Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tandemania: First Rides with the Rivendell Hubbuhubbuh Tandem

Several years ago, the thought of riding a tandem seemed like something I really wanted to try. I spent months reading just about everything I could find on the subject, but ultimately came to the decision that Sam and I probably weren't a couple who would ever actually give this method of riding a try. I'm a bit klutzy and I had created a mental world of potential problems from what I had been reading, so after all the information I'd synthesized, the conclusion was reached that it just wasn't something for the two of us.

Some people called riding tandem "the divorce maker" which didn't put it in the best light. Others proclaimed that it took a great deal of skill and compromise in order to ride together. Occasionally the thought popped back into my head, but I'd remind myself that it wasn't something for me. I would watch others riding tandem and think it was a magical activity for only the very few among us. I idealized the thought of being able to ride with someone else on a bicycle, but knowing that I tend to be a clumsy person and a bit in my own world when I ride, I had decided that it wasn't something I would ever do.

Over the last few years, Sam and I have virtually stopped riding together. There are a few factors that have played into this reality, but the biggest reason put mostly simply is that Sam has become stronger every year, while I continually stay the same, or some years even seem to get weaker with riding (which is not to say that I am a weak individual, but rather that he rides much longer and harder than I do more regularly). We ride around town if we're going somewhere, but that's about the extent of our wandering on a bike together. While I know he is capable of slowing to my speeds, I feel guilty any time we ride together because I am aware that I'm slowing him down, or I become silently angry because we go too far and I don't feel as though I am capable of the ride's distance.

You can see how all of this would play into my existing fears of riding a tandem. While it is said that a tandem is a way to balance out weaker/stronger rider combinations, I imagined that we would end up in arguments over speed, distance, cadence, and so on. I don't like fighting - with anyone - but least of all Sam, so I still wasn't convinced this was something we should try.

Early this year, the subject came up again though. Sam, having joked more than once that he wants to get me on a tandem so that we could do races together, was talking about the idea more seriously. I laughed it off, knowing that tandems probably weren't a good idea for us. Still, the thought that had started many years prior was lingering in the back of my mind. It didn't help that I was on the email list for Rivendell's Hubbuhubbuh (HHH) tandem bike and would occasionally get updates about its specifications and expected delivery date.

We chatted more seriously about the possibility, wondering if perhaps the HHH could be the right experiment for us, but we talked about it so long that we missed out on the opportunity as the small sizes went incredibly quickly.

In my research during the years before, I had learned that there is a tandem-specific shop in the Denver area. One weekend day when we'd become a little more serious about the possibility of a tandem, we took a trip down to this shop and spoke with the owner. He was very pleasant and allowed us to peruse the tandems he had on the floor. Of course, if we wanted a stock frame, there really aren't many options for us. With each of us being under 5'4", the bike world rarely makes frames that fit, let alone something that is so much more specific. The shop owner did have one stock Co-Motion frame that he thought would work and encouraged us to set up a time to come back and take it for a test ride.

Over the weeks that followed, we talked about the idea more and came back around to the conclusion that perhaps tandem riding was not in our future. Frankly, I worried about being in either the stoker or captain position for various reasons. I was also unsure of whether Sam would really want to slow down enough to be able to ride in tandem, together, or if I'd be able to keep up with his leg power.

Then, one evening when I couldn't sleep, I was reading an update from Rivendell and saw that there was a small tandem frame remaining (and that they'd be ordering just a few more before they called it quits on the HHH). Something lit inside of me again and I wondered if maybe we should give it a try. With all the back and forth we'd had over such a bike, and other bicycles that had been sold to make room for a potential tandem, we thought maybe it was time to take a leap and see where it would take us.

We knew the Riv would be a stable bike which we thought would be good for our first attempt at tandem riding, but still had some doubt about the size of even the small frame. Knowing that it would be a tight fit, we thought if we sized down a bit on the tires (Riv recommends pretty wide tires at 60mm) that perhaps we could just make it work.

Up front, we were also aware that the Rivendell tandem would not be meant for any sort of racing or club riding, but that isn't really what we were looking for either. We wanted to be able to ride some dirt trails and other local roads together and hoped that this would be the right decision.
Sadly, our HHH only has one headbadge as they were sent unattached to the frame and one was crushed in shipping.
Going with the parts Rivendell recommended, Sam built up the tandem (his first tandem build!) in our dining room. We quickly discovered (as should've been obvious, but wasn't something we really thought through beforehand) that the tandem is so long, finding a place to assemble, tune, or work on the bike in any way is a bit of a challenge. Even picking up the frame from the shipping carrier was a bit comical, but we made it work.

We ran into a few issues during the build. One of the problems was the seat post for the captain position. Because we both have short legs, the only way we could get the saddle in a good position was to lower it almost completely into the seat tube. The problem was that the top of the seat post sent is tapered and this is where the mount for the stoker handlebars would sit, so we couldn't quite get it to work. After obtaining a non-tapered seat post for the captain's saddle, we managed to get things working a bit better.

We had also decided not to buy new handlebars at the time of purchase since we have so many in the stash to choose from, but when we tried to use what we had, we just couldn't get the fit quite right, so we ended up having to get a new set of bars for each of us. After a couple of weeks of fussing and trial and error, it was time to set out on a test trip.

The decision had been reached that I would ride captain and Sam would be the stoker. It is, perhaps, a bit unconventional for a male-female riding team (though I have seen such duos on occasion), but fortunately Sam does not feel emasculated or lesser by allowing me to pedal in the front position. It also put me slightly more at ease (slightly) to be at the front than riding in the rear. This did, however, put a huge responsibility on my shoulders which I did not take lightly.

For our first tests, we each set out alone in the captain position to test out the bike. It did not seem wise for two new-to-tandem-bike riders to set out together when we had no idea how the bike would handle. Personally, I had visions of the bike flipping up or out the side with only one rider on it, but that is not what happened (Thank you television for putting that thought in my head!). Strangely enough, it rode pretty much like a normal bicycle with only one person, except that the handling was a bit different and the extreme length that followed behind, creates the need for wider turns.

Of course, riding a bicycle built for two as a single was not the goal, so we knew we'd have to actually try out riding it together. I did my best not to get panicked by the thought of being responsible for both riders, and we discussed beforehand our basic plan of starting and stopping, as well as a few minor things that I have to do because of injuries (like starting on a specific foot when stopped).

Initially, we had tried to start off as we had been told we should with Sam up in the stoker seat ready to pedal and me still on the ground to hold the bike; however, this was not working for us in any way. While I could hold and steady the bike with him in position, my back/hip issues prevented me from being able to steady the bike and get into the saddle. Instead, we decided to simply do a quick count and then both start pedaling from the ground together. This worked much, much better for us, though I admit it may not be the best for every tandem team.

The plan was simply to ride in a straight line down our street about 100 ft (30 m) and then stop (if we didn't have to do so before hand). Instead, we ended up going around a couple of blocks, stopping and starting (shaky starts, admittedly) and trying to get a feel for this new type of riding. We were both surprised at the ease with which we were able to get going. I think we each had visions of very short stretches of riding before we'd be able to go anywhere, but things had gone so well in our early test runs (we took a few more before setting out) that we decided to actually venture outside of the neighborhood.

