Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bad Habits

Wow. I said "pretty" very frequently in that last entry. Gotta watch that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tuesday Night Throw-Down

I led the group ride last night. Shari's been recruiting volunteers to take over some of her rides. She's been doing it for a long time, and I actually think she said something like "I'm not gonna be around forever!"

I'd ridden the route the day before, carefully noting each turn with the mileage. I learned from previous experience that simply eyeballing a map is bound to lead to confusion. And, hey, it was another chance to ride on a beautiful day.

The riders assembled in the lot, signed in, got cue sheets. I was trying to decide whether to sweep or lead. It looked like a strong group, so I didn't feel too worried if we got a bit strung out on the route.

For some reason, riders are always reluctant to be the first to leave the lot. Why is that? Fear of seeming presumptuous? Or something simpler, like fear of being passed? Anyway, I clicked in and said "let's go." Pretty soon we were rolling down Route 150, and a certain older rider was pulling at a pretty brisk pace. "Some warm-up," someone said as we cruised. I felt good, and it was a pretty big pack.

As I took my turn at the front, I heard other riders behind me chatting. Great, I thought, I literally am leading the ride. Anybody want to help out up here? When do I get to chat? Pretty soon, Tom came to the front, and we rode along and talked. Where are the women tonight? he asked. I dunno, on vacation? So this is what happens when it's all guys, right? We crank up the pace? It was shaping up into some sort of alpha dog showdown or something.

We rolled through Kinderhook, and I pulled out and let the group pass. Good ride leader, right? Keep an eye on everybody. We all looked pretty strong, so no worries. Tom sure did a lot of pulling tonight.

I wasn't sure what to expect from my body tonight, after racing on Saturday. I felt good, and found myself spinning a higher cadence pretty smoothly. I was able to come to the front when the turns approached, and guide everybody through.

Sometimes I feel like it's a fine line between showing off and riding strongly, especially around riders I don't know very well. If a rider sprints ahead, how does that look? I remember that guy a couple weeks ago, on that climb in Malden Bridge. I took the climb at my pace, and he said, "Must be intervals night." No, I'm just doing my thing. Ride within yourself, that's what the cycling sages say. I'm probably just thinking about it too much. But there is much subtle communication within a pack of riders. It really is a very social thing, even if few words are said. I guess that's a subset of that whole "strong, silent type." Maybe my senses are a little sharper, having come off that race. Besides, I enjoy this type of thinking. And, hey, I did loosen up a bit, once I got more comfortable as the "leader." It felt good to show the way, to call out turns, to drop back and survey the group.

The police had set up one of those electronic speed-checkers by the side of the road in North Chatham. I'd sprinted for it the day before, but now, sitting in like third wheel, I felt a bit sheepish about doing it. Rob went for it. He got a late start, but cranked it up pretty good. A bunch of us shouted our encouragement as he hammered away. OK, cool, I'm not the only one who gets excited about little things. It's like being a kid again.

We made it back to the park and ride in under two hours, after riding 37 miles. That's the fastest Tuesday ride that I can recall. A bunch of riders mostly sat in, but, hey, that's fine. We kept a big group together. We had daylight to spare, so there was time for a bit of hobnobbing: I chatted with two guys who had raced on Saturday, and some mountain bikers coming in from the trails across the road. We heard geese overhead, and someone said, "summer's winding down." Still lots of great riding left.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Testing my mettle on the pedals: Saturday's race

The Capital Region Road Race is the largest bicycle race within a 25-mile radius of Albany. Hundreds of riders take over the parking lot at RCHS in Ravena, turning it into a sea of lyrcra, carbon and smooth, chiseled calves. Oh, and some indulgent spouses and friends, too.

I roll in nice and early, so I can nonchalantly assemble my bike and maybe find some friendly faces.

Behind my shades, it’s a different story. I’m nervous. That extra cup of coffee didn’t help, either. I’ve been in a bunch of different races over the past two years (late bloomer, remember?), but I still get some butterflies. I think that’s good, actually. It’s a mix of anticipation and dread. Will I stay with the group? What if I get dropped right away? Will there be a crash? Will I cause a crash? It’s like there’s all this energy that’s not hooked to anything except my mind, which is cranking faster than an LA spin instructor on speed. Hopefully it’ll all fall away once I click in to my pedals. That’s where my energy should be channeled.

I sign in, get my number, make small talk at the Luna tent, get some schwag and good wishes from Jenn, and I’m off to warm up on the quiet local roads. All the riders are giving each other the once-over as we spin along. My mind starts to unwind a bit. I roll up to the rear of the pack that has assembled at the start line. It’s us cat 5s (beginners—always the most popular), some older dudes, and the citizen riders. It’s filled up: 75 riders. The commissaire goes over the rules, and we start the three-mile neutral roll-out. I’m near the back, and the yo-yo effect is happening already. This is the least efficient place to ride, I remind myself, vowing to move up when I can. Riders groan in protest when someone brakes unnecessarily or swerves. Seems like that nervous energy is everywhere, like “let’s start racing already.” After a dead stop at the start line (irony, anyone?) we’re off.

It’s rolling for a few miles, I’m spinning nice and easy, moving up in the pack, sussing out riders as I go. We’re still yo-yo-ing. “The climb’ll break it up,” I tell a rider next to me. Yeah, I think, I’ll be off the back. Just as quickly, I think, yeah you will if you keep thinking like that. Click. Big ring, speed picks up a bit.

Soon enough, we’re at the first climb. Some riders rise out of their saddles, other sit and spin. I’m hanging. The road rises for everyone. Stay loose. A few riders pass me, but I’m in the pack—better than last year.

Whoah. We’re at the top, and I’m not dropped. Let me point out that I don’t have delusions of winning. I just want to ride hard and do my best. As I’m thinking these types of thoughts, the peloton is now a long, thin line. Just like on TV, I think, but it hurts more.

