Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Naked Stem

61 degrees Fahrenheit. Calm wind. I'm planning on riding today for about twenty-three to twenty-five miles, or so. I've got about an hour before I can leave, and the ride I'm planning will be mostly flat, with only about 407 feet of elevation gain. In other words, this will be an easy ride and that's exactly what I need today.

Moments ago, I spent about seven minutes and removed the computer from the old bike, just like I promised myself I would. And, this ride today is going to be on the old bike. It's amazing how hard it is to get two sided tape itself and the subsequent residue off of aluminum, but it's all gone now, the computer sensors, mounts, o-rings, magnets, etc. stored away in my top desk drawer in my office with all my other bike stuff odds and ends.

When I was rubbing the residue off the top of my stem, it dawned on me that I can't even remember the last time I rode a bike with a naked stem like that. It looks pretty darned sleek. It looks pretty darned naked. Thin and aero. Retro, yet modern.

The Shimano Dura-Ace HS-7200 quill stem is not seen often in these modern times of integrated 1 1/8" headsets, in fact it's becoming quite uncommon to see quill stems at all on road bikes any more. But, what a beautiful design. The one on the old bike is one of the newer older ones, probably from 1982 to 1983, when Shimano was moving from the Dura-Ace 7200 to Dura-Ace 7400 era, which in my mind, is the high water mark for bicycle componentry and technological advance. It is the era that spelled the end of the dominance of down-tube shifters, ushered in index shifting and integrated shifter and brake levers to the masses.

Around that time, Shimano 600 became Shimano Ultegra, and the Dura-Ace HS-7200 was the last of a breed of components that resembled works of art as much as they functioned as superb mechanical components. This is the stem with the hidden clamp bolt. Ingenious and beautiful. All stems of this era were manufactured for Shimano by Nitto, which did, and still does, a superb job of manufacturing stems and bars in Japan.

When I took the computer base off this stem of mine on the old bike, I saw the beauty of that stem again. I had forgotten how classic, how noble, how sleek it looked, and how obvious the craftsmanship is that was poured into that stem by someone almost thirty years ago that really cared about what they were doing. That stem, that beauty and craftsmanship, has been there all the time I've been riding the old bike, it's just that I forgot it was there as I was busy measuring things that don't really matter, and busy trying to measure things that aren't really measurable when riding the old bike.

So today, I'm going to go riding for a while, and I'm going to be admiring the beauty and craftsmanship of that old stem on the old bike again for the first time. I'm going to be looking at it a lot and not just to admire it either, but because almost three thousand miles of riding the old bike over the past year has trained me to look there. It has trained me to look there to see how my cadence is doing, to see how fast I am riding, to see how far I have come, to see how far I have to go and to see what my computer has been telling me about my riding, about my trips and about myself.

I don't know what looking at my stem is going to tell me today. I won't find any data there. I won't see any flashing little arrows or squares egging me on to not waste my time on the bike. I won't find my speed or my cadence or my time or the time there. Maybe the goal today will be to simply enjoy the ride. To simply admire the beauty of one of the few remaining days of fall that won't be a little too cold. To see some leaves and smell some fireplace smells as I ride along not knowing my cadence or speed or time or the time. Maybe that's the idea. Maybe just enjoying the beauty of the day and the beauty of the old bike is the idea after all. Today when I look down at my stem, I'm going to be admiring the artistry and craftsmanship of a beautiful component manufactured almost thirty years ago by someone who cared about what they were doing. It mattered to them, and it matters to me. And I think that is going to be OK.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What To Measure?

58 miles yesterday, with almost 17 miles of climbing (that's 29.30% of the total miles) over three climbs. Two climbs reached average grades of 9% and sandwiched between them was one climb reaching a 6% average. Since I am a hill-slug, it took me four hours and forty-seven minutes to accomplish this epic ride. My average speed was 12.14 mph with an average cadence of 71 rpm. Top speed for the ride reached 47.54 mph. And, there was some rain, sleet and a tiny sprinkling of snow and then finally a good steady rain that made me decide to cut the ride a bit shorter than planned.

When I reached the reservoir up the canyon, it was raining hard enough for the fishermen to be packing up and leaving, and since I could see my breath, I decided to head back down the canyon too. It got cold gliding down the 1356 feet I had just ascended, and in the wet the leaves on the road weren't crunching anymore but thankfully they did lessen the rooster tail spray coming off the rear wheel and skunk-stripping my back. I wondered how my face got a little pink on my nose and cheeks, because I didn't really see any sun all day. Maybe it was the cold. Or the wind. Or the windy cold. And, the cold, wet ride back down the canyon made me even more grateful for my wife; a wife that sees the wisdom in having the right mix of colder weather gear and springs for it on your birthday and holidays. I love my wife.