Our first real ride took us just shy of 12 miles (19 km) over some back roads with a couple of minor hills to get a feel for how we'd work together. It was strange and interesting as we both quickly learned about each other's riding habits.

One of the first minor inclines we encountered, I could hear Sam breathing somewhat heavily behind me, after which he commented that I seemed to really like to "mash." I really don't think of myself as someone who pushes in harder gears, but when I realized that I felt like I would normally be in a more difficult gear, we were going to need to find some compromise between what each of us normally does on our own. It isn't that Sam doesn't normally push, but I was getting the sense that when he pushes, he does so in a lower gear. I asked Sam to tell me when he wanted to pedal easier or harder and we'd make adjustments as we went.

As we headed back to home, Sam suddenly made an unannounced adjustment on his saddle which caused me to let out a short screech while trying to steady the bike. We both began to realize that until we become more used to this type of riding, we really do have to speak out loud most everything we intend to do.

Surprisingly (at least to me), the first ride went as well as one could expect for a first tandem outing. In fact, we both actually had fun. We started to find our groove and we were able to start to find our way of working together. Even though I knew I had to announce everything going on (coasting, stopping, bumps, etc), I would occasionally forget or would make a statement too late. But, we both knew this would be part of the process and Sam took everything in stride.

Living on our tandem-high, the next day we decided to try again. We had made some adjustments to my handlebars in hopes of getting a bit more weight on the front end and made some saddle adjustments. One thing is for certain, the HHH tandem was not made for shorter riders, despite calling it a small. This time, we were planning a slightly longer route, but one that had lots of places for us to turn around and head home if things went awry. We had the potential to do 25+ miles (40+ km), but could also shorten the route quite a bit as well.

A few miles in to the ride, my hands started to have problems which meant pain. About 5 miles (8 km) into the outing, I had to pull over to stretch my hands. After a quick stretch, we continued on though the pain persisted.
Snow dusted Longs Peak in the distance distracted us while we took a few photos.
We climbed and descended a few short hills, discovered we already had some cable stretch and needed a quick tune-up, and were already starting to become more accustomed to pedaling together. Sam was taking on the responsibility of signaling turns and waving to others (people really like to wave to tandems it seems), I was getting better about announcing happenings, and it felt as though things were coming together.

Sadly, because of the handlebar flip, we had to head home sooner than we wanted and only ended up completing about 18 miles (29 km) of our intended ride. Still, for a our second ride out together, we thought it was all-in-all a successful trip.

It was the end of the weekend and we knew we wouldn't get time during the week to ride together, but would still ride individually. My first trip out alone on Monday had me far over-steering my commuter bike, which I found comical. It was almost as though I'd forgotten how to ride alone in a matter of two days. Sam didn't seem to have this struggle, but each of us adjusted quickly back to riding alone. I did find a bit of disappointment in riding solo though. Heading to the gym Monday morning, I missed that extra power from having a second set of legs. It's amazing how quickly we humans can become accustomed to things.
By the time our second weekend with the HHH rolled around, we were excited to get pedaling again. We didn't get to ride on Saturday because of commitments, but Sunday we were ready to go.
The dilemma was in regard to how far to go. We made a decision to head up toward the mountains to a town called Lyons and see how things went. As we set out, there were a lot of others out riding and we had a few brief conversations with people passing us or those who we passed (usually the former).

We arrived to The Stone Cup, a coffee shop in Lyons, fairly quickly, but took some time to stretch and admire our surroundings. If you've never been, the town is beautiful, particularly in the fall. The Stone Cup is also quite a gathering spot for cyclists, particularly in the summer. We were a bit late as we were riding in autumn, so there weren't quite as many people on bikes to be found stationed here, though we still enjoyed our stop off.
These stone bears really wanted to check out the Hubbuhubbuh.
Even if you've not visited, you may recall seeing Lyons in the news during the Colorado flooding four years ago. The town was pretty well completely under water and is just recently getting back to its full wonderfulness. Sadly, there is still evidence of repairs being made to structures and roadways throughout the area. For most, Lyons is a pass through on their way to the mountains or returning back to their Denver-area homes, but there is quite a bit to enjoy in this town at the base of the Rockies.

But, I've digressed from the original focus of this: the HHH tandem.

We had so much fun on our ride out to Lyons that when we got home we both felt as though we should've made a longer trip out of it. Instead, we decided to eat a bit and head out again in another direction, allowing us some more time to practice pedaling in tandem.

The weekend following we got tied up on Saturday fetching a Craigslist find which ended up occupying the entire day, but when we got out on the tandem Sunday we wanted to try to go a bit farther than we'd been pedaling in a single trip thus far.
Looking south from another small community, Berthoud.
About fifteen miles into the ride, we were chatting about whether we should head back towards home or continue in our outward direction. We decided on a whim to continuing going out which took us on a path of long, continuous climbing. Though I've ridden the same route prior on my own, it's been about four years and my mind betrayed me when trying to recall how much climbing there was to be done.

As we climbed, we both got quiet and then suddenly started laughing because we were so entirely focused on getting to the summit of the climb that we realized we'd stopped speaking at all.

Despite the more-than-expected climbing, we had another great ride. In fact, we haven't had a bad ride, even with the few hiccups along the way. We've taken the HHH on dirt trails and ridden on paved roads and it's fun to ride regardless. Of course, it's still early on in our time together with only about a half dozen or so rides of any distance undertaken together, so it will be interesting to see how things progress over the coming months and years. To this point though, I think we're both happy with the decision to try tandem riding. It's given us time to be together, to work as a team, and just enjoy something we both love doing.

Some observations we've made during our short amount of time riding tandem and about the HHH, in no particular order:

-- Even the small size of the HHH is likely best suited (at least for the captain position) for someone at least 5'7" or taller. At not quite 5'4", it's really a stretched reach (even for someone used to long top tube bikes), so it would've been nice to see an x-small frame for the HHH. Stand over is a bit dicey as well, even having it built up with narrower (42mm) tires, but it works - just barely.

-- Finding a middle ground for each rider to be happy hasn't been terribly difficult for us. As captain, I was catching myself constantly asking if Sam was okay until he became completely annoyed and told me just to pedal and he'd tell me if something wasn't working. As long as there's a system that works, I don't think it really matters what the specifics are.

-- All of the reading done prior to riding a tandem put a lot of fear in my head about what would happen when we were both on the bike together. It was really a relief when we just rode and realized it wasn't nearly as scary as we'd thought it could be. Part of this I would think is because of the way this particular tandem frame was designed/built.

-- Uphill can be quite a challenge and downhill can have its own problems with potential to get out of control easily. Though I've always appreciated on some level the work tandem teams do, I have a new found respect for people who do races or long-distance touring on tandems!

-- Thus far, distance seems to be a physical challenge for us. As Sam said on our last ride, "Forty miles (65km) on a tandem seems to feel more like 75 miles (120km) on a single!" I think that's about the best way I can explain it too. While in some instances it seems easier (having the extra set of legs is certainly beneficial), it seems to take a greater toll on our bodies over a shorter distance (we've presumed simply because of the additional weight, and perhaps the gearing as well). It will be interesting to see if this evolves or changes as we ride more.

