mile counts, and I’m curious to see how long I can keep going. Why? No real reason. Bicyclists bicycle. I’m fortunate to not have a time-sucking, soul-crushing 40-hour per week or more job, though I’m also very broke, like many people. Hopefully that changes soon for us all.
What’s (hopefully) interesting and relevant to you reading this? Well, if making a mistake like mine has ever happened to you, you can relate and empathize. If not, it’s a cautionary tale. Always be a lert. The world needs more lerts, after all. The two-fold lesson is this: if you lose focus there could be consequences, and if you’re tired, take a break. People are often telling me to “give it a rest, Dude.” I should probably heed that warning. I often repeat Jens Voght’s “Shut up legs?” to myself. Maybe I should also tell that to my mouth and fingers, but they don’t listen. They don’t have ears. Corny, I know. Corn does have ears, though it doesn’t listen. Sorta like everyone’s ex, right?
When I was a kid tooling around the suburban Texas town I grew up in with my younger brother and friends, we gave little thought to traffic. There wasn’t very much of it, no highway through the middle of things, and people yielded — they didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. If a car was coming, we were ordered to get on the sidewalk. Times were simpler and we could find fields, playgrounds, alleys, draining ditches and parks to ride around. I was never told I could keep biking and ride on the main roads; it just wasn’t safe and wasn’t done, that I or my parents knew of. If they did, they never said. There still are barely any bike lanes in my little town.
A few suburbs over, a guy came up six years after I. He started as a swimmer before becoming a tri-athlete then settled on the road bike. I had no clue that one could keep biking after high school or race a bike. I’m referring to a certain Lance Armstrong (nee Gunderson). Ironically, I could have sworn I saw him the other day down by Town Lake here in Austin, wearing the kit of his bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s. He actually was in town, but Strava didn’t show that our paths crossed. He could have been on a private ride, though. I had a moment of surprise when I saw him — not for the first time — so I gave a little wave, and he (or his doppelganger) waved back. There’s still some admiration for his biking, but mostly heartbreak over that whole saga.
When my car got smashed 15 years ago, I got back into biking. I wasn’t very serious about it, and probably just did about 1,000 miles a year for that decade while also walking and using the bus quite a lot. Over the last five years, I’ve been pretty consistent, averaging 4,500 miles per year on the bike, first Sonnie, then Sookie, now Sophie.. Not too shabby for a mid-aged guy who’s fit, but kinda flabby. Here’s the breakdown by years:
- 2005 – 2014 — 10,000 miles (estimated)
- 2015 — 3,000 miles (estimated)
- 2016 — 5,306 (Strava verified)
- 2017 — 4,714 (Strava verified)
- 2018 — 4,554 (Strava verified)
- 2019 — 5,005 (Strava verified)
For 2020, my goal is 5,500 miles. That would put me at 25,000 verified miles in five years, or once around the equator. Currently, I’m on track to make 6,000; it will probably be less, but we’ll see. I keep pushing myself harder to get faster, stronger, and leaner, but to no real effect. My body is used to riding (and daily walking and yoga) so it holds onto fat like a bear hibernating in winter. That’s a bad analogy, since I don’t lose weight easily or sleep for three months. Though I wish I could.
Food hasn’t been my friend in a while. Even after reducing sugar a good bit, giving up flour, and rarely drinking beer or other booze, I still have the slow metabolism I inherited and also just developed. It doesn’t seem fair, but I just try to focus on being active, and have begrudgingly accepted the moniker of fathlete. My resting heart rate is 58 bpm, which isn’t bad. It’s prettay, prettay, prettay good! Someday things in the weight department might change, but it’s not looking likely, and most of the time I’m fine with that. Life is short, enjoy it! Have some dark chocolate, occasional French fries, potato chips or ice cream make it bearable. Perfect is the enemy of good. Judge not lest you be judged. I’m a work in progress. At least I’m not addicted to drugs, drink, gambling, sex, etc. I’m certainly hooked on phonics, bicycling, my morning chocolate and TV, though!
If you ride, you know there are many fun, meaningful and satisfying things about bicycling. If you dont, you’re missing out and you get to try it. For me, that feeling of leaning into a curve is always fun and little thrilling. There’s an element of danger to it, like you might fall off and hurt yourself, especially at speed. But you don’t. Downhills can be nerve-wracking but are a real rush, too, depending on the incline and length. On today’s ride there were several places like that. Wind in my face, watching frantically for the tiniest rock or gap in the road or sidewalk that might take the wheel out from under me, as trees and buildings fly by as a blur — there’s just a feeling to it you have to experience to understand.
At the end of our 26-mile ride, I noted to my friend that we had no mishaps (save my goof up at the light). We had no accidental falls, crashes with cars, tickets from the police, punctures of our tires or other mechanicals. That’s mostly skill and partly luck. But it was satisfying, to move through space on our own power, getting exercise out in nature on a nice day, being able to see how people live, not be so isolated and have a sense of normalcy in an absurd and insane time, and more. We’re not polluting, either. Climate change is real, so trying to reduce harmful greenhouse gases is essential to human survival of humans, flora, and fauna and even the planet itself. Bikes are good.
Any day could be my last ride, or yours. It’s good to stop and realize that on occasion, if not every time. I feel grateful and also apprehensive. But biking helps with stress, too. Thank you for reading and being part of my journey. Until next time, keep your chin and spirits up and the rubber side down. Here’s where to follow me on Strava.
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