I got out of the canyon and realized that even down here the weather had turned colder and the wind had picked up substantially. It was now a strong wind from dead north and quite cutting and cold. I had no way to measure the wind speed, but it felt like 20 mph and was slowing me down noticeably. Unfortunately, my whole ride back home was going to be spent struggling against this wind and I looked up to visually measure the last hill of the day. 3.99 miles and 1058 feet of ascent and all pushing this wind. I decided to keep my rain jacket on and the cap under my helmet too and only stop and take them off before I started the climb proper.

Right before turning right and heading straight north against the bitter wind, and straight up the climb, I stopped and took an hour of paid time off from work. Thank goodness for windows phones. I had taken another visual measure of the hill and a physical measure of the wind, felt the cold and the fatigue in my legs and shoulders and lower back and realized that I was probably going to be getting home later than planned, and probably wouldn't be at work on time either.

Without the jacket and the cap, the wind was biting even harder, cutting through my arm warmers and jersey, evaporating the sweat that was there and taking things to another level of cold. It looked like the sun had about an hour's life left, but it was hard to tell with the slate grey sky that gets that way from just bringing a rub of storm clouds down close to the ground. I wondered if I was in store for more rain, and the wind had already dried me out and thoroughly cooled me down.

Once heading straight north and up, the bitter wind intensified. It was no longer pushing me back and slowing me down, it was now fighting me, howling in mockery and bitterly cold. It was pushing so hard against my efforts that I couldn't hold the bike in a straight line and I hoped I wouldn't stray into an overtaking side-view mirror. It wasn't steady either, instead gusting frequently like punches, as if rushing down this hill made it want to frolic and play even more. I used every gear I had and wished I had another as I ground my way up the hill fighting gravity and the force of nature.

It takes a bit of time to go 3.99 miles at around 4.5 mph, so I had plenty of time to think. As I watched my cadence, I was amazed at how few revolutions per minute I could actually eek out without tipping over. It felt like with only one or two more percent of grade, the pedal strokes would stop and I would be laying on the ground wondering if I had scratched anything on my bike. There's only a few songs that echo around in my head when I ride, and since I only know a few verses and parts of the chorus, its a pretty monotonous concert to myself. Fortunately the message is always a good one.

When you're going up a hill and the wind is whipping down, it gets accelerated along smartly by the road cuts, ravines and any other funneling device it can find in order to conspire against you. I settled in to the uncomfortable grind and pushed and pushed and pushed. I could feel the lactic acid building up in my legs, in spite of my slow cadence. Sweat was dripping off my nose and chin, and I was amazed by that in the cold and wind. This was hard work. And cold.

I remember this climb well. I've been up the front and back side of this hill many times. The back side is easier - 1.01 fewer miles and 450 less feet of ascent. I like the back side a lot better, except when I don't. And, today I don't. It feels twice as long and twice as steep as normal with the bitter wind conspiring with my enemy gravity. My legs are hurting. I'm wondering why I go on rides like this. Why do I need to tackle 4580 feet of ascent, especially on a day that is this cold and windy? I spit and realize I can't feel my lips any more.

I remember climbing this hill on the old bike and I am grateful that today I'm on the new(er) bike. Gearing is my friend, and while it hurts going up this hill no matter what bike I'm on, somehow the hurting is a little more sufferable on this bike. My last ride on the old bike, there was only 1050 feet of elevation gain and nothing over a 6% average grade, and that was hard enough. The old bike is an old bike. The frameset is from 1995 and all of the components are the Dura-Ace 7400/7402/7403/7410 series from the late 80's early 90's. The old bike is 100% alloy and "heavy" at 20 lbs. The old bike has a standard crank and a 12/23 HG90 cassette. It is hard for me to pedal the old bike up hills.

I love the old bike. From a distance of three feet, it looks almost brand new. Closer and you can spot the use. I call it my museum piece - my tribute to Shimano Dura-Ace and William "Bill" Lewis of the Quattro Assi brand. For some, it IS about the bike, and for those kinds of cyclists, there is a level of appreciation bordering on awe when they admire this bike. I can't ride it around other cyclists without receiving compliments and it is a pleasure to have it out on a ride. The precision and crispness is amazing and it feels like a brand new machine.

The last time I rode the old bike the computer stopped working. It still measures cadence, but the battery in the other sensor died and I finished the last half of my ride without data. That bothered me. Then I wondered if I should just take the computer off the old bike and when I ride it, just ride it for the simple and plain enjoyment of riding? What do I really need data for anyway? What am I really trying to measure on the old bike?

