Skip to main content

Back to the Barn

It's that time of year again. It's cold. It's dark. It's windy. It's rainy. Every bike magazine will tell you to suck it up and get out there and ride. Loving suffering is part of cycling and this time of year you don't have to wait for it. You're suffering the moment you open the door! I should be thrilled! The 'cross people actually look forward to this weather! Honestly, I would be out there except for one thing: it's also hunting season. That means that in addition to the usual army of firearms enthusiasts that line the Gooseneck fire road system, I've got a whole bunch more in the woods shooting in every direction. It's a wonder any of them make it out alive.

So, for most of November I spend a good deal of quality time in the barn on my old Bridgestone hooked to a stationary trainer.  I don't really mind. It's kind of a relief to just throw some shorts and shoes on, grab a bottle of water and go beat myself up for an hour instead of getting the whole kit on, inflating the bike tires, setting the computer, etc, and then deal with the shooters, joy riders and ATVs. It's a good time to reflect on the past racing season, visualize the next one and just let the mind unhook without having to think about where you are going or what's coming up behind you.

One of my recurring thoughts is how hard we make it on ourselves to ride a bike - how much money and time we spend before we've even planted our feet on the pedals. So much of cycling is stuff. Shorts, jerseys, socks, shoes, gloves, the helmets, lights this time of year, hydration packs, computers, energy bars - it just goes on and on. It's expensive and it takes a toll. I'm on my second helmet this year (Thanks missing ramp at Black Rock!). I've gone down a size and now I'm stuck with a duffle of large jerseys that look like potato sacks on me. Oh yes, then there was the new bike frame. Money, money, money. Who can afford this?

I remember years ago working summerstock in Utah, when I was actually pretty strong and happily misspending my youth, I'd go ride in this amazing sort of micro-canyonland outside Cedar City.  Kids with full face helmets and body armor gapping roads and getting monster air have probably turned it into some freerider's wet dream by now. But back in 1989, before freeriding was invented and shortly after we had given up hunting for food with sharpened sticks,  I'd just grab my Bridgestone and go run the loop through it. No helmet, no gloves, no prep. Just ride the bike. It was liberating. I know, I know, it's dangerous to ride without a helmet. I get it. It's just that the act of wearing a helmet, just like the shorts, jersey, gloves, etc has become an inseparable part of the act of riding a bike. That makes the whole thing so much harder to just do

And  then I think of the challenges of riding a bike in a culture that has enshrined driving as part of its cultural identity. I'm sure if cars had existed, the Founding Fathers would have written the right to keep and drive them into the Constitution right behind the guns. People on bicycles interfere with that understood right. Drivers are encouraged to "share the road" with the same sort of parental encouragement we usually reserve for snotty children who won't share their toys. That road is usually shared grudgingly. Often that road is where drivers live out their passive-aggressive fantasies.

I think of the ghost bike - a shrine to a cyclist struck down by a driver - Carolyn saw in Austin a couple weeks ago. You see them in Portland too. You see them in most cities. Bikes painted white with a description of the rider who died, chained near the scene of the accident. I'll bet the driver got off easy. They usually do in bike related deaths. I remember Cyclist Down's endless list of rider casualties. Certainly some are genuine accidents caused by a driver not seeing someone, or were caused by the cyclist or caused by mechanical failure. But every cyclist, every single cyclist who has ridden on a paved road, knows what it feels like to be menaced by a driver. Obscene hand gestures, shouting out the passenger window, revved engines, getting buzzed by a car, those are just the ones I've experienced and I usually ride off-road. In that place, I don't believe for a moment they were all accidents. It's not a jungle out there, it's society at its worst and that's much more terrifying. As I pedal away in the barn I'm relieved I'm not out there.

And yet...

I think about being held hostage by gear and fear and as I look out the window of the barn at the mountains - at my mountains - I realize if all goes well, I have 30 or 40 years left to live. Do I want to spend it spinning my wheels, or do I want to find out where that road goes I passed up there last summer while I still can?

 It's still raining and even in the barn I can hear the occasional boom of a hunting rifle. But the fear subsides and the desire to just get out and be in it takes hold. It's good to stop and think for a bit. It's better to go do something so you have something to think about.


Popular posts from this blog

Hawaii Part I

This is a year of great portent for Carolyn and me. All kinds of things lined up. It's our 30th anniversary! Actually, it's the 30th anniversary of our first date which turned into a sleepover which turned into nightly sleepovers which turned into moving in together which turned into buying a house together which turned into buying another house together and breaking out in cats, which is pretty much where we are now. Exactly in the middle of those 30 years we got married. It was sometime in July, we have it written down somewhere. That's not to say we take the marriage lightly. It means a great deal to us, though for some reason, we aren't getting the spouse's discount on rental cars that I thought came with the package. Anyway, 15 years of being bound in matrimony this year too. It's also Carolyn's 65th birthday, which is maybe the biggest deal. Oh, and there's a solar eclipse in August. If you're big on numerology and signs from the Heavens, this…

After this Winter - Some thoughts on losing my way

Last weekend I dug my bibs out of the closet, suited up and did the Mudslinger mountain bike race again. Some confusion after the race got me thinking about paths, wayfinding, and getting lost. It also got me thinking about politics.

This was the 30th annual Mudslinger which means we share an anniversary! A couple actually. Carolyn and I have been together 30 years and I started racing mountain bikes 30 years ago. My race prep this year consisted mainly of gassing up the car the day before driving down to the race. I think I've ridden outside four times since Christmas. Still, I wasn't going to miss this one. I did the second Mudslinger in 1988 and quite a few after that until I stopped racing in 1996. I've done it at least six more times since I started racing again in 2008.

I finished pretty far back in the field but ahead of a few dozen racers. I wasn't the only one having trouble getting the base miles in. More importantly, I had fun. It was a beautiful sunn…

Some thoughts on the road's end

I didn't get many Christmas cards out this year. Didn't do a letter either. I'm sorry about that. Here's what happened.

Less than a week before Christmas, my in-laws reached a crisis point that signaled the end of their independent lives and the beginning of ongoing nursing care. I want to recount the journey to that crisis point. I apologize for the length of this. I need to get it out of my head. I need to document this because my in-laws are wonderful people who have reached the end of their independent lives and I want you to know what it was like.

The crisis had been building for some time. We knew something was going to happen to push this forward. Indeed, Merle and Catherine are where we wanted them to be but their journey there was so abrupt and terrible sounding, it actually made people laugh when I recounted it. We tried to get ahead of what was coming but the desire to let Merle and Catherine continue to live at home combined with their determination to stay…