Getting Serious

Everyone I know has said it at least a few times, for a variety of wants: “It’s time to get serious about my…”
It’s an all purpose lament that could be brought about by a desire to get in shape, lose weight, save money, change jobs, finish a project, work on a hobby or anything else that we feel the need to accomplish.  I’ve told myself that I’ll get serious about a number of things, and as I have, life has interrupted me.

No sooner did I get cleared to ride again after my surgery than I had a family tragedy.  My father passed away at 83. This was expected, but such news is never welcome. So it was that my time to get back into shape was delayed. Still, when life calmed down I got back on my bicycle in a sincere effort to get back into shape. What I discovered was a pleasant surprise. In the run up to surgery, I discovered that I’m diabetic. That was a shock, but managing it has had a welcome effect: I lost 20 pounds.

My first event after I’d come back, for which I had virtually NO preparation, was the Patuxent Rural Legacy Ride. It had been 5 weeks since I’d been on the bike for more than a few short miles.

Pax

Eagle Harbor stop at Pax Legacy.

I wouldn’t have missed that ride for anything, because I love the event, but I was worried about fitness, and I was prepared to ride 40 miles instead of the full 64 simply because I wasn’t sure what I was actually capable of, and even 40 sounded tough. I thought I’d see how I felt.  To my surprise, I felt good. I rode the entire 64 miles and  enjoyed myself.

It seems that two things were actually working in my favor.  The first was the weight loss. 20 Pounds is more than the weight of a modern bicycle.  I haven’t lost all that much strength, so climbing hills was actually not as much of a chore as I might have thought.  The second thing was base mileage.  When you ride consistently, you build up a fitness base. This begins to erode when you have to take time away from your exercise, but it doesn’t completely go away, and building back up isn’t quite as hard as building that base in the first place.  My base miles were still in evidence, so the transition from inactive to riding more serious mileage wasn’t quite as difficult as I thought it would be.

June and July went by without any serious training headaches.  I was slowly building back up, and feeling positive.  Meanwhile some of my friends, who also have had difficult years, were feeling the strain. Where I had lost weight to compensate for my lack of training, they had gained weight due to injuries or circumstance, and were struggling to get back to the fitness level that they had last year.

Purcellville

Halfway through our ride.

With a cycling trip to Maine coming up in September, as well as other events in the fall, they felt it was time to get serious too.  So it was that we made an effort to get miles under our wheels.  The big test came last weekend on a trip from my friend’s residence in Chevy Chase, across the Potomac into Virginia, (meeting another friend on the way) and cycling up the Washington and Old Dominion trail to Purcellville.  A round trip of 105 miles.  I don’t usually enjoy the W&OD trail.  As a former rail bed, it’s largely straight, and it’s used by a lot of people and can be quite crowded, which is often difficult.  However this time it wasn’t too bad, and we kept a steady pace.  We all ended up feeling better than we thought we would.  It ended up being a good ride.  Unsupported rides are often interesting – you stop when you need to.  This ride was a straight out and back trip – since the trail is straight, it wasn’t the kind of ride I most enjoy, but I did need the miles, and the company was excellent.

At this point, the effect of our getting serious about our mileage has been a test of our fitness and some positive feedback.  In a few weeks, we’ll be riding events we love, and using the time we have until then to get serious about our preparation is starting to give us results.

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Quality of Life

As I write this, I’ve been unable to ride for nearly two weeks. My last substantial ride was the 6 Pillars Century in Cambridge Maryland last week. It was a great ride, despite what I would describe as a lack of good preparation. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when your mind is in trim.  Having done that, the following Tuesday I went in for surgery on my deviated septum.

In the end, I had my sinuses opened, my septum straightened, and a benign blockage removed. Breathing hasn’t been my strong suit for years. Despite the pain, as soon as the swelling started to go down, I began to breathe better.  I sleep better.  I’m sure that as soon as I’m cleared to cycle again, and I regain some of the form I’ve lost, I’ll cycle better as a result.

I’ve been dealing with my poor airflow for a long time, and I didn’t have to. I made a decision for my quality of life.  Even though I’m not nearly healed yet, I already feel better. I can tell the difference, and I’m told that things will only get better still.  If you have to make a choice that can improve your quality of life, it’s certainly worth doing.

It’s the only life you get.  Do what you can to make the most of it.

Indoor Kiting 2017

Every year, I’m offered the privilege of participating in with the indoor kiting exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum on the mall in Washington DC.

No fans are used; we generate pressure on the sail by walking backward or manipulating the line. Since I build and fly fighter kites, I’m flying on a single line and I can use my feet as well as line manipulation to fly the kite.  My flying style is very kinetic; I tend to use faster music to fly to, and more modern music than most. Usually our indoor flyers prefer slower music that keeps a steady pace; many of them are on fixed lines.  I like to be a change of pace, moving constantly and quickly.

National Air and Space Museum - Indoor Kite Fly 2017

The photo is courtesy of Andrew Albosta.

The kite itself is my own indoor design. I use a bamboo spine and a graphite rod as a bow. The sail is made of Orcon, with a curved trailing edge. The kite I used this year (2017) was built the week of the event, and I tuned it before the museum opened and the actual demonstrations began. The photo above was shot at a downward angle from a stairway, but above my head are a few drone aircraft that we had to be careful not to tangle our kites in, and because my line length was always changing, I had to be particularly careful. While this let me fly over the heads of the crowd, it also limited the space I had to work with. It was still a thrill to do. The NASM has been supporting this event for years, and I’ve participated since 2006. It may be threatened by budget cuts eventually,  but I find it a unique and pleasurable event to attend, and to say that I’ve had the opportunity to do such a unique thing as fly a kite between the exhibits at a national museum is a rare delight.

A Morning Pause

I just finished a workout in the little gym where I live.  It’s still early, and before I left for the gym I turned on the coffee maker. It’s my reward for suffering before the sun rises.

Despite the aerobic workouts I can still afford to lose weight and get in better condition.  It’s not that I’m a lost cause, but like most people there is a gap between what I look like and what I’d prefer to look like.  So if I can’t get out and ride, I get into the gym and fight against the forces of age and complacency.

The real benefit of working out is getting home and taking a moment to drink a cup of coffee or two.  On a nice morning like this it feels like a luxury. The workout is complete; I have plenty of time to get out the door and over to my office, and this time in between belongs to me.

I’m sure everyone has a point in their day that they can look forward to.  Some people are clever enough to actually plan time to pause and soak in the quiet.  For me this time just popped up as a result of the need to find workout time. I can think back to a lot of moments like this. They all share the same things.  The stillness, the quiet and the feeling of being in the now.  Time won’t matter for a little while. Until it intrudes, I can bask in the stillness.

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.

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.