Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Naked Riding

Ride to Live? Live to Ride?
Ride for the sake of buying awesome
beer socks.

Question to self: “Am I wearing shorts?”

Answer from self: “Yes.”

“OK, I’m ready to ride. Let’s go.”

The logistics of going for a ride on my road bike aren’t that simple—but pretty damn close.  Once the impulse to get cranky on my skinny tires strikes me, there isn’t much delay before I hear that satisfying click of my cleat into the pedal. At a time when “rolling” meditation is essential for dissolving my dark anger, the quotidian and simple act of cycling provides a necessary transfusion of equanimity.

The contrast to mountain biking, or even skiing, couldn’t be starker. Preparation and equipment are minimal, and rarely am I cursing something I forgot; an occurrence I like to call the “Mother Fu@%ing Trailhead Satori”. My uptight devotion to checklists is as much about preventing instances of this trailhead affliction as it is about my perverse love of Excel spreadsheets. For example, just this March, I showed up for a three-day yurt trip and achieved Mother Fu@%ing Trailhead Satori (satori - a concept of sudden awakening in Zen Buddhism) when I forgot my sleeping bag. Had it not been for the nearby strip mall hardware store, where I could buy a $35 sleeping bag, I would have been in a foul mood for most of the day. The more gear you need for an activity, the more likely it is you won’t even think about it until you’re miles down the road—or even worse, miles down the trail. But with road cycling, where the trailhead is your garage and everything you need is ultimately “in use” as soon as you leave the driveway, you’re much less likely to be in the situation like I was in in Kamas last March: heading to a yurt with a sleeping bag that could have been mistaken for a batt of Owens Corning insulation.

The simplicity of road cycling is not a new insight for me, but with the pandemic closing gyms and crowding the trails, I’ve found myself in the saddle of my road bike more than usual this spring. This has been a refreshing change to my normal spring routine: trying to squeeze every ounce of corn skiing out of the backcountry while eagerly waiting for mountain bike trails to dry out. Getting out on my road bike is usually an afterthought at this time of year, and before you know it, summer’s ending and I’m struggling to make 1,000 miles by year end.

Well, that’s changed this season. Sunday’s ride put me over 600 miles for the year, which is a big step towards doing something I haven’t done in 15 years: ride 2,000 miles in a year. Regardless of whether I meet that goal, I’m really learning to appreciate the lack of logistics in road cycling. I know runners have me beat when it comes to minimalism, but abusing my knees with regular jogging is not something this 44 year old needs to endure for fitness and sanity. But like jogging, cycling allows you to really seal yourself into a nice little self-contained bubble. “Zoning out” isn’t the best way to describe the feeling, especially with the challenges of dealing with Salt Lake traffic, but mindfulness and tranquility seems more attainable on a road bike than skiing or mountain biking. Road cycling feels like the recreational equivalent of an extended jam in a live concert where you just sort of lose yourself. While pedaling my 12-year old Scott Addict, I get 90+ minutes to settle into a groove. Yes, there are stoplights, stupid drivers, and the occasional flat tire, but most of the time, it’s soothing, constant, sustained rhythm. Unlike mountain biