Thursday, March 18, 2021

Deciding between a road or gravel bike: A year+ testing the Specialized Ruby and Diverge

Toward the end of summer in 2019, I started yet another hunt for a road bike. I’d been riding my second-hand Bianchi circa early 2000s and was enjoying getting some speed back in my life. The problem I’d been having though was with my hands and wrists. Since I couldn’t get anything above a 23mm tire on the bike (I had 25mm on the wheels, but they didn’t really fit without major problems), the hand pain I was experiencing was more than I could handle. I made the decision to start looking again to hopefully find something that would give me both a little more comfort for my already damaged hands and keep the lightness and speed I was growing accustomed to enjoying.

Going back to the drawing board, it seemed like the most logical thing to do was to test ride bikes I could find locally instead of jumping into yet another option that I’d have no means of riding before buying. What I’ve realized over the years is that I do much better with bikes I can test ride prior to purchasing. My luck with both mass production mainstream manufacturers and custom builders has been unfortunate though, and so when I set out on this particular round to find a road bike that might work, I wanted to at least have an opportunity to test several possibilities to see if one of them could be that perfect (or at least close to perfect) road bike, without needing to go through the ordeal of a custom frame.

As with many other cities, there are few local bike shops with stock on hand outside of the Trek, Giant, Cannondale, and Specialized brands. To make matters even more challenging, a lot of shops don’t carry sizes that are appropriate, but rather stock the typically-sold sizes ranging from about 54cm to 58cm. So, if one is not 5’8-6′ tall, finding testable choices can be even more difficult.

Trying to remain open to possibilities of new technology or even different materials, I wasn’t ruling anything out. After reading a lot and test riding too, I wasn’t really finding what I wanted. I rode some Cannondales and quickly ruled them out. They just didn’t feel right to me. I also briefly rode a Specialized Diverge and enjoyed it, but thought that it seemed like a do-it-all bike. Not a bad quality by any means, and I recall thinking that if I had only one bike, it would likely be something I’d pursue, but it just wasn’t giving me quite the feeling I was wanting in a road bike.

After returning home from one test-riding session, I happened upon some information about the Specialized Ruby (which has now been eliminated and the Roubaix has taken over for both men’s and women’s version of this bike). Why hadn’t I thought to test that one, I wondered? So, after looking to see if anyone had one in stock, I did a quick roll around the shop’s neighborhood to check it out for myself. It seemed comfortable, thanks to the future shock up front, and relatively quick, but it’s so hard to commit to something with such a short ride. The shop was agreeable to permit me time to ride around the neighborhood, but I knew that taking it for a couple of hours just wasn’t possible.

Deciding that I needed more than a 10 minute ride under my belt with this bike, I rented one from a shop for a day and took it out on a 45-miler to see what it really felt like on the roads I regularly ride. It was amazing! I was in love with this bike – both due to comfort and speed. I was shocked that I had seemingly found the unicorn that allowed me both the ability to go fast and not have hands in pain for the duration of the ride. Where had this bike been all of my life?

I didn’t have a lot of options for purchasing the bike because the Ruby model was being discontinued, but I was also still hesitant to buy one because of my poor luck with road bikes. Ultimately, I decided that my rental test seemed pretty great, so I was ready to move ahead. I bought the same model-level I’d tested during the rental and tried to wait patiently.

When the Ruby arrived, I got to work testing it. My first ride was about 30 miles/48 km and went very well. I had close to the speed I wanted AND I was comfortable. It was like a great epiphany — my heart was so happy. My second ride was close to 30 miles but wasn’t quite as fast as the first one. I ended up dropping about 1 mph average, which was disappointing, but I’d done a little more climbing, so it made sense in my mind. By my third ride, I was ready to go a little farther so I got in a 45-mile/72km ride, but my speed dropped even more, putting me down nearly 2 mph average from the first ride. For the fourth ride, I wasn’t having a great day physically and ended up stopping short at just under 20 miles, but had also dropped a little bit of speed yet again. By the time I reached my fifth ride which lasted a smidge over 40 miles, I was still down an average of 2.5 mph for the entire ride.

The Ruby at the top of NCAR in the spring 2020.

Regardless, I was happy with the bike and because we’d rolled into October and things were cooling off, I figured my body was just entering what I call cold-weather-mode, during which I seem to naturally slow down. I shrugged it off and figured I’d revisit the speed issue when late spring rolled around again.

Around this same time, I spotted a Specialized Diverge for sale online. It was new-old stock (2018) at a shop back east, but was being sold at a terrific price. My mind began to plot. If the road bike was so good, maybe the gravel bike would be great too? I had enjoyed the test-ride I’d taken at the bike shop on the Diverge, short as it was, so maybe it was supposed to be with me? I knew I didn’t need it… after all, I have bikes that can travel on gravel roads, and even the new road bike was okay on them, thanks to the slightly wider 28mm tires and geometry, but it was calling to me and I really felt some strange pull to buy it. Sometimes, there’s just no explaining things I do, I suppose. Plus, I figured if I didn’t end up liking it, I could always sell it and break even (or come pretty close to doing so).

So, after some plotting and calculating (and selling some stuff I wasn’t using), I ended up with the Diverge in addition to the Ruby. After riding them both for a good year plus, I realized that the two bikes are pretty similar, though there are a few differences. The Diverge has the capability of taking up to a 42mm tire, the Ruby can handle up to a 30mm tire. The Diverge feels a bit more squishy when riding — not in a bad or good way, just a little different feeling, but is appreciated on rougher roads/gravel. Weight-wise they aren’t as far apart as one might think, with the Diverge being ~3 lbs heftier (most of which seems to come by way of the wheels). With pedals and saddles (knowing that I ride leather saddles and platform pedals, so this will affect the weight), the Ruby weighs in at just about 21 lbs and the Diverge at approximately 24 lbs. The geometry of each is close to the other, but slightly longer and more relaxed on the Diverge.

Over the colder months of winter 2019-2020, I spent more time on the Diverge than the Ruby. I found myself really enjoying it. I was slow (even slower than I’d been toward the end of the season on the Ruby), but I seemed to be having fun. Plus, I was getting in some rides on roads I typically avoid because of my hand issues. While the majority of the riding for the Diverge was meant to be on dirt and gravel for me, we have some pretty rough paved roads to the north, and it works well on those as well.

