Saturday, May 17, 2008

Needs

Date: May 16
Mileage: 78.6
May mileage: 621.4
Temperature: 42

This past January, I went hiking with a friend who has one of those uber-stressful, all-consuming types of jobs. He claims to love it and earns his share of fulfillment from it, but this job leeches just about all the energy he has to give, emotional and physical. It was all he could do that day to motivate for our one-hour stroll in the snow. My friend, the same guy who used to leap up mountains and scale canyon walls, requested that we turn around after a mile and a half. As we returned to my house, he admitted that his job had changed him. "Sometimes I come home from work and watch TV for five hours," he said. "I used to feel guilty about it, but now I know that sometimes I just need to watch TV for five hours."

I nodded and tried to be a supportive friend, but the little voice in my head was screaming Why? Why? Why? Why?! I wanted to grab his shoulders and shake out whatever oppressive worldview was convincing him he needed this job and tell him to get back to the mountains, get out of Alaska if you have to, go back to the desert and quit your job!

But then he said, "It's sort of like your biking."

The phrase caught me off guard, because it resonated with unsettling truth. I work a relatively lax job and then come home and pour my creative energy into a blog, and then I wake up the next day and pound out the rest on two wheels. I have excess energy to spend and he has a deficit he feels compelled to conserve, but both of us have a need to approach equilibrium.

"Really," I asked myself, "what makes his five hours of TV any worse than my five hours of biking?" I mean, after you carve out the obvious health discrepancies. Whittle it down to pure emotional benefit, on a strictly psychological level. I bring this up now because I have been a little bummed out in general since Geoff moved south for the summer, and I am turning into a heavy bike user - I mean, more than usual.

Geoff mentioned on the phone today that my May mileage was a bit off the charts for not actually training for much. "Here I am, down here training for the Great Divide Race, and I look at your blog and you're still riding more than I am." (Full disclosure: My cycling miles are much easier.) He said this before I told him that I had ridden for about five hours today.

"Oh, it must have been a nice day," he said.

"No," I said. "It was awful."

"How awful?"

"Well, in five full hours it never stopped raining. Not even for a minute. Not even a sprinkly lull. Driving rain. My hands and feet went numb even though I was wearing all of the neoprene I own, and when I pulled my camera out of my coat about halfway through the ride, there was several inches of water built up inside my pocket."

"Oh." That was all he said about it, but I could tell what he was thinking: "Why? Why? Why? Why?!"

But what I wasn't able to explain to him is how much better I felt at the time than I did this morning. I was uber-moody when I woke up today. For whatever reason - the weather, the fun fishing trip that had to be cancelled - I was just sick of the world. I had already absolved myself of any real need to do a long ride this weekend, and my plan was to get more work done today - work that I've been putting off, because I'm always biking or blogging or doing other stuff I don't need to do.

But by 1 p.m., still unproductive and even grumpier, I finally just gave up. "Whatever, I'm just going to go out for a long ride." I set out in the pissing rain with a change of base layer in a ziplock bag - just in case - and thought, "I'll just go until I feel like stopping." I was feeling pretty awful heading out and moving slow to boot - which I was bummed about, because through all this bike abuse, I am trying to increase my fitness. I'm so used to southeast winds that I thought I was riding a tailwind and feeling awful and moving slow. I decided to turn around at 33 Mile (the mile marker on the highway, just about 40 miles into my ride) because I was picking up a pretty serious chill and I doubted the dry base layer would stay dry long enough to ward it off. When I turned around, I felt a rush of air at my back and realized that I had, in fact, been fighting a headwind the whole way out. After that, just like last week, the ride just got better and better.

During the last 10 miles, I rode by a lot of bike commuters - more than I have ever seen - moving with the 5 p.m. traffic. It brought joy to my heart, because the weather was as bad as it gets and still people were out riding. One guy going my direction passed me. He was wearing heavy-duty rubber gloves. "How's it going?" I asked. "How do you think it's going?" he answered. (He didn't say this maliciously, just truthfully - it was awful out.)

And then of course I chased him but lost him in the construction area. The rain drove down and the feeling in my hands and feet faded and still I felt amazing, riding with that wind, feeling that I could just keep going. But I had already turned my thoughts to dinner and maybe still making this party I had earlier resolved not to go to, grumpy as I had been. But when I arrived at home, I felt perkier, decompressed - equalized.

I do believe it's possible to be a substance abuser of your body's own chemical stimulants, just like it's possible to become dependent on the tranquilizing effects of television. Whether or not this is a bad or good thing, I don't yet know.