Monthly Archives: January 2017

A Cyclist’s Urban Retreat

Last Saturday was an unusually warm day for January in the Washington DC Area.  I got the chance to ride a course that included two classic roads through the District of Columbia and the Maryland suburbs.  These are Beach Drive, which runs through Rock Creek Park, and Sligo Creek Parkway which runs parallel to it to the east.  These are both roads that run through parkland along local waterways. They are also known as two of the more scenic and popular places to cycle in the Washington DC Metropolitan area.

For me, this ride, which included riding to and from the local ride starting location from a friend’s house, is a joy. Part of the course is closed on weekends, and even where it is open, it isn’t crowded or heavily travelled on the weekend. Except for the times when we rode between these two park roads through suburban neighborhoods, we rode through parks. There are several such roads or trails in the Maryland/DC/Virginia area, and they’re generally well used by runners, cyclists and others.

I’ve ridden these roads for years.  You don’t have to be a great cyclist to enjoy them. You can ride a short distance on them or find them as part of a longer ride, but they’re always enjoyable. Most motorists expect cyclists on them, and there tends to be a kind of truce between cyclists and motorists. Whether you’re out for a gentle spin or hammering down the road at high speed, these roads are a great route through the Washington Area.  I try to get a ride on them a couple of times a year, just because I enjoy the park and these places are both familiar and enjoyable. To ride them early in the season is a very good way to start the year.

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Taskmasters

I’ve always been a competitive personality.  I have the tendency to push myself, and so it is information about my progress or lack of it that will get me to push myself in the right direction. Therefore, I have found myself at the mercy of small devices that hook directly into that drive to push myself forward. I call these cruel little devices taskmasters.

The first device that allows me to be cruel to myself is the simple bicycle computer.  Just knowing how fast I’m going, how far I’ve gone, and my average speed allows me to compare how I’m doing to previous rides. That comparison is a motivator that pushes me past a sensible pace more often than I care to admit.  Keep in mind that this is a simple device.  There are ways to indulge the obsession for ride information even more.  Consider the GPS computer.  It will show how much climbing you’ve done, get maps and turn by turn directions that warn you that you have a turn coming up, and even download that ride data into the Strava website so that you can compete with the results of other riders.  I admit that there is a utility to having such a device. I know people who particularly like the help staying on course. However, knowing simple information makes my current computer a taskmaster, and I fear what a more sophisticated device with more sophisticated data will do to me. I’m obsessive enough as it is. I have a love/hate relationship with my bike computer.  You can’t have a good day every time out on the road. That computer isn’t the reason I enjoy a ride, but it will tell me a lot about having a bad ride. It applies a subtile pressure.

The second device is far more common. It has been the bane of many people and it is the bringer of both good and bad news in many households worldwide.  This taskmaster is the simple bathroom scale. I have avoided owning one for a very long time.  I’ve finally submitted to the simple need to work out differently and drop weight. So far, so good.  Week 1, 2 pounds down. I can’t expect to get only progress, or have that progress be steady from week to week, but it has already had an effect.  Even when it tells me good news, I’ve already learned how it applies pressure. If only I didn’t need that pressure!

I’ve come to accept taskmasters as part of my life.  They aren’t always bad things – by nature they only display information, and that in itself is innocent. What makes something a taskmaster is my relationship to it. These things remind me that I have to push myself. They connect to some primal instinct in me. They taunt me, they shame me, they smirk at me, and occasionally, they reward me.  Despite their drawbacks, these things are useful. Never lovable, but useful. I think everyone needs a taskmaster or two. I have often thought that the world has a severe scarcity of drill sergeants to push us along. Instead, we appoint taskmasters.

Starting Over in 2017

This is my first post since the middle of 2016. 2016 was hectic, and somewhere in middle of it I lost my writing mojo. As I write this, it’s January first, the sun is shining through the windows, and I’m feeling a little more positive. I want to start over, and this is a good way to do it.

I’m not entirely certain why I haven’t kept up.  I think perhaps I was spending too much time writing to a formula that I’d established.  Much as I love cycling, it seemed to be nearly all of what I have been writing about for the last two years.  The cycling had been according to formula, too. Not that I don’t like to write or cycle, but I have been a little burned out on both for the last 6 months.  It’s tough to explain, but 2016 was a test of my motivation. I’ve been thinking about how to regain it.

Not that I did’t do enjoyable things – I rode several more century rides since my last update, and had a good time at them; but by December the will to get out the door was waning. This tends to happen in the winter, and by March the mixture of Cabin Fever and fresh resolve to get riding again always takes over.  Motivation is easy in March.  2016 was unusual in a number of ways. However, I have to start 2017 with an acknowledgement of a few things that drained the joy from me in many ways. As the year went on, it all became a drag.

Last February, my younger brother unexpectedly died. It was a shock. Looking back, it was much more of a shock than I could have anticipated. I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t thought of him. Doug was someone I called when I needed a sanity check, someone who kept me in contact with family, someone who helped keep me grounded in a lot of ways. We grew up together, we had similar outlooks, we were close.  We were different in many ways, but as time goes on I’m starting to find different ways that Doug’s absence has affected me. Even after all this time, it’s tough to adjust to the new “normal” without him to talk to. I have a lot of adjustments to make, even so long after his passing. I’ve discovered gaps in me that he helped bridge. This is one way to start bridging them myself. One of the things I’d resolved to do in 2016 was to get Doug on a bike. I was concerned over some health issues he’d had up to then, and I know that a bike was the perfect way to get him moving. That push was to start in the spring of 2016 – about 2 months too late as it happened. I think that regret cast a very long shadow over one of the things that gave me strength – my cycling. Back in September I found that Doug’s eldest son had taken an interest in bike racing.  I bought him a racing bike. His first race will be in a couple of months.  I hope that this will be a sign of renewal for me and for my cycling as well.

It’s also important to note that I lost a cycling friend recently – Russ Altemose. He lost his fight with cancer in late 2016.  I have ridden thousands of miles with Russ, and I knew him at his best, because those were the times he enjoyed. They were better times for me because he shared them with me. I’ll miss him as well. His passing was a reminder of loss.  It brought me back to Doug.

It’s important to remember that life isn’t about loss.  Loss is part of life, but so is recovery. I have not allowed myself to be truly free to experience all that life has in store for me, and so in this time of looking both forward and back, I choose to look forward and take a different path. I think that this will be a year to worry less about events and more about the connections I make.  I will continue to focus on my riding, because it is a thing that makes me feel truly free, but I won’t regiment myself in my riding. I think it must be about connections to people and the freedom I choose to ride for. I think I’ll look forward to certain cycling events, but perhaps they will be fewer, and the open road will figure more in my descriptions than just the events I’ve chosen.

The course of our lives is seldom straight.  Most of us find that we wander a little, and when we do, we need to find a way to motivate ourselves. We need food for the soul as well as the body. We need peace and contemplation, we need a certain amount of hard work, and we need a little challenge in our lives, too. We need resistance in our lives that we must push through. I think that this blog had started as a way to exercise my desire to write, but it became a kind of singular journal.  My cycling became regimented, too. I will continue to write about cycling, because it’s such a big part of me now, but I feel that it’s time to change the way in which I do it. I want to  let this forum and my riding off the leash of a static formula and let it wander a little more. I’ll let my mind take me in different directions, and I’ll talk about them here. Now, on New Year’s Day, it seems like the right time to let go of some of the pain and hardship of 2016 and let 2017 take me in different directions. I hope that it leads to more fun and more insights. I hope that it sets me free in a number of ways.  I’ll talk of my discoveries here. Happy New Year.  Let 2017 be a year of discovery for all.