Riding during the winter months on the Diverge.

Speed-wise, I was frustrated, but I was enjoying not having hands in so much pain at the end of rides… and, I know that cold tends to zap my power, so I just enjoyed riding, knowing that things would probably change when temperatures began to warm again.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last few years about whether or not the future shock is of any value. If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically a spring that’s been added at the head tube that behaves like a miniature shock, absorbing some of the road chatter. Some argue that it slows the rider down, but on the whole most seem to like it. I fall into the latter category, definitely. Even if it is mildly slowing me down (and that is an “if” because I don’t feel like this is affecting my speed), its advantage far outweighs whatever small speed deficit there may be. It’s allowed me to ride roads I normally avoid and to be spared a lot of the associated pain due to those rough paths. Both the Ruby and the Diverge have performed well in this regard.

As the spring of 2020 rolled around, I went back to riding the Ruby more regularly, but found that my speed was still suffering more than I would’ve liked. Because of the pandemic, I was spending more time riding than usual so I was getting a good sense of both bikes, but also began to see via real-life rides how similar these two bikes truly are — and that I really didn’t need them both. Of course, I knew that from the start, but as the year moved along, I knew I’d probably make a decision at some point to let one of them go.

The bikes have pretty close specs. Both are carbon, they both run Shimano 105, and both are outfitted with the CG-R seatpost (which looks funny, but works well). The only real difference in parts is the wheels, and while neither is anything to write home about (DT Swiss R470 for the Ruby and Axis Elite for the Diverge), there is a weight addition with the Diverge wheels.

I performed a few rounds of quite unscientific testing, riding the Ruby one day on a specific route and then on another day riding the Diverge on the same. What I found after several of these was that my speed really wasn’t much different, if at all, from one bike to the other and that knowledge sat and festered a bit in my mind as I tried to decide what I wanted to do, if anything.

My unscientific documentation of various rides comparing the two bikes.

After using the Diverge for a small amount of time as my main bicycle and because I still felt as though the Ruby was a little heavier than I’d like for a dedicated road bike, in the summer of 2020, I decided to let that one go and kept the Diverge. To date, I haven’t regretted that decision.

What I’ve learned from this longer term experiment has been personally useful. I was already aware that there is a lot of talk about gravel bikes and the differences (or lack thereof) from road bikes. What I learned, particularly in this instance, is that they really aren’t all that different from each other. Perhaps if I’d gone with something more race-oriented for the road bike I’d have had a different experience, but other than rather small details and some wider tires, these two bikes are very similar and ride/perform nearly identically. If I were presented a choice between the two having the knowledge I have today, I’d go with the Diverge/gravel bike (as I did), only because it’s a little more useful to me being able to take it on gravel paths with a bit more ease due to the tire width. I recall reading at one point that if one rides more dirt/gravel to go with the Diverge and if the rider chooses more paved paths to go with the Ruby/Roubaix, as they can both handle either. I would agree with that assessment.

Although I am by no means a speedy rider, I have days during which I enjoy trying to be better, faster, and push myself. Finding that sort of bike has been a challenge for me partly because of physical limitations and injuries and partly because finding the right fit can be difficult as well. I also likely have an unreasonable expectation of what a dedicated road bike will be for me. What I’ve decided is that unless I am willing to endure road chatter, a more aero-like positioning, and thus hand pain and numbness, I don’t know that I will ever really find a road bike that gives me the speed I’m always trying to achieve during these experiments. I have days when I am able to achieve speed, but it seems to connect more to 1) lack of wind, 2) my feelings on a given day, and 3) how my body is doing overall. I know the day will come when I will care less and be far less capable of attaining any sort of speed regardless, and in that sense, it would be wise to give up the hunt for this elusive road bike. I have also discovered that so often the problem is really me rather than the bike. At a certain point, I have to accept that I am simply not a racer and never will be; and, though I don’t mind being slow, it can be an incredibly frustrating realization on those days when I just want to move swiftly.

All of this has caused me to reflect a great deal on the bikes I have owned over the years – both those I let go because of a want for something better, faster (whether real or imagined), or different, and those that I enjoyed but sold to fund another purchase and then lived with the regret. Nearly a decade ago I wrote about the grass-is-always-greener mentality when it comes to my bikes and I can’t help but wonder if that thought process or feeling ever goes away — if there will ever be a time when I’ll appreciate what I have when I have it and stop worrying about how fast (or slow) I am on a bicycle, or whether there’s something that functions better.

The Diverge, in some ways has been like my Rivendell Sam Hillborne. They are, of course, very different bicycles, but with each of them, when I ride, I tend to worry less about speed. Oh, I have days when I get frustrated or feel slow, but something about this bike gives me permission to simply ride, and I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most about it. As I accept the fact that I am a mere mortal, and not a particularly athletic one, I begin to appreciate the bikes that allow me to enjoy the moment, the ride, and not obsess about every minor detail over a route. Although I have given up trying to guess which bikes will remain and which will go, this one seems to provide something I was missing and I can appreciate it here and now for that very reason alone.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

My experience getting the COVID-19 vaccine

*This post is not intended to offer any medical advice to any individual. Please follow the recommendations of your personal health professionals – always – but I did want to offer up my experience because I have been fortunate enough to be able to get this vaccine fairly early on and thought sharing might be beneficial to someone.

“You can’t just get any vaccine! You need to talk to your step-dad. His son’s a nurse and has told him all about how the…” we were 20 minutes into a phone conversation and my mom was vehemently resisting the idea of me getting “just any” vaccination while we spoke on the phone. She trailed off for a couple of seconds, so I tried to head it off while she was paused and responded with, “I will get any approved vaccine that is offered to me. We need to get vaccinated so that life can return to something resembling normal. I am tired of this and I want to be able to go about life – I want to see you, and others too. Besides, we know that people won’t likely have an option as to which version they are able to get.”

It was of no use though as she continued on, calling for my step-father in the background to come and fill me in on this “information” she had received that was going to help me realize that getting “any” vaccine was a bad idea. “The Pfizer and Moderna ones are going to mess up your DNA! You can’t get them! You need to wait for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” she continued with her thought that had trailed off seconds prior.

