Friday, July 19, 2013

The Other Side of the Road

Back in Boston for a few days, I am in re-adjustment limbo - feeling tentative, not altogether present. Everything here is so familiar - the roads, the sounds, the smells, the people. And at the same time it all feels utterly strange, as if replaced with a hologram of the real thing. A muggy heat engulfs me when I exit the airport, giving the landscape that hazy, blurry, flickering look.

In this disoriented state, I decide to join my cycling club's Tuesday morning 100K ride. I need to feel more solid, planted, integrated into reality - and I realise this is the best way I know how. The thought irritates me. Since when did cycling turn into this? This... defining thing, this part of my chemical composition?

In the morning, logistics are irrelevant. I pull together a mismatched outfit from the hamper. I don't have my roadbike, so I grab the cyclocross bike that still lives at my house. And then I push off - on the right ("wrong!" my brain screams) side of the road, in morning commuter traffic. On autopilot, I weave my way to the Ride Studio Cafe and the miles between us disappear.

No one knows I am coming, not even Pamela. Reluctant to admit to myself that I miss her, I nonetheless watch the door in anticipation, until there she is - platinum braids thick as ropes, tanned slender limbs, Southern accent and all. She is duly surprised by my presence and we talk in bursts, in the way of friends who have not talked in some time. "You think I'll be okay on this bike?" I point to the fat all-terrain tires. Pamela waves it away nonchalantly, as if to say "Bikes! What do they matter. Let's go."

Of course everyone but me is on skinny tire racing bikes. The thought that this might be brutal drifts through my mind. The Tuesday rides are described as "social pace," but of course for me that means "best effort pace." My eyes are swollen from lack of sleep and my legs ache from the sum of all earlier rides. I realise that brutal might actually feel good right about now. Again, I am irritated at the thought. Now why would brutal feel good, what on earth is wrong with me?

It is obscenely hot and the turnout is low today. The 5 of us set off in a single file and stay that way for most of the ride. Remarkably, I am in the middle of the group, rather than struggling behind it. My legs turn the pedals as I play a little game I learned in Ireland, called "same cadence, bigger gear." It is a fun, but painful game. I have played it for 10, 20 miles at a time before. Today I would play it for 60.

We arrive in Harvard, MA, eat lunch, then climb to the Fruitlands. On top, we stop at the side of the road to take in the view of surrounding mountains. After Northern Ireland, this strikes me as funny, that there is a specific destination with "the view." Over there, the landscape is so open that the view is everywhere. As you're riding, you can see for miles and miles - undulating glens, the sea, the entire Sperrins mountain range, even the hills of Donegal across the water. By contrast New England is so woodsy that you seldom see beyond your immediate surroundings; it is as if you are riding through a tunnel the entire time. Psychologically this feels very different. Riding through forests turns me inward; riding through glens opens me up.

The descents here feel tame compared to what I've been doing in previous weeks. On the other hand, the condition of the roads is even worse than I remembered - enormous cracks, ridges, gaping ditch-sized holes in the crumpling pavement - stunning when you're not used to it. But the texture of the pavement itself is smoother. In Ireland, the tarmac is a sort of chipseal, its surface nearly as rough as gravel at times.

By the afternoon, the heat has reached its apex and we all feel it. We start to take breaks now. We groan, we pour water over our jerseys. I am drained, but also lulled into a pleasurable trance by the intense scent of pine trees in the heat - this is something I've missed. My legs are leaden and I am caked in salt, but I give it one last push, inspired by Scott's relentless pace. Scott is a strong rider, whose compact, muscular body looks like a purpose-built machine when he pedals. I focus on staying on his wheel. Even though I know he is controlling his speed for my sake, just being able to follow him like this feels unreasonably good. Then I push further still and lead for the last couple of miles.

Back at the club house I hear "Hey, you're back!" The familiar voices are as welcome as the blast of air conditioning that greets us. Suddenly shy from the attention and the disconcerting sense of ...what's the word I'm looking for, belonging? I mumble "Yes... Well no, I'm only here for a couple of days." But with my legs weighing me down, Pamela sipping iced coffee at the bar, and the jungle of bikes suspended from the ceiling, I do start to feel more grounded, and Boston starts to feel realer.