-- Both others on bicycles and motorized traffic seem to be a bit kinder to us on the tandem, with rare exception. On one ride though, we crossed paths with another tandem and while we were (perhaps overly) excited to see another duo on a tandem, they did not seem to share our excitement. We smiled and said, "Hey! Another tandem!!" as we crossed paths with them and were met only with scowls and glares. Apparently tandem riders don't appreciate it when other tandem riders cross paths with them... or, perhaps they were just having a rough day.

-- Despite some thinking of tandem bicycles as "divorce makers," I think a tandem amplifies however the duo communicate and deal with each other in every day life. If you don't get along well in life, I can see how it could create problems on a tandem, but if you can get through things without too much drama, I don't think a tandem is going to make or break any relationship, assuming both are amenable to compromise.

-- Riding a tandem is fun! Personally, I miss it when I'm riding alone sometimes, but I still enjoy my single bikes too. The nice thing is that it feels like a treat when we have a day or two to ride together.

-- A mirror seems like a really important piece of equipment, on a tandem in particular. We mounted one to the front basket, but it moves around so much that it's not reliable at all. The next round trial, we'll try mounting one to my helmet to see if that stays put a bit better (or at least, it should be easier to adjust while riding).

-- It's a lot easier to hear each other talking on a tandem. We sometimes struggle hearing when riding single bikes together, and have been known to go back and forth with a lot of "what's?" as we ride. Tandeming seems to take that small annoyance away. Yay!

-- Speed: My average speed has increased riding tandem while Sam's has slowed. Of course, I'm used to riding about 5-7+ miles per hour (8-11+ kph) slower than he does on an every day basis (I'm a lollygager on the bike unless racing or training to race, which isn't often), but I ride bikes that are about 6-20 pounds (3-9 kg) heavier than his. Because of this...

-- I think Sam struggles more (though we both definitely feel it) with the weight of the bike because 1) he's the stoker and has the power to really push (or not) the speed of the tandem, so he often takes it upon himself to push, and 2) he's used to riding much lighter bicycles which obviously puts a greater strain on his legs.

-- Both of our posteriors hurt far more than riding single. Our hope is that we'll become confident enough at some point to try standing or even standing AND pedaling together so that we can get some relief for our sit bones. It's easy to forget that we tend to do this naturally on our single bikes, but when riding tandem, we have to make sure to coordinate such efforts.

Do you ride tandem or have you ridden a tandem bicycle in the past? What was your experience? Any thoughts or recommendations for people just starting out? Has anyone else ridden the HHH tandem? If you have thoughts on that tandem in particular, I'm sure others would love to hear what you think.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Truth and Fiction

When I was young, I remember being fearful of little white spots that appeared on my nails. Known in medical circles as leukonychia, I had been told by some friends that these small white areas were physical signs that I had told a lie, and that each little spot represented a deception. As someone who regularly had many of these on my nails, you can likely imagine my horror. I was often concerned that everyone I encountered thought I was constantly being deceitful.
Of course, the real cause of leukonychia is most often a physical mark left by trauma to the fingernails or nail bed, but as a kid, we tend to believe much of what we are told. I was not fearful of the white spots themselves, but rather of my parents thinking that I was telling them a lie (which, I could very well have been guilty of on occasion, only furthering my terror of these little marks on my nails).

In reality, I was a very clumsy child, so I have no doubt the majority of marks that appeared were self-inflicted. Today, even though I am cognizant of the origin of these marks, there is something that strikes me when one of the spots appears on my nails. For a brief moment, I flashback to childhood and can't help but smile remembering my young friends convincing me that my body was producing visual representation of untruths I had spoken.

In today's world, I sometimes wish that there were indicators of truth and falsehoods that we could physically see on other humans. It seems as though that would make communication a bit easier at times -- though I can see how it would make some conversations far more challenging.

Recently, our household has run into some motorized transportation issues. Having dealings with mechanics along this journey to repair, I can't help but wonder at times how much of what I'm being told is truthful. It helps that Sam is a mechanically-inclined sort of individual (and who generally performs needed repairs/maintenance) so he can help decode the mysteries and wade through the reality versus fiction, as well as the severity of the problems. Still, it would be much easier to trust that what I'm being told is absolute fact.

I suppose it is also possible that there are levels of truth in many instances. After all, there can be truth found in falsehoods, just as reality can convey pieces of deceit. Sometimes, as in the case of a  non-operational car, a mechanic may be truthful about a need, but perhaps not as forthcoming with how long a part may actually last, and costs for repair can be wildly inconsistent. Whether untruths are made as a form of control, financial gain, out of fear, or for some other reason, learning to read between the lines and having good detective or analytical skills can be crucial.

These are the moments though when I am particularly grateful to have a bicycle. While bicycles can also have mechanical issues at times, generally those problems are far less expensive and easier to deal with quickly. Roadside fixes are often simple enough, and even if a fix isn't completely repaired, it's usually enough to let me limp home and deal with the issue properly.

Such a utilitarian machine, the bicycle. One of the best creations that humans are always trying to modify or change, and yet rarely is the basic concept improved upon. As I was reading recently, "A bicycle means simplicity, and simplicity means happiness." If only everything in life could bring the same joy!

Monday, October 16, 2017

My First Duathlon, Part 3: Surviving in a Desert

**If you're just joining this story or missed either of the first two pieces, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

Most of us have seen movies of people in the desert, lacking energy and wandering in search of life with nothing and no one else around. That's the best analogy I can think of in an attempt to describe these moments I was experiencing. There were people all around me, but the only thing I could see was a scene of hot, dusty, dirt and gravel all around. My only motivation for continuing to move forward was water. There was definitely water up ahead and I had to keep moving to get to it.

I'm pretty sure people passed me. I recall making nonsense comments as they ran by. If you asked me details about it though, I have no recollection of any meaningful banter or conversation.

Water. Water was my only goal.

Certain that I'd been walking for hours (though actually not), finally the aid station was visible in the distance. Like a mirage, the tent wavered in the heat of the day. I may have been talking out loud to myself at this point, but I was determined to get to the water.

A reasonable person may be asking him/herself why one would set water as the goal, knowing that there would be no motivation for the return trip of the this final leg of the race. Well, when one is in the state of mind I was those sorts of thoughts don't enter the picture -- at least until in the midst of it.

I had finally reached the water. Precious, hydrating, life giving water. That paper cup of cold water was the best thing that had happened in my life to date. It sounds ridiculous in retrospect, but it's how I felt in that moment. I requested another and another, and yet a fourth.

The volunteers were looking at me strangely, but dammit, I was thirsty and I was going to drink until I was content. I savored the moment. I walked to the opposite side of the path and took more water from volunteers there. I wanted to bathe in the water, but I suddenly realized that I now had to make the return trip to the finish line.

Shaking my fist at the sky I proclaimed, "Why do you mock me?!"

