As is my morning ritual, I stumbled, sleepy-eyed, to the bathroom to get the Colon River flowing freely. Once I decided that flow was up to par, I headed to the kitchen to get the coffee going. I felt absolutely terrible and was hoping that once the aroma started percolating through the house I'd start to feel a little more alive. I was sure once I had the hot cup in my hands that I'd fully wake up and then would be able to give an honest assessment on whether I was really going to sit my ass on a hard bike seat for 30+ miles today.
(I should probably insert a full disclaimer here. Andi and I attended a birthday party for a friend of ours yesterday where there was plentiful beer and liquor, as well as lots of Mexican styled food. I had my share of brewskis, knowing full well that I intended to go for a bike ride the next morning. There was also an impromptu wiffle ball game between a gaggle of 5 to 11 year-olds and a few of us "old men". I can say with certainty that while I can still swing a 15" wiffle ball bat with the best of them, I am not as spry and agile as I once was. I am pretty sure I pulled no less than 17 different muscles in the course of that game.)
After a couple of more trips to the john, the coffee was ready. I next went outside to fetch the paper. I use the term "fetch" because I'm sure that if the neighbors saw me retrieve the paper every morning, they'd say I take on the excitement of a dog pleasing his master. I love reading the paper and another of my morning rituals (at least on the weekends) is trying to get up before Andi and the kids. When I do manage this, it borders on pure nirvana. The quietness of a new day, before the rest of the world (or at least my neighborhood) wakes and starts in with the mowing of the lawns and leaf-blowing and motorcycle engines and kids running up and down the street is a beautiful moment. I like to open the patio door and let the cool morning air in. Somewhere hidden between the sips of coffee and the sounds of the paper rustling as I work my way from section to section, I am certain I can actually hear serenity.
Today was a bit more of a challenge. Not because of other people making sound around me. But because of the loud grumbles of my own stomach as it settled into the day. I sat for an hour and a half in virtual silence, reading and contemplating the goings on the world. I had my cup of coffee and ate a couple of granola bars. Not wanting to fill my unsettled stomach with anything more, I decided it was time to put up or shut up. I hadn't touched my bikes in almost two weeks and this unintentional "vacation" from it really had me itching to get out and see if I'd lost much of the fitness I've worked so hard to achieve over the last several months. After one last trip to the crapper to make sure I wasn't going to need to make a "natural pit-stop", as the Tour De France commentators like to call it, I donned my spandex, threw on the shoes, squeezed my hands into my sweat-stained gloves, fastened my helmet strap, hit play on the IPod, and pedaled out of the driveway.
It was a beautiful morning. Crisp. Which is pretty rare for Colorado this time of year. It actually had a hint of fall to it. Not a cloud in the sky. Blue as far as the eye could see. I headed west for the foothills and the C470 trail. I was only planning on about 30 miles, but I figured if I was going to do a short ride, it should at least have a lot of hills to it to get more of a workout. Truth be told, my mind had made a compromise with my body in order for this ride to take place. I decided I would try and take a nice "leisurely" ride and not worry about how fast I was going or what my 5-mile splits were. I just wanted to get in a comfortable rhythm and enjoy the next two hours in the saddle. It's safe to say that I met my goal.
And here's what I learned along the way:
- Do things you don't want to do. I didn't really want to go riding. I felt like I needed to, but I didn't have that desire to ride. Yes, I wanted to see if I was still in riding shape. But I didn't want to put in the effort to find that out. Ultimately I did put in the effort, even though I had a good reason not too. The reward, as you'll see, was well worth it. It's kind of like me and sushi. For years I was dead-set against even trying it, despite being a seafood lover. I saw it as too trendy. Once I finally did cave, I kicked myself for talking myself out of it for all those years. I had been missing a good thing. Don't miss a good thing because you "don't feel like it". Nine times out of ten you'll find the doing pays off in the end.
- Don't be afraid to compromise. Normally when I go out riding I try to leave it all on the road. I try and stay in the biggest gear for as long as I can before downshifting and if I don't have thoughts of "quitting" going through my head I don't feel like I'm working as hard as I can. Because I wasn't feeling very good this morning, I compromised with myself and ended up with one of the most rewarding rides I've had in a long time. When the mind isn't cooperating with the body, compromise. Compromise isn't failure or "losing". Compromise is good.
- Push through the initial pain to see if it's lasting. As I alluded to earlier, I think I pulled somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 muscles last night in a game of street wiffle ball. After the first two climbs this morning, I could definitely feel pain and tightness in my right hamstring. This was different than the usual pain from pushing up a long hill. No doubt the pain acquired trying to beat out a throw to first from a 9 year old. My mind had me thinking of the next place I could make a left turn and head home with the fewest of amount of hills. I decided to soldier on and not turn for home and what I discovered was that the pain subsided and eventually disappeared. That little discomfort evidently just needed to have itself massaged out with more work. There is the saying "no pain, no gain." There is definitely truth to that. Without a little pain, how can we truly know joy.