At this point, as the conversation had been going on for quite awhile (and it wasn’t the first time this subject had been discussed), I could feel my patience hitting its limit. “Listen, I don’t know where you are getting your information, but it isn’t –” my volume was increasing, but I was interrupted by my step-dad’s voice as he began to “fill me in” on what my mother had been trying to explain earlier. I stood listening, phone to ear, mentally rolling my eyes, but trying to have the patience to allow him to finish. He managed to make it through without interruption, and finished by stating that they (he and my mother) would get the vaccine, but they are waiting for the J&J one that should be coming out soon.

With my mother back on the phone, she implored me, “I am your mother, and I want what is best for you, and I am telling you, you can’t get those two because -” I cut her off. I just couldn’t take any more of it, and at this point I was very nearly yelling. “Again, I will get any vaccine that is available to me. None of them are going to mess up my DN –” I was cut off with, “YES, they will. You CANNOT get them,” my mother insisted.

Our conversation went on a bit longer before ultimately ending in my mother hanging up on me. Perhaps it seems a bit unnecessary to go through this conversation, but I doubt I am the only person who has had this sort of back-and-forth with a family member, neighbor or friend. It’s a very frustrating situation and honestly, my family are the last people I want to fight with. My annoyance was stemming ultimately from the fact that they refuse to use common sense, listen to scientists and doctors, or to even perform a simple search online which would have yielded answers very quickly to what they believe to be truth, but which is in fact, not at all the case.

Interestingly enough, a few days after this conversation, I was offered the opportunity to sign up to get the COVID-19 vaccine shots. I was ecstatic because I thought it would be months before I would be able to sign up. Teachers are included in the next phase of Colorado vaccinations, so I was able to sign up via the school district through which I am employed. I was told that anyone who wanted to sign up, who was eligible to do so, would have the opportunity for a limited number of days. After the sign-up portion, a lottery/randomized system of selection would be used to decide who would go first.

As it happened, my name was drawn very quickly. The available dates/times were limited and I didn’t have much of a selection as far as where the vaccine could be administered. The closest location was about 30 miles from home and the available date for the first dose was coinciding with a previously scheduled appointment for one of our dogs (who was having a tooth extracted, and also couldn’t be rescheduled at this point as the vet is overloaded and booked several weeks out). Sam reminded me that this is important and that we’d figure out all the details later, but to get the appointment set. At the same time, I had to schedule the date for the second dose and was informed that it was important to choose dates/times that would not require rescheduling as they are doing their very best to get as many vaccinated as possible in the shortest amount of time.

The available date for the first round would be February 15, but it seemed like it would be okay because the pups’ drop off time was at 7:30a, and I wouldn’t need to be to my appointment until 9:10a. It seemed feasible that both could happen on the same morning, and so I signed myself up for both round one and the second dose, which would take place three weeks after.

A few days after, I met up with a friend outdoors to walk our dogs. We’ve done this occasionally since the start of the pandemic, so as to not feel completely isolated and to allow our dogs to see each other (because they love each other and get very excited to do anything together). I am comfortable meeting up with her because 1) we both wear masks and maintain distance while we’re together, even though we’re outside, and 2) I know that she and her boyfriend are not having unnecessary contact with other individuals and they share the same philosophy about being around others during this time.

While we chatted, I mentioned that I would be getting the first round of the vaccine a couple of days later and also talked about some of my frustration with the conversation I’d had with my mother. I realized that it’s amazing how false information can seep into my brain and cause anxiety. I had been feeling some anxiousness about getting the vaccine because, even though I know they have been through trials and at this point several people have had the vaccine, I couldn’t help but wonder about the possibility of something going wrong. After all, I have a lot of allergies (to foods, environmental, and to some medications). What if something happened? What if the anti-vaccine people were right?

It didn’t help matters that the day before the appointment I received my electronic notice to check in online so that everything would be taken care of before my arrival the following day. The consent form was a little unnerving as I read through it, and I did actually read it in its entirety. The ingredient list alone might as well have been in another language because I understood very little of it. Then, the risks of obtaining the vaccine were listed, including the more severe possibilities of a reaction. It also detailed out what an EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) is and what it means in relation to this particular vaccine. Particularly after all this reading, I could definitely understand why there are so many who are hesitant to get the shots. I understand that this information is to educate individuals, but can also see how it could create situations in which people then don’t want to receive the vaccine.

The night before the appointment, I didn’t sleep much. There was a lot running through my head between the dog’s appointment (I never like to see them go under anesthesia and I was worried about her) and my own scheduled first-round of the vaccine. Despite the logic that was present, that little bit of the unknown was floating through my mind and it was hard to allow the 95% of the science/logic/reality side to win out over the 5% that held on to doubt, fear and uneasiness. As I filtered through thoughts in bed, I told Sam, “If anything happens to me, make sure to pick up our girl in the afternoon, okay?” He laughed and reassured me that I would be just fine, but that, yes, he would pick her up if anything happened. “You will both be just fine,” he said again before he drifted to sleep.

In the morning, I dropped the dog off and told her that I’d see her in the afternoon, as I headed to my own appointment. It was a very cold morning at -8F/-22C and the roads were likely going to be icy as we’d had snow the day prior. Still, I arrived to my appointment about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. As I nervously waited to go inside (I had been told not to arrive more than 10 minutes prior to my scheduled appointment), I tried to distract myself.

At 10 minutes before my appointment, I headed inside. At the entrance, I was screened with a temperature check and asked if I had been exposed to anyone who was known to have COVID and was then guided to follow the signs posted. I followed the maze, went down an elevator, and exited to a moving line of people who directed me to the back of the group. The line seemed to go on for an eternity as I twisted around corner after corner, eventually reaching the end. “Why did they bother making appointments?” I muttered half-aloud to no one in particular. I wasn’t upset about the wait/line (I know they’re trying to get the shots to as many people as possible), but having an appointment time with hundreds of others made it seem rather silly to go through the bother of making a scheduled time to arrive. But, people were kind and everyone waited at least 6 feet behind each other and the line moved fairly swiftly. In total, it was about a 30 minute wait, which didn’t seem too terrible.

