People often ask me what I think about while riding. Well, the answer depends on the ride, or even the particular part of the ride at any given moment.
During long, tricky, technical descents, there are only two things on my mind. 1: ohmygawd, this is TOTALLY RAD. 2: What do I need to do to not die? Really, that’s about it. You don’t have time for much else.
Much the opposite, when climbing, especially those long, seemingly never ending climbs, my mind races between telling my body things like, “Keep pedaling!” “Keep spinning!” “Cadence!” “Spin to win!!” (with more potty mouth and violent statements directed towards myself, of course) mixed with trying to keep the right song stuck in my head. Which is always an adventure. No matter what songs I listen to while I get ready to ride, it’s always something else that pops in there when the pain actually starts. For example, on yesterdays ride, even after listening to great jams like "Hoosier Love", "Ten in 2010", Miss Alissa, "Indians" and “Aloha Means Goodbye”, the 3 songs I remember actually popping into the noodle were “Karma Chameleon”, “Footloose”, and a plethura of Sousa Marches. WTF?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been climbing and all of a sudden burst out (yes, out loud) with The Bumble Bee Tuna Song. You in the know, you know.
On a side note, I have the same problem with belting out song lyrics that I do with seeing cows. I moo at them before I look around to make sure I’m actually alone. Yes, that has caused me a couple of possibly embarrassing moments in my past. A couple as in several. Several as in nearly every ride. Good thing I don’t mind looking like a complete dork while riding!
Now, the flats are a different world. Those long, never ending, straight, flat roads that take you to the mountains. Or not. This is where your mind can really start to wander. It’s nice to imagine songs, or even run stories through your head in between running through your cycling checklist. But in reality, your mind just floats around from subject to subject, like a kid with ADD at the County Fair.
These subjects can run anywhere from fantasies of your own future, to rehashing memories of your past, to conversations or arguments from earlier in the day or week.
Well, there are a lot of long, flat roads between South San Jose and the beginning of the climb up to Gilroy Hot Springs, so a couple days ago I had a lot of thinking to do. For some reason, I wondered how I got addicted to this long distance, endurance cycling thing in the first place, and my brain flashed back to my first foray into long distance.
Of course, it wasn’t really long distance at all; today I would consider this ride in particular a short, flat, spinning recovery ride. But back then, it was epic. Legendary. Heroic. Larger than life.
It was somewhere between ‘92 and ‘94. I don’t remember, but I do remember a few details. The bike was a Specialized Hard Rock. This was before every mountain bike came with suspension, even front shocks. That sort of thing was only for the extreme high end rigs, and this was not. This was my first transition bike from the BMX bikes of my childhood to the mountain and road bikes of adulthood. So, no shocks, front or rear. Which, on this ride, on this day, helped.
I don’t know why we decided to do this, but a good friend and I decided to go on a ride. It was winter, so it was a bit cold and looked like it might rain. So, I put on hiking boots, jeans, a baseball hat under my helmet, and a flannel shirt over my tee shirt, and we set out.
The idea was to ride from my house in South San Jose to Morgan Hill and back. I think we even had a goal in Morgan Hill, some certain shop or restaurant. Thinking back on it, it was probably Sno White’s Drive In. Remember that place? Me too. Sweet.
Anyway, that was the plan. We filled up our water bottles with Coke and set off. I don’t remember much about heading south towards Morgan Hill, it must have been pretty uneventful. I do remember heading back home. That was the day I figured out that the wind in Coyote Valley is strong and consistent, to say the least. And more often than not, it’s going North to South. Or, more accurately, North-West to South-East. Which set up a perfect headwind for the entire way home.
But that wasn’t enough. Right as we set off from Morgan Hill, the rain came. And stayed. The entire ride home was a constant pelting of wind and rain. It was like getting punched in the face, not over and over, but continuously, for nearly an hour. We took turns drafting on one another, but it didn’t do much good. The poor choice of clothing pretty much stole every amount of hope and promise I had for ever reaching home again. If you’ve ever been stuck in a downpour for 30-45 minutes wearing jeans and a flannel shirt you know what I mean. They soak up water and hold it better than anything I can think of. Vince Shlomi could have made some money.
So, after what seemed like an eternity, we FINALLY arrived in my driveway. We were so soaked and covered in road grit and grime that my mom would not allow us into the house. My friend took off for home, he lived down the street, and I changed in the garage and went in to shower.
During that time sitting in the shower slowly but surely defrosting and recovering from this epic(ly stupid) event, I got to think about what I had just been through. It was frightening. It was the most excruciatingly painful, exhausting, grueling, agonizing thing I had ever put myself through. At times it was depressing, even heartbreaking. It seemed like all hope had vanished. Every pedal stroke felt like the end of the world, like it would be the last one I would ever turn over.
And I learned at that moment that I loved every bit of it.
And for nearly the last 20 years, I’ve been stretching that pain out for longer and longer. I’ve replaced the jeans and flannel for lycra and racing jerseys. I replaced the hiking boots with carbon fiber soled cycling shoes. I’ve replaced the Specialized Hard Rock with a RockHopper Comp, then a StumpJumper FSR XC, then a Performance R-101 (my first road bike), and now a Specialized Tarmac SL3. I’ve replaced the water bottles of Coke with bottles of Hammer Nutrition.
But I haven't replaced the search for epic, painful, exhausting rides. I learned that day not only how to push myself so far beyond the point of painful exhaustion that dying is an option in order to reach a goal, but also that I loved every second of it.
And now that I have this down, it’s time for a ride!