Thursday, June 23, 2011

To Zephyr, and back -- the first time

Having said all that . . .

. . . I was woefully ill-prepared for a 65 km ride last week, particularly one that had Zephyr Road as its centerpiece.

Looks beautiful, doesn’t it? It’s relatively back-country; paved, yet modestly challenging as well. Ever since we moved out this way, I’d thought this stretch of road would make for some fabulous cycling. What I was resolutely unwilling to do, however, was the reasonable thing: ride my car over, pull the bicycle out of the trunk, hop on and do a quick there-and-back, or perhaps a slightly larger circuit of modest ambition. For whatever absurd reason, it seemed the honorable thing to cycle the entire distance there and back.

Sixty-five kilometers doesn’t have to be a big deal, even for a 46-year-old who could stand to shed a dozen pounds. I’d been preparing by making increasingly longer runs in that direction, and figured I'd be in shape to complete the entire Zephyr run by early July. Then Saturday came along. The weather was so gorgeous, I was making such remarkable time, the farmers were out haying and it was such a delicious smell, and I was feeling so good — and I’d just turned 46! Wouldn’t it be something to say, “Yeah, I did Zephyr and back the day of” etc? I reached the point (Udora) where I had planned to turn around and head home, looked ahead to the beckoning highway, and thought, “Why not?”

Well . . . there were several very good reasons why not, the most important of which was: I hadn’t yet hit the wall.

In the years since the cyclathon I haven’t much bothered with long-distance riding — it’s been the rare time I’ve cycled for longer than an hour — so I wasn’t familiar with this business of “hitting the wall.” But any marathon runner will tell you there comes a moment when your body has burned up the various sugars you’re carrying around in your bloodstream, and must now start burning other materials — muscle fiber, say, or maybe even a little fat. When you reach that moment, there is no mistaking it: you hit the wall.

Patient training had gradually extended that moment for me. Here I was, over an hour away from home, and I’d not yet hit the wall. With a little luck, maybe I’d hit the wall in Zephyr, buy a chocolate bar and some Gatorade, then turn around and ride back.

I hit the wall down in the first valley en route to Zephyr. As I struggled up the first hill, I remembered that I hadn’t bothered with money, because when I left the house I wasn’t thinking about cycling to Zephyr. So no chocolate bar, no Gatorade. Also, I hadn’t bothered with sunscreen, because I’d left in the early morning and didn’t expect to spend more than two hours in the sunlight. Zephyr was going to add another hour, maybe more, to that total, and the sun would reach its zenith as I rode home. A long hot ride home. Oh, and only one water bottle. Because I wasn’t thinking about cycling to Zephyr.

I wasn’t thinking at all. The eight-plus kms up and down and through the Zephyr Valley were the most physically demanding riding I’d done yet, and I was doing them with my reserves exhausted — and I’d be repeating the ordeal on the ride back.

Agh. I did it. But that was one bone-headed impulse I should never have followed. But I'm hoping to do it another time or two before the full heat of summer hits.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Cyclathon

Note: this is a dual post; my apologies to followers of both blogs.

When I was a kid in the 70s, the summer camp I went to held a yearly “cyclathon” fundraiser. Kids rode their bicycles to the camp; the camp collected money (and mailing addresses) from the marks who sponsored the kids. It was a pennies-per-mile arrangement, and the distance to the camp was rounded down to 100 miles, completed over two consecutive days.

I managed this feat twice, when I was 12 and 13 years old. I rode a CCM five-speed, wore cheap sneakers, tube-socks and polyester gitch purchased at the local “Style-Rite” store, and threw on a pair of recent cut-offs. T-shirt was optional (for boys) and using sunscreen (or “suntan lotion,” as it was so quaintly referred to) was unheard of.

There was a great deal to endure besides the dreary reality of churning through a day’s worth of Canadian grasslands. The event drew an enormous crowd of participants, which put me on edge even back then. Participants were divvied up into groups of six or eight; you could request, and be reasonably assured of, the company of a friend, but after that it was the luck of the draw who you wound up with. My memories of both groups are marked by disagreeable loud-mouthed lunks who were maybe two years away from impregnating and marrying their first wives. And despite the fact that everyone had just pedaled close to 60 miles that first day, it seemed like I was the only one keen on getting a good night’s sleep.

In the days leading up to my second cyclathon I was bed-ridden with a wrenching case of diarrhea. Nevertheless, the dawn of departure found me gingerly perched on top of my bicycle, ready to go. Ten miles later, I was lying in a ditch, staring up at the blue sky and wondering why I wasn’t on my bike anymore. I sat in the camp director’s truck for a few minutes, sipping on a warm coke and answering the man’s questions (“How much money did you raise? How are you feeling now?”). He urged me on, so on I went. Lunch was hot dogs, chips and pop; supper was sloppy joe sandwiches.

And yet — and yet — despite all this my predominant emotional memory of these two rides is one of happiness. Despite being too sore to walk, never mind ride, the second day of cycling felt like a gift. The flat and wind-swept prairies were decisively left behind for the rugged and rolling terrain of the Canadian Shield, a welcome variety that couldn’t help but lift the spirits. Even better, our group leader was now worn down to indifference, and no longer made any effort to keep the group together. Now my buddy and I could pedal in peace, enjoying the scenery and discussing what mattered most — Star Trek — while the others pushed ahead to see who could arrive at the camp and plunge into the frigid waters first.

But more than that, those trips offered a very welcome and lasting change in perspective. An adolescent kid living in a small town surrounded by seemingly endless prairie will tend to think of himself as “stuck” if he doesn’t have access to a car with a full tank of gas. A 12-year-old kid who got on his bike and pedaled from that small town to his favorite summer camp 100 miles away thinks very differently about his circumstances — so long as he has access to a bicycle. There are at least four guys I know from my cyclathon days who went on to do fabulous multi-week bicycle tours of exotic locales, long before “outfitters” showed up to offer their decadently comfortable and nutritious versions of the cyclathon.

Last Saturday as the fam celebrated my birthday with pecan pie on the porch, the younger asked me where I’d bicycled that morning. “Zephyr,” I said.

“Whoah. That’s far.”

It was a 65 kilometre round trip. But far? Well . . . .

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ah, the bonhomie of cyclists!

Gorgeous weather leads to longer rides. I spent nearly 90 minutes doing 29.1 kms yesterday morning, and would have committed to another hour or two if I knew there was someone else at home to receive daughter #1 from her overnighter. My distance total is probably just over 30 kms, actually: as I neared my turn-off I spotted another cyclist approaching and decided to bike further, just so I could greet the person. As we passed, I gave him a cheery, "Good morning!" He stared back at me and just kept going. I don't know if he was listening to an iPod or just deep in his own thoughts, but either way the guy's a knob.

There's no such thing as "the loneliness of long-distance cycling," so far as I'm concerned. The geography is too engaging, especially in this part of the world.