Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Good, Bad, and The Ugly

As in any of life's disciplines, experience takes on many forms. In our youth, we foolishly think that things eventually become easier at some magical point. We wait and wait and wait for that moment when our efforts become, effortless. Slowly, the realization sinks in that you never will arrive, it never becomes easier, and there will always be the bad alongside with the good.

The first 10 years of my cycling experience were an unrelenting pursuit to arrive, to be strong, and be fast. The following five years was like a roller coaster in slow motion, grasping the rope at its end in an effort to attain that firm hold. I was almost there, if I could just get to the top of the last rise.

These last five years have been a gradual eye opening transition to relax and enjoy the ride on this never ending roller coaster we call cycling. It cannot all be good. There is some bad and sometimes downright ugly. But it all fits together for one heck of a ride!

We have made the conscious decision to avoid a good bit of the ugly lately. Suffering just for the sake of suffering is not good, and can lead to bad things. Things like a bad attitude, a weak body, and a twisted mind. No, there's enough ugly in this world without us adding to it. I've enjoyed our new level of maturity in cycling in knowing how to keep it good and fun while continuing to stretch ourselves to a degree.

Tuesday nights road rides have been replaced with the Big Creek mountain bike playtime. Plenty of pictures have been posted previously, so I felt entitled to enjoy a night off from documentation. This Tuesday night was all mine to indulge in a full on ride. How good it was to pull up to a parking lot jam packed with all our friends. Even though it was 998 degrees, everyone was eager to hit the dirt.

I spied Raja, Treybiker, Cyclesmith, Millhouse, and Burch heading to the trailhead, so I quickly jumped on their train. With no camera in tow, I had opted to ride sans camelbak, and had my water bottle in my jersey pocket. I enjoyed the freedom of a weightless back, but could not access any refreshing water on a whim. The pace was brisk and my tongue was stuck to the roof of my parched mouth. If I could just survive till the freeride area, I could take a big gulp. Ah, how do the pros race with just a water bottle?!? That would be ugly in my case. Good thing I'm not a pro.

Raja, Cyclesmith, and I did numerous runs down the gully. The first time I came here a few months ago on my new MotoLite, I remember hanging onto Raja and Treybiker on the downhill. Scared me senseless, but the flow was on and all was good. Every time since, I have not been able to dial into that focus and flow. Staying on Raja's wheel has no longer been an option for me. I just cannot handle the speed.

When we get to the top of the run, I like to just keep it going. If I stop and linger at the top, it allows me too much time to scare myself and lose my nerve. This time, we kept it going without too many delays, but I still could not keep chase with Raja.

Cyclesmith was riding fast, but sensibly enough not to push the envelope too far. He's a Class A downhiller, but I think he, like me, no longer feels the need to make every pass a World Cup Run. Feeling more comfortable with him as my Captain, I tried to position myself behind him for each session. Trying to focus on my balance, leaning my body in the turns, getting my weight back, I felt less discombobulated descending than I have the past few weeks.

After 10 repeats, it was time to hit the singletrack. Raja led me and Ony back to the cars, setting a nice pace. Back at the parking lot, the light was fading, but there was still time for Robb to lead a handful of us out for one more short lap. I don't know what Robb was smokin', but he was flying and it became an all out race.

Finally towards the end, I gave up. Things were getting bad, and I did not want to load my legs up with acid. Tomorrow's ride was going to be ugly enough as it was, and I knew this would only prove to hurt me. I am only good for one hard effort a week. Let's not waste it here amongst friends. I'd rather be off the back on my mountain bike than left for dead on the side of road by a pack of ravenous shavers.

An hour and half workout for Tuesday night's dirt ride, not too bad. I might be okay for Wednesday, not good, but hopefully not bad.

While stretching Tuesday afternoon before the ride, I managed to get a rib out of sorts. Searing pain shot up the left side of my back, and I could not get in a deep breath without a reminder. As long as I did not breathe too deep while riding, I could handle it. Needless to say, that was a tricky feat. The heat was brutal, and I was gasping for any ounce of oxygen I could filter through the humidity. This pain better subside before Wednesday or it's going to be really ugly. I'll sleep it off and reassess in the morning.

Wednesday morning I awaken from a comatose slumber. Take a deep breath. Is it better? Inhaling slowly.....AH! No, we're not good. Still ugly. Time for a SOS call to my Torturer, Janusz. What would I do without Janusz to put me back together again (and again and again). It's like Humpdy Dumpty when he sees me coming.

Janusz is one of the best things that has happened in my life. In 1997 something really ugly happened to me when my bike ride coincided with a car on the road one afternoon. If I had had Janusz at that time, I firmly believe my recovery would have been much different. Instead he and his wife were dancing in Germany, and I was left to my limited knowledge of physical therapy and a doctor's less than limited knowledge of physical therapy. Throw on top of that a nasty mtn bike accident in '99 and another bike/car incident in '02 and you have the makings of a big ole mess of scar tissue and messed up muscles in the guise of my body. Years of roaming from one bad therapist/doctor to another and I finally hooked up with a good thing, my beloved Janusz Mazon.

As always, my muscles and ribs were made compliant again, and I was ready to face another ride. Wednesday afternoon's workout was the Outspokin ride. Last time I did this ride a few weeks ago I got lucky. The heavy hitters were in short supply and the A Group pulled me along in a nice steady consistent pace. Somehow I knew this time lady luck would not be on my side.