Do I really need to know that I put 2,859 miles on the old bike this year? Does that matter? Do I really need to know that my all time top speed on a seventeen year old bike with tires less than an inch wide is just a tick over 57 mph? Does that matter? What am I really trying to measure on the old bike? Can my computer tell me if I'm improving as a cyclist? Does that data mean more than my wife telling me that my legs are looking really good. I love my wife. That's good feedback! Can a computer measure how hard it was the first time I rode up a false flat and had to use the small ring and the 25 tooth cog? Can a computer remember that I couldn't even walk up three steps from the garage to the kitchen without taking a breather when I got out of the hospital right before Thanksgiving two years ago? Can a computer measure the cramp in my leg bicep I got while doing that?

What am I trying to accomplish on the old bike and does a computer help me do that? Is it measureable? Is a computer going to give me an extra minute or two, an extra week or two, or an extra year or two on my lifespan? My baby is eleven months old and when he's 21, I'll be 70. My bike will help me get there, but can a computer measure that on my old bike? Can it measure the feelings or sensations of a great ride? Or a hard ride? Or skipping a ride?

Can a computer measure how delighted my kids are when I return safely from a ride on the old bike? Or how my baby likes to eat and will eat anything he finds or that I feed him. Can it measure how much he likes to play with my hat or turn the crank on my bike when it sits in the stand in my office? Or how much fun it is for him, or how messy it is for me, when he grabs the chain or the crank or the cogs? Can it measure the fact that I've seen him standing now a few times, but only for a bit, and how I haven't seen him walk yet but I'm sure that he has? What am I really measuring on my old bike and why is it important?

Is riding the old bike about miles, time, average speed, current or average cadence? Does it make the ride on the old bike any more enjoyable, or painful, or prettier or anything when I know that data? And how about the new(er) bike? Has knowing that I've ridden the new bike 2,028 miles since I built it (thanks Laketown Bicycles) this spring make those miles any better than they would have been without knowing them?

I've spent 136 hours riding the new bike around this season, up and down hills, against and with headwinds, around the city, in the country, up and down the canyons, and even in the ball field parking lot doing sprints near my house when I'm real short on time. I've spent 191 hours riding the old bike doing the same thing. That's 327 hours this year riding my bikes. That's 13.625 days worth of time. Almost two weeks. Is a computer going to make that two weeks even better? Any better? Is a computer going to make sure that I get that investment back on the tail end of my lifespan?

No wonder my wife asks me "how long are you going to ride this time?" every time I go out. I love my wife. Does she have a computer that is measuring whether or not the time away from her and the family is going to be worth the time away from her and the family? Can a computer measure that? Is that two weeks so far this year going to mean an extra two weeks when we are growing old together? Or an extra two years of growing old together? Or a decade?

As I top the hill in the windy cold, dripping with sweat, greatful that I'm on the new bike and not the old bike, and stop to put back on my cap and rain jacket, I decide that I'm going to take the computer off the old bike. It doesn't really "fit" on the old bike. It doesn't really measure what's important on the old bike. I'm going to keep it though, just in case I decide later that I want to put it back on after I buy a new battery for the sensor. But, I'm going to take it off the old bike. I have decided that the things that are important when I am riding the old bike, the computer can't really measure anyway.

I notice that at the top of this hill, it seems less windy than it was coming up this brutal hill. And, once I'm ready to go and glide down the 1508 feet over the next five miles of descent, I realize that the wind, while still blowing pretty good, might be calm enough to really reach some good speed on the way down. Yes, I'm definitely going to take the computer off the old bike I decide as I clip in and quickly shift down the cassette to the 11 tooth cog.

Five miles go by pretty quick at over 40 mph. The descent is over much too soon, the gusty wind and bitter cold and steady rain long and quickly forgotten. With a numb face and salty tear streaked eyes and cheeks at the stoplight at the bottom of the hill, I quickly scroll through the computer on my new bike as I wait in line with traffic for the light to change for my left turn to head home. Six miles to go and 47.54 mph on the way down. Somehow knowing that has suddenly made this descent, these hills and climbs and other descents on this 58 mile ride seem just a little bit better, a little more special. I scroll through again. 47.54 mph with a headwind and traffic.

When I get home and put the new bike in it's stand in my office, I look over at the old bike hanging from the ceiling. I look at the computer that is still on the old bike and pop of the head unit. I scroll through the data - look at the measurements - remember my last ride on the old bike. I put the head unit back on and remember that I decided, while grinding my way up that last hill against a killer headwind with sweat dripping and with my thighs screaming mercy, that I am going to take it off the old bike. And, I am going to take it off the old bike. I am.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Recovery Ride

There is that little nagging voice, in a very quiet tap tap tapping on the back of my helmet. This is a "recovery ride" and it's supposed to be easy. Real easy. I have read somewhere that if it's a recovery ride, and it doesn't feel like it's super way too easy, then you are doing it all wrong. Well, this is a recovery ride and it feels like it is super way too easy. I keep trying to tell myself that if it feels way to easy, then I am doing it right. And that quiet, nagging voice keeps tapping on my helmet, telling me that I am wasting my time on the bike right now. I'm doing it wrong. Quiet, soft, nagging, tapping - like a dripping faucet, or a ticking clock when you desperately don't want to hear anything. I am wasting my time.