Truly, I think delusion was setting in now. I was picturing myself in an epic movie, except that it was real life (or what behaved as real life) and this is where I was going to lay down and end existence on this earth. It was so far back to the finish line. There was no way I was going to make it back. No way.    No.   Way.

I let out a huge sigh. I took two more cups of water. I started to cry.

My body hurt so badly. The pain I was experiencing was setting in now that I'd found the water I had needed.

"Suck it up," I sobbed to myself, "You can't just stand here forever." And with that, I headed back to the finish. Very, very slowly.

It was a bit ridiculous. Though I hadn't had months of training for the event, I was trained to some extent. True, I wasn't accustomed to completing the distance while experiencing the pain I was in presently, but I did not want to quit. I was not going to quit because I could still move.

Shortly after leaving the aid station, I was thirsty again. How could I have consumed so much water and still be thirsty?! I thought about going back for more, but backtracking would not have been wise. Despite my thirst, my stomach was sloshing with water, which was creating quite an uncomfortable feeling on top of everything else.

My steps were getting shorter and shorter. Soon I was shuffling along like a 90-year old who's had hip and knee issues her entire life. This is what I have to look forward to, I thought. The great thing about this thought was that it actually focused on life beyond this race which meant that I stood a chance of finishing the mission.

I wanted to run. Really. My brain was telling me to do so, but every time I would attempt it, my body declined the invitation. It was one of the most frustrating instances of my life. I kept trying to coax my body into cooperation. The faster you go, the quicker this will be over. I'd pick up my leg and attempt to run, but my attempts were met only with failure. It was no use. My body was doing all that it could.

After wandering this desert for weeks (or maybe what only felt like weeks), I spotted Sam off to my right side. He was walking very slowly, about 20 feet away, in the same direction I was headed. Why was he walking so slow? I wondered. Then, I suddenly understood that it was because I was walking that slow and he was attempting to stay with me to show support.

Suddenly, whatever little hope had been keeping me moving collapsed inside. "I can't do this," I cried. "I don't want to do this anymore." I don't know if it was the comfort of seeing Sam and knowing that he wouldn't make me finish, or the reality that my body truly felt as though it couldn't go on, but I had to let it out, to share with someone who would understand that my body couldn't take any more.

"You are almost to the finish," Sam responded. "Just a little bit more to go." He moved in closer to me, likely realizing I wouldn't bite his head off as I had during the riding portion. I just wanted the torture to end.

"I can't see the finish. Where is it?" I asked.

"It's there. I promise," he smiled as he pointed off to some random point ahead. "Do you see all those people up there?"

"Yeah," I sobbed like a dejected, pouting child, head hanging low and shuffling my feet even slower.

"That's where you're going. You're almost there."

The dirt and gravel path had become a paved road again, so at least there was that. I wouldn't be tripping on real or invisible rocks anymore.
My bitterness about other people actually being able to run was taking hold by the last part of this race.
"But, I don't want to do this anymore," I whined again. Somehow stating it a second time, I thought, was making a more emphatic proclamation despite the annoying whining that accompanied the statement. I was convinced Sam would pull me from the race course and save me from complete destruction.

"You can do it," Sam replied.

Not what I was looking for, I thought to myself. I actually can't do this - my body has made that quite clear. As I was thinking these very words, Sam began distracting me with tales of happenings he had witnessed during the event.

I have no idea what the specifics were for these stories, but it must've worked because before I knew it, there I was, a few hundred feet from the end.

"I'll see you on the other side," Sam said and disappeared off into a crowd of people and tents.

I had made it -- somehow -- to the end. It was right there in front of me.

I have to run through the finish line, I told myself. It's a short distance and it will all be over. My body was broken and I was still in need of water, but, inexplicably I want to know that I had run through the finish line if there was any possible way to get my body to make it happen.

Picking up my feet, I attempted to run. I'm not certain what I was doing was actually running, but my brain told me that I was and that was all that mattered in the moment.
My broken and battered self trying to run across the finish. On another note, with all the backside shots taken of me over the years, I am pretty convinced I could stand in as a body double for my father's mother. It's amazing how genetics are just inescapable - both the physical characteristics and athletic aptitude (or lack thereof, as in my case).
Smiles greeted me all around as I passed over the finish. Participant medals were given out and a nice, cold bottle of water was forced into my hands.

Ahhhh. Relief. It was over. The rescue plane had landed and saved me from my desert death. I drank that bottle of water faster than any water I'd consumed. It was the best water I had ever tasted.

It was a bit of an anti-climactic finish, despite the internal drama and physical pain throughout the race. Together, Sam and I walked back to the parking lot in an attempt to find our car. I thought about my initial plan to ride to the start line as we walked. I would've really loved to have done so, but it wasn't in the stars for this particular race. The 25-30 extra miles on the bike that day may have actually been my doom, so it was a wise decision to choose a less physically taxing form of transportation.

After the race, I was asked by a relative if I would do another duathlon. It was a little too soon after the event and the answer was a vehement "No!" With some time and distance in between though, I realize it did exactly what it was supposed to do: Provide extra motivation to keep me pushing through the season. Plus, the memory of the pain is starting to fade, so, on this side of things and with some perspective, I've modified that answer to "Maybe," which almost always turns somehow into an "I've-signed-myself-up-for-an-event," within a very short amount of time.

In truth, had I given myself more time to train, I likely would've done better, even with the particular physical limitations of the day. I think it would be nice if I could find a duathlon that was a bike-run-bike instead of run-bike-run (though I'm not sure these exist), but what I appreciated about the duathlon is that it pushed me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to do something I am not as comfortable completing. I'd still rather do an epic bike ride than this sort of event, but it was an interesting change-up that allowed me to rework the way my brain (and body) are used to working.

Ultimately, even though time was pretty much thrown out the window, I complained a LOT during the final leg of the race, and wanted to quit more times than I can count, I did cross the finish line under my own power and within the time constraints. That was truly the only goal... and the one that mattered most of all to me.

**Thanks to Sam for documenting the day's journey in photos as best he could. Without him, I'd have no photos to share with this retelling of the race. I have to also again thank him for dealing with me during the race. I am eternally grateful that he is always there, even when the crazy sets in.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

My First Duathlon, Part 2: Is Finishing Possible?

(Part 1 of this post can be found by clicking here.)

I agonized over what to do about the race. I don't like spending money on activities I can do without cost at any point and on any day, but once I sign myself up I always feel as though it's a commitment to show up and complete it unless something truly catastrophic happens.

This was bordering on disastrous with my inability to run, but as the night prior to the duathlon wore on, I could feel my brain talking my body into at least trying. I am not a quitter. I may occasionally throw child-like tantrums in the middle of difficult challenges and have to talk myself through it, but I don't like giving up.

By bed time I had decided I was going to the race and while I knew I would be fortunate if I was able to walk the running portion, I was also aware I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I didn't at least try.

Surprisingly, I slept pretty great that night (an unusual occurrence for me pre-race). I woke up on my own before the alarm and everything went pretty smoothly. The pain from my pelvis being out of place was still there, and I seemed to have developed other pains in my calves and ankles over night, but I was ready to go and give it whatever I could on this particular day.

