I figured snowboarding would at least keep up my leg strength for the following season of cycling, and it did. My legs are stronger, in fact. The hitch in this strategy, however, was that I lost a great deal of muscular endurance, cardiovascular efficiency, and lung capacity.
This point was driven home to me when, while riding home from work, a guy on a single speed, steel, cruiser bike pulled up next to and then away from me on a short climb that, if I hadn’t already ridden all of 2 miles already, I could’ve followed him up and eventually passed him on. (note: a picture of me from that very ride is shown above)
I took exception to this unintentional slight from said guy on cruiser, but alas, I stood up and changed gears in effort to follow only to have my body say “Nope… I got nothing here.” I could rattle off a litany of excuses as to why this happened and hey, not everything is a race, but none of it would change the fact that I just had it handed to me by a guy on a beach cruiser. What a positively woeful moment of clarity. It’s time to get back into “biking shape”.
For those who don’t ride year ‘round to keep their fitness up, getting back into biking shape in the spring is probably the least fun time of the season, or maybe that’s just me. Yes, the sun is shining. The birds are chirping. It’s warm out and the trails and roads are drying rapidly. But, when I’m flogging myself silly trying to get to the point where I feel I can hang on the inevitable group ride, much of this is lost on me. I’ve lost all focus except for the ground in front of me. I can’t hear the birds over the pounding of my heart in my ears, and lack of road spray has been replaced by copious amounts of dripping sweat.
If I didn’t already know the answer from many years of engaging in such a masochistic ritual, I would ask aloud to no one in particular, “Why the hell am I doing this to myself? I feel like crap.” Yet, with experience comes wisdom. The next chapter in this story has already been written, and many times over at that. It reads as follows:
At some point during the summer season (when and where aren’t really important here) there will be monster climb, or a stretch of road 80 miles into the ride, or an intimidating section of trail before me. Every time prior to this moment, I will have faced these obstacles and wilted. I will have succumbed to the fatigue of body and mind that a poorly conditioned athlete is loathe, but hopefully resolved, to fight again and again.
At this moment, I will stand up, and absolutely crush the obstacle before me with the focus of a laser, the energy of a nuclear reactor, and the resolution of a master swordsman sliding seamlessly into battle. The transformation from frail to fantastic at that point is elegant in its completeness. I will have my answer. I won’t feel like crap for a change. I will feel awesome.
Eventually, the days will shorten and Old Man Winter will come looking to freeze the asses of poor, unsuspecting cyclists lacking in proper winter clothing. Many will decide that riding with frozen snot stuck to their faces sucks and hang up their bikes for the winter. They will move onto other things, and I don’t begrudge them that, for I very well may be among them. Riding bikes is a lot of things to a lot of people, but it isn’t everything.
But despite giving utterance to this even greater heresy, I must say, that there will again come a time when the great inertia of non-cycling will seem like an insurmountable challenge, and yet again will come a day when that challenge is not just met, but forced to tap out and cry “Uncle!” There will come the realization that this can be done with almost any challenge in life, and that we have cycling to thank for this realization. No, my friends, cycling isn’t everything, but it sure can teach you a lot about it.