I look down at my cassette. Five from the top. 19 teeth on that cog. That should equate to about 16 mph. Tired cyclists are always looking down at their cassette, as if that will give them an excuse, or justify how they are feeling. You see it at all levels. But I'm not tired. I feel like I'm barely working here. I look down at my cassette again. A habit formed from being tired on the bike a lot. I wonder what I am trying to find down there? Is there, down at my cassette, some way to mute that nagging, tapping, quiet voice that is telling me I'm doing this all wrong, that I'm wasting my time on the bike?

My mind wanders back to the Marine Corps. It's 1985 again, and it's my first time being selected for patrol instead of a post. B Company is guarding the Naval Magazine in Subic Bay, and instead of standing at a post for four hours every eight hours for seven straight days, this time I get to wander around the jungle with three other squad members looking for intruders and I am excited. All my gear is ready. Live ammo. Weapon spotless. And, it's raining hard and humid. We are dropped off in the dark, and drop into the jungle, our mission tonight: go to the coastline, recon north for seven miles until we can just spot Papa 32 and sit the evening out watching the coast for banca boats trying to infiltrate the Naval Magazine. Unfortunately, I'm the newb so I get to carry the radio. It is Christmas Eve.

I look down at my cassette again. I'm trying to do this recovery ride right and now I'm on the 22 tooth cog trying to make this ride feel way too easy. 16 mph on a flat, smooth road and a cadence of 90. That little quiet voice keeps tapping on my helmet and makes me look down at my cassette again. Very very easy and nothing has changed. And still I feel this overwhelming sense of urgency to not waste my time on the bike so I check the bend in my arms and correct that to the proper angle. I check my pedal stroke and smooth that out to gentle circles. Pedal in circles, not squares. To not waste my time on the bike, I decide to work on my pedal stroke and arm angles for the whole ride. It will require constant focus and I look down at my cassette again.

As soon as we dropped down into the triple canopy jungle the rain stopped even as it was still coming down. I'm not sure how you can increase something that is already at 100%, but it got twice as humid and twice as wet and twice as dark as when we could feel the rain and the ground was a damp, weird kind of muddy that was hard and slow to walk in. Right away there were these little piles everywhere like stalagmites in a cave, not more than a foot or so tall. Water buffalo droppings? Droppings from a wild boar? We steered around them as we alternated walking over bare, muddy ground and chopping our way through all manner of plants, vines and bamboo. We had three miles to the shore line, and it was slow going.

Heading north into a headwind, I check the bend in my elbows and correct them again, trying to find a position for my hands on the hoods that makes everything feel just right. I make sure I have a quiet upper body. No motion at all. I make sure I'm pedalling in circles. I look down at my cassette again wanting to mute that tapping nagging that I am wasting my time on the bike. There is a headwind and 25 teeth on the cog and 12 mph. I'm thinking about last year when I went out to Miller Motorsports Park to watch the professionals riding in the Tour of Utah compete in the race of truth. One of the last guys out of the box was Levi Leipheimer and my respect for him grew immensely over the span of about five minutes as I watched him wait for his turn to start.

In comparison to the other riders that I had just spent the last two hours watching as they started, Levi was a study in focus. He sat quietly like a coiled spring, looking down most of the time, and it was obvious he was regulating his breathing. He was still and quiet, and it was obvious he was intensely thinking about what was coming up on the bike. He was focused like a laser beam.

As he got closer to his time up, it seemed to me that he got more and more nervous. But it was nervous in a good way - bridled and under control - like a spring getting wound tighter and tighter. There was no jovial chit chat, no laughing and goofing around, nothing extraneous about him at all. Just a laser beam focus and more intense effort to regulate his breathing. That impressed me. He was taking this serious and was obviously going to give this his absolute best effort. I was amazed.

After that I started watching him race when I could find it on television. I started paying attention to his riding. What I noticed was a perfect angle on the elbows. A perfect angle that never wavered. Never changed. I noticed a smoothness to his efforts on the bike. I noticed his absolutely quiet upper body, no matter the circumstance or level of effort.

What before I found boring, I now found fascinating. What a stoic rider. What a study in discipline and control. What a study of how to ride smoothly. I look down at my cassette. 19 teeth and 16 mph. That quiet nagging voice is still there tapping my helmet. Again, I check the bend in my elbows and make a correction, calm my upper body and smooth my pedal stroke into circles. I wonder how long I had been pedaling in squares - how much of this ride have I wasted with the wrong elbow bend.

As we move closer to the coast line the stalagmite piles on the ground are getting taller. Soon it's obvious that no animal in the jungle could drop these, but insects could build them. The ground is wetter with every step and the mud makes it's way into the boots which doesn't really matter because everything is so wet. It doesn't take long for blisters to form on my thumb and knuckles. Hacking bamboo with a bolo knife is hard work and my shoulders are burning. When we finally find the coastline, we find the rain again and feel a hot clinging breeze that climbs it's way into our nostrils with it's salty wet garbage smell.

Seven miles along the coastline feels like seven hundred. There is no place to walk. We end up in the ocean, trying hard not to break our ankles on the rocks that are everywhere you want to take a step. I have never been so wet or fallen over so many times. I am amazed that the radio still works and wonder if our weapons would should the need arise. Over and over falling down, hitting shins, forearms and elbows on rocks and boulders of every size, and finally there is Papa 32, one hundred feet up in the air and about a mile away. This is where we will spend the night.

When I turn east with my elbows at the perfect angle and pedaling in circles, I'm going on a very slight downhill. I look at my cassette. 15 teeth on that cog and 25 mph. When I turn south it levels out and it's back to 22 teeth. 15 mph. That little nagging tapping is telling me it's too easy at the same time I'm trying to make it feel like it's too easy. Well, south means a tailwind today so I look down at my cassette and find myself alternating between 19 and 17 teeth, between 16 and 20 mph. And then that little arrow catches my eye. At 20 mph it's pointing up. At 16 mph it's pointing down. At 17 mph, it's a little square or pointing down. I realize that I'm close to averaging 18 mph on a recovery ride just as I notice that my arms are straight and I'm pedaling in squares. I look down at my cassette as I correct the bend in my elbows and smooth out the circles of my pedal stroke.

It doesn't take long to realize that we are not going to see any intruders out here on the rocks tonight. Everything we have is wet, so we find the most comfortable boulders we can and kick back to watch the water. The radio still works and now it's off my back and out of my pack. There's a burning pinch at the base of my neck between my shoulder blades from carrying the pack, gear and radio through the jungle and down the coastline. There is also beef stew or chicken-ala-king or something, crackers and jelly and an orange nut cake from an MRE for dinner on Christmas Eve. The pouch of fruit cocktail is ripped open and propped on a rock so the rain can quickly rehydrate the freeze dried contents right before it tips over and the contents dribble down a boulder and into the ocean.

When I turn west, I'm on that little 2 to 3% incline that almost always means I'm heading home. It doesn't feel too easy now and the nagging voice has stopped whispering. I can feel a little tiny twinge of lactic acid in the tops of my quads and I look down at my cassette. 25 teeth and 13 mph. For the first time on this recovery ride, I notice my breathing. I'm watching that arrow. It is pointing down. That little down arrow is egging me on. Down down down. That little tapping voice is back, louder now saying down down down. Mentally I fight back remembering that this is a recovery ride and it's suppose to feel way too easy. I check the elbows and smooth the circles and quiet my upper body. I slow my cadence to 80 and look at my cassette. 25 teeth and 12 mph. The arrow is pointing down.

It's almost three in the morning (or oh-three-hundred) and we sing some Christmas carols in the rain while we sit on the boulders on the shoreline. It seems we all know a lot of first verses to a lot of different songs and soon find ourselves struggling to come up with any we haven't already sung. On a radio check, we are asked if we have seen Santa and his sleigh and we acknowledge "affirmative" we believe we may have but it was hard to tell in the rain. We take turns sleeping. When it's my turn to watch, it becomes obvious that if you stare in one place long enough, and it doesn't take very long, you start to see things that aren't really there, just like they taught us. So I spend my awake time in the rain practicing watching in a figure eight pattern amazed at how good my night vision is. In the morning there is nothing to pack up because nothing was unpacked so we put the packs on and head over to Papa 32, tripping and toppling on the boulders and rocks on the shoreline, our ankles, shins and elbows sore from the night before.

When I turn south again it's mostly that very slight downhill with a tailwind and I look at my cassette. 15 teeth and 24 mph, but pretty soon I'm spinning that out and that little arrow is pointing up. Up up up. I think about 18 mph. Is that average too fast for a recovery ride? I look at the arrow. I look at my cassette. 13 teeth and 27 mph. My elbows are good. My upper body is still. I am pedaling circles. I get in the drops. The little arrow is pointing up. My quads have that little twinge of lactic acid even while going slightly downhill. I look at my cassette. 12 teeth and 29 mph. I flick my right hand. 11 teeth and 31 mph. The road is level, but there's a tailwind. I want to see how long I can hold this around 30 mph on this way too easy recovery ride. There is enough ride left to average 18 mph. I fix the bend in my elbows and concentrate on smooth circles at a cadence of 86. The little arrow is pointing up.

