Monday, March 10, 2008

Take me back to the start

Date: March 9
Mileage: 23
March mileage: 38.5
Temperature: 34

Every time Geoff and I go for a ride together, he can only listen to the creaks and groans emanating from my bike for a few minutes before he demands I pull over to assess the damage. Today it was a rickety bottom bracket and a rear hub that has become so loose the wheel sways from side to side as it rolls forward. Geoff is always disgusted with the perpetual state of disrepair in my old bikes, especially my mountain bike. And I take full responsibility for their sorry conditions. I put a lot of miles on them on awful trails and awful roads in awful weather. And the only question I ask when gauging my bikes’ fitness is, “Do I think (whatever part is creaking or clanking) will snap in half on me today?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to go.

That said, people like me shouldn’t own old bicycles, just like people who never check the oil and ignore the “check engine” light shouldn’t own old cars (Yes, I also own an old car.) Geoff has spent our first few days in Juneau pimping out his Karate Monkey, and has planted the seeds of 29er dreams in my head. I used to think a 29er was too much bike for me, but Pugsley and his huge tires essentially make him a 29er, and a sometimes-70-pound fat load to boot. My reasoning now is if I can handle Pugsley, I can handle anything.

Right now, though, I’m still just trying to handle cycling. I realize I haven’t given myself that much recovery time since the Iditarod Invitational. But how could I pass up a blue-sky day after a night just cold enough to freeze up the gunk, with Geoff actually ready and willing to join me for a mellow ride out Douglas Highway? We took the pace easy but I still felt heavy and tired with noticeable sharp knee pain toward the end. I may have to take another week or so off the bike. But if the sun comes out again, all bets are off.

Recovery continues elsewhere, including my efforts to re-establish a healthy relationship with food. From the second I recovered my appetite - during the “morning after” in McGrath - I’ve been eating everything in sight. I think I’ve gained two or three pounds back since the race - not that those pounds were all that missed in the first place. It actually would have been kinda cool to keep them off. But I’m so afraid of the spectre of the bonk now that I’ll find myself sprinting to the vending machine at the slightest tinge of hunger pangs. That would have been a great move during the race, but I have to remind myself that pounding M’n Ms at 4 p.m. is not healthy in the real world.

Beyond my semi-broken bikes and semi-broken body, every day I come to a new realization of just how valuable of an experience this race really was for me. One life lesson that comes to mind happened after Bill Merchant caught up to me at Bison Camp and I admitted to him that I had somehow tossed my headlamp during the day. I bit my lip and waited for the lecture about my stupid, boneheaded carelessness. Instead, Bill confided that he took a number of of own spills that morning, and one of those falls had snapped his GPS off its handlebar mount. “It’s lying out there a snow angel somewhere,” he said.

“Oh man, that sucks,” I said, thinking that Bill must have been devastated to lose a $300 gadget, and so early in his race to Nome. He just shrugged. “I didn’t really need it,” he said. “I’m just glad it wasn’t my mittens!” I remember looking at my own $20 pair of mittens and thinking about how carefully I had been guarding them, how much I valued them. Out on the trail, the value of your paltry possessions takes on a whole different meaning. Clothing becomes as valuable as the body parts it protects. Electronic gadgets are heavy luxuries. A hack repair job that keeps a bicycle running is as good as gold. Cash is worthless. And kindness can change the world.

Good lessons. And here I am, a week later, back in the real world, coveting a new bicycle.

Life is a mystery.