Sam was taking me to the start line and had his bike with him. His plan was to cut through portions of the ride on dirt trails to attempt to see me come by on the roads at various points. He was concerned about being fast enough to get to certain intersections, but I'd told him not to worry as this would definitely not be fast on my end.

When we arrived, I went to set up my bike in the corral for the second part of the race. One of the officials was at the entry and marked my arms and leg with my bib number and age. Looking around, there were a lot of people participating in this event. There was barely room to squeeze my bike into its spot, but we were able to get it set up and then had time to wait.
We watched the rounds of swimmers take off for the triathlon race before it was time to start the duathlon.
This particular event also has a triathlon taking place at the same time and had started a bit earlier than our arrival. We walked over to the swim area to see some of the happenings there and as time closed in for my start time, we meandered over to the line.

I could feel my stomach flopping inside. I was already regretting showing up, but I was talking myself through my plan. It was quite simple... You are just going to walk. Put one foot in front of the other until you get back here. Then, you get on your bike and pedal.

It seemed simple enough, but there are time cut-offs. If I didn't make it back in time, the officials wouldn't allow me to get on the bike. As I stood at the back of the pack, allowing everyone to get in front of me (I didn't want to slow anyone down because of my issues), I tried to put the thought of not getting back out of my mind.

The starting gun was fired and we were off.

There were some truly fast people. We started off on a bit of an incline and by the time I actually crossed the start, there were some at the front I could no longer see. I had to put that out of my mind though. You are doing your own race, not theirs. You are injured. Just put one foot in front of the other and walk until you can't anymore.
It's easier said than done though. I walked and I walked alone. Every single racer was in front of me. Normally, this would motivate me to work harder, but in the physical state I was in, I knew I had to just do what I could and not worry about where anyone else was in the race.

The funny thing with races is that we truly don't know what is going on for another person. We can't know what sort of injuries they're fighting through, what kinds of daily struggles they deal with, nor how much or little s/he has trained for the event. In my experience, I find that people pre-judge me (as humans sometimes do -- we just can't help ourselves) based purely on what I look like. Yes, I am larger than the other people racing, but sometimes the "atta-girl" responses I get from people tend to piss me off. It's as though they think I sit on the couch all day eating and it's the first athletic endeavor I've ever attempted.

On the flip side of this, not every comment comes off as condescending and it is nice to have people who are racing together sharing encouragement. The high-five's while passing (it was an out-and-back running course), the "good job" comments, all of the little things that many participants are willing to do to help keep others going is fantastic. When those up at the front of the pack are willing to offer words of encouragement, I find it extra special. They actually stand a chance of winning and to make the effort to say something or give a thumbs up is truly what sportsmanship is about, in my opinion.

A few weeks prior to this duathlon, I had picked up a new toy. Last Christmas, I had bought Sam a smart watch and I had thought it might be a good thing for me during my training. I had time to test it out before the event and never had any trouble with it, but about 10 minutes in to this first leg of the race, the watch had decided my heart rate was of utmost importance and wouldn't show me anything other than that screen. It was infuriating when I was trying to keep track of time, particularly as this hadn't happened at all during training.

At this point, I was worried that I would need to speed things up so I decided to try running a bit. I wasn't sure I could physically run, but I wanted to give it a try. Up ahead walking was a couple decently in front of me but close enough that it was possible to catch them. I decided I would try to run until I caught up to them and then go back to walking. The first few steps of running were very painful. Very. But, I think I've become pretty good at knowing the pains I can push through and those that require me to be more delicate. As I caught and passed the duo, I thought maybe I could do a bit of running periodically.

Because my watch was being uncooperative, I set visual points and would walk to those and then begin running until the next fixed point I selected. It was working fairly well and before I was even aware of it, I was back to pick up my bicycle and head out pedaling.

I had truly been looking forward to this portion because I believed it was where I'd be able to make up some lost time. Changing shoes, adding a helmet and downing some GU were the only things on my mind. I tried not to be overly concerned with going fast in the transition and, for the most part, this seemed to work well.

I have ridden the bicycle course many times over the years, but I had not ridden it at all this year or even last. My memory had told me that the first 4-5 miles would be climbing and then it would primarily be a downhill sprint back to the third leg of this race. I pictured passing people as gravity took over and arriving back to start the second run with ease. However, as I soon discovered, my memory seems to make up whatever it wants to believe as the course was almost nothing like I'd recalled.

The first few miles were in fact climbing, but the climbing seemed to continue much longer than I'd believed. Oh well, I thought to myself, it is what it is and I know there will be some downhill portions coming.

Less than half way through the biking portion, I could see lights flashing in the road ahead. Motorized traffic seemed to be coming to a complete stop, but I was still free to ride as I pleased in the shoulder area of the road. As I approached the lights, I could see that officers were blocking the road entirely and forcing vehicles to turn around. Off to the left I could see a road bike that looked completely mangled and a group of riders heading in the opposite direction gathered around each other. To this day, I still don't know exactly what transpired, but I could only hope that everyone was okay.

Just as I approached the officer who was directing motorized traffic back in the direction we'd just come, a behemoth of an SUV suddenly started to swerve into me. The officer had been trying to direct both the cars on the road and the cyclists coming through and he was informing me that I should continue on behind him on the shoulder; however, the motorist mistakenly took this as a message for him to swerve into the shoulder and dirt on the side of the road and attempt to go around.  It was at slow speed and I could feel it coming so I was actually yelling at the driver, "NOT YOU! NOT YOU!!!"

I had my arm pressed against the side of his vehicle as I was pushed on my bike into the dirt off the shoulder. I decided at this point my best course of action was to simply stop riding, so I hit the brakes and dismounted. At this point, the motorist finally realized what was going on (I'm sure the look of terror on the officers face was a big indicator) and the driver rolled down his window and profusely apologized. While I appreciated the sentiment, it wouldn't have done a whole lot of good if I'd been injured or worse. Still, I didn't have time to be angry about it because I was in the middle of a race for goodness sake.

Waving him off, I continued down the road. Finally! I was getting some downhill time. "Ahhhh... This is where I shine!" I actually said it aloud. I couldn't help myself. Sadly, the relief lasted only a brief time before climbing started yet again. Hmm, I thought, I don't recall this having so much climbing.

Still, I persevered, waiting for the downhill that I was convinced was coming.

My hands had been going numb (a story for a different time, but it had to do with the bike I was riding) for several miles now. I kept shaking them trying to get feeling back. It was a no-go on that front, but up in the distance Sam was approaching. At least that would be a nice distraction.
The course shared the road with motorized traffic. This was part of the mild downhill section that brought me great happiness for a brief time.
"I thought I missed you," Sam exclaimed as he about-faced and came back to ride with me.

"You can't ride with me," I responded quickly. I know it sounded harsh and I didn't mean for that to be the first thing out of my mouth, but the rules are very clear in that no one can have aid or assistance on the course, nor can another rider be within several feet of another. This was made abundantly clear on several occasions and I didn't want to get disqualified because Sam was trying to check on me.

Sam backed off, but I knew I had to stop for a minute because I could barely feel my hands.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm fine. I'm just going to eat a GU pack and then I'll be on my way again." I needed the relief of a few seconds off the bike to pull myself together. Sam continued to ride on.

