I’m grinding up my third pass of the day, and its mile 88 of 121. After getting beat up by a stiff headwind for six miles, the group broke up as we reached the comparative shelter of the first switchbacks. Each one of us withdrew into our own private world of sweat and effort. I drift to the back because I am large. I am a helmeted draft horse in spandex: I’m a Clydesdale.
Everywhere I ride I’m the biggest guy. My 62 cm bike dwarfs other machines. It’s been suggested that I might take up basketball, or apple picking, or some other sport for tall people, but I have an aversion to running and standing on ladders. In the cycling world I’m an oddity, but one thing I know: folks love to draft behind me because it’s like riding behind a semi…you can feel the suction. I pedal, they coast.
I’ve come to accept my station in the cycling world. It’s not that I can’t climb – hauling around my body weight makes me pretty strong. Its just that I climb slower than my 150 pound colleagues. The places where I go fast are on the flats, in a headwind and on rolling terrain. My lot is to deliver the climbers to their climbs with fresh legs. Giddyup.
The bike is on the trainer, the cycling clothing washed and put away, the Christmas tree is up, it’s snowing outside, and….
It’s time for my 2014 cycling season in review – beginning with my top 10 list:
1. My first 20 mph century ride: Some days are special, some are special-er. After putting together a 21 mph avg on the level, I managed to hold it together for the last 65 miles of rolling terrain with no help from the wind.
2. Seven flats and a set of tires in seven days: I’m not certain whether Montana roads are more abrasive, or what. After the last ride of my Montana trip, I packed up my bike and noticed…you guessed it…a flat rear tire. I’ve not had another one for the rest of the season.
3. Going to the Sun Road: One of the classic rides in America, GTSR climbs 3600 feet from MacDonald Creek to Logan Pass – averaging 200 feet per mile. We dropped down the east side to Siyeh [pronounced si-yee] Bend and climbed back to Logan Pass. You get to pass through tunnels and alongside waterfalls. On the descent I went through the water falling from Weeping Wall. You can read more about this ride here.
4. A Solid Training Plan: Nothing like it. During the winter I did 12 weeks of weight training and then moved to an indoor trainer for my workouts. I trained with power for the first time, and there’s no going back! Heart rate fluctuates with conditioning, and is not an accurate measurement of effort by itself. 280 watts, on the other hand, is 280 watts every day of the week – even on Leap year. Kudos to TrainerRoad for their indoor training plans.
5. First Early Season Ride: With 20″ of snow left on the ground we finally got our day in late March – where it was 38 degrees and brilliantly sunny. After 4 months riding indoors it was what I imagine getting out of prison must be like. Hope springs, and you just know it won’t be long before we ride in shorts. Of course, the reprieve was was followed by another three weeks of 40 degree rain – dubbed by the locals as a Norwegian Monsoon. [That’s right, no umbrella drinks]
6. Bananas: It’s time to pay my yearly homage to the miracle fruit and wrapper, all in one. What has the power to energize, inspire and otherwise lift you higher? The banana. Don’t leave home without one…they cure most everything.
7. Wisconsin: The land of cheese-eating Trolls is a cycling paradise, and I spent the better part of two weeks training there with my cycling compadre Mike. The Little Bedder motel in Mt Horeb is our base of operations, and comes complete with a property manager who likes to dress up like Audrey Hepburn. Truly. I wouldn’t joke about something like this. I left my garlic press behind in September, and hope to find it when we return this June.
8. A Century a Week Keeps the Doctor Away: Want to go faster, go longer, and ride stronger every day? More than anything else, the weekly century delivers the goods. At first you suffer, but then you kinda get used to it – and then almost look forward to it. You will become a two wheeled Godzilla.
9. MS 150: This was my charity ride for the year. We rolled the first day in torrential rain, and I got pretty borderline hypothermic. I wore every stitch of clothing and never got better than almost warm. The second day was brilliant sun and a tailwind, to boot. A worthy cause, and a supremely fun way to generate love through pedal strokes.
10. Big Rides: There’s nothing that quite outdoes the scope of an epic ride. At this year’s Cycling House Tour de Montana we followed a 93 mile ride along the Bitter Root range with a 121 mile jaunt with three passes [mentioned above] and 7100 feet of climbing. Elapsed time was 9 hours 13 minutes. Other contenders included the Wright Stuff Century with 6800 feet of climbing, and our Minnesota home grown Headwaters Tour with 113 miles and 5200 feet of climbing. In these big rides you cross a line where you realize you’ve found something very special. Free your mind, and your legs will follow: long rides are cleansing.