When I arrived at the room full of tables for my turn, the nurse was very polite and even happy. I asked if people had been kind to her and she said things were going well. She asked if I had a preference of the arm being used, and since my right side was closest to her, I told her we might as well go with that one. She asked if I had any allergies, at which point I proceeded to run down a list of items, which didn’t seem to concern her. I was also asked if this was my first or second shot so that she would know whether to give me a vaccination card or to fill out the one I’d been given. After cleaning the area for the injection, she then stuck the needle in.

“All done!” she exclaimed.

I was confused — “Is that it?” I asked. “Do I need to wait around or anything?”

She responded by saying that if I was concerned about a reaction, I was welcome to wait 15 minutes in one of the chairs in an area that had been set up, but otherwise, I was free to go. Not really wanting to hang out indoors with a bunch of people, I opted to head outside, but as soon as I got to the vehicle, I started having second thoughts. Maybe I should have waited to make sure? I sent Sam a text…

It is done. Should I wait before I leave, or just head home? They don’t seem to require me to wait, but I’d hate to have something happen on the way home.

Sam said to wait if I wanted, but I would probably be fine to head back, and, not wanting to really sit there with my anxious ruminations, I headed home. As I started back, my thoughts got the better of me. I seemed to be having some tightness in my chest and I had a mild headache and felt tired. Of course, these things could be explained in other ways. I hadn’t really slept the night prior, it was a really cold day and I have asthma/allergies, which often causes tightness in my chest. I also hadn’t had any food yet for the day and it was after 10:45a, so that could very well be inflicting the mild headache. None of these things were intolerable, but just enough that I noticed. Still those little seeds that had been planted hung on for a few hours before I was finally able to relax.

I went about my day as planned – the grocery store, working out, walking the dog (the one not having a tooth removed), riding a bike (though on a trainer, as you will recall that it was a very cold day), working a bit, and eventually picking up the other pup in the late afternoon (who came through her surgery very well, in case you are curious).

By late afternoon, I could feel that my arm was not happy. I would say it was a moderate level of ache in the shoulder area down to just above my elbow — something I hadn’t really anticipated – akin to having someone punch me really hard in the arm/muscle. When I’ve had shots in the past, I’ve never experienced this, but Sam has mentioned it over the years when he gets his flu shot, so this may not be as unusual as it seemed to me.

That was the worst of it though. The second day, my arm was still sore, but I could pick it up easily (unlike the day prior). I was tired in the afternoon for a few days after the shot, but whether that is because of the vaccine or for other reasons, it’s difficult to say. I’ve also noticed that my mouth has been very dry. I’ve attempted to drink more than my usual amount of water (and I normally drink a fair amount of water), but that hasn’t seemed to do much, so I’m curious to see how long that lasts. Overall, nothing has been unbearable or even difficult to tolerate, and frankly, I’m not convinced most of the happenings are even from the vaccine.

I have two weeks until the second round shot, but I believe everything will go as expected at that visit as well. I feel less anxiety about the second round, having now gone through it once, so I think that’s beneficial. My mother- and father-in-law have both just finished up their second round shots and have experienced no ill-effects. I’m glad that they were able to get them done as they are both over 70 and have health issues that could cause significant problems if they were to get infected with COVID-19.

Hopefully, Sam will be able to get the vaccine in the relatively near future. He believes this won’t happen for him until summer, but I hold out hope that anyone who wants the vaccine will be able to get it much sooner so that life can begin to resume some sense of “normal,” whatever that may be.

In the meantime, we continue to mask anywhere we go, keep our distance when we cannot avoid other people, and look forward to getting back to some of the more normal activities of spring and summer in the coming months. Hopefully, this year will be much better than last for all of us.

We cannot eliminate (at least for now) this virus from our communities, but we can protect ourselves and our loved ones by getting the vaccine when it is available to us as individuals. My point in sharing all of this is not to say that I am special or that I am the rarity. Instead, my hope is that others who are fearful of the vaccine will take this opportunity to seek out or read about others, every day people, who have had the vaccine and come out the other side without issue. I also know that I cannot reach everyone, and in particular, I cannot reach the populations who likely need to read these experiences the most; but I hope that as I share this, others who have had the opportunity to get the vaccine will share their experience as well so that we are able to develop herd immunity – and that those who have family members or friends who are hesitant or resistant to getting the vaccine will share these experiences and know that we are benefiting ourselves and those we love.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Happy New Year

We made it! Through all the trials of 2020, we made it to the other side! Although I realize we’re not through much of what made it a challenging year, it’s nice to have a fresh start and hope for things to improve in the near future. Despite the roughness, there were bright spots during the year, lessons that I know I learned, and moments that were enjoyable, even if they seemed few and far between.

A beautiful sunrise captured early in 2020… the promise of a great year, I believed at the time.

At the end of 2019/early 2020, I thought for sure we were on the verge of losing our Labrador. She has surprised us though and remains solidly moving toward her 15th birthday. As stated at the time of the post about her, she is stubborn and I know she’ll stay with us as long as she likes and will likely go out on her terms. I have no complaints about this. I worry about her some days, but I enjoy that she is finding new ways to enjoy life in her senior years.

Resting in the mountains during one of our biggest rides this year. It was a challenge to climb some steep and slippery terrain (in spots), but it was great fun to do so together.

This year, I took many solo rides to locations I would’ve never ridden alone in the past. I think I’ve grown more confident in my ability to take on riding challenges this year, and I know this likely wouldn’t have happened without the time Sam and I spend together riding the tandem. Becoming a stronger captain has been one of my goals because I don’t like feeling as though I am stunting our potential being the weak link in our duo. At the end of the year, I am finally starting to believe that I can pull my own weight, and although it’s taken a few years, it’s a nice feeling to know I’m not completely dependent on my much stronger stoker.

Taken at the start of the only event we participated in this year in February… Sam was riding a 100k ride, while I was running a 10k run with a friend and our dogs. Unfortunately, it got cancelled soon after the start due to some pretty intense weather conditions.

Usually, we both find events to participate in throughout the year, whether on foot or bike. Of course, this year most events were cancelled (rightly so), so finding other ways to challenge ourselves became a different sort of self-contest. Initially, we thought there may be hope for some events later in the year, but soon into the virus mess, we knew there weren’t going to be group gatherings for quite awhile. We have both missed going to the gym, but we were able to gather enough free or very inexpensive equipment to make a home-gym in the garage, which has helped.

