Monday, March 12, 2018

70 and Done?

Log of my last seven months of cycling. I will comment on this record over the course of this post.

I confess I have a Facebook addiction. The silver lining is that my compulsive reading of Facebook helps me keep up with some of my friends. My high school friend Paul (previously referred to as Peter* on this blog) doesn't have a Facebook account, but his wife Susan does. Thus, it was on Facebook that I found out about Paul's bicycle accident. I also read Susan's comment: "I told Paul his road riding days are over. He agrees." Of course I telephoned Paul to offer him my condolences, and he told me that this was not such a big deal, since he had already had planned to retire from cycling at age 70. Since Paul and I are roughly the same age, this is less than two years away for both of us. Is that a thing, off the bike at 70?

Like Paul, I am also at a moment of truth, albeit a less acute one, and one based on physical fitness rather than safety. (I will return to the issue of safety at the end of the post.) As a result, I took Paul's remarks more seriously than I might have otherwise. My "moment" of truth (a moment that has lasted weeks) can be seen in the chart at the top of this post just by looking at the color of the "min/wk" column near the center of the chart. This color is based on the medical community's exercise recommendations. Weeks where I met the optimum recommendation of 300 minutes per week are are flagged in this column with a yellow background, those where I met the minimal recommendation of 150 minutes a week in green, and those where I didn't meet that minimum in white. My previous cycling routine had been devastated first by my wife's end of life care, then by her death, finally by the need to sell my house in Houston and move to California, with Hurricane Harvey making that difficult experience even worse. It was not until the week of 10/9/2017 that I was sufficiently moved into my new house in California that I could restart a cycling routine. For the next nine weeks, I managed to not only meet the optimal medical recommendation, but go well beyond them to a level of fitness that I hoped would easily prepare me for the Eroica California this spring and perhaps even riding with a local randonneuring club. And then, beginning the week of 12/11/2017, everything fell apart. What happened? In homage to the childrens' book series, I will describe it was A Series of Unfortunate Events.

The first series of events, not unfortunate overall but which had an unfortunate effect on my cycling, was an uptick in my social life, a combination of out of town trips and visitors. During the nine weeks I was riding regularly, I found that cycling plus routine chores (cooking, grocery shopping, laundry, house cleaning) consumed 100% of my energy and time, leaving no time to take care of anything else. Thus, when I had to prepare for two weeks of somewhat challenging travel, the only way I could do that was to abandon my cycling.  During the following weeks, much welcomed house guests, babysitting, and dealing with my wife's estate kept me from reestablishing my routine. After four weeks of that, a truly unfortunate event occurred. My granddaughter developed a respiratory syncytial virus infection, and as sometimes happens, it was severe enough to send her to the hospital for a week. During that week, between running errands for her parents and visiting her in the hospital, I had little time and no energy left for cycling. And then, of course, I caught her virus and I was sick as a dog. As I write this six weeks later, I am still coughing.

When I first became ill, my symptoms were severe; I had a fever, muscle ache, and did nothing but rest in bed. After a few days, I got over the worst of my symptoms and felt like I had nothing worse than a bad cold. In response, I started riding again, albeit extremely easy 30 minute rides around my neighborhood. Despite being so easy, they turned out to be too much; the day after even those easy rides I found my symptoms reproducibly got worse. So, I stopped trying to ride altogether, and it was only two weeks later that I resumed easy rides. They seemed to go well, so I resumed my "medium" (Pace) rides, my standard 2 hour/23 mile ride. My son had been urging me to try yoga for some time, so I did yoga on one of my off days as well. This was a disaster! My illness got much worse, and I have completely stopped riding again until I am symptom free. This means I will have lost a great deal of fitness, and worse, gotten out of the routine that I had worked so hard to build, but I don't see that I have a choice.

So what about Eroica California and randonneuring? Eroica California is another unfortunate event. As it happens, I had drastically underestimated the difficulty of this ride, even in its shortest, 40 mile incarnation. What alerted me to my error was some posts on a bulletin board I follow, the Classic and Vintage (C&V) group of the Bike Forums site. Eroica California, which is modelled after the original Eroica held in Italy, is a ride to celebrate "classic" bikes, which is defined as bicycles built before 1988 which lack indexed shifters, clipless pedals, and other modern abominations. What I hadn't realized is that Eroica also features extremely difficult rides with unusually steep climbs on dirt roads; Eroica is derived from the same root as the word heroic. This Bike Forms member was posting to C&V to ask about options for putting sufficiently low gears on a classic bike to be able to make it up those climbs. "How bad can they be?" I asked myself as read his post, so I went to the Eroica California website and got my answer: up to 12% grades on rutted, muddy roads - and that's on the shortest, easiest ride! This is almost certainly more than I can manage on any bicycle (mountain bike included), and is out of the question on my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima with its very limited low gear options. So a few weeks ago, I notified my fellow Modesto Roadmen that I would not be joining them on this ride.

How about randonneuring? I think I understood randonneuring better than I did Eroica, and so to the extent randonneuring was an option in 2017, it remains one in 2018, which begs the question of how realistic an aspiration it was in 2017. I may be learning that there are limitations imposed by my age which might not present themselves immediately or in the most obvious ways. I love bicycling, but it does makes me tired. Some of that tiredness is immediate; once I do a bike ride, I find it difficult to do anything else for the rest of that day. Some of that tiredness reveals itself only over time. If I push my bike rides day after day, I am more likely to pick up a virus that can knock me out of cycling for weeks. It can also leave me so tired that I can't get anything else done even on those days I don't ride. So, we'll see. I am going to concentrate on finding a sustainable ride schedule that optimizes my ability to deal with my long, long ToDo list, and take it from there.

In summary, I am not setting my 70th birthday as any kind of deadline. I plan to ride as much as I can both before and after that date. I expect the amount of riding I will be able to do each year will be less than the year before, but I make no hard rule about that either; what I find I can do, I will do. There is one other concern; my friend Paul is not giving up cycling because he can no longer manage it physically, but because he no longer feels safe on the road, and safety is a separate, very important consideration. I already feel less safe on the road than I did in my prime, and in response, I am much more careful. Thus, I need to be willing  to face reality when the decline of my faculties make it unsafe to continue road cycling. To know when that is, I will both have to watch myself as well as solicit the advice of friends and family to tell me if they think the time has come. So, should I not die of something else before then, the day will come when it is time for me to hang up the bike. But rather than try to guess in advance when that will be, I will wait for the signs that tell me when I have gotten there, whether I it be at age 69 or 99.

* Originally, I used pseudonyms to refer to my friends on this blog, but as I had a chance to talk to them, I decided this was unnecessary and have switched to referring to them by their real names.