As we head for our pick up at Papa 32 our squad leader smashes the business end of a bolo knife down on the base of his thumb while chopping on some bamboo. The bleeding and the pouring rain and the mud and the screaming conspire to make quite a mess and we quickly realize this is going to be an emergency and radio for help. The squad leader is in shock as he is crawling around looking for his thumb and we sit him down and take his pack. We start looking for his thumb too and then realize it is down his sleeve and still attached by the thinnest piece of gristle so we wrap his hand and take turns carrying him, his pack and weapon to Papa 32.

The blood and the mud and the rain make a messy hard time even harder. This is one of those times where hurrying is really slowing us down and he is losing a lot of blood and quickly getting to the point of needing a lot of help. I'm thinking I've never carried something so heavy so far as I'm carrying my squad leader this morning. The burning pinch at the base of my neck between my shoulder blades becomes a roaring fire and I think my head is going to pop off. It feels like I have a pitch fork stuck in my back at the base of my neck and my legs are screaming with pain.

I look down at my cassette, this time because I am getting tired. 12 teeth 26 mph and I flick my right hand again. 13 teeth 26, 25 then 24 mph. My legs are burning with a good burn of working one hard, not too hard, but I know the speed is winding down and when I turn west again I will lose the tailwind as I find the 2 to 3% incline for the next two miles. I check my elbows, smooth my circles and get up on the hoods. I look at the little arrow. My recovery ride has morphed into something else. Something with a goal. 18 mph. I hear that nagging, soft, tapping voice again, clearer this time though. I turn west and shift up the cassette. 19 teeth and 16 mph. 22 teeth and 15 mph. I watch that arrow pointing down and forget to bend my elbows. My upper body starts to move a little bit, rocking a little bit in time to my pedal stroke. My circles get a little more square and my quads start to burn a little bit more. That quiet, nagging voice isn't as quiet. The tap tap tapping becomes a little more insistent. I look down at my cassette, not wanting to waste my ride. My quads are burning. I look down at my cassette because I'm tired.

I'm watching that little arrow. It keeps pointing down. I look at my cassette and I am breathing harder now. I check my elbows, try to calm my upper body. 19 teeth on the cog and 16 mph. The little arrow is pointing down. The tap tap tapping on my helmet is back, that quiet nagging voice is quietly nagging me. Don't waste your time on the bike. I glance at the little arrow and it is pointing down. I find myself riding south again - tailwind and flat as I look at my cassette. 19 teeth and 17 mph and I decide to push it a little more. 17 teeth and 19 mph. I glance at the little arrow and it is pointing up. My legs are burning in circles and my elbows forget to bend correctly as my upper body rocks slightly in time with my squared off circles of pedal strokes. I flick my right hand. 15 teeth and 20 mph. 21 mph. 22 mph. I look at the little arrow and it is pointing up. The tailwind is gone as I out run it. My quads are burning now and I am breathing hard. I look down at my cassette because I am tired. 15 teeth and 21 mph. 22 mph. 23 mph. The little arrow is pointing up and I look down at my cassette.

When I get home I hold off braking till the last possible second, trying not to scrub off my average speed. Once stopped, I reflect on this easy "recovery" ride after scrolling through my computer while the smouldering embers of lactic acid in my quads dies down. Average cadence 86. 16.81 miles. 54 minutes and some change. Top speed 31.29 mph. Average speed 18.46 mph. That quiet, nagging voice is right there tapping and now I can hear it clearly over the pulse thumping in my ears. I look down at my cassette as beads of sweat drip from my nose to splatter and stain my top tube and I can hear exactly what that quiet voice is saying: "A day without pushing yourself is a wasted day." I scroll back to the average speed. 18.46 mph. Again, I hear that quiet voice: "A day without pushing yourself is a wasted day," and I realize it's Gunnie Bartlett, tap tap tapping on my helmet and telling me the exact same thing that he told me when he tapped on my helmet that muddy, wet and bloody Christmas morning in the Marine Corps back in 1985 when he picked us up at Papa 32.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wedding Bells

So, the last time I rode my bike, it really dawned on me that my oldest daughter, Darci, is getting married. It is beginning to sink in, especially since we discussed having a wedding cake made out of Ho-Hos and other Hostess type treats. I had originally found out (she called and told me) on August 7th, and that evening I was hard at work hardly working and posted some thoughts on Facebook. I really love cycling, even recycling, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share them again here:

My daughter is getting married. I found out last night. I can't say that I was surprised, and I am happy for her and Josh. I was and still am kind of at a loss for words. I'm a little scared for her, because I know how hard being married can be, even if you have the most wonderfullest spouse on the planet. I don't feel like Im "letting go" because I feel like I "let go" a long time ago. I guess I am just hoping that I have been a good enough dad and Dawn a good enough mom that somehow that helps.