An extremely rainy ride in the cold. I left in the warmth of the sun and was quickly greeted by some very cold, pelting rain, but I was still having fun.

Somehow, I managed to ride more miles than I ever have in a single year, even slightly edging out Sam (which has never been possible for me in the past). Weirdly though, I didn’t complete a single ride longer than mid-60 miles in length in 2020. I ended up a few average-length rides shy of 9,000 miles… which, for many, is a drop in the bucket, but for me was quite an accomplishment, particularly given how slowly I tend to ride most days. I suppose it helped that work was limited this year and I needed something to distract myself. Riding seemed to fill a bit of the emptiness and I used cycling as much as I could to release emotions and tension.

This was just a gorgeous day! The sun was shining, everything was green, and I enjoyed every moment of the ride.

In that vein, this year has also taught me that no amount of strength training can take the place of physically climbing hills/mountains on a bike. The training certainly helps reinforce the rides, but there doesn’t seem to be a substitute for actually doing the work. This may seem obvious to most, but somehow that light bulb just didn’t switch on for me until this year. After accepting that I would be slow and just doing the work, I feel like climbing is slowly but surely getting a bit better. I’m still slow, but I can feel that each time I climb things get a little bit easier to deal with and I even occasionally look forward to it (something I never thought would happen). I know that I won’t ever be a super-star climber, for various reasons, but I appreciate that I don’t dread it the way I once did.

Enjoying a slow ride on my old friend, the Rivendell.

I reacquainted myself with an old two-wheeled friend, which helped me remember that not everything has to be a race, and just enjoying the ride, at whatever pace, is what it’s really about.

We dealt with incredible fires that ravaged the entire western US and left us breathing a little extra poorly. Never was I so grateful for the cold weather to set in to help with extinguishing the raging catastrophes. One got so close that there was a brief threat of evacuation that put us all a bit on edge and many close by lost a lot, unfortunately.

I made art, but didn’t sell much. It’s a challenging thing to figure out the virtual world of selling when so many like to physically see work in person before plunking down money. I can’t blame anyone for that, as I have very much the same feelings. It doesn’t help matters that so many are unemployed right now and art is the last thing people are looking for when finances are tight. I hope that there will by physical fairs and markets in 2021, but I realize we are a bit out from that hopefulness, too.

I made bread (like most), and pies, cakes, cookies and more. Though not as much as I generally would, I suppose. Despite the baking, I feel more fit than I have in quite awhile, but that could be because I mostly made and didn’t consume much.

For those who have interest in such things, here are the more solid numbers (or at least those I recorded, as I tend not to record transportation rides). I spent:

--> 605+ hours riding a bike, or 8,922 miles

--> 386+ hours running or walking dogs, or 1,302 miles

--> 205 hours (and some change) working out in some other form

I did not accomplish as much as I had hoped this year, and mostly I have only myself to blame.

I had hoped to use some of my spare time to get better at Spanish (many of the classes I subbed in before COVID had students who only spoke limited English, and as many years as I’ve taken of Spanish, I still don’t really seem to be able to get it to stick… at least to a point that I am somewhat comfortable). This one is particularly disappointing for me… no me gusta.

I had planned several longer rides that never happened. On the list was my first 200k, but it just didn’t take priority, and several other 100+ mile rides.

I had projects around the house to complete that also didn’t get done (such as repainting gutters/fences/decks and finally turning a trash find into a usable piece of furniture).

Although I have enjoyed some of this year, I can’t help but hold out hope that 2021 will be a better year for all of us. I hope that you’ve found bright spots during the year as well and that you and yours have remained healthy and well. Please feel free to share your highlights (or low lights) too. Wishing you the very best in the coming year.

Happy New Year!!!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving

This past Friday, our state moved up to the “red” level of protection/caution for the pandemic. Like many states, Colorado is experiencing an increase in COVID cases and the governor’s hope is to get things under control. With Thanksgiving upon us, most people I’ve observed don’t seem to be giving much thought to the increase in caution and the request to stay home. It’s frustrating to me as someone who has stayed away from others as much as is possible since this all started, but I am also aware that I cannot control what others choose to do.

My own family has chosen to disregard the request to stay home and celebrate this holiday with only those in their immediate households. My mother has her grandson flying from one state to hers and her sister flying in from yet another state, and then the four of the individuals there (my step-dad is in the mix too) will drive two hours across state lines to celebrate Thanksgiving with two other households with a total of 10 individuals. Her response when I questioned this plan was to laugh and say, “Well, we’ll wear masks.” They won’t wear masks. I know my family and they believe this isn’t anything to be concerned about. My younger brother has similar plans involving friends and co-workers and his response to me was, “I’m just not concerned about the virus.”

I share this not because I think my family is special (nor to be a holiday downer). I know many others are going through a similar situation — one in which the family is divided among individuals who have concern for keeping themselves and others safe and healthy, and those who think this virus is a hoax or at least not something of any great concern. It’s a challenging time to deal with family for many, even without this huge thing hanging over all of us, but this virus seems to be dividing people even more. I don’t think I’m living my life in fear, as some would suggest, but rather using the information that has been presented by experts to make rational, safe decisions for myself and those I love.

Do I want to be doing regular things? Absolutely. Will I choose to be irresponsible and potentially expose someone I care about to getting really sick or dying? No. That isn’t how my family views this though. Instead, I am regularly ridiculed because they view my opinion as irrational and me trying to avoid seeing them. The guilt trips often work, but not right now. I am doing this primarily for their safety (particularly the older relatives), and for myself as well. My parents are in their mid-70s, both have had strokes in the last few years, and one has asthma too. In my mind, there’s no reason to potentially put them in harms way.

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time though, you already know that I have a hard time during the holidays. I don’t particularly enjoy being around my family or doing traditional “things” that most Americans do this time of year. In fact, about the only real tradition we have in our household is to not do anything traditionally Thanksgiving. Well, that and our now annual event of cycling to and up NCAR (assuming that we aren’t in the middle of a snow storm, like last year) to earn whatever food we’ve decided on for that particular year (this year will be breakfast buffet, in case anyone is wondering – I can already feel the stomachache coming on). Oh, and I do always make pie — but I suppose I’ll make pie any time of year, if requested.

