Friday, May 17, 2013

Breaking Away

Fruitlands, Harvard MA
A luckless morning. I had attempted to join a 100K club ride, only to get an important phone call as I pulled up to the start. By the time I got done the others were nearly an hour ahead. I would never catch up. I decided to ride the route anyway. 

The weather had been beautiful. But as I set off, it began to rain - cold, hard little drops, carried sideways by the wind, sharp against my face. 

On the road there was more traffic than usual. A mile in, a driver cut me off and I barely avoided a collision. Still fuming over this, I began to notice that my throat hurt. I was hot and cold. I felt sluggish. Maybe I was running a fever. Maybe I should count my losses.

A deep irritation over a day wasted was building up. Workdays that have no clear end or beginning. A weak constitution that has derailed my plans one time too many. If it's not one thing, it's another. 

Nagog Hill Farm
For some miles, it was angry riding. Riding a wave of frustration. But I pedaled. Mechanical motions. Round and round. Rain and chills, traffic, scratchy throat, round and round. "Oh shut up," my legs said to my throat. We would break away. 

I had the sense that once I was a certain number of miles out, it would all resolve itself, because turning back would no longer make sense. Concord, West Concord, Maynard. I pedaled harder.

But then came a moment of doubt. I had not meant to be on my own with my thoughts on this day. What would I do out there, for hours, with all these thoughts? "Oh shut up" my legs said to my brain. 

And we broke away. 

Steele Farm, Boxborough MA
20 miles in. As if someone had waved a magic wand, the cars were gone. The sun came out. The pedals lost their resistance. We floated up hills. My mind emptied. 

In Still River I passed a Benedictine monastery. It stands on top of a hill, overlooking a green and blue rolling landscape. Slowly I rode through it, not seeing a single person on its grounds. The monks must have been indoors.

In Boxborough I stopped at a farm. It had visitor hours and notices posted, but looked abandoned. With my bike, I stood in the middle of a field dotted with white barns, thinking of nothing. I heard ringing in the air. The field was full of dandelions. 

Fruitlands, Harvard MA
The climb leading up to the Fruitlands was shorter and tamer than I remembered. Today, the hill was an invisible host, gently taking me by the arm and leading me to the view. 

At the hilltop, I had the place to myself. No cars were parked at the scenic overview along the side of the road. No cyclists passed. I had made it all alone up there and the world felt far, far away. The sun flickered through thick clouds, a flood of light going on and off. I looked down at the little mountain clusters across the state line. The entire world felt close.

Harvard General Store
Descending into town, I remembered that I had not eaten for hours and stopped at the general store. When I ordered coffee and a sandwich, it felt strange to talk - as if I hadn't spoken out loud in years. Was I even saying the right words? The boy behind the counter had an inscrutably friendly face that had seen many cyclists. 

Nagog Hill Farm
Orchards and orchards on the return leg. The apple orchards have such neat rows of such crooked, erratic-looking trees. Line-dancing trees. Shaker trees.

This ride was coming to an end much too fast, I thought. I wasn't ready. And I veered off course onto another road, with more uphill floating, more orchards.

But at length, unfamiliar farms gave way to familiar ones, a gentle reminder of being homeward bound. Then finally, the bikepath, and the city - with 100 miles on the computer and frustration a faint memory. 

Sometimes if you just keep pedaling, everything else breaks away, falls away. If you keep pedaling, the mind quiets down. 

36 comments:

  1. Sounds familiar. Every morning as I pedal off to work I keep reminding myself that the first ten miles are the toughest. By the time I get to an even dozen my speed has skyrocketed, my legs feel fine, I'm standing on the climbs and have lost my bad attitude - completely. The rest of the ride is awesome!

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  2. 100 miles on the Rawland? Paved? How was that?

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    1. All paved. It's pretty good. I am a bit slower on it than on my roadbike (.7mph or so on average it seems), but the low gearing makes the same ride feel easier. Descending is also easier on this bike. So just a different experience.

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  3. Wonderful reflection. Sometimes a ride is a true zen experience; the mindless, repetitive nature of the peddling and deliberate breathing is a type of meditation.

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  4. Sounds like it takes you a while to warm up, I am in the same boat.

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    1. Yes. And what's weird is that as I increase the milage, the warm-up time grows proportionally. On the 200K it took me a good 30 miles just to feel as if I've started the ride already.

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  5. You've come a long way since your first century, if you can set out for a 100K and wind up doing 100 miles without intending to do so. Congratulations! I'm envious. I hope to be there in a year or two.

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    1. Thanks. Though really I set out to do 85 miles (counting to and from the ride) and ended up doing 100, so not a huge difference. I can't express how happy I am to be able to do this distance and feel fine with it. This is what I wanted out of cycling all along.