Shaking out my hands, I consumed the GU and got back on the bike. Up the road, Sam was waiting again. I knew he was trying to be helpful and supportive, but I could feel the agitation welling up inside. What didn't he understand about the fact that I couldn't have him on the course riding with me? My response, unfortunately, came out in a distressed, snapping manner.

"Please!" I said again, "You can't ride with me! They will disqualify me if anyone sees you riding with me." In retrospect, I don't know why I was so worried about it. It's not as though I was at the front of the pack, Sam was riding behind me not in front so there was no advantage, I certainly wasn't winning the race, and I hadn't seen a course official since the start line, but I was still overly concerned with the rules for some incomprehensible reason. Maybe it was just the reality of knowing I wasn't in any condition to be doing this race at all, but now I just wanted to finish and didn't want any reason to be unable to complete the goal. Honestly, I didn't have any intention of hurting Sam's feelings, but I was just in pain and wanted to be through the race.

Sam seemed unfazed and told me that he would see me at the transition. Turning around, he headed back to the transition spot. I felt bad as I rode on. I didn't understand why I'd snapped at him in that moment, but I couldn't focus too much energy on it. Later, the reality of my harshness would set in to a greater degree.

After what felt like an eternity of low-level climbing, I returned to the transition area. I can honestly say for the first time in my life I was actually wanting to be on foot instead of on a bicycle. The lack of feeling in my hands had become too much and I was highly uncomfortable on the bike. While the machine itself had been fine, the two of us together had been a very poor combination that day.

Gearing up for the run (or walk, in my case) once again, my head was filled with doubt. I was so thirsty! All of my water was empty and there was no one at the transition area to provide a refill. I knew there was water at the halfway point of the run, but that seemed so far away when I was presently in need. It was also incredibly hot. What had started out as a lovely day had become something unbearable (one of the consequences of being slow during a summer race, unfortunately).

The good news was that I was making or very close to making my personal time goals - somehow. I'd been a smidge slower on the first "run", and slower on the bike than I wanted (my watch had started miraculously working again), but maybe I could make it up during the final run. Or, at least I was telling myself that in the moment.

As I crossed back through the running shoot, a spectator at the start yelled out, "Run! You can walk later."

Oh, how I wanted to punch her. Genuinely, if I'd had any sort of extra energy to expend, I may have done so.  I say that now, but even with my extreme disdain for this woman in that moment, I don't think I really would ever strike another human in this type of situation. I think she thought she was being encouraging, but when a racer is injured, dehydrated, and generally just not in a good place, it's probably not the comment to make.

Didn't she think that I wanted to run? If I had any ability to do so, I would have. But my body was broken. My spirit was broken. Now, I just wanted to cry. I desperately wanted, nay, needed water. My back was killing me and the thought of having to complete another run, no matter the distance, seemed impossible. Frankly, I wasn't sure I could even walk for any length at this point. Why had I wanted to be on foot again so desperately?

Still I continued down the path. I was barely moving. Sam would later tell me that I had a nice waddle going on... thanks, Sam. Though, I knew precisely what he meant. I was hurting and I truly didn't know if I could make it to the end.

*The 3rd and final part of this post will be up soon! Thanks for reading along and for your patience as I finish up the post.

Part 3 is up now and can be found here.

Monday, October 9, 2017

My First Duathlon, Part 1: Training for a Duathlon While Recovering from Injury

Earlier this past summer, I wrote about why I participate in races occasionally, but in August, I participated in a summer race for which I had little time to train.

To provide a brief background, I had been searching for something that would motivate me to work a bit harder as we worked nearer to the end of summer than I might if I had nothing to aim toward and a duathlon presented itself. I have never in my life competed in a duathlon, but this event, while a challenge for me, seemed like a doable distance and course to complete, so a bit on a whim, I signed myself up just a few weeks prior to the race.
*Image found here
Almost immediately, I had buyer's remorse (participant remorse?). I wasn't entirely sure this was my smartest move. I've had a lot of issues that have kept me from running much at all this year, but I also knew when I signed up that walking portions was a possibility. I'm also far more comfortable with other types of physical movement. If someone told me there was a competition in a few weeks involving strength, I believe it would be less intimidating to me. Still, I didn't want to walk the running portions of the race and the internal nagging persisted as I continued to ask myself why on earth I'd have signed up for a run-bike-run race?

Obviously, the two tasks I need to undertake for this race are running and biking. Fortunately, I'm on a bicycle at some point just about every day, but I knew that my distances were going to have to advance and I'd need to have some focus on speeding up my usually casual-leaning pace. Riding a bicycle doesn't terrify me the way running (twice) does. Riding a bike is easy. It can be challenging on different terrain/inclines, but for the most part I get on a bike and go, down shift or up shift as needed, and pedal.

Running doesn't come as easily. True, it's still just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, but my body tends to fight me much more when it comes to this form of movement. As anyone who's read here can tell you, the injuries my body has dealt with over the last several years have brought a challenge to even riding as far as I'd like. My injuries span from feet all the way to shoulders and have varying levels of intensity and need of coddling. For instance, my pelvis comes out of place at least once per week. Running or even walking when it's out (as one might imagine) isn't the easiest thing to do. I also deal with genetic issues that truly will always keep me at a slow pace when it comes to running.

Still, I can train as long as I don't try to push too hard when I'm experiencing immense pain, and as long as I take care to listen to what my body is telling me.

My regular workout usually takes place at the gym. I vary exercises but usually find myself on a treadmill, lifting weights and mixing in my own random sets of cardio exercises that I've taken from various sources over the years. I also try to include stretching at some point, but it's one of those areas that I really should include more regularly.

When starting to train for the duathlon, I figured it would probably be a good idea to actually practice the way things would go for the event. So, I started running, biking and then running again.

My first try at it, I figured I'd take it easy, starting with 1/3 the running distance, most of the biking distance and then 1/3 the running distance again. I had decided to train only on the treadmill, even knowing that running outside is a different sort of beast, but also accepting that it would do less harm to the parts of my body that I needed to keep safe.

On the first run, I ended up completing 1/2 the running distance because I felt I didn't need to back as far down as I'd initially thought, but I will say that the most challenging part for my brain (and body) was returning for the second round of running.

As stated earlier, I'm used to riding to the gym to work out and then riding home, but there was something about that extra run before the return trip home that threw my mind in to chaos. I could feel my brain telling my body that we were done and to stop moving, so it was a bit of a mental struggle to refocus and tell my legs to keep moving. Of course, practicing helps with muscle memory so this fight wouldn't be such a struggle going forward.

The ride home after that first attempt, even though I live only a couple of miles from the gym, was not easy. Although the distances had not been great, the three hours I'd spent moving meant that my body was looking for some sort of nutrition. It's as though I'd forgotten that there is a difference between a workout and training for an event, but my body was definitely reminding me.

With the second try, I incorporated some GU into the riding portion of training, which helped tremendously. My brain felt clearer as I started the second run, I didn't feel as though I was going to collapse, and even the bike ride home was a little easier. I still hadn't quite got the nutrition part correct, but it had gone much better than the first round.

