It's December 30. The foot of snow we had on December 9 has melted and compacted a bit, and been dusted with a couple fresh, light applications of additional snow—just enough to make everything look quite pretty.
Since there is no heat wave in the forecast and only one more day in the year, it is a given that I will not be riding my bike outside today or tomorrow and that biking for the year is really over. (Well it's been over since that snow!)
I like to look back at my year and assess my goals. One goal I had for 2012 was to ride 2,500 miles outside on my bike. I hit 2,507 miles on Saturday, October 14.
It was a long riding season. The 2011-12 winter was warm and mild so the months at the beginning of 2012 were warmish and snow free. By spring of 2012 I'd ridden my bike at least one day every month of the previous 12 months. This year, 2012, I've been on a ride at least one day in every month of the year as well, though biking ended much earlier for me this year than in 2011.
(I won't ride outside when it gets below about 35 degrees Fahrenheit and if there is rain or ice on the road.)
I have to share something with you all, because this blog is about my enthusiasms, and because biking is probably one of my main enthusiasms, and because I'm a bicycling addict, but I believe I actually found balance this year—though it didn't start out that way…
Typically I will ride a route that takes me 17 miles through the city, on dedicated paths where other bikers commute, or simply exercise. It's a wonderful thing to be able to cut through the city like that, see a cross section of neighborhoods, and just go and go without much interference from cars.
I have other routes that take me along the parkway. Those are beautiful routes along the Mississippi River Gorge. I've seen eagles and hawks (within 6 feet of me) and a variety of other birds. There is shade from the sun. It's all pretty wonderful.
It is so wonderful, and I love riding my bike so much, that we (Dick and I) have actually put a cap on what I can ride in a day—17 miles, which I can do in an hour. Otherwise I would be tempted each week to go farther. Instead I concentrate on going faster, or riding better (however I define that on a given day—but typically it means crushing some 24-year-old).
Cycling is my time. No one to talk with, nothing to do but peddle, concentrate on my breathing; just thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking. I come up with the best ideas when I am biking.
And the endorphins are not to be sneered at. It's a hard high to come down from at the end of the season when I have to start riding inside on a bike attached to a trainer. (Indoor miles are just not the same, even though the ceiling fan directly above me does provide a little bit of a breeze.)
Last year I rode 2,521 miles outside. You can read about my thoughts on biking in 2011 here.
I began again at zero on January 1, 2012. My goal was to get out as much as possible again, within the constraints of "the hour-a-day for cardio" rules we'd set up. I had a vague sense that I'd like to get to 2,500 miles again this year, just to show myself it wasn't a fluke. But other than that I didn't have any goals. I just wanted to keep riding because when I keep riding my knees feel great and I can bound up stairs. Stop riding, no bounding.
Every year since I've returned to biking in 2008 the pressure has increased—the pressure to ride more and more. It's an internal pressure. I just love cycling. When I talk about it people always look askance at me and say, "Why does Dick have any say in what you ride each day?"
What people don't understand is that the person living with the addict (that would be Dick, living with me the addict) has to deal with the fallout when things go into a tailspin. And besides that I've always talked my workouts over with Dick, he did coach after all. And except for that stupid idea of restricted breathing he's been a pretty good sounding board.
I like to think of myself as independent, and low maintenance. In most things I think Dick will agree I am both of those things. But in other aspects of my life Dick is pretty much the gravity that holds me on the planet. So if I am going to do some dumb ass move like ride 80 miles a day and fall apart physically, the least I can do is talk it over with him first—since he'll have to put me together later.
I avoid the whole issue by not riding 80 miles a day. But don't think I haven't thought about it. Only my respect for Dick, and his already full plate of activities, keeps me from doing that.
Now that you know all that you'll understand what happened—and how it was a nerve wracking, but exciting time this fall.
Once I hit 2,500 miles for 2012 I started to do the math. This is an involved equation dividing miles left into days left when days left in the season is figured out by voodoo calculations and old weather data and current bad projections by "weathermen."
It was October and I started to get a little panicky. For a couple days I said to myself, "I think I can make it to 3,000." Then for a couple days I would redo the math and say, "Nope, don't even try. It's going to snow." Other days I would say, "What if? What if we lifted the 17-mile-a-day limit?"
After about 8 days "What if?" started to be all I thought about. All calculations started to take "What if?" into consideration. "What if I rode 20 miles every day, 23 miles everyday, what is the limit I can ride?"
Another reason I don't ride over 17 miles on a daily basis is that road noise bothers my hands when I ride 22 miles a day for more than 3 days in a row. (At least it always has.)
My desk was littered with scraps of paper with day counts and mile counts and projections. I was in thrall to my addiction. I had another goal. I wanted to reach 3,000.
I did what any addict would do. I went to my enabler and presented a rational, reasonable case as to why the hour ban should be lifted.
First I admitted to the low back problems I'd had since returning from teaching color theory (and having 4 days off). (I just came back way too strong with a 22 mile speed day. Stupid.)
Second, I assured him that if I reached 3,000 I wouldn't just turn around and say, "Let's go for 3,500," because "Look, there aren't going to be the days. It's going to snow. I know that."