11. 6000 miles: that’s over 31 million feet. 31,680,000 and some change, to be exact. Thirty one million feet of headwinds, tailwinds, rain and sun – each foot another reason why I love this sport.
The 2014 Season by The Numbers
I consumed 13 quarts of Hammer Gel and 43 bananas on the bike. I slurped 104 servings of Hammer Perpetuem – a remarkably effective gooey food product the consistency of pancake batter. Along the way I wore out 2 chains, 2 cassettes, 2 sets of cables, and a crankset. I used up 4 rolls of bar tape, 2 sets of tires, 11 tubes and a pair of handlebars. My carbon bars developed stress cracks from two previous crashes in 2013, and began to delaminate. SCARY MOVIE. And, by the way, the number of crashes this year? NONE. Okay, there was one when I forgot to unclip and fell over. There was blood.
My longest day of climbing was 7821 feet, longest ride 121 miles, and fastest speed 51 mph. All this over 6000.6 miles and 206, 470 feet climbed. That’s 1400 something more miles than last year, and almost 60,000 feet more climbing. I spent 332 hours and 10 minutes on the bike over the course of 134 rides – 18 of them a century or longer. My average speed for the year was 17.8 mph.
What does this mean?
I’m looking at the Black Pearl across the living room carpet leaning up against the wall. Two days after finishing up the season I’m already lonesome for her. And, by the way, what was the point of all this? From a purely practical perspective all this pedaling doesn’t really produce anything. On the other hand, most of us don’t ride for pragmatic reasons: we ride because we love it. No, it doesn’t pay the rent…but it pays other dividends.
There’s an exquisite freedom to the road. We’re free to let our thoughts roam further than our legs can take us. We’re free to make our ride quiet and contemplative, or to thunder along at top speed with a shout. There’s a reckless joy in fast descents – coupled with disciplined form that makes rolling 40+ mph on an inch of rubber both possible and safe.
Occasionally I get to see cycling through the eyes of someone new to the sport…someone who tells the truth. Riding with a friend training for his first race, after 15 miles he remarked, this is hard. Cycling is a game of motivation. Some days we spend a fair bit of time and energy talking ourselves into getting on the bike – all the while holding out hope that we’ll find something special. I’m a chronic doubter, even though I’ve been proven wrong so often. John “Robot” Lewis who writes for the Red Kite Project says,
Can we all just agree that motivation is priceless? I have been riding bikes my whole life, and the motivation to ride hard or far or even just continuously has sometimes been stronger than others. The alchemical recipe that produces the drive to ride consists of momentum, fun, fitness, weather, inspiration, friends, opportunity and possibly some other things I’m overlooking. Mysteriously, sometimes when I have both opportunity and fitness in spades, I am still woefully short of the motivation to capitalize.
I don’t understand it.
As for myself, strangely enough, I found some motivation. I had a novel idea when the cold and ice of Northern MN drove me indoors. Instead of getting fat, how about trying to carry some form through the winter? Instead of eating and thinking about training, why couldn’t I train and think about how I eat? Adding a trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway in the spring to my ride schedule provided enough motivation [er, fear of embarrassing myself] to get me to put together my winter training schedule. It also helps that my riding buddies have taken on races or events that they’re equally scared to suck at. Self preservation is a wonderful motivator, and so I’m grinding away on the cycleops, spinning on the rollers, and working the strength routine. What keeps me going is the possibility of hitting the road in late March ready to ride centuries.
Indoor training is fueled by next season’s dreams. On the schedule already are a week of hill training in WI, the Habitat 5oo, and the Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour. An after Easter trip to the Blue Ridge or Tucson is taking form, as is a possible Trip to the Cascades with Cycling House. I want to ride a 22 mph century and push my season climbing total to 300,000 feet.
After Christmas I’m going for a comprehensive bike fit to fine tune my position on the bike. Gone are the tall stack of spacers on the headset – a lot has changed in my strength and flexibility in the last two years. After all the feedback I’ve gotten about my time trialing ability, I’m saving up for an aero racing frame to make me go faster. The Trek is going to be modified and re-purposed to become my gravel bike. But at the end of the day, it’s not about speed as much as the journey. To that end, I wish you well on yours. Here’s to unexpected joy, childlike faith when the road is challenging, the peace that keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously, and the profound touch of God that keeps it all real.