There are more downs and ups, and then we do the hairpin onto Whitbeck. Short and steep. No “suitcase of courage” or “pain bucket” drawn on the road this year—huh? I ask a rider why. “It rained last night,” he says. Oh yeah. Next lap there will be no banter, either.

More down and up, and there’s no more pack. It’s not like the pros, with breakaways, a peloton and stragglers. We’re all strung out, literally, at least as far as I can tell. No expert commentary and dry British wit here, Mr. Liggett. We’re passing Alcove Reservoir, and I catch a couple of riders. One’s a guy on an Olmo, with Campy Record. Number 646. I know all this because I’m centimeters behind him, thankful for the draft. We take turns pulling, but our rotations are rough. Still, I’m grateful. No bile rising in my throat, my heart rate back on the scale. My vision and focus are narrowing.

We hang through the back side of the course, a rolling downhill for a few miles. Things get a little broken up as we near the end of the first lap. Mr. CBRC keeps taking these flyers off the front of our group, then comes limping back. Save it, dude. You’ll need it later.

646 pulls away from me at the bottom of Tracy. I almost say, see you later, thinking I’m dropped for good, but again I catch myself. As my own coach, I say, Toughen up. The road rises just as much for him. I keep him in sight, up Tracy, down Stanton, up Whitbeck again, past the photographer who catches us all in full agony, jerseys unzipped, bikes weaving. Many riders—myself included—will pay for these pictures. Figure that out. Well, it’s something to show Mom. I smile.

Past Alcove, I catch 646 again. His form looks good. I’m behind him for a few clicks before he realizes it. I’ve learned that his cue for me to pull through is just a little nod. What few words have reached me have a distinctly Spanish accent. You know Contador? Indurain? I want to ask, in my oxygen-deprived state. It’s at that point in the race when my mind shuts out nearly everything besides propelling my bike forward at the highest sustainable pace I can.

We make the turn onto Route 32. There’s three of us now. I’m pulling, and we’re gaining on two riders. From their postures, they look like they are out for a casual ride. I reel them in, more slowly than I expected. One of them, in an orange jersey, says convivially, “I’m glad to see you guys!” Wheelsucker, I think immediately. Too happy, too ready to hitch a ride.

Now we are five. Indurain’s brother and I are taking most of the pulls, it seems. I ask a rider on a Cannondale, “Why am I at the front again?” He chuckles, which translates to “chump.”

We turn on to the long faux-plat (hey, indulge me here—cat 5 racing is my humble homage to the greats) and my mind turns a corner as well. Think. I’m midfield, no chance of winning. Yeah, that’s OK. This does feel competitive. Yes, and that feels good. Orange Jersey’s not doing his share. Right. That other guy looks tired. Uh huh. Contador’s uncle is strong. Yup—Whoops! I just buzzed his tire! Stay focused. Hold your line. OK, so it goes like this: five of us come to the last k, and we all struggle up those rollers. Or…

Orange Jersey finally takes a pull. I’m on his wheel. We’re coming to that sharp right. He pulls off. I’m at the front. I see the corner. Take it wide, use the whole road. Weight the outside pedal. Hey, you survived a crit, right? Go a little faster.

I’m through the corner, clicking two cogs higher, out of the saddle, rocking the bike and sprinting with all I have left, after Tracy and Whitbeck times two, after nearly throwing up, and it feels… awesome! My bike and the wind make a beautiful song together. This is so much better than doing intervals on 9J all by myself. This is even better than dueling with Randy on 351. Yes! I go for, what, 20 seconds? Thirty? I look back and see my Spaniard again. I shake my head, thinking it was all for naught. We regroup, but only three of us. So we shook the deadweight. All right! A couple of k’s to go. I slow up, thinking I’ll be the chucklehead towing these two to the line. One guy’s in front of me, 646 behind, and we slow as the road pitches up. Nothing like Whitbeck, but we’re all almost out of gas. We cross the line in that order, to a light rain of applause from other riders and spectators.And it’s over.

It’s over. Now I’m aware of my heaving chest, the salty sweat coating my face and arms, the sting in my quads. “Good race,” I say to 646, and coast down the road. Later, in the parking lot, I see him recounting his experience to his buddies. He’s gesturing intensely, explaining how he worked with other riders. I spot him, and say, yeah, that was me. “We did all the work,” he says.

A small victory. I rode faster than 15 others, but 24 rode faster than me.

A shout into the electronic wilderness

Late bloomer. That’s me. In a lot of areas in my life. So why not start a blog? Weren’t they the rage, the new thing, about two years ago? Probably longer. I remember my students talking about them. (I remember thinking that some of them were probably doing more writing online than in school.) These kids are halfway through college now.

And I’m starting my blog.

I want to get back into the habit of writing regularly about anything and everything that interests me. And, there’s at least the potential for an audience.

Writing this way feels a bit strange. I’m always telling my students to plan, to think of writing as a process. Dump your thoughts out onto the page, step back, then try to shape them into something coherent. Rambling, stream-of-consciousness writing tends to be as meaningful as a lump of unformed clay, I’d reason. I’m not ready to let go of that idea completely, but I may loosen up a bit.

I told myself I’d write a song today. I have a title and an idea of the subject. Someone told me to come up with a cool riff. Good advice. Words on a page don’t make a song, even if you label them “verse” and “chorus.”

I haven’t even played guitar at home much recently. Too focused on my bike, and silly little home projects. I need to sit down and strum away, sing some other people’s songs and get my fingers and mind a bit loose. Then we’ll see what happens.

I’m used to being the teacher. If you’re reading this—god help you—feel free to take on that role. Or any other, for that matter.

OK, first blog entry, ever. Done.

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