I find myself thinking about a lot of memories now. I guess I'm melancoly. I remember Darci's short modeling career. Her running down Cole Road barefoot on a snowy day as I drove back from the mall (she was looking for me). Her and Brian rolling out of the driveway in their car seats and backing into the neighboors tree across the street. Going to Moxie Java and hanging out. All the hikes and trips and swimming at the Greenwell Inn in Price.

The balloon ride on her 8th birthday. Going to Lagoon. Riding her bike. Riding in my backpack. Mall walking. Walking on the river parkway. Camping. The struggles in school. Trying to learn how to count money (quarters even!). Christmas in New Mexico when Santa Claus came. A closeness that grew slowly and gradually into a distance that became and still is uncomfortable.

I remember Easter in Bryce Canyon. The constant driving for Dawn back and forth to Tooele. The cloud factory. If you give a mouse a cookie. Getting her ears pierced, multiple times. Slumber parties with Bullfrogs and Butterflies. AWANA. All the coulda woulda shouldas that I didn't. How much Sami looked like Darci when they were very little. The surprise that she was coming in 9 months. How much she liked popcorn before she could really walk. The helpless feeling of watching her grow up.

I remember the Googies and the Googie Woods. I remember the trips out on the boat. I remember her doing the dishes (not very well). I remember her moving back to Kuna. I remember her hoarding food? I remember Dawn and you hiking out of Horseshoe Canyon.

I remember "Where the Sidewalk Ends." I remember feeling like I was going to explode trying to teach you how to read. I remember sledding in the snow, and hunting for Christmas trees. I remember telling you that "If I'm late, I'm dead."

I remember taking you trick or treating, and how it always seemed to rain and be super cold. I remember you going to San Francisco with Dawn, and how you felt like you were such big stuff then.

I remember you coloring Easter eggs and helping bake cookies. I remember feeling that you never had enough clothes or socks or underwear. I was glad that you weren't too trendy and didn't turn into a video game addict. I was glad when it turned out that you loved to read. I remember taking you to Pioneer Bible Camp. I remember taking you and the boys to Sonic Drive In. I remember showing you the Grand Canyon.

I remember you writting your name on the wall with a crayon. It was Dabic. And still is. I remember buying you a Bible, and hoping you would read it. I remember wishing you could live somewhere other than Kuna, and that your world could have been just a little bit bigger. I remember that doll that was so expensive and how the boys cut her hair. I remember you holding a really big snake and riding a roller coaster with me for your first time.

I remember "go for the gusto"

I remember always wondering what you think of me. I remember making many mistakes and hoping you didn't pick up or pick up on them. I remember how much love my mom had for you. I remember you in Tilley Time...ugh. I remember holding you in my arms when you were a baby and wondering how I could live up to this.

I remember not being able to teach you how to drive, or help you get your license. I remember the hand squeezing thing, 1234,123,12, SQUEEEEEZZZZ! I remember you graduating. Going to the circus and drag races (sorry I bored you). Lagoon day. I remember how blue your eyes were when you were little. And holding Zac in the hospital - my favorite picture.

I remember camping at Wasatch Mountain State Park and it snowed and the tent caved in. Then dressing up and riding the Heber Creeper. Spelling words and reading in the car, because we spent so much time there back and forth to school. And how, no matter what, you think I'm a great dad.

I remember having a little baby picture of you taped up on the register at the Orange Julius. I remember making dog food for you to eat one night, because you were always complaining about my gourmet meals. And teaching you how to skip rocks in the water. And looking at petroglyphs and pictographs and trying to teach you the difference between the two. And hiking down Jones Hole. And Fisher Towers. And Negro Bill Canyon. And looking at dinosaur footprints at Red Fleet State Park.

And thinking you were way to old for Bullfrogs and Butterflys. And, then being glad when you weren't.

I remember shooting you off my shoulders in the swimming pool, and that you were first to learn how to swim. I remember you always wanted to wear goggles. I remember that you were the only kid that the water backpack actually fit on. I remember that I was really gonna learn how to braid hair and use pretty bows and ponys, but I never did. I remember painting your fingernails. I remember when you first drank coffee.

I remember that blue/daisey bean bag chair and how the cat always peed on it. I remember when we got your hair cut short. And when we colored it. I remember Dawn helping you a lot with math and other school stuff. I remember how you were/are a GREAT daughter to Dawn - she couldn't ask for more. I remember how I wished you could be more like me, and now I wish that you could be less like me. And Im sure there is a lot that I forgot and can't remember.