From our first annual NCAR ride a few years ago

In reality, I am of the mindset that holidays or special occasions can be celebrated at any time and on any day. They can also be celebrated (or not celebrated) however a person chooses. There’s no reason to feel as though I am missing out on something on Thursday simply because that is the nationally designated day to be grateful if I am unable to (or choose not to) do what would normally be done.

So, if like us, you are celebrating in a non-traditional manner, or if you have chosen to forego the requests to stay at home this Thanksgiving and are traveling to be with loved ones, I hope you will spend the day finding a little bit of time to be grateful for the blessings that have come your way this year. Although it hasn’t been a shining example of a year I would choose to repeat, there have been little things or moments that have made me smile, brought joy, or otherwise made me pause with a bit of gratitude. More often than not, the everyday things that I often overlook are those things that made me happy this year, and perhaps that has made the year not as bad as it seems in the bigger picture sense.

Wherever you are and however you spend it, may you find those little things that make you happy. Wishing you and yours a healthy, safe, and happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

No More Mrs Nice Guy

I didn’t ask to be the poster child or spokesperson for larger cyclists, and certainly I am not. But, a tweet not too long ago got under my skin. It was not the tweet itself nor what had been written, but rather the contents of an article in Bicycling Magazine describing a heavier-than-average cyclist’s experience after posting online about an accomplishment and the commentary he received. Let’s just say, it brought out a lot of feelings for me because I identified with the man Selene Yeager was writing about (see here for the article).

On occasion, I have shared some of the weight issues I’ve dealt with throughout life (see here for a post about my personal struggles over a lifetime of trying to lose weight, or here for a post about going through a long stretch of doing “everything right” and still not losing, and/or here for a post about my frustration with the cycling clothing industry… and there have been others). I know what it’s like to be larger-than-average and to be very active. I also know the commentary that comes from others when doing things like cycling, running, working out at the gym, or any other physically-demanding activity when one is deemed above average in size. People are not kind. People can be downright and unnecessarily cruel. And, people can be very judgy/distrustful when it comes to believing what a larger human says s/he is doing. Even having Strava, Garmin or other GPS records doesn’t seem to dissuade people from thinking an activity has been manufactured.

A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my mother. We were chatting about various things, but she brought up that she’d been losing weight for no apparent reason. While she didn’t think it was concerning, her doctor did and she was undergoing tests to find out what was causing the unexplained losses. During the conversation, things suddenly shifted to me when she proclaimed, “I don’t know why you don’t lose weight. With all the activity you do, you should be skinny!”

I sigh even writing it, despite this taking place several weeks ago. This is one of my frustrations with humanity. Most assume the only way a person can be/remain large is 1) s/he does no activity, or 2) if the person does regularly participate in activities that they must eat enormous amounts of fatty, bad-for-the-body foods.

My response to my mom was, “Really? You don’t know why? I do. It’s called genetics.” My mother laughed it off, thinking that I was being snarky (which, I suppose I was, because of all people she should understand), but it is my reality. It doesn’t matter if I eat nothing and put in 4+ hours a day of riding, working out, etc. I don’t lose weight. While it can be entirely frustrating, and I have had days when I cry about it because it’s hard to wrap my brain around the thought that I can work hard and not see physical results, I have accepted that my body is doing what it thinks it needs to do to survive. It also means that I have to accept my body as it is and know that there will always be comments from others who simply don’t understand because they have never lived my experience.

Coming back from a solo 50-miler. Those chunky legs (and other body parts) never go away, no matter what I do… but I’ve learned they can be very powerful when needed. *Please forgive all of the excess paraphernalia/poor lighting as we are in the midst of moving things around.

I’ve been a bit obsessed over recent months with making sure each of my bikes is perfectly set up the way I want. This has resulted in many test rides to figure out what is and isn’t right on each of them, comparing the way they feel to each other and how I feel overall while riding them. It hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would, especially because I have to take into account the days when I’m just not feeling that “into” riding and the seemingly constant changes in weather and wind.

One day over a weekend, Sam decided to come along with me on a ride because I’d been claiming to have great difficulty getting up speed and I wanted to make sense of it. I knew if he was with me, I’d ride faster (because I have to in order to keep up when we’re not attached to each other riding the tandem) and I really wanted his feedback in regard to what he could see just observing.

I had a short-ish route planned that was long enough to actually test things out, but short enough to not exhaust me while pushing. I wanted some flats to actually get speed and some short climbs mixed in so that he could see what happens on the uphill portions as well.

We were moving along at a semi-decent pace, but the winds were blowing toward us and I was having difficulty breathing due to allergies/asthma (and of course the face mask that we wear just about everywhere these days). We hit the base of one of my least favorite short hills and I prepared for the push. About half way up, I was panting because, well, this is just how climbs are for me, especially if I’m actually trying. About 3/4 of the way up, a cyclist traveling in the downhill direction on the opposite side yelled out to me, “You’re almost to the top!” in the most condescending tone I can possibly imagine.

I was livid. Since I couldn’t speak (due to aforementioned panting/pushing), I threw up my middle finger as high as I could as I heard Sam laughing hysterically behind me.

As I caught my breath at the top of the hill, I replied to Sam, “It isn’t funny. I’m entirely sick of people making assumptions and I am no longer tolerating it. If I can’t get out words to yell something back to them, they’re gettin’ the finger. There’s not going to be anymore ‘being nice’ just because it’s what everyone expects.”

Perhaps it seems as though my response was a bit of an over-reaction, but after years of these types of moments, I have grown far beyond weary of the comments from other people when I’m riding. Everything from “Keep going” to “Just keep at it and you’ll get better (and/or lose weight),” to “Good job” and so on. There is so much assumption that takes place and some seem to think that I need their “encouragement” in order to do something I’m already doing and have been doing for many years. Just because I’m breathing harder or traveling slower than another person does not mean anything other than I’m moving slower and breathing harder. People ride at different paces, for different reasons, and to assume that their commentary is something I need in order to keep going is ludicrous. Sometimes I ride for speed and to push myself, sometimes I’m just riding to ride, but in either case, no one should feel it necessary to offer up their unsolicited thoughts on what or how I’m doing what I’m doing. My thinking is, if you wouldn’t say it to my stereotypical-cyclist-body-counterpart, why are you saying it to me?

