Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Ruined



In the company of other cyclists, I am often struck by the words we use to describe our sense of fitness and general state of being on the bike. Because it is really quite seldom that we simply say we are feeling good, or tired, or out of shape, and leave it at that. There is a special vocabulary to describe how we feel on the bike and the words are evocative, even delicious.

When we haven't our usual strength on a given day, the weakness can take many shapes. It can be that our legs are heavy, in which case they feel "like lead" or "dead weight." And this heaviness isn't a metaphor; it is tangible. We pedal as if pushing through something viscous, each turn of the crank like trying to budge a massively heavy stone.

But the weakness can also come in the form of a different sensation entirely - a sort of husk-like emptiness that turns the body into a shell of its former self. On days like this, you ping and we ring hollow. Or maybe our muscles turn to straw. So light on the pedals we are, there is hardly anything there to move the machine forward.

There is also the curse of no energy. This one seems to catch us the most by surprise, as if some other, nameless entity outside of ourselves is at fault. Perhaps someone had come with a hose in the night, syphoned it out of us with sinister stealth. As a consequence we are running on empty. Drained. "Out of fuel."

And what of those strong days? When we are powerful, thriving, light? There are times when that energy blast is like a dangerous buzz. There is an edge to it, and we know deep down that it is like being "on" something - a substance bound to wear off, and with side-effects. Or like a jazzed up high from which we know there will be a painful come-down.

But then there are times when the strength is an even flow. It does not come in screaming waves, but it radiates, mellow and effortless, convincing us almost that it might be a permanent shift in our way of being. Our limbs grow fluid, our rhythm syncs up with the bike. It is some form of advancement. A physical wisdom, gained overnight. A form of enlightenment. A tangible sense of growth.

A good strenuous ride, no matter how it's achieved, can leave us in dire states. It can leave us ruined, useless for any other form of activity - including lucid conversation - for hours to come. It can leave us wrecked, feeling much like a shipwreck, ravaged, busted apart, then left abandoned on a beach at low tide. It can leave us shattered - in brittle small pieces, like shards of glass. Despite their equivalent levels of devastation, these situations are distinctly different, each flooding our senses with various shades of exhaustion and dreamy euphorias.

What motivates such descriptions of what are essentially fairly mundane ups and downs in energy? Perhaps it's the very cyclical nature of them. The wheels go round and round, the body works and rests, and through it we somehow eek out variety. Flavours. Textures. Meaning. And once we find it, we are truly ruined - not so much by miles or pace, as by our tireless, ferocious imaginations.




27 comments:

  1. I have come to understand that my energy on the bike depends on one simple thing: on how much I have had to eat the night before! Took the mystique out of it for me, in a good and a bad way I suppose. But at least I can now have control over how I feel.

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    1. That has a big effect on me as well, but is not the only factor. Things like how much cycling I'd done the day before, and even weather can play a role. Plus there is always a wild card. All the conditions can be there to feel great, but you don't. Or vise versa. (It's always great when it's vice versa.)

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  2. Going by the titles of your latest posts and the very fine writing as of late, I will guess you are having a spell of very bad weather! Best of luck in keeping the rubber side down!

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    1. The relentless winds have indeed got me ruined. And hungry all the time!

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    2. Would those winds be typical of the season you are in now or are they something out of the ordinary?

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    3. They are out of the ordinary in their frequency (i.e. almost daily since November of last year). I can take a windy day every now and again, but every day and for months - it's really testing my love of cycling : )

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    4. I don't know how you manage bike riding in those conditions - have you thought about relocating to a less windy area of Ireland? Even for a non-cyclist, constant wind must be discouraging and adversely affect general lifestyle, at least outdoors.

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    5. But where would be the fun in that! : )

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  3. you forgot one: Trashed!

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    1. Along those lines another one comes to mind, though not sure it is printable! Starts with an F...

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    2. I once spent a very long weekend in the company of a boy who would take turns approaching every adult and shouting "Hey, what starts with an F. and ends with a U.C.K.? What starts with an F. and ends with a U.C.K.?" (answer: fire truck)

      By the time this gem was repeated for the gazillionth time, I had come up with my own list of possibilities, and there are surprisingly many.

      I will assumed the you mean fried ducked.

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  4. I like the look of the wide lens photo, like the room opens. Also, the topic is interesting. I do not speak to many cyclists, I am alone! Thank you for the nice blogs.

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  5. Related, I'm doing a randonnée Saturday, and as usual I'm approaching it with a feeling of dread. Why the hell am I doing this? I almost withdrew, but then I remembered: there are things about yourself that you can learn only by doing something that is genuinely hard. We spend most of our adult lives treading familiar paths, doing things well within our limits, over and over. It is good to push the edges once in a while.
    As to how I feel after, well, imagine staying awake riding a bike for more than 24 hours -- pretty much worn out and tired for the next day. That's OK.

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    1. Good luck this weekend.

      For whatever reason, I approach any organised cycling event - be it a mundane club ride or a long brevet or a pre-WWII roadster meet - with a measure of dread, even if I want to do them and am excited about them. Something about the very nature of Official Rides.

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  6. After a strenuous ride I sometimes take a nap. No melodrama involved in napping but it works. Anyway, if you are so far gone there is to be no lucid converse for hours you might as well.

    A general recommendation for Nice 'n' Easy as sung by Frank Sinatra. I can assure you that when he sings "let's make every stop along the way" he is not thinking of some low performance ride.

    The wild swings in energy level sound a lot like chronic overtraining, though it could be all sorts of other things. Trying to do maximum effort rides too often tears your body down. Moderation in all things. Those crossfit training types do some amazing things and they enjoy themselves enormously as they do it. The price is high.

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  7. Led? Are you a Zeppelin fan? Or did you mean LED, as in light emitting diode? Legs as fast as the speed of light? That would be great! Or did you mean lead, the soft bluish-gray metal? Apologies.

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    1. There was a time when I was!
      (and oops - corrected)

      But what about lead *with* LED lights? Hmm?

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    2. I'm actually a bit disappointed. I thought I might have learned an alternative Northern Irish spelling or something.

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  8. I have absolutely never felt 'wrecked' or 'ruined' after riding my bike - nor do I ever wish to - I have certainly felt physically tired in a quite normal and satisfying way, particularly if I have been riding trails all day. I think I shouldn't like to experience such a level of discomfort that I wouldn't be fully recovered after a short time, with a shower and perhaps a meal.

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    1. Agree. Perhaps rather than using 'we' the writer should simply say 'I' when describing the ups and downs of her rides...or maybe I'm doing it all wrong.

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    2. The "we" this post is referring to are myself and this bunch.

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    3. OMG!!! The CATS are back!

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  9. Wrecked,Ruined,Shelled,Crushed,Trashed,Whipped,Baked,whatever. As long as you get to that point a few times a month, the periods in between "Wrecked,Ruined,Shelled" etc. will be more Golden,Magic,Splendid,Sanguine,Languorous,and READY. Doesn't matter if you get there swinging an axe, on a bike or in bed, you gotta get there...

    Spindizzy

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    1. Also shellacked, creamed, and last but not least, knackered.

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  10. The photo is quite beautiful. A "wrecked" or "ruined" church, perhaps?

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