Monday, December 30, 2013

Cycling for Fun

Me and my harmonica doing a Jonny Cash imitation on a fun ride back in '68.

I love getting comments on my blog, but sometimes they confuse me. A few weeks back, in response to a a post, in which I described my struggles with whipping my old body into some kind of useful condition, skiffrun commented:
Your goal has never seemed to be "do some rando rides," but instead has seemed to be "do training things and worry and blog about the training numbers." It seems you are getting all your "pleasure" out of the training tests. To do rando rides, you need to get the "pleasure" out of the actual RIDING and to heck with the numbers. 

The post on which skiffrun commented was the one of my posts that, for whatever reason, has generated more comments than any other. I responded to many of those comments, but not to skiffrun's. The reason I didn't is that, of all the comments, I found his the hardest to understand. I'm sure the barrier to understanding is entirely on my side of the dialogue, I suspect that any real randonneurs who happen to read skiffrun's comment thought to themselves "yup, that's how it is." However, I think I might finally be getting a sense of what skiffrun is saying. If I may attempt a paraphrase in my own words, it would be "We randonneurs really enjoy our brevets, but what you are describing is not what we do. Perhaps you would have more fun if you did it our way?"

Skiffrun is not the only commenter who seems to suggest that I am approaching randonneuring the wrong way. Implicit in some of these comments is the notion that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. For example, in response to a different post, an anonymous poster said "I think you are way overanalyzing things. Almost anybody can complete a 200 or 300k brevet--just keep the pace slow and steady, and eat way more than you think you should." Although true for many people, my problem with this generalization is that no two people are alike, what works for one may not work for another. We are not completely different one from another, that's why it makes sense to give each other advice. That said, we consist of subgroups, and advice relevant to one subgroup might miss the mark for another. For example, older cyclist (like me) have many limitations not shared by other cyclists. To further subgroup, older athletes who remained active in their sport throughout their life have more in common with each other than they do with the subgroup to which I belong, those oldsters who try to (re)join the athletic community at an old age after decades of neglecting their bodies. The peculiar characteristics of this latter subgroup may well put me outside the "almost anybody" who can complete a 300K brevet by riding slow and eating right, and skiffrun gets that. As he says later in his comment "if you end up only doing 40-milers, or 20-milers, because that is what you can do repeatedly and enjoy the ride, that will be a success!" I couldn't agree more, and the topic of this post is what fun rides might be available to me that "I can do repeatedly and enjoy the ride."

Let me start by repeating that I have enjoyed the two 200K brevets I have completed very much. However, what I have learned about myself since I restarted cycling in 2008 is that for me to complete one of these requires long, careful preparation and that riding one takes a lot out of me, such that I have to allow plenty of time (months) to recover. Is this too high a price to pay? I confess that, in my mind, that is still an open question. Arguments in favor of continuing to ride brevets to the extent I can, even as few as one 200K brevet a year, are that I find the long preparation for them fun in and of itself and that I have not found a group of riders I enjoy riding with more than randonneurs. The arguments against continuing is that they might be such a strain for me, given my genes, age, and history, that their harmful effects could outweigh their benefits, even factoring in how much fun they are. Stay tuned as I ponder this dilemma.

Modesto Roadmen, 1966, having about as much fun as we can stand.

If my only fun ride was one 200K brevet a year, that clearly wouldn't be enough. Fortunately, I also enjoy riding by myself (e.g. while preparing for a brevet) and riding with my wife on weekends, but I would still like to ride with groups more often than once a year. So what shorter group rides are available to an old man in Houston, Texas?

In the first place, 200 kilometers is not the shortest distance randonneurs ride. My club, the Houston Randonneurs, and our sister club, the Lone Star Randonneurs, run a number of 100K and 137K rides that start within driving distance of my home. What has kept me from participating in these heretofore is two things. Firstly, because I was focused on longer rides, these shorter rides conflicted with preparation for longer rides. Now that I have convinced myself that rides longer than 200K are beyond my abilities, and that even 200K represents a stretch, perhaps I should turn my attention to these shorter rides. Secondly, these rides are on weekends, and because I am retired and my wife is not, weekends tend to be reserved for activities with her. My longer brevets also took Saturdays away from my wife, but since I never managed to ride more than one brevet per year, this had not become an issue. If I do a larger number of shorter rides, it will. My wife can complete a 100K ride, so maybe we could do these together. A dream of mine is to get a tandem, which might facilitate this. The advantage these shorter rides have compared to the other kinds of rides I am considering is that they allow me to ride with the randonneurs whose company I enjoy.

In other posts to this blog, I have discussed two large group rides (hundreds to thousands of riders) I have enjoyed, the Tour of Houston and the Tour de Pink. I fully intend to repeat these two particular rides in 2014, and have my eyes open for more such rides. Riding with my adult children is always fun, and the recent large group ride I did with them in Virginia, the Back Roads Century, was special indeed. For 2014, we are looking into doing RAGBRAI as a family team, though the obligatory camping might be beyond what my wife and I can still do. Something I have looked at but so far avoided are the rides sponsored by Critical Mass and the like. In addition to their cannonical ride held the last Friday of every month, this same group of people hold several other rides each month, many spontaneous. On the one hand, they seem like relaxed and friendly rides, well within my capabilities, but long enough to be fun. On the other, these seem to be party oriented and most definitely not my demographic. What I have not enjoyed so much are typical "club" rides, either with the Houston Bicycle Club or the Stanislaus County Bicycle Club. The problem with these rides for me is that they are not usually all that long but include a lot of rest stops and are ridden at a pace I find very fast, almost like a race from rest stop to rest stop. I am well aware that these are kind of ride that the majority of road cyclists enjoy most, I just happen not to be one of them.

But life cannot be all fun and games. As I noted in my post on Cycling for Health, because cycling is my sole source of aerobic exercise, The American College of Sports Medicine wants me riding at least five days a week, those rides done at a moderate effort and averaging an hour in length. Between the perils of urban cycling and the constraints of time, there are just not that many fun rides I can do. A couple of years ago, my wife and I gave up our second car and my wife started commuting to work by bicycle. We are trying to spend as much time as we can together, so I have been riding in to work with her and then spending another 45 minutes going around and around and around the third of a mile bike track at Rice University. I do confess this is boring, but what keeps me going is the regularity of this routine. Like brushing my teeth and washing the dishes, this is something I do without thinking too much about it, and so it gets done, and hopefully as a result, I will stay healthier and perhaps even be better able to engage in fun rides.

This is my 77th blog post. My first 69 assumed that I might be able to work up to a relatively normal randonneuring career, one including an annual super brevet series and perhaps a 1200K randonnée. How to reach that goal was one of the organizing themes of this blog. Even though I always allowed for the possibility that this dream might be too ambitious for an old man like me, it was not until Blog Post 70 that I accepted that the dream was over. Perhaps what skiffrun was really telling me was that the problem all along was the whole notion of having a dream. Perhaps, instead of using my rides to reach a goal, I should have just gone out on rides and let what happened, happen. Will I change the title of this blog from "The Zombie Cyclist" to "The Nihilist Cyclist?" Stay tuned.

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