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  6. Great post. I do hate it though when the mind wins over the pedals!
    DummyDiva

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  7. Velouria, I always have trouble posting with my Wordpress identity. Am I doing something wrong? I go through the process but I never see the post or the "waiting for moderation."

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    1. Looks like this one went through. Blogger is mysterious (read: unreliable). My own comments disappear sometimes. I hope to switch to a better system soon.

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    2. And what I wanted to really say is, what a great post; I can relate. I really do hate it when the mind wins out over the pedals continuing their revolutions.
      DD

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  8. Comparing these pictures to your Rivendell 3 years ago, it looks like you have come full circle. I still don't get the bike swaps and paceline riding that happened in between, but it's great that you are happy and doing the miles. Ride on!

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    1. The paceline rides helped me get comfortable on a roadbike very rapidly. The changes in bikes were a result of figuring out what position and sizing worked for me... which in turn, was again partially thanks to the paceline rides. It's all related and it's all helpful. A fast 20 mile paceline ride one day and a meandering 100k the next; why not.

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    2. Trying out different bikes and pace lining? how horrible

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    3. When I was doing the paceline rides regularly, I was riding the same bike. The rides informed adjustments in position, as well as what to look for once I was ready to get a new bike.

      That said, I do not agree that it's horrible to try out a new bike - for instance, for review purposes - on a paceline ride, assuming the rider is competent enough. It's an excellent way to find out how responsive and stable a bike is. It also makes for a nicely controlled context.

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    4. Sorry velouria. I was just making fun of Josh. I would love to be able to try out the variety of bikes you have. Nor would I mind giving a pace line a try.

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  9. I don't get why the Rawland is easier to descend on - I mean a standard road bike pretty much descends by itself.

    You know the shut up legs thing is from Jens Voigt, who said just that yesterday and won a stage of the Tour of California at the rope old age of 41. Just today's bit of context.

    Strange how riding your bike takes care of a lot of problems, both on and off the bike.

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    1. I keep trying to figure out why it feels easier (to me) to descend on the Rawland. I don't have a good answer.

      The subjective experience... It's like all I have to do is watch the road ahead and the bike follows the outline, even if it's an erratic outline that requires sudden changes in turn radius or whatnot. Other bikes I have to control more consciously. I am getting better, but it's still overall an easier, more intuitive process on the Rawland.

      Unlike Jens, it's my legs telling the other stuff to shut up. But yes, I know. Not about the Tour of California today though.

      Just looked it up and read this:
      "...completed the windy 115.4-mile Santa Barbara to Avila Beach road race in 4 hours, 41 minutes, 11 seconds."

      Jeez.

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    2. I suppose this is the objective take: low trail allows you to pick your line down crappy roads, going sensible speeds.

      Smooth, fast roads with gradual radiused, banked turns -- the standard road bike will excel, not to say it is better but is more stable. The same thing that hinders lower speed steering.

      Speaking of speed, 115 miles can be done easily by these guys in less than 3 hours in the proper conditions, i.e. stard of Milan San Remo with a tail wind. I still find their speed astonishing.

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    3. Wider tires descend better.

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    4. Leaving the T/F of that out for a sec, in this case it's not the tires. I had a bike with identical tires but different geo, and it descended nothing like the Rawland.

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  10. Stellar post. It's been too long since I've had a day when I chose go further, go further.

    FWIW worth, tangentially, in my mid-50's, I don't start to feel GOOD on a ride until about 90 minutes in.

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  11. This is something which happens while touring, too. So many days start out cranky and end up lovely. Biking does that continually. So many hours alone, body and mind sometimes in sync and sometimes not but the constant is the pedaling. It transports in more than the physical. It's precisely why, over the years, when folks ask why I do it so much, my simple answer is 'it makes me happy' .....

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  12. awesome to read this velouria, keep riding!!!

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  13. oh dear.....i sometimes cringe when reading your writing. but i'm glad you're picking up on the beauty, the grind, and the possibilities even when one revisits an old ride on a new day.

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    1. Sometimes! How you spoil me with compliments.

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    2. you don't need me for compliments, we spoil ourselves. your blog is always interesting.

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  14. What a stunning view! TGIF and thanks for the inspiration!

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  15. You comment about feeling strange to talk made me think of when I've ridden my centuries - I always talk to myself, sometimes repetitively and then feel odd when I think someone has heard.

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  16. Thank-you for this. I find that pedaling helps quiet my mind as well, though I never know how long or far it will take me to get to that space.

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  17. Did the sore throat worsen after the ride or just simply disappear?

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    1. It kind of faded for the rest of the ride, but I had a full blown cold by next morning. Better now though.

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  18. I admire you for doing that ride all alone. Ride on.

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  19. Very good. Reminds of days when I got dropped by the group and spent a better part of the day solo in the universe, in a Dali Lama or Sartre kaleidoscope, or thinking about food.

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