Unfortunately, injuries still plagued me into the third week and I was starting to wonder if I'd be able to compete in this event at all. Having difficulty walking, let alone trying to run was causing mental distress. I pondered deferring my participation until 2018, but I really wasn't ready to give up quite yet.

Still, as I did not have much time between sign up and the actual race day, I tried to determine the best ways to utilize what was available to me. Running a lot would be good for this type of event; however, my body doesn't tolerate it well, so instead I spent some time walking uphill and doing other cross training activities such as jumps and short, faster sprints in order to try to build up what would be needed for this duathlon.

Surprisingly, my body was doing pretty well and I was beginning to think that I might actually perform decently at the duathlon. My back was holding up, my knees weren't hurting, and even my pelvis had been staying where it needed to most of the time.

By the first part of the week of the duathlon, I was feeling great! In the back of my mind I had minor moments of doubt, but I was pretty sure that my body was as ready as it could be given the short amount of training time, and I was experiencing only minimal pain which was already a win for me. I even made a comment to Sam that I was feeling good and thought I could do well at the race.

The debate about what to wear for the event had been plaguing me too. I had tried a few combinations during my practice duathlons, but nothing seemed to be to my liking. If it worked well for running, I was uncomfortable on the bike and vice versa. The last thing I want to be doing during a race is tugging on clothing. Ultimately, I had decided on my triathlon knickers because they are easy to run in and still have a small amount of padding for the bike.

The top portion was where I was struggling though. After trying several bike jerseys I own, I wasn't happy with the way they behaved while running. When it came down to it, I didn't need the pockets on the jersey because I had a bag for the ride and could keep GU in the pocket of my pants while running, so I decided to wear a work out tank and hope that it would be sufficient.

My workout plan was in place for the week leading up to the race too. I continued to exercise but took things a bit slower than usual to ensure that my body would stay well.

Unfortunately, the day before the event, my pelvis decided that it was time to pop out of place. I had been having some neck issues and could not turn my head so I had made a trip to the chiropractor the day prior, insisting that he only adjust the upper part of my back/neck as all had been so great with the lower portion of my body.

After the adjustment, my neck started to feel better, but I was then dealing with lower body issues that were making it difficult to walk at all. I was kicking myself for going in for an adjustment, but knew that I really needed to be able to turn my neck during the race. Still, had I just left things alone I was fairly certain none of this would be happening.

The night before the race, I was convinced that I shouldn't show up to the duathlon at all. The majority of the race was running, not biking, so I didn't think I'd be able to fake it to the finish line. I was mad at myself for spending money on a race that I'd known would be a challenge even in a good state, and now I was experiencing so much pain just putting one foot in front of the other to walk through the house that I was pretty sure this just wasn't going to happen.

"What do I do?" I asked of Sam, as I held my hand up to my aching hip. "Do I go anyway and try, and if I can't finish, at least I gave it a shot? Do I just forget it and not bother. I really don't think I can run at all, and I'm honestly not sure I can even walk very well."

Unfortunately, Sam didn't have any wise words for me. I completely understood. It's not really possible to tell someone else what their body is capable of doing, but he definitely sympathized with my plight and was aware that I was not in a good state. I knew he wouldn't blame me for dropping out entirely before I even got to the start line, but I was still (as much as it perplexed even me) trying to figure out how I could complete what was in front of me the following morning.

*Part 2 is in the finishing stages and will be available soon.
**Part 2 can now be found by clicking here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When Cyclists Are In the Wrong

Several weeks ago, I was traveling down a road and came to an intersection with a 4-way stop. All of the vehicles present were taking turns as usual when a cyclist traveling eastbound blew through the stop sign. When I say this I mean it quite literally. Wearing headphones covering both ears, without a look in either direction of the opposing traffic, he literally picked up speed and rolled through the stop sign.

As he was proceeding through, a truck heading southbound was taking his turn to cross the intersection and nearly collided with the cyclist. When the truck honked at the cyclist, the man on the bicycle turned around and flipped the driver the bird.

I was in shock at the cyclist's absolute disregard for his own personal safety as well as his gumption to actually be angry at the motorist who had followed the rules of the road. I truly couldn't fault the man in the truck as I'm sure he was startled by the sudden appearance of the individual on a bicycle, who he most likely couldn't see was approaching the intersection at full speed.
For the record, this cyclist in question was not dressed like a hipster.
*Image found here
A couple of weeks after this incident, I was traveling behind another cyclist who made the decision not to stop at a 2-way stop sign, narrowly missing being hit by a person driving a car. A few blocks later at a busy intersection with a signal (that happens to be notorious for close-calls and accidents with cyclists and pedestrians) this woman once again ran the stop light.

Pedaling behind her, I reached the signal shortly after she rolled through and pressed the crosswalk button. The signal turned green about 30 seconds later, after which I proceeded through, catching up to her shortly thereafter.

At the signal, this rider had turned her head and noticed me approaching behind her, so I wanted to make a silent point by passing her. If she had simply followed the rules, she would not have delayed her travel much at all, and also not put her life in jeopardy.
*Image found here
These types of incidents seem to be happening with more regularity. Sometimes, they are minor infractions and other times they are potentially life-altering types of incidents. Regardless, I find myself (at least during these types of moments) siding with motorists who recount stories of ill-mannered and poor-behaving cyclists on the road. I am not making light of the situation with the memes posted here either, but simply pointing out that what is an easily found opinion of motorists can seem to be true in these instances.

I have an understanding that "scofflaw" cyclists are not the majority and that many people who ride regularly don't intentionally put their lives in danger, but within a three week span, I personally witnessed or encountered more than half a dozen people on bicycles blatantly and thoroughly breaking the law. Living in a community of under 100,000 people, that may not seem like a huge number, but it is an amount that seems to have grown tremendously from past experiences.

Why the sudden increase?

It would be easy to say that it was summertime and more individuals are out riding a bike. Perhaps that is part of the equation, but it doesn't account for the sudden increase in this behavior over past summers. I have even considered that maybe more people are riding in general and with that comes a certain level of comfort on the roads as cyclists begin to think it is safe to ignore basic travel/road etiquette and laws.

I am not the safety police nor the law, and I have shared more than once that I have been known to, at times, not follow the letter of the law when it puts me in more danger on a bicycle, but when people on bicycles are making leaps to running red lights at very busy intersections without looking, or picking up speed to roll through 4-way stop intersections, we are not helping our cause in the least.

It can easily be witnessed that many vehicles, motorized or other, break the law. Cars and trucks are seen with regularity rolling right turns at red lights, not stopping completely at stop signs, not signaling lane changes or turns, driving distracted, speeding, running intersections with red lights, and any number of other infractions. There's a comfort level that happens when we get used to driving or riding and if we get away with something once, it becomes easier to try it again, and before we're even aware, these momentary lapses in judgement become habits.
*Image found here
While I will always believe that vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists) need to be given space on roads and shown respect, I also believe it is our responsibility as a cyclist or pedestrian to raise the bar and behave better than those traveling in motorized vehicles. It's unfortunate, but it is the only way in our current societal norm to find a way to potentially peacefully co-exist because the above meme is precisely what many motorists already believe. If or when we run signals or stop signs, we are illustrating to those who believe cyclists shouldn't be on "their roads" that they are correct in their thought process. When we as people on bikes are seen breaking the law with regularity it sends a message to motorists that they are right about cyclists being individuals who constantly break the law.

