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?

1 comment:

  1. This wasn't the first time you were out there on your bike. Those tires are tired from all the miles you put on them, and the twists and turns going up and down the hills. Those old legs are a lot younger now that you started to turn the crank whether it was the big chain ring on an up-hill climb or the little one on a flat spin. Every time you went out again your body ached and complained, but it did just fine. And it got a little stronger to defend against its attackers.
    The hills are helpers in your struggle against your body's foes: age, disease, stress, despair. Turning the little ring when heading into a headwind helps a little to turn out the weaknesses. The views provided on the ride, the pretty leaves, even a straying mantis, distract from the suffering (do we really suffer? What, or whom, set the standard for suffering?). When the yellow and orange packages in your legs color your outlook on riding, and the unwelcome extras, extra bike, extra body, add to your noticing how gravity has increased just since you started this ride, when you squawk at your mitochondria for not being more, they all say back to you, "But you do remember when you couldn't ride up ANY hill". You do REMEMBER the time when you rode for 2 miles and said, "Well! That was certainly a good ride for today!" And now when you feel those aches and pains they say, "HOPE! That's what it means. You have hope that you will be able to do it again, just as you have so many times up to now. You have hope that you won't be as sick as you were only a short time ago. You have hope that you will be here to hear your young family cheering you on during that next race, or to say, "Welcome back, Daddy, we're glad you're home". Hope is evidenced by all those things that you feel over and over again.
    Next time when out on the bike be still and listen to the hope around you.