Shane and Cerar were there. (I actually asked Cerar one day how you properly spell his name, sounds like we call him Caesar.) I did not know the other players, but that did not matter. These 2 bad boys had a couple more notches in their belt than mine. It was going to be an ugly scene for sure. But I was okay with that. I came here with one goal in mind; to get in a good workout. This was not social hour or fun time. Things cannot always be good. You have to sow in a little pain, let in the bad, before you can reap the good.

In our preride chatter, Shane said, "Yea, I'm tired tonight." Ah, yes, I know that language; Shaverlish. Been conversing in it for 20 years now. Translated into English he was saying, "I'm riding so strong tonight that I'm going to chew you up and spit you out before you ever even know what hit ya." I gathered my wits about me and decided to give it all I had. I would make it a game. Let's see how long it takes ya'll to crack me; 5 minutes, 10, do I hear 20? Don't hold back fellas, give me all you got!

They did. Without a doubt. At first the group eased out innocently enough along the beautiful rolling roads. Having already done this once, I knew there were some downhills early on the course. Why the tentative riders get up front for a downhill, I do not know. It irritates me, but not as much as it annoys Concrete Blonde. Oh, it got her gander last time, and I remembered that. Therefore, I quickly maneuvered myself to the front away from the heavy brakers. If I cannot keep up on the climbs, at least do not steal the one joy I have away from me!! The downhill!!!

I got on Shane's wheel and we blasted down the hill. I could almost hear the wheels turning in the other guys' minds. What does this chic think she's doing? Does she really think she can keep pace with us. We'll drop her in a New York minute. No, I was not trying to make a statement, and I did not really care what they thought. They would get their chance soon enough to put me in my place. But dang it, they were not going to slow me down on the fun part of the ride. Slowing people down on a downhill is not only bad, it's just plain wrong. If someone behind you is faster than you, swallow your pride and let them in front. Just say NO to turtles in the fastlane.

As good as the downhill is on Epperson, its climb is equally as bad. That's when things got ugly. I turned myself inside out to hang onto the train. Getting unhitched towards the top, I was not about to give up so easily. For once in a long while, I had some fight in me. I dug deep in the dark corners of my memory to remember how to do this. This wasn't just a matter of going hard. It was a whole other ball game that I used to play a long long time ago.

I became oblivious to what was around me, how many riders there were, and what road we were on. All that mattered was tapping deep inside to the power within, every muscle fiber, every brain synapse, every nerve firing, everything was being called upon to do their job. Details become a blur. Am I the last one? Did we just make a turn? Who's up front? Did I just run over a pothole? How many are in this group? I don't know, don't remember.

I do remember the pain, unbelievable pain, ugly pain. It took me years of training to become accustom to calling on that type of pain, driving through it, and surviving. I've put that ugliness behind me, but a few times a year I seem to be able to dredge it up from within me and stare it in the face. I could hear the tiny voice in me, "this is ugly, this makes me uncomfortable, we do not have to do this." Normally I quickly give in to that voice. But tonight I wanted to fight. Enough of good all the time. Let's get down and dirty, time for the bad.

But fight will only take you so far. I simply did not have the strength in my legs to match theirs. 28 minutes into the fight, we hit a climb long enough that I could not recover to catch back on the train. I could continue to fight, but I'd just be swinging into empty space looking like a fool. The ugly was over, now it would just be bad.

Some good was still lurking around the corner. Not knowing exactly where to go, I looked behind me. One of my fellow derailees was not far behind. As he pedaled by, I quickly slipped into his draft. Bud was strong and steady, just what I needed at a time like this. Uh oh, a little too strong. Desperately trying to recover, I could not stay in his slipstream. Unhitched again.

The Bad turned quickly back to good. Bud realized he'd cracked this little new found egg, so he eased up to let me hook back on his wheel. I thanked him profusely with halted breath. "I....didn't....mean for you.....to.....wait on me.....please....keep your.....pace.....you're a......lifesaver." He seemed content to be my domestique and calmly replied, "this is good."

For almost another hour we strode along in silence, heavy breathing belting out from my belly as if it were the steam propelling our train along the road. I admired his strength and patience, and he displayed no annoyance or arrogance at the role he was playing.

The last couple hills brought my legs to the edge of the precipice of cramping. I was going to have none of that. This ride had required all my body could give, but I was determined to finish standing upright. A huge bright orange sun was just setting behind the trees. I laughed within thinking how that represented the yolk of this egg that had been broken more than once tonight. With a face red as a beet and steam rising from my flesh, we turned into the parking lot. All I could think of was getting the ice cold bottle of water from the car.

After swigging half the bottle down and pouring the other half over my head, I looked for my Race partner. We shook hands as if we had just finished competing in the US Open. Respect and gratitude dripped from my heart thicker than the sweat flowed down my brow. "Thank you, Bud, you were just what I needed. I could not have survived without you."

I gave Shane and Cerar a high five. Cerar said, "I was tired tonight." Let me translate that for those who don't speak Shaverlish, "I could have annihilated you sooner, but just didn't feel like going any harder."

So now I'm good. I earned a nice day of rest without guilt. Cam rode by me this afternoon on his way to the mountain for hill repeats. I bid him on his way and said, "you go have fun without me." Translated that means, "Cam, you're bad and I can't take another day of ugly. Let's ride together again when it's all good."

3 comments:

Ken said...

Great writeup! I laughed, I cried, and I even cramped once. Ken.

mikey said...

Wow...CG, glad traffic kept me in B'head for Wed night's sufferfest.

Nice write-up, reminds me of why I love this sport so much.

Cam said...

This wall we will ride... and it will be good.