Senin, 10 Maret 2008

T-Shirts and Testosterone

My rant about macho bike rides…..

The California Death Ride, RAMROD, Copper Triangle, Torture Ten Thousand and Breathless Agony are just some of the plethora of bike rides that blur the line between enjoyment and masochism. These events are generally populated by middle aged men battling insecurity and hair loss who seek reassurance of their virility by completing these suffer-fests.

I confess that I ride some of these events, and tell myself that I am not one of these men. When you are driving on the freeway anyone faster than you is reckless, and anyone slower is just plain getting in the way. Likewise anyone slower on a bike is a hack, and anyone faster is compulsive; or so I tell myself. And as I mock these riders who take these things too seriously, it helps convince me I am not of their flock.

Let me paint the picture for you. Slender men in their forties and fifties with tan legs arrive the afternoon before these events wearing T-shirts boasting of other intimidating rides. Many of these guys know each other and they start asking about other macho rides. “Hey Frank, did you do the Baker Climb this year?” They all seem to be in their element, and few if any, have spouses with them. I took note of this and have taken it to heart.

While they are all smiles when talking to their acquaintances, these guys quickly show their true colors which are way too serious. Stern faces appear as they unload their gear and their precious bikes (and when I say precious, I am referring to precious in the Gollum sense of the word e.g. “don’t touches my precious carbon miracle”). Bikes worthy of any professional racer are wheeled into hotel rooms by these ride veterans. The latest carbon wonderbikes built out with the latest version of Campy Record or Dura-Ace. Wheels that cost more than my car are commonplace. Over their shoulder they wield bags filled with shoes, helmets, clothing and their particular drink mixes as well as assorted goos, creams, jellies and energy bars.

Soon everyone, including myself is searching for a pasta dinner. Generally these events take place in small towns and the restaurant selection is limited. While these are open tables at Bar-B-Que Bobs, we are lined up like lemmings at Vinny’s Pizza and Pasta. With little else to do I observe the other riders.

I bought a bicycle in 2000. After competing in running events for thirty years, my knees finally won the argument and I bought the bike. Here in the Pacific Northwest the STP (Seattle To Portland) is the most popular cycling event by far. The un-timed event indeed travels from Seattle to Portland and the ride is two hundred miles, completed in either one or two days with eight thousand of your riding friends. Ask anyone in Western Washington to name two bike races and they will reply the Tour de France and the STP. You can correct them and tell then the STP isn’t a race, but they don’t really care anyway.

I trained that first year and rode the STP in a day as my first bike event. I spent the first 150 miles wondering if I would finish, or collapse in a heap by the side of the road. After a rest stop at 150 miles I realized I was going to make it and enjoyed the next 45 miles. The last five were less fun, but part of the price.

After completing the ride I realized the training rides were as much fun and the event. In fact, because I had been worried about being able to finish, I had not enjoyed the event as much as I should have.

About this time a friend of mine, with whom I trained occasionally, offered a profound insight. He was about thirty and would build his year around triathlon competitions. One day he realized he didn’t have any fun in his sports. If he didn’t set a PR on training run or ride, then he was disappointed and felt down. If he did set a PR then he was so wiped out, he was down as well. He took no joy from swimming, riding or running. I was reminded of a line from the movie “Field of Dreams” when the main character talks about how his father hounded him endlessly about baseball. He said, “Playing catch got to be like eating your vegetables.” For my friend Pete, swimming, riding and running were his daily brussel sprouts. At this time I had just taken up cycling and was tapering down my running. I was having so much fun learning about cycling. I was fascinated by the tradition, the equipment, the technique and the freedom that is cycling. I was like a kid in a candy store and he was the overweight diabetic in that same store.

So I learned about other events and did some centuries and had fun. I made a lot of mistakes and learned. Some friends encouraged me to sign up for RAMROD (Ride around Mt. Rainier in one day) in 2004 and I did. It is a chalenging154 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing as you circumnavigate Mt. Rainier. To train for it you ride up mountain passes. I enjoyed the training and the event was beautiful. Because the field is limited and the event takes place on a Thursday there is little traffic and you can really enjoy the tranquility of the forest and the mountain.

What I noticed during the ride was that with all the of the beauty surrounding us most riders were watching the wheel in front of them or checking their altimeters, cycle computers or HRMs, or just looking like they wanted this pain over with. I saw very few people actually enjoying themselves. At the food stops the same macho conversations were taking place. “Rick, I didn’t see you at the Torture Ten Thousand this year. What happened?”

Although I find differences that allow me to separate (in my mind) myself from these testosterone charged Type A’s, I continue to do some of these rides. As I contemplated why I do these I read an article where someone confessed his training method. He signs up for intimidating events and then fear motivates him to prepare to avoid humiliation or injury. My goal in these rides is to be fit enough that I can enjoy the ride. That usually means I need to be pretty fit. So I prepare (because I have to) and have fun (because I want to).

So if you do these rides, maybe I’ll see you. I will be the one smiling. If you pass me, I’ll be smiling. If I pass you, I’ll smile as I offer some encouraging words. These are generally beautiful rides and in addition to smiling, I’ll be looking around. I may even stop and take pictures, or take in the scenery. But I can assure you; I’ll be having fun.

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