And, I remember just how much I love you. I want the best for you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Praying Mantis

I went for a ride yesterday and almost ran over a praying mantis. I wondered if anything was going through it's mind as I swerved slightly at the last moment to spare it's life. Once safely past, I started ruminating about all the things that go through my mind as I'm riding along.

First I realized just how tired I felt, and my legs were protesting a little louder with each pedal stroke just how they felt about 1877 feet of elevation gain suffered through on an 11/23 8 speed cassette. I wondered what pushes me to suffer. I wondered why I can't push myself to suffer more. Or more intensley. It seemed obvious to me that whatever it was, it wasn't pushing me hard enough. Or far enough. Then I thought about my legs protesting again.

Once again, I was seeing a hill that only a cyclist would see, and feeling a wind that only a cyclist would feel. The grade was about 2 to 3%, and while this wasn't the hardest hill of the day, it was the "hill" that I was "suffering" on at the moment, and so I felt tormented by it. I started to wonder exactly how a crosswind could feel like a headwind. I started to wonder what it would be like to ride somewhere that was flat. Florida maybe, or the high plains of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas.

That reminded me of my friend Andrea, that really dislikes the windmill farms that have sprouted up all over West Texas. They are there now by the thousands. And for miles. Miles and miles. The cotton is gone. The farmers there decided some time ago that it would be easier and more profitable (?) to turn the billiard table flat, and always windy fields, over the the windmills.

Windmill Farms. I've been told they aren't producing any electricity. How can that be? There's plenty of them and days and days of stiff, unrelenting wind. The terrain around Lubbock is flatter than flat, like a billiard table, except if you stand on your tippy toes, you can see the curvature of the earth. What would it be like to ride there? Would I see a hill that no one else sees?

Would that be worse than riding the trainer. At least on the road you get to see stuff - observe things. On the flats of West Texas, there is nothing to see. Except windmills. Would that be so bad? Is that ruining the view? What view? What is autumn like there? I wondered if anything on that flattest place on earth changed color in the fall. I decided I liked it here in Utah, where every one of Creation's colors are on display this time of year.

The fall. Reminds me of the trainer and makes me think of the chlorophyll, xanthophyll and carotene that give us this glorious display. They are like little packages of color in the leaves - green, yellow and orange in order. In the summer the green packages are really busy catching sunlight and using that energy to convert water and CO2 into glucose. This "sugar" is the food for the plants and all summer long the green packages are so busy making food that they crowd out and cover up the other packages.

But now the plants know that winter is coming and they are getting ready. A thin layer of cells are growing over the water tubes in the leaves and are closing them up in preparation for winter. No more water in and without the water, the green packages begin to disappear and the yellow and orange packages can finally be seen. So the leaves don't really turn colors, they just lose the green and now we can see the yellow, orange and red. I'm trying to remember how this is like moving from the road to the trainer with the bike. What the heck was I thinking about? This is what Kevin was talking about last Sunday in Sunday School while we were studying 1 John. 1 John is a pretty short book. I'm thinking I should read it again.

As I turn south, toward home, I'm finding joy in the fact that the hill is gone. I marvel at how something so small as a 2 to 3% grade can make something another level of hard. The leaves remind me of the chemical changes that are occuring in the muscles in my legs - of how I produce energy - and how the byproduct of that process can create some real serious pain. How much can I take? I'm not going to find out today. Again. I wonder what the limit is as a headwind grinds on me even more than the slight incline was grinding on me a moment ago. Sometimes I'm greatful for the small ring, even as I secretly hope that no one sees me using it on a flat road, and hoping even harder for the opportunity to shift out of it as soon as possible.

There is no more green in my legs just like there is no more cotton in West Texas. I'm running out of energy just like the leaves. My legs are yellow and orange. I feel like if I were to stop pedaling, I would fall over in short order. Is anyone else feeling this wind? What is harder, wind or hills? Or windy hills? Lots of huffing and puffing now, just like the windmill farms. Lots of yellow and orange packages are showing in my legs. Just like the leaves, the tired has always been there in my legs but the 1877 feet of climbing, the unrelenting headwind, the 11/23 cassette, the standard crank, the 20 pound bike, my 20 extra pounds, that last little 2 to 3% grinder, the effort, focus and extra energy required to spot a praying mantis where I thought I saw a leaf, swerve and miss it at the last second - it has all conspired to take tired from a level of minimal, if any perception, to one of being light-headed, seeing spots and wishing that the mitochondria in my quads, calves and hamstrings had a little more to work with right now.

I am happy when I get home. I am happy to give my legs a rest. I am happy that I feel like I accomplished something on the bike today. And, I am happy that I missed the praying mantis on the road. I wonder if I'll see it tomorrow?