44 comments:

  1. Sometimes when I play "Same cadence, bigger gear", my quits with all the thinking about gear/cadence and gear selection (the "rule" says you just push the biggest gear you can maintain 100 at, so I stop deciding and just shift or spin). If I'm lucky the Analytical Dept. shuts down and frees up the rest of my brain to look at the sky, sing dirty songs or just screen a Three Stooges reel way back in my head. You pay for that little moment of astral projection with burning thighs and ouchy lungs but I think it's pretty worth it.

    Spindizzy

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  2. You write beautifully - thank you! You make me long to visit Boston (where I lived for 20 years) to take part in your wonderful cycling scene.

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  3. Same speed, lower gear. On group rides it's good to have a flat warmup with predetermined pace. Guys who go too fast too soon are obliged to shift to a lower gear. And when they still keep going off the front the next lower gear. I have done 10 mile warmups at 20mph beginning in group norm 42x16 and finishing in 42x21. Much better for group cohesion than shifting though the cogs in the other direction.

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    1. Both are good games to play, depending what technique one needs to learn.

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  4. It's been so interested to watch your evolution as a cyclist. Thank you for sharing your journey. :)

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  5. This is great Velouria. Are you out there doing a training camp in Ireland? At any rate, please keep "riding and writing" This is getting good.

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  6. Cycling, the Fountain of Youth and Pandora's Box all rolled into one!!

    vsk

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  7. This post resonates with me in some way, although I'm not sure I've experienced this. Biking to feel grounded, to feel a sense of belonging, that feels as if it's a physical need? Maybe I've experienced a shadow of this.

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  8. V,
    It was good to finally meet you at the Bicycle Belle open house.

    Have fun out there and stay cool,
    Mark (the bald guy)

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    1. It was good to meet you Mark! Alas I am going through the pictures and the one I got of you did not come out very sharp - hoping to see you again for a re-do.

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  9. The problem with visiting Ireland is that you'll likely feel inclined to move there - rain - green - less humidity - fantastic people - better food - exceptional bicycling - it's quite a list. But welcome home and congrats and good (albeit hot) return ride.

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    1. Better food? Not really but everything else seems right! As an Irish person I don't think I've heard anyone praise the food before.

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  10. Already the big gear bank is paying interest. Pain = friend, the hump that most don't get over.


    Off to where now?

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    1. Sorry, I might have missed this. Did you move permanently to Ireland? If there is a topic about the reason/need/want about this change: I would love to read it. Thanks in advance. Love your blog. Greetz from Utrecht (Netherlands)

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    2. Just for the summer and maybe beginning of Fall. Here's the post about it.

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  11. Is that really what the Ride Studio Cafe feels like, a clubhouse?

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    1. It does. Racing on TV, piles of books and magazines all over the table, good coffee, and there is always someone there you know to talk to. Wonderful place.

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    2. Do they look funny at non-members who wander in, especially the low performance variety not likely to be in cycling clothes?

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    3. No. It's pretty diverse, with cyclists of all stripes, as well as local non-cyclists stopping in for coffee.

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    4. I'm not in the club so it doesn't feel like a clubhouse to me but it is a friendly place. I see people working together sometimes and the coffee is great, whether or not you happen to like riding.

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  12. Reluctant to admit you missed me, eh? Well I certainly missed you! And I'm not sure I can take it if you to go back to Ireland - you got so strong. You kicked my butt on this ride!

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    1. ScottUKEireloverJuly 19, 2013 at 7:55 PM

      Friendship=Aceship

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  13. "same cadence, bigger gear" Just started playing this game myself. Definitely making me stronger. Fortunately I don't have to deal with that awful heat. 76 and gorgeous here in Bellingham, WA.

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  14. ...lulled into a pleasurable trance by the intense scent of pine trees in the heat...

    ^ best part of the post

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  15. There's something fun about riding in extreme weather isn't there? In the Northeast we get to experience it all. Do they ever have this kind of heat in Ireland or does the Atlantic regulate the temps?

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    1. The weather in Ireland can go through dramatic changes in the course of the day, from brilliant sunshine to low clouds to hail and back. As far as temperature, for the most part it is cool to cold year round. In the summer, temps in the 70s would constitute a heatwave.

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    2. Heatwaves happen though. Just checked the right now temp for Limerick and it was 86. Belfast had a high of 79 yesterday.

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    3. Yes, that started my last week there. Never got above 75 on the North Coast though, and even that high is very, very unusual.

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  16. Oh yeah, it occurs to me that your ride might further support Jan Heine's theory that fat tires (at least good ones) are really faster than skinny tires, especially on less than optimal pavement. You kept up all ride and you and your fat tires led the ride at the finish over all of those skinny-tire ridin' weight weenies. Fat's where it's at!!

