Sunday, November 29, 2009

Next control: 26.1 miles.

I've never been very competitive on the whole. That doesn't mean I wouldn't like to have been, it's just that I really hate losing, and have been convinced most of my life that any competition that I might enter would have that result. So I've avoided losing by not competing. I have not managed to avoid feeling like a loser, just managed to avoid losing.

As I grew up daydreaming about being a winner, I cast myself in the role of the hero of any adventure story that I read. I was Jim Bridger, mountain man. I was Admiral Byrd as he traversed the frozen north. I was anyone who, in the story, fought the elements and a natural desire to quit, but in the end came through. That's why long distance cycling fascinates me.

There are two main long distance cycling national organizations: UMCA the ultra marathon cycling association, and RUSA randonneurs USA. The former focuses on long distance cycling races, the latter on long distance cycling events. I use the word events because they are not races. The results are posted alphabetically not by finish time. There are time limits, both upper and lower limits. You cannot ride too fast, nor to slow in order to be successful. And yet, while the results are posted alphabetically, they also post the finish time. That's where the competition element comes in. Now you can compare yourself with all of the other finishers.

In the literature of RUSA they specifically state that it is not a competition against other riders, and yet in a recent quarterly newsletter they printed a ride report, essentially a rider's narrative of the event, in which the author made sure we knew he finished first. And the most famous event on the randonneuring calendar is the Paris-Brest-Paris ride. 1200 kilometers (744 miles) of cycling fun. Believe it or not, while the alphabetical rule applies here, there is a special award for the fastest finishers. Imagine that. Doesn't that make it a race?

What is my point? Just this: for reasons known only to God and certain enlightened anthropologists men need to compete against one another, not just the elements and themselves. And this drives me crazy. I still hate losing, and haven't found that one thing in which I can be a winner. There is always someone taller, richer, faster, stronger, happier, smarter (and in the words of the king of Siam) et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I have a friend who is a missionary in Viet Nam; he is saving the world. I have friends who are successful pastors and they are saving their worlds. I have friends who own businesses, or work for the government, or have multiple college degrees. I have friends who hold racing licenses and race bicycles successfully and one who even races motorcycles at a semi-pro level. Daydreaming you're Admiral Byrd seems pretty lame against all that.

I don't really have a good closing to this post. I wish I did - some real pithy way to say that none of this matters and I'm not bothered by the disparity between the success of others, and my apparent underachieving. But I can't come up with anything at the moment.

Here's my big finish: The key to riding long distance is to break it up into small distances. Just focus on riding to the next control. By doing that repeatedly, at some point the distance will be covered, and you will have finished successfully. You may not win (of course they say it's not a race but we know better), but you can at least finish. Of course, make sure to finish within the time limit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I don't wanna play house.

Playing house is fun. Especially if you're 18 or 19 and you and your lover move in together without the benefit of marriage. You can buy drapes, and get a dog, and do dishes together on a Saturday night. But it's different being married. I can't fully explain why, but it is different.

Playing church is fun. You can get a pulpit and some pews; you can pick out stained glass windows and flowers for the altar rail in the front. You can sing songs, and call each other brother and sister. But it's different being the church in a place where it might really cost you something, especially if that cost is your life.

Playing bicycle club is fun. You can have meetings and talk about matching riding shirts, and make fun stickers to put on your car. You can plan a really big ride that all the world will want to come to. And when they come, you can hand out bananas and Gatorade and say, "Good job! Not long to go now!" when they ride past you. But being a real cyclist is different.

I am aware that the term "real cyclist" is undefinable. So is the term "beauty", but we use it anyway; and we think we know it when we see it. In broad terms that you can feel free to disagree with, a real cyclist is someone who loves cycling. She loves it enough to ride her bike in the dark as well as in the daylight. He loves cycling enough to plan his days off, even his vacation, around cycling. A real cyclists rides, and rides, and rides.

Sure matching shirts are cool. And bumper stickers with the club logo is cool. But a cyclist knows that riding is really cool. There is nothing more cool than riding - alone, with others, on a great day, on a crummy day, when it's pleasant, when it's cold or hot or raining or whatever - riding a bike is really a cool thing to do.

To read about someone who inspires me see .
This guy is a real cyclist. I want to be a real cyclist someday, too.

"I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize..." Philippians 3:13-14

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Purpose Driven Cycling

Author's note: With apologies to Rick Warren, I've adapted the title of his banal and uninteresting book. At least the title is useful.

The bicycle is a vehicle. A dictionary definition of vehicle is: "any means in or by which someone is carried or conveyed; a means of conveyance or transport." While riding a bicycle can and does provide exercise for the rider resulting in increased fitness if done properly, the bicycle is a vehicle.

Indoor cycles, especially those with only one wheel, by definition are not bicycles. They are fitness machines. I'm not against fitness machines, but indoor cycles, like treadmills, are artificial. They adapt the techniques of the real thing they resemble, but are not the real thing. Why not just go for a ride or walk outside? (Unless you live outside the "green zone" in Baghdad.)