(I didn't really KNOW that, but I KNEW that in my heart.)
Third, I promised to stop if the road noise bothered my hands enough to hamper my work effort. If my hands were numb when I tried to work for hours and hours I would become pretty grumpy pretty fast and it would be worse than being unable to bound up stairs.
Fourth, I explained that I'd really thought about all this and knew that I wanted to go for this goal. I didn't think I'd get these miles next year and it might be my last time. But most importantly I believed that if I could lift the ride limit and give this a go, I'd be happy with whatever resulted, and I wouldn't feel like an addict.
(I know, incredible bullshit comes out of my mouth when I talk to people.)
And fifth and finally—I shut up, and waited.
Because my dad, and every successful businessman who has started as a salesman has always told me, talk and then shut up—the first person to speak is hooked.
And I waited.
And then LB looked at me with complete understanding and compassion and went over each of my points one by one. Waiting for me to nod in agreement. And gave me exactly what I wanted, his complete support—to ride as much as I wanted.
Which of course has the wonderful effect of making me sensible and self-limiting.
There was snow on the ground Monday, November 12, and I had 188 miles to go. I even had to ride the trainer the next day, just so I wouldn't have too many days off. But then I jumped in with a vengeance: 19, 23, 17, 25. My plan was to have a light regular day and push a little extra mileage every other day.
I rode 21 miles (a horribly windy day which would only be more windy later so get out now!) and came back knowing that one of my tires was toast. As soon as I got out of the shower I went to the bike shop to get it changed right then so I could ride the next day. I worked out that I had over 6,000 miles on that tire. (Isn't Kevlar wonderful?)
I went 26 miles, 23 miles, 21 miles…The additional time commitment wasn't great. I could complete the longest rides in under 90 minutes; most days I was only gone for an extra 15 minutes.
On Thanksgiving Day, while everyone else was preparing and eating a holiday feast I was all alone on the bike path (I saw about 6 other cyclists the entire ride) peddling my way to 3,005 miles.
I'd completed 9 consecutive high-mileage days (I didn't dare take a day off in case rain or snow was coming; and I had the good fortune to ride before the rain fell on two of those days). My hands were doing great. In fact I'd never felt stronger. So Friday I took the day off and went to a deli with my friend Marsha!
I'd been lucky in temperature too. While there were some 35-39 degree days in that final few weeks, and some really windy days (more than 30 mph), the final 9 days contained several 40 to 54 degree days. It didn't feel like a slog at all.
Snow fell that Friday. A light snow, but it brought ice. It wasn't until December 1 that I was able to get out on the road again. I didn't know it then, but I only had three more outside rides. Despite pleasant riding conditions none were blow out rides. All were 17 to 20 miles. I resisted any urges to ride longer distances. I knew I wasn't going for 3,500 miles, just as I'd earlier predicted.
Twenty minutes into one of those 20 mile rides my bicycle computer battery died (but I'd been that way so often I knew the exact mileage). I had to finish my ride the old fashioned way—with a beat, sense memory, and adrenaline. I crushed it. I was filled with joy.
I road 3,060 miles in 2012.
It might not sound like it, but in those two weeks or so, I got my life back, because what I did was ride for the joy of riding, as many miles as I wanted (which just happened to be a lot). I didn't think about my totals. I rode more slowly some days (when it was really windy) without frustration because I wasn't trying to beat the clock, I was just riding.
Last year I'd been bothered by my addictive stance towards bicycling. A mentor had told me to rediscover what it was I loved about cycling in order to bust out of the obsessiveness of my relationship with it. November 2012 was when I did that.
I still had to use my will. I still had to ride on my gut several days (because of the back issues), but I found a way to listen to myself and push myself at the same time. (Just because you love something and find joy in it doesn't mean there aren't going to be difficult, impossible days. The key is to do it anyway.)
I loved every moment of biking this fall. It wasn't something to tick off, to get done in an hour and go on to something else. It was something I got to savor. It was also something I was gambling on because there was always that promised colder, snowy weather coming.
I've experienced this flip from obsession to joy one other time in my life. That's exactly what happened to me when I was 17 and had been journaling obsessively all my life. I met my mentor Thom and he helped me journal without obsession, purely from a love of expression.
We have to make that flip every day about a host of things. Sometimes there are people in our lives who help us make that flip. Other times we're alone and we have to make that flip alone. It's always nice when you can share that joy with someone and they appreciate it, but for 23 years since Thom's death I've had to make that journaling flip every day for myself. That's life. Everyday you have to live on your will and step in and do it (whatever it is), but there has to be joy in it.
When people show you how to have joy in your life, take it and run with it.
And if you find that you're losing the joy from something you've always loved talk to someone you trust about it and find a way to get that joy back. It is absolutely vital.
Just don't go running around the house saying "Feel my thighs," as you poke your now rock hard unflexed quads in invitation. That's just plain obnoxious.
What am I saying?! Yes, do that! Especially if it is just plain obnoxious—because there's a lot of joy in that too.
Reclaim something you love. It's the way back to balance.