Thursday, March 30, 2006

Work too hard

Date: March 30
Mileage: 22.6
March mileage: 366.9
Temperature upon departure: 34
On the iPod: "King's Crossing" ~ Elliot Smith

Squinting against radial gusts of wind, I waver a little at the intersection. Which way to go - left or right? One way is West Hill, the short way, the traffic-clogged highway spewing mud and melted snow. The other is East Hill, the long hill, the beast, the lung-searing climb that chews up my studs. The wind goes both directions. I go east.

The hill sets in fast, pulling hard at legs that sat unmoving, atrophied, dead weights for nearly eight hours prior. Wind grit builds up on my teeth and I clamp my mouth shut, squint downward, watch the odometer. 5.8 mph ... 5.9 ... I'm already sick of being out here. It's gray with little flecks of snow blowing around. And around and around. Wind hits from new directions. I tilt again. Studs grind into the pavement. I stand. 6.4 mph .... 6.7.

How high does your heart rate have to be to go to find that place where frustrating thoughts dissipate? I ask myself this question but don't really think about the alternative. 6.8 mph ... 7.0. I round another switchback. More wind. More snow. I think about April in the desert. I think about winter in Alaska. 7.2 mph ... 7.4.

Mouth wide open, I swallow bits of musty grit and road goo. I no longer have a choice. The tunnel closes in. First pavement. Then tires, patches of rubber tread, handlebars. Then only the odometer, encircled in blackness. 7.6 mph. 7.7 ... The iPod speaks to me in gasps and whimpers... 7.8 mph ... 7.9. Involuntary thoughts tear through. Thoughts that long for anything but the present, long for random times, times of after-school jobs and riding the banana seat Huffy to work, greeting the dead morning hours with the time-worn smells of yeast and bleach, of baking bagels at Einstein's with Sam.

Sam and I were equals in our dead-end job. We worked the 4 a.m. shift on Saturday mornings, baking bagels for the blurry-eyed people who no longer cared. We were brothers in arms, hiding in the walk-in refrigerator, eating frozen cookie dough, recounting our adventures in snowboarding and caving and sluffing school. We both went on to become cyclists. He became a racing roadie. I became a cycle tourist. I quit the bagel shop and went to college. He stayed and worked his way up to general manager. He made many thousands in savings. I made many camping trips to southern Utah. Now he manages a large hotel in Argentina. I pull in migrant worker wages at a small-town rag in rural Alaska.

The world seems black and white at 8 mph.

Tinted by choices.

Step away from the cereal

Date: March 29
Mileage: 17.1
March mileage: 344.3
Temperature upon departure: 37

If you could give up just one thing - just one - that would instantly improve your nutrition and diet, what would it be? Trans fat? Refined flour? Red meat?

You know what mine would be? Artificial coloring. That's right. Not because I believe this colorful little chemical has any negative effects in itself, but because Yellow No. 5 seems to grace all of my most secret, most shameful indulgences.

In most bad eating situations, I'm a rock. I can turn down chocolate without flinching. Pizza? No thanks - I had yogurt for lunch. Even the free morning donuts at work, which my coworkers would argue have a gravitational pull equal to that of the Sun, don't get me excited. My coworkers think I'm a health food hero, known even to turn my nose up at Girl Scout Cookies (which I love, by the way.)

But then I leave work. I go for a bike ride. I come home to a house filled with produce, look around my kitchen with wary eyes, and begin to chow down like a 3-year-old turned loose in a grocery store. Fruity Pebbles - I can stuff whole handfuls in my mouth without even losing any to the floor. Jelly - who needs bread when you have a spoon? Cheetos - they got rid of the trans fat, so why not?. Capri Suns - they're like a goo packet you can actually digest! And then there are Goldfish. Oh, Goldfish. When will artificial colors stop tempting me with the sugars and simple carbohydrates they hide?

Last year, when I was making a conscious effort to cut calories, I decided to give up high fructose corn syrup. It seemed like a good idea at the time, until I got addicted to diet soda and learned the hard way about too many cherries. Since then, I've let my diet slip a little (a lot), and I'm trying to think about ways I could start eating healthier again. It's so hard. I could give up chocolate, no sweat. Full-fat dairy would be a challenge, but doable. I'd probably cry if you went for the Lime-Flavored Tostitos, and then I'd get over it. But try to take away my Cranberry Crunch, and you better have a gun. I guess we all have our weaknesses.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Cycling as a cure-all

Date: March 28
Mileage: 26.0
March mileage: 327.2
Temperature upon departure: 41

I almost feel guilty for heading out today, but it had to be done. It was sunny, 40 degrees (thems T-shirt temps!), and I needed to vent stress buildup from a frustrating day at work. Something was going to have to give, and that something was my bum knee. So, with a noticeable gimp in my gait, I saddled up Roadie and headed out for more than an hour (Ok, Ok ... It was probably closer to two hours than one. I like to think I'm fast on Roadie, but I have to be reasonable.) It was a great ride - breathing hard into the stiff salt breeze, then riding its tailwind to tear-inducing speeds on the way back. And by the end of the ride, my knee was feeling light and limber (despite the fact it's still bleeding a little. I probably should have gotten the thing stiched.) How much will I pay for my ride tomorrow? Whatever stiffness returns, it was worth it.

As I rode along East End Road today, I thought of a blog post that CycleDog recently talked about. Hip Suburban White Guy wrote a hilarious post about bicycles versus cars. It's an age-old debate that no one will ever win, because no one on either side is likely to give - even a little. HSWG's view can be summed up in this colorful quote (edits mine): "But WHY (in the world) should I have to yield a road meant for cars to some (wonderful person) on a bicycle when there is a bicycle path damn near within arms reach of this inconsiderate (lovable rider)?"

HSWG's uninformed rant (he admitted to as much) attracted the venomous opposition of a cycle commuter in Minnesota, who contradicts HSWG's points with valid, logical counterpoints. However, Karl, the bicycle commuter, commits the ultimate debate faux pas by assuming that because HSWG rips on cyclists, drives an SUV and drinks beer, he must be a conservative - and calls him as much. If you read any more if HSWG's blog, you'll see that he's anything but.

This is where the cars versus cyclists debate always falls apart. HSWG assumes that we cyclists are skinny, snobby, spandex-clad geeks who are oblivious to the movements of the outside world. Karl contradicts this stereotype with more stereotypes about HSWG being overweight, boorish and selfish (these things may be true, but you can't garner as much from a single post.) The story is always the same from here - each party walks away feeling the other is ignorant for making blanket assumptions, and in the end, no one's point gets through. This isn't what starts wars, but it is what makes them endless.

Of course I side with Karl. Bicycles, for all purposes, are vehicles. They are Slow Moving Vehicles, like a tractor or an Amish buggy. As vehicles, they have as much legal access to all roads, save certain Interstates, as any gas-guzzling SUV. There's nothing HSWG can do about that. However, HSWG has every right to be annoyed by them. As long as he's not advocating the legalizing of target practice on cyclists, he's entitled to his point of view. I think about the things that really annoy me - like people who let their dogs run loose in their unfenced front yards. If I were as funny or as volatile as HSWG, I might post a rambling rant about the evils of loose dogs.

That doesn't necessarily make me a dog hater. I'd resent being called one. And I probably wouldn't listen as well to any points made after that name-calling. I might even lash back in defense.

HSWG ends his argument with this gem: "But when I come around a corner at the posted speed limit, don't expect me to swerve into an opposing lane of traffic or slam on my brakes and get rear-ended just to avoid adding yet another decorative adornment to my gas-guzzling SUV grill."
As I said, endless wars.

Can't we all just get along?