A few days prior to this incident, I was riding alone and came up to a four-way-stop intersection with a signal. I was traveling up a mild incline and preparing to make a right hand turn as I approached the stop. My light was green, but was just turning yellow so I was internally debating whether to stop or roll through since I wasn’t traveling very swiftly at that moment. As I looked to the left, I could see another cyclist approaching her red light. I decided at the last second to roll through, thinking that it made more sense than stopping, but I was barely moving at that point.

As I rounded the corner, the cyclist that I had seen to my left was coming up behind me. I was trying to pick up speed so as to not slow her down (though others are always welcome to pass), but it was taking me a few seconds to get up to speed. The woman on the bike made a snarky comment to me and went around, but then was slowing down as I was picking up speed. As we climbed the short hill in front of us, I was gaining on her quickly (which was an odd experience in itself because I don’t generally pass people when climbing). I just didn’t quite understand why she went around me instead of giving a couple of seconds to allow me to get up to speed. I know that I try not to do this to others. If I’m approaching and they’re just trying to get started from a stop, I generally give several seconds for them to get up to speed instead of assuming that I am a faster rider.

So, when I ended up passing her, I couldn’t help but shake my head and question the entire incident. I do know that it was a catalyst to get me to move faster than I’d intended though and before I knew it my recovery ride had turned into a heated internal race. I was determined to not allow this woman to pass me again. About a mile up the road I looked in my mirror and couldn’t see her, which was even more frustrating. Was this one of those times when someone passes me just because I look like I’m going to be slow?

The reality is that I know there is an idea in the cycling world that I will be slow just by looking at me. Yes, if I’m on a sustained, long climb, I will more than likely be slower than most, if not all cyclists, and extra weight will undoubtedly slow a person down (or at least make climbing more challenging). But, most assume that I have just started riding, that I am doing so to lose weight and that I am slow because of my size (Which is false… though I’ll freely admit that gravity, not to mention injuries, does take its toll, especially on my tired days). I’m not going to deny the reality that I often do ride slow, but it doesn’t mean that I am inherently slow just because of my size — nor should it matter to anyone else. “Slow” or “fast” are such subjective ideals anyway when it comes to riding bikes. My fast may be someone else’s slow or vice versa.

There are a lot of fast riders in this area, many of whom race regularly and/or are professionals, so I am quite used to getting passed and am entirely okay with anyone who pedals faster. My issue is not that others are faster, nor that I am sometimes slower and get passed, but rather that there is too much assumption (and a need to make comments to others). As Sam has said to me, “You are stubborn and when you’re angry or annoyed, your will is stronger than other’s muscle. If you are determined to, you can catch and pass just about anyone.”

He’s not wrong. There have been innumerable situations in which someone said the wrong thing and that’s all it took to light a fire. In some sense, I’m at my best when I have a foe (whether real or imagined) to battle. Through that lens, maybe I should be grateful for the comments I receive? Perhaps these are pushing me to give just a little more than I think I can?

The bottom line is that making assumptions about others based on what they look like or the speed at which they are traveling at a random point in time is a terrible idea. Making comments about this to the person is an even worse route to choose — Even if there is a belief that what is being said is somehow helping the other person, it’s probably better to say nothing. Telling someone that what they have accomplished isn’t real or valid because they are bigger than what is considered societally-acceptable, or that the individual has manufactured or embellished what they’ve done is completely ridiculous as well. Tearing someone else down should never be necessary or accepted, and encouraging or adding to this behavior should be called out when it’s observed. And so, I fall back to my prior statement… I implore you, when riding solo, with others in a group, or any time, if you wouldn’t make the comment to a slim-bodied cyclist, please refrain from making it to me or others like me.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Finding Joy Again on a Bike

Lately, I’ve turned into quite an asshole on the bike. I came to this realization several weeks ago when I heard myself yelling out loud while riding regarding something that normally wouldn’t have made me think twice (or at least, my response is one I would’ve said under my breath under normal circumstances). I don’t know if it’s Covid-quarantine related or that I’ve been riding more and therefore observing more bad behavior, or if I really am just turning into a complete turd of a human, but I’m not liking the person I’ve been over the last few months on a bike.

I should clarify a bit. I still wave at people as I go by, and ask seemingly-stranded cyclists on the side of the road if they need assistance, but I have found myself taking on a somewhat “roadie” attitude in certain situations, and I think it’s happened slowly over several months, without consciously being aware of what was taking place.

Admittedly, I have used cycling as therapy during the pandemic, even more so than I normally would. Since going under stay at home/safer at home orders in mid-March, there have been only a handful of days that I haven’t been on a bicycle. Distances have also been longer than usual because I’ve found that I need the structure of having some sort of goal to achieve when I have little actual work that needs to be completed right now. I have always thought of myself as one who really doesn’t need to be around other humans very often, but even those of us who are okay being alone (I am learning) have been affected by this longer-than-anticipated time of staying apart. Little things that used to be a routine and very normal have now disappeared from life and I think it’s affecting me more than I initially thought it was.

One weekend morning I was preparing to go for a ride. Sam had been feeling flu-ish the week prior and had self-quarantined while waiting for his corona virus test results to come back from the state. He had thought it best to not go outside of the house, just in case, and was trying to separate as much as possible even inside the house. He was out in the garage riding on his trainer when I was leaving and I sat at the opposite side of the garage on the weight bench, whining about not wanting to ride.

“Don’t go then,” he said, as he pedaled away, Zwift screen in front of him.

“I feel some sort of obligation to do mileage right now. I don’t know why. I know it’s all self-imposed, but I feel like I’ve put some sort of pressure on myself to ride pretty much every day,” I responded. “I feel like I’ve already burned out, and it’s still summer.” (It was still summer at the time anyway.)

My bike was sitting, leaning against one of the second-hand acquired workout machines in the makeshift gym in the garage. I stared at the bike as though it was the enemy, dreading going out to pedal.

I continued, “My knee hurts so bad. My neck is killing me because I spend so much time leaned over between riding and working. I just don’t feel like going.”

Sam responded, “Why don’t you take the Rivendell instead and just go for an upright cruise?”