Author's note: The nearby Gold's Gym has over 150 parking places for automobiles, and no bicycle rack. What if members rode to the gym for fitness instead of using cars to get there?

Secondly, a vehicle should take you somewhere. While a bicycle can be used to train for a future bicycling event, such as a charity ride, a brevet, or a race, the purpose for which it is best suited is transportation. There is of course the daily transportation of commuting to and from work. The bicycle is excellent for this. As long as you live within 15 miles of your workplace this would be only an hour's ride or less. It is certainly possible to commute by bicycle on a year round basis, no matter where you live. I do. I even own a trailer I can hitch to my bike when I need to purchase our family's groceries. It has a 100 pound capacity which is plenty when I spend $150.00 or so.

Finally, and for me more importantly, a bicycle will take you to towns, near and far, and onto streets you've only seen from a car. Those who know me can attest that some of my favorite things are pocket knives, flashlights, books, and maps. Especially maps. Maps are to me what the Sears Catalog was to generations past - something to look at and dream with.

I could spend hours looking at maps and making up routes to places near and far. Even when I drive my truck, I'm always on the lookout for roads that look like interesting places to ride. Yesterday, I rode my bicycle down to Dongola. I'd been dreaming about it for a little while, and finally had the opportunity. It was everything I'd hoped for and more. The trip was a little over 85 miles with over 2000 feet of climbing along the way. What's more, I saw a road I wanted to take later. Woohoo! As soon as I got home, I looked on a map to verify that Cypress road runs from Dongola all the way back to State Route 37. I can't wait to go down there again and take that road. Then maybe go farther south to route 169 over to route 45 and down to Metropolis, or maybe...there I go again! I love dreaming about traveling on my bike.

The point is this: a bicycle is a vehicle. If you are riding an indoor cycle - try the real thing. If you are riding outdoors, but you are a cul-de-sac rider, covering only the 8 or 10 miles near your home, work on your endurance and start seeing more. You'll love the results. Cycle, but cycle with purpose!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My New Training Partner

You've probably heard me complain from time to time about riding alone. While it's certainly a part of consistent cycling, it isn't as much fun as it sounds. I won't be complaining about that anymore. I now have a new training partner. We met a couple of weeks ago and have had a great relationship ever since. She weighs 17 pounds and is named Rinti. She's a wire fox terrier.

I have been strapping her carrier to my commuter bike every day for the trip to and from my truck, so she's accustomed to cycling, and likes it. But I didn't have a way to take her along with me on my training rides; my road bike has no rack and no way to mount one - it's carbon fiber. So instead, I purchased a luggage rack for my Burley Nomad trailer to pull behind my road bike. Now we can travel together even on my days off. I just strap her carrier to the top of the luggage rack and down the road we go.

Although she isn't much help on the rides, she is good company - if you don't mind the constant complaining. For instance, when we are climbing uphill (which now causes me to use lower gears than I previously needed) I hear this little voice behind me, "Hey! Won't this thing go any faster? It's gonna be dark by the time we get up this little hill." I usually ignore her and just keep pedaling. Or if we get to rolling too quickly going down the other side she yells, "Hey Andretti! This ain't Daytona! And there aren't any seat belts back here, either. How about using those brakes and peeling off a little speed, already."

Terriers are independent creatures. They have their own mind, and resent your interference. If they want something, they expect to get it. For instance, when I am unwrapping a Power Bar, I hear, "Hey! You bring enough to share? Cause you shouldn't eat in front of me if you don't have enough for both of us!" Or if we've been too long between stops she yells, "Hey! I gotta pee! You planning to stop soon, or you just gonna wait until my eyes turn yellow?"

She doesn't have to do any of the work during our training rides; she only has to sit there and look at the scenery. My trailer doesn't trail directly behind my bike, it sits off to the left just a little. Rinti is able to see where we're going. In fact, when I stand to pedal she hollers, "Hey! Down in front! You make a better door than a window, mister. You're blocking the view. Time to lose a few pounds off that butt, Miles!" And being able to see ahead, she is on the lookout for bumps or even other dogs. Sometimes it's, "Hey! You trying to hit every bump on purpose or what? Cause if it's by accident, you are way ahead of the law of probability!" And when three big dogs came out of a yard after us, it was, "I hope you got a plan! Can't you put a little more into it? They're catching up."

Despite the constant kvetching, her company brings me peace. If I look in my bar end mirror I can see her in her carrier, and I'm glad she's along. Except for that one time that I looked back and she was licking herself and said, "Hey! Can't a girl get a little privacy around here?" Other than that, I enjoy having her behind me on a ride, and seeing her little face peering out of the grate of her carrier.

So as long as she is willing to climb into the carrier when it's strapped to the trailer and head down the road behind my bike, Rinti and I will be cycling the second half together.
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