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    1. No, what V's experience proves is good hard rides on a machine that allows her to extract incrementally harder efforts in a terrain that inspires will make her strong enough to keep up on a fatter-tired machine when the ride leader throttles it back x%.

      Fact remains chubbier ties can help but
      there are too many variables at play. If
      you have to denigrate those who ride skinnier tires as some sort of hateful scourge I guess that's your right.

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    2. even jan heine's tests show that a good skinny tire is as fast as a fattie. i personally prefer the road feel of a skinny tire to the annoying mushiness of a fat tire. ymmv.

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    3. mattr - I did well despite the bike, not because of the bike. There is no question that on pavement I am faster on my roadbike with skinny (well, 26mm) tires. There is also tread to consider. The tires on the CX bike I rode were designed for unpaved surfaces. Width aside, slicks would have been a more suitable choice for pavement.

      As with many things, I feel the "wider tires are faster" thing gets taken out of context and blown out of proportion. It depends not just on the width, but on the road surface and as other factors. On typical paved roads a 25mm might very well do better than a 23mm. But that doesn't mean that a 42mm will do even better.

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    4. Ride leader did not throttle the pace, at least not to accommodate V. Ride leader was HOT and looking for the next place to get a cold drink! V has gotten very strong this summer, and I am thankful she wasn't on her Seven Tuesday. I wouldn't have been able yo keep up!

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    5. ^ Of course what FP doesn't mention, is that she was riding with a broken collar bone! Although who knows, the Ti plate might give her an unfair advantage.

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  17. So, this proves you're no longer like the rest of us mortals. Jet lagged, heat and humidity, heavier fat tired bike, 120K ride, and you still pull the group home at the end of the day....Ho-hum! I gotta stop reading this blog, it only makes me feel like a lesser person :)

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    1. Orrrrr it means "anyone can do it" : )

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  18. ScottUKEireloverJuly 19, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    Yeah, got back from Greek island Limnos recently after just 1 week. I know what you mean. Give it a couple of days, you'll remember how lucky you are. It is good you cycled whilst away, like you the change was a good thing. Sounds like you enjoyed your stay in gods own country!

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  19. There is something cumulative to riding in the heat. We're in the soup here in Phila as well, well into the 100s this week and I've been out every morning. That was unthinkable for me a year ago. Add that to the list of many things unthinkable a year of riding ago...

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  20. Group rides stop being group rides when group members indulge private individualized workouts in the middle of the ride. If someone on a group ride feels the need for a more difficult workout the usual practice is to go to the rear of the group, sit up, coast at a slow pace for 30 or 60 or 90 seconds, do the private workout, then chase back to the group. If it is a small group where you will likely be missed, tell them not to wait for you before sliding off the back. If you want a tough workout you'll quickly find that chasing is harder and more real than games.

    No matter how well the group knows each other, no matter how clever or experienced the members are, carrots dangling off the front get chased. A chase that changes pace 5% or 10% with each gearshift is not a fun chase. Do the solo work on solo rides or do it off the back.

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  21. On group rides when an individual wants a harder workout the normal practice is the person takes a longer turn on the front.
    This means the group moves at a steady pace and the stronger person gets a better workout.

    chris531

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  22. Someone who has been riding continuously for 4 years does not magically get strong and fast from a brief salubrious vacation or from a few repetitions of a somewhat anodyne workout. Strength comes from patience, from persistence, from endless hours in the saddle. The blog author is strong because she has earned it.

    The breakthrough is the same as the breakthrough previously blogged. Better balance brings with it greater efficiency. Efficient pedalling contributes just as much to speed as does power. Expect over coming months that balance and grace will bring access to unexpected cycling experience. It's going to get good.

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  23. Love your thoughts Constance ! Cycling for me is more than looking for one particular experience.I started cycling as another form of training to add to my running and gym work and quickly got hooked on the feel good feeling and often cycle to near my limits to get the Endorphin chilled out feeling afterwards. Also taking frequent breaks to experience the sights, smells , maybe herbs or flowers or even someone cooking dinner and you feel the hunger ,ha ha..Have to admire the kilometers you have racked up in recent times . You are one fit lady !

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  24. Oh no Gary, have I got you reading cycling blogs now? : ) Careful, they can be just as addictive as cycling itself!

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