- Don't be afraid to downshift. I wish I could downshift more often. There are more times than I'd like to admit where I take things on full-bore only to find out that I run out of steam. This can leave things incomplete. I don't like incomplete experiences. I like to fully appreciate everything I do. Sometimes I find myself stuck in a high gear, concentrating on cadence or the pain in my thighs and I miss the trout jumping out of the S. Platte River to take a fly, which can be a sight to behold. Plus, downshifting doesn't necessarily mean that you lose speed. Surprisingly, I finished my ride this morning with a personal best time for that route. Downshifting just allowed me to get there at a different, more comfortable long-term pace.
- Don't be afraid to stop. Yes, stopping sounds a lot like "quitting" doesn't it? It doesn't have to mean the same thing. As I mentioned earlier, I took a two week sabbatical from riding my bike. This was rather unintentional. One weekend we went camping and there wasn't room for the bike, so no ride that weekend. The following weekend was Andi's birthday weekend and we ended up doing a mini-vacation with the kids up to Keystone. There are tons of trails up there and riding would have been easy to do, but this was her weekend and she clearly wanted to spend it with the family. I wasn't willing to put my desire for a bike ride above her birthday wish of a family vacation. I also normally find time to ride once or twice a week after work. With crazy work schedules and other things going on with the kids, I was unable to find time to fit those rides in. I thought for sure that today's ride would be miserable, no matter what. I had "quit" riding for two weeks. As I said above, I finished my ride with a personal best time. Sometimes we just need a break from what we're doing to recharge. Taking the time to recharge is essential in all facets of life. Stopping is not necessarily quitting.
- Obey traffic signs. This sounds like something that shouldn't need to be said. But it does. I often find myself approaching an intersection, especially early in the mornings on the weekends, where my light is red yet the nearest car is a quarter mile away. Many of those times I'll just pedal on through, knowing I am in no danger and neither are the cars. Cyclists should always obey traffic laws. No question. Plus, as illustrated today, you never know what you're going to find at the next stop light. At the first stop light I encountered on my ride, another gentlemen rode up along side me. He was decked out in team gear of some local group, had thighs as big as tree trunks and calves that formed a perfect V on his downstrokes. His bike probably cost about $3000 new (by contrast, mine was about $600). We did the cyclist acknowledgement (which for those who don't know, is a simple nod of the head), waited for the light to go green and pedaled on when it did. The next section of trail was about 1 mile uphill. As I pedaled away, I thought for sure that this guy would soon be calling out "on your left" as he passed me in a trail of expensive-bike-and-team-rider dust. He never did. I kept looking over my shoulder, waiting for him, but he was always about 100 yards behind me. At the next light he pulled up alongside me again. This time we conversed. A trivial conversation about the weather. But a dialogue nonetheless. Light turns green and I again pedaled away from him on another long uphill. At the next light he again pulls up to me, along with a husband and wife each on a recumbent bike, a dude on a mountain bike, another couple on a tandem bike, and another guy on a road bike. No one together (except each couple) but all with common interests, meeting by chance on a random Sunday morning. Waiting for the light to turn green, we all struck up a conversation about the pros and cons of recumbents and tandems. We were so engrossed in the discussion that we all missed the green light and had to sit through another cycle. No one cared. We were all going places, obviously. But none of us seemed to care about how we got there, just as long as we did at some point. When we did all notice the green light, we all pedaled off in the same direction. I don't know about the other riders, but I'm glad I had to stop. Random camaraderie on a solo ride is something I don't encounter very often. And the civil discourse among people from different walks of life was priceless. Which brings me to....
- Do away with any pre-conceived notion you might have about people. When you're riding 33 miles through metro Denver, with about half of that on the most used recreational path in the urban corridor, you are bound to pass all sorts of people. Today was no different. I passed groups, couples and solo exercisers. I passed white people, black people, Asian people, male people, female people, fit people, seemingly unfit people, young people, old people, very young people and very old people. Everyone of them was out enjoying the morning with some pursuit of fitness or another. Some were on bikes, some were on in-line skates, some were walking, some were jogging, some were paddling. Some were fast. Others were slow. We were all moving to our own beat. We were all breathing at our own pace. We were all living. I kept away from the guy I thought would surely eat me for breakfast on the uphills. He never stayed with me. I was passed, rather quickly, on another long uphill by a guy who had to be in his 60s and was riding an old Schwinn beater that was as old as me. Does that make me a better rider than Tree Thighs or worse than Father Time? No. For all I know, Tree Thighs had just ridden 80 miles before 8am and was at the end of his trek and was warming down or had nothing left in the tank from a harder ride than mine. Father Time could have been on the first of his climbs, legs still fresh, while I was on the last climb of the day for me. We don't know where others are coming from or where they're going. We just know we're on the same road and we ought to give them the safety and respect they need to get where they're going in one piece. Its the same we ask of them. And lastly and perhaps most importantly...
- If you dog shits in the middle of the trail, pick it up! There's not much worse than being starved for oxygen only to find the stench of a fresh pooh in the middle of the trail. Okay, this is clearly not the most important thing I learned today, but seriously folks. Pick up your shit. It stinks and nobody wants to run or ride the next three miles with your shit in the back of their mind.
Ride on, everyone! And thanks for taking the time to read!