walking around in tap shoes and pyjamas since 2010 - my cycling log (opens in new window)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Desert Bikes, Time to Reflect

This weekend made a delightful respite from the staggering heat and humidity that have characterized this summer.  Temperatures were in the 80s -- comfortable, after several weeks of 100+ highs with heat indices one didn't even want to consider -- and a powerful storm on Saturday evening broke the humidity a bit (not to mention breaking a number of power lines and leaving 20,000 or so Louisvillians without electricity).

Of my seven tomato plants, one has produced a single tomato, which had finally ripened by Saturday morning (apparently, tomatoes don't like to ripen in extreme heat).  I picked it but haven't yet eaten it.  It's small, so I think I'm going to slice it into decorative rings and throw it on top of a salad.  After ceremoniously presenting it to DD, I set it on the counter in the kitchen, and then we went out to hunt for cheap bikes.

Why cheap bikes? you may be wondering, Why not a nice 'cross bike, or a good mountain bike? 

In a nutshell, the bikes in question are going to the desert at the end of the month -- specifically, the Black Rock Desert, which is a high plateau surfaced in bike-eating alkaline dust.  We're going to Burning Man, where bikes are the primary mode of transit.

The bikes in question are coming with us.  While I intend to strip them, clean them thoroughly, and replace any corroded parts when we return, we didn't want to put a whole lot of money into a couple of machines whose major purpose in life will be to roll around in the dust for a week once a year -- so the goal was to find a couple of inexpensive fat-tired bikes, preferably singlespeed cruisers, but anything with a reliable frame and two more-or-less round wheels would have worked.

In the end, we spent less than $100 for the two bikes and wound up with cheap, used 'mountain' bikes, but that's cool.  DD found his bike -- a BigBoxMart Roadmaster with front shocks and a rather unusual frame -- prior to this weekend.  On Saturday, I happened across a green-and-white Canada Dry bike with no shocks at all (shocks were a dealbreaker for me, the ones on cheap bikes are simply too heavy and annoying).  It has crappy components, but it isn't ridiculously heavy (having mono has turned me into the ultimate weight weenie, for the moment), and the frame is actually surprisingly decent, with neat, solid welds and comfortable, upright geometry.

When we get back, I might strip it and pop some better components on -- alloy wheels, for example, would both be lighter and more resistant to the wrath of the desert in future years than its current all-steel, all-the-time wheelset will be in this year.  I think it could be a pretty comfortable ride; slow but steady.  In fact, the SodaBike might just become my grocery-getter.  I am debating whether to call it SodaBike or Turtle (because slow and steady, like Aesop's Tortoise, which is not as much fun to say as 'Turtle").  Or both.  "Turtle the SodaBike, Lord of the Desert, Bearer of Groceries" sounds like a suitably overwrought title for this, the humblest of my bikes.  Plus, it gives me a theme for the stickers with which I intend to plaster the frame: turtles.  I <3 turtles anyway.

I am, as you might have guessed, looking forward to playing with it.  It will be nice to have a humble little getting-around bike with no aspirations to become much of anything else.

Speaking of aspirations, I am actually feeling grateful for this random bout of mono at what initially struck me as a really bad time.  It has given me both impetus and, in a weird sense, permission to step back and re-evaluate what I'm doing with myself and why.

As I often do, I've been driving myself too hard in recent weeks.  I have had trouble seeing that, because I'm not driving myself to the extent of human limitation.  I know it is possible to push a human body further than I push mine, and so I neglect to account for the notion that I may have pushed mine as far as it's willing to go at this juncture.

I have been driving myself too hard because I've been frustrated with myself: frustrated that I managed to gain 17 pounds somewhere along the line and still haven't lost most of it; frustrated that I have missed so many of my cycling goals; frustrated that I don't seem to actually know how to set reasonable goals in the first place. 

I have a rather unfortunate tendency to that question in black-and-white: how far can the human body be pushed, not how far can my body be pushed at this particular moment in time? or even, how far should I push my body right now?

Likewise, I'm not really great at knowing how to back down.

Well, I'm backing down, now.

This isn't to say I plan to quit racing, nor that I plan to skip 'cross season -- only that I think I'm going to re-evaluate my training goals and so forth for the next year.  I am going to try not to feel like a failure if I miss a race or two this fall.  I am going to try to keep remembering that I ride bikes for fun, and that fun doesn't have to mean driving yourself into the ground.

I've also realized that I sometimes use riding the bike as a way to escape the difficult emotional stuff.  I have some really tough times behind me that I've been trying to sort out through therapy and also, in a less direct sense, through the relationships I have with the people in my life now.  Sometimes, instead of taking my difficulties to the people in my life who love me and could help me work through them, I take them away on my bike and ride until whatever is torturing me from the inside shuts up.  Then I can go back to acting like my usual happy-go-lucky self, as if there's nothing wrong, even though some people in my life -- especially DD -- know that I'm basically full of crap.

Sometimes I ride like the Devil is on my heels because, in a sense, the Devil is on my heels -- my own personal devil, the arbiter of my own personal hell.  Endorphins do an awesome job when it comes to knocking pain, anger, and fear back into some dark corner somewhere -- but so do drugs, alcohol, and so forth.  I don't suppose I can think well of myself for being someone who doesn't use drugs at all and who drinks only rarely if I am, instead, misusing my bike.

This isn't to say that going out and riding hard when you need some kind of emotional release or escape is always wrong.  Sometimes it's okay.  But when you do that all the time instead of doing the work to get free of your devils, of your own personal hell, then you are in the same boat as any drug addict, any alcoholic. 

When I start really riding again, my challenge will be trying to keep a grip on that behavior.  If nothing else, it is wrong to use something as beautiful and good as a bicycle, as beautiful and good as cycling, in that way.

Today, though, I'm just going to stay home, try to get the laundry done, maybe take a little walk, and rest a bit more.  Tomorrow I have things to do that will take me out into the world, I and plan to ride some bike or another (on a bike, you can coast if you get tired).  I'm not quite sure which bike I'll ride -- maybe even Turtle -- but I think I'm going to try not to ride Hg, because I always want to ride fast and hard on Hg (and also because, frankly, I don't know if I can handle standard road gearing yet).

It will be nice to ride slowly and easily and gently in this nice cool weather and imagine the coming of fall.


  1. Burning Man sounds like such a fantastical collection of the grotesque and gnarly, I bet riding a bike around there will be a great time. I would suggest drinking far more water than you think you need out there, to stay hydrated, you'll feel better.

  2. Agreed! I'm really looking forward to seeing all the bizarre monster bicycles -- last year, there was one that a fellow built by hand in the shape of a dragon, complete with fire spouting from its mouth.

    I think you're spot-on about the water. DD went last year, and observed that the first two days, you don't want to do pretty much anything, since your body is busy acclimating itself to the arid desert climate. By day three, one apparently has become sufficiently dessicated and can proceed about one's business as long as one totes a couple of liters of water everywhere :D We have 2-liter camelbaks, so I plan to tote one of those everywhere and refill it as frequently as humanly possible.