Believe me when I say that I didn't have to look long or hard for any of the photos in this post. I can also open any news article online about a cyclist being wounded or killed and find too many comments that blame the cyclist's bad road behavior even when the readers don't know the situation or the person involved. They all have a story though about the cyclists they see doing something wrong and that's all they remember when these types of incidents occur.

If we ride our bicycles in a manner that is predictable and safe, it becomes more difficult for motorists to blame cyclists when road incidents occur. Even though I believe the majority of people on bicycles do behave well on the roads, the few times these incidents occur just add fuel to an already raging fire.

What do you think about cyclists who break the law? Is it possible to change the opinions of some motorists by modeling better behavior than they do? It seems a near impossibility to create a world in which no cyclist ever breaks the law (just as it's impossible to make every motorist obey all the laws), so how do we change many motorists views that all cyclists are rogue, scofflaw individuals? I welcome your thoughts on the matter.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Total Eclipse (of my brain)

Just shy of a couple of weeks ago, I set out to do a short, 5-10 mile ride. I was preparing for a race and in the days prior, I wanted to keep my legs loose, but not get into any distance or speed. I had a mental plan of the week before the event, so even though this particular day was a rest day, I didn't want to sit around doing nothing.

At any rate, I decided I wanted to go out and check on a portion of our greenway that has been closed since the flooding almost four years ago. The city website stated that a connection to the east side won't be open until the end of next year, but I assumed that the other side of the path would be open and rideable. A nice, relaxing, short ride on the paved path sounded perfect.

When I arrived to the area, it became quickly evident that the path on the east side was also still not available for use. The choices in front of me had barricades and orange accoutrements placed all around, so it was obvious that work is still in progress. I was disappointed, but figured I could cut through a shopping center on the opposite side and ride the path to the southwest side of town and then head home.
At the end of the paved greenway headed in a south-western direction is the start of the LoBo trail, which connects the cities of Longmont and Boulder via a (mostly) packed gravel path. The LoBo is a fairly quiet, removed path that allows for travel through the small communities of Niwot and Gunbarrel in route to either of the aforementioned cities. It's been quite awhile since I've ridden the trail. In fact, I'm fairly certain it's been about 10 months since I've set foot or wheel on the path.

The LoBo is not the most efficient way to get to Boulder or Longmont, but it does remove riders, walkers and runners from the speed of motorized highway traffic, making it far more pleasant. The lack of efficiency though often causes me to avoid it because, as is the case for most humans in today's world, I seem to often have some sort of time crunch and need to get where I'm going. Instead, I travel along the shoulder of the highway next to the very loud cars and trucks, which is a much more direct route of about 15 mi/24 km (one way, give or take, depending on start and end point).

When I arrived at the start of the trail on this day, my intention was to make a turn north and head back home, but instead I decided to pedal a little farther out onto the gravel. There are plenty of ways out of the trail along the way if needed, so I figured it would give me an opportunity to check things out.

The weather and atmosphere were feeling a little strange; nearly a similar sensation to what I have experienced during tornado weather. Not that there was excessive wind, but there's something about the sky that changes when tornadoes are possible. 

As I pedaled along, I realized just how much I was enjoying this ride. I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was that was so enjoyable, but I was actually having fun -- something I later realized I haven't felt in quite awhile.
I continued on and soon found myself approaching two individuals sitting in folding beach chairs in the middle of the path. One of them noticed I was approaching and got up to move her chair over. As I went by, I wondered why they were sitting in the middle of the trail and what they were watching up in the sky. While passing, I looked over my shoulder and saw their eyes covered with different-looking glasses and realized they were out waiting for the solar eclipse.

D'oh!  ::Face palm::

The trees provided a nice filter for sun-gazing.
I had completely forgotten about the eclipse, which seems impossible given the amount of attention it had been receiving during the weeks prior. I wasn't particularly interested in the event, but was fascinated that so many people were taking time off of work and traveling to locations to see it.

As I kept pedaling, I came upon more and more people who were out staring at the sun with large, rectangular-shaped glasses covering their eyes. For some reason, it amused me. We did not have 100% eclipse locally, but it was pretty close (somewhere in the mid-90% range), so it made sense that people were out trying to see what they could.
Coming up around a bend, I approached a small group of men who shuffled to get out of the path as I got closer. Slowing slightly, I asked if they had seen anything good yet, and they (very enthusiastically) responded in the affirmative and offered to let me borrow a pair of their glasses. I declined because I didn't really want to stop this ride I was so thoroughly enjoying, but appreciated the sentiment and thanked them for their generosity as I continued on.

As I rode, I could not stop smiling. I was not pushing myself in the least, but was just enjoying what and where I was riding. There was this joy that felt ready to burst from within. I could not remember the last time I'd been so happy on a bicycle. I wish I could explain it fully, but there was simply something about this ride that was providing immense happiness.

I am on a bicycle at some point nearly every day, and I never hate being on a bike, but it had been such a long time since I felt so utterly and purely joyous about pedaling. Up and down I went over short, slightly steeper stretches and back to the flat areas. I spotted a field of sunflowers and couldn't help but grin ear to ear. I was enjoying every single second.
Before I realized it, I had pedaled my way to north Boulder. How did that happen? I knew that I had to head home, but I was shocked to see how far I'd traveled without even a thought of discomfort or awareness of the distance I'd need to travel to get home again.

The highway seemed like the reasonable choice to get back home, but even it was strangely quiet. During the miles traveled the traffic was nearly non-existent. It was as though aliens had taken most everyone, or a biblical rapture had taken place and left only a few of us behind. If I was one of those left behind, I could not have been happier. I really didn't want the ride to end.

Arriving home, I uploaded the trip (I'd decided to record it, even though I believed it would be short and slow) and discovered that I'd obtained several personal records on trail and road segments, which just made me laugh. I felt as though I'd been taking my time and yet somehow bested myself.

As I went about the day, I kept thinking about that feeling -- that happiness that lingered throughout the ride. Trying to determine what it was that had made me so ridiculously delighted was puzzling. Was it the fact that I had taken a path not traveled in many months? Was it the lack of pressure to perform in any particular way or at a certain pace? Still, that didn't entirely explain the complete euphoria throughout the ride.

I have tried without success since that day to figure out what made that ride such a pleasant experience, but I have little explanation for it. I cannot for the life of me stop thinking about it though. I can't help but want to repeat it over and over again. Perhaps it was just part of the solar eclipse experience. I may not have had much concern for the crossing of the moon between the earth and sun, but maybe it affected me more than I believed.

A bicycle ride almost always turns my mood around and makes me happy, but there was something inexplicably wonderful about this one. Have you experienced a ride like this -- one that was unusually exciting, happy, and effortless? What do you think made it so perfect? Have you been able to duplicate that feeling at will?