Oddly, I had been thinking about this recently. In late winter, we’d put my rear rack back on the Hillborne and re-attached the giant basket so that I could use it for commuting to sub-teaching jobs without having to carry things on my back, but I hadn’t had any jobs that were farther than walking distance since that set up was put in place and then, of course, classes were cancelled shortly after anyway so I never got to test out the set up other than around the block.

“I could do that,” I said, “I guess I’ll give that a go — Just do a short one.”

I swapped out bikes, pumped up the tires on the Rivendell, caught a glance of myself in a reflective surface and paused for a moment. I looked ridiculous, dressed in a Specialized jersey, Velocio bibs, POC helmet, now heading out to ride a lugged, steel bicycle, with upright handlebars that is obviously set up for commuting/errand running purposes. I sighed, but didn’t want to change, so headed out the back feeling as though I looked like an absolute fool.

“Ugh. There’s no Garmin mount on this bike,” I said aloud. I had taken it off a couple of years ago, wanting to have a break from recording every ride. I started the timer anyway and threw the Garmin in the front bag. It was running, I just wouldn’t be able to see it. Maybe that was a good thing though.

I was agitated early on. I could feel that I didn’t have the power/speed on the Rivendell that I would normally have on my road bike, but I quickly nipped the attitude and reminded myself that I was out to enjoy the ride, not to beat any records. I was amazed that this year really seemed to be turning my cycling attitude into something I never expected, and certainly not something that is positive, in my opinion.

I rode. It took a few miles, but eventually my mind calmed, I didn’t feel like I was racing with anyone (including myself) and I actually looked around me, taking in the sights I see near-daily, but never take the time to truly appreciate most of the time as of late. It was eye-opening, to say the least.

I’ve always believed that riding is good for the soul, that it can heal emotional wounds and help the mind work through troublesome thoughts, but it had been quite awhile since I’d taken a ride just for pleasure, without staring down at average speed or distance. It was almost an uncomfortable position to find myself, but as I allowed myself to just be, I realized how much I miss these rides — The rides taken for no reason at all, to nowhere, with no goals in front of me other than to exist and to pedal. I smiled more, I waved more and as I settled in, I realized how much I’d missed this bike.

Although I know I probably won’t ride a ton of these sorts of rides on the Rivendell, it was an excellent reminder to me that it’s okay to slow down, to go for a short ride, to look up and see what is around. Since then, I’ve tried to allow myself at least one ride each week that is intentionally slower, that allows my mind to wander a bit more, and it’s been a welcomed relief. I don’t know if it’s necessarily improved my attitude the rest of the time, but I’m still working on that. Maybe I just need to be a little kinder to myself overall — and sometimes to others — and know that we’re all going through our own stuff, dealing with it in our own way.

Taking this ride also helped get me through my burnout phase. I was getting worried that I wouldn’t make it to the end of the year, that I’d have to give up pedaling for awhile in order to be happy riding again. In reality, I think I just needed a mental (and maybe a little bit of a physical) break from constant pushing… and getting to “rediscover” an old riding buddy was an extra bonus. I’m happy plodding along now, pushing some days and relaxing and enjoying others, which has definitely made a world of difference.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Adapting Routine

Sam and I had a video phone call with a friend a couple of weeks ago because she wanted us to “meet” the person she’s been dating for the last few months. We had been tentatively making plans to meet up for a dinner and then the pandemic put us on lock down, so we figured it was the closest we’d get to a meeting for at least the foreseeable future. Toward the end of the call our friend asked what I was most looking forward to about life returning to normal and my instant response was “Being able to go back to the gym,” but then I said, “Really, my life isn’t that much different than it was before. So, I guess I’m one of the lucky ones.”

After we ended the call, I started to think a bit more about this though. I am fortunate in some sense that my main job is one that allows me to work from home, but my relatively newly acquired position as a substitute teacher has definitely fallen to the wayside since it’s not needed, and my primary job as an artist has no real function because without the ability to have fairs, tours and other places to show, it feels nearly pointless to make new things. On the other hand, it is an outlet and something to busy my mind, but I find it difficult to really get much done when there isn’t some sort of deadline looming on the horizon. In true-to-many-artist form, keeping discipline when the timeline is fluid (or non-existent) becomes very challenging.

Having a couple of weeks to think about it now, I have developed a routine, but that schedule looks different than it did before — at least in some sense. Without consciously trying to, I have adopted the habit of running (or walking) the dogs early-early for about an hour and a half, then coming home and going for a ride that spans 2-4 hours, coming back to eat, and then using our makeshift gym in the garage to get in a workout. By that time, it’s time to start on dinner. Somehow I seem to have made “working out” my job over the last several weeks, which doesn’t seem like such a bad thing on the surface, but I can feel my body rebelling the longer this goes on.

While the dogs get walked/run every day even pre-pandemic, I generally choose either a gym work out or a ride on any given day during the week, and my rides are generally kept to around an hour (or a little longer, depending on how much time I can spare). On the one hand, I’m grateful for all the time during the day to be active, but on the other, my hips, knees, back, neck and even wrists are feeling the increase in use and they are making it known that they are displeased. It’s not so much the good aching that comes from stretching comfort levels a bit, but rather teetering on injury from overuse. By the time the weekend hits (when we generally do a big chunk of our riding), I am already beat up but find myself soldiering through, believing that it’s somehow making me stronger. Who knows? Maybe it is.

In the meantime, weeds are overgrowing in the garden and all of the projects around the house that others seem to be accomplishing have gone completely ignored as I feel the compulsion to stick with this newly acquired routine. I suppose there are worse things I could be doing, but as tends to be an ongoing issue for me, I know there needs to be balance. I suppose I am realizing how much I enjoy being active though and how much it is a part of life. I am thankful that we are still able to venture outside (particularly as I know many parts of the country and world cannot so easily do so), even if it means wearing face coverings.

Today is supposed to be a windier-than-usual day, so I expect that means I should get to those weeds instead of venturing out for a ride. While my allergies won’t be happy, it should please the neighbors to be rid of the eyesore that is currently our front yard. Perhaps it will help me feel as though I’m contributing something of some sort of value too, and maybe that’s just what I need right now… even if the bike is calling to me.