Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Tale of Two Rides

On Monday it was neither raining, nor too hot. Perfect riding weather. My schedule, however, lent itself to errands, and one stop led to another. I soon found myself in the belly of the beast: Crossgates Mall. I had to venture in to get the battery replaced in my heart-rate monitor that I use while cycling. It tells me useful things, like "you're barely working," "you're sort of working," and "whoa, you're at about 90%, bro." By the time I'd stopped to browse at the phone-accessory kiosk, I knew that artificial lighting and smarmy mall-air had nearly gotten to me. "Need any help?" the young man asked. Yes. I quickly came to my senses and broke out, determined to ride the next day.

I rode to my allergist's on Tuesday, to get two shots of the things that make me sneeze. The hope is that after about five years of weekly needle sticks, I won't be as allergic to these things. I've concluded that Albany is not very bike-friendly, something I'd written in my ride journal but must have forgotten. Washington Avenue sucks, no matter what time of day it is.

The nurse, prepping the twin syringes, noticed my helmet. Assuming a tone of surprise and slight disapproval, she asked, "You rode your BIKE here?" I replied, "yes." More questions, inflected just a tad higher: "From where? Where did you leave the bike?" I'd ridden a whopping four miles. "Downtown... There's a bike rack in front of this building." Slight pause. "Oh." One needle. The other needle.

I want to practice what I preach. I want to use my bike for short errands. I like leaving my car parked. I just wish it was easier, and safer. It's a fact that cyclists are safer when there are more of us. (Holland is the best example.) But it's just not enjoyable riding down Washington Avenue, especially when it widens and speeds increase by the SUNY campus. There are no alternative routes that are any better. There's the perception problem as well: the nurse's attitude is not unusual. It's part of the car culture. The cycling idealists will say that one more bike will make a difference. This rider may not see that difference for a long time.

Ride number two: club ride out of Schodack, 5 pm, with the regular crew. We rolled out and quickly got up to cruising speed, south on Route 150. Ah, that's better. Sure, a tight pack of cyclists has its dangers, but we're all competent and aware riders--and we're more easily noticed by drivers. We even get positive attention at times: waves, thumbs up, that sort of thing.

Dennis led the way, with his cue sheet clipped to the bars. We dropped down to 9J for some easy rolling along the river. Gary took a huge pull, and I was next in line, just before the route turned left and climbed. Oh, great. Just like on TV, those who'd been sitting in moved to the front as Gary and I felt the burn up the first substantial hill. Two rights and we were descending the ridge we'd just climbed.

This climb-and-descend pattern continued, and I wondered aloud what our normally mild-mannered ride leader had been thinking. Then again, I'd wanted a hard ride. My legs burn, sure, but I don't think of it as pain, and certainly not as suffering. I like riding with a group, measuring my progress, and seeing how my body and mind respond to the shifts in terrain. This all clicks on an emotional level as well, with the ups and downs, the group dynamics, the periods of effort and recovery. It's life. The road rises for everyone.

The ride went from hilly to rolling, with riders splitting up and regrouping as the evening unfolded. Unsure if a county-line sprint was happening, I went for it--and got it, as a rider behind me groaned. I told him, hey, I got that sprint, but I'm no king of the mountains tonight.

I seemed to get stronger as the ride continued. Proper hydration, terrain changes, good mojo, cooler temps? Who knows. We all got back safely, kibbitzed about club rides, pro races, travel, the coming school year. Two rides in one day. One practical, both necessary.

May you rise with the road.

A Letter to My Students

I don’t say it enough, but I care about you. Each of you. That’s why I’m here. It’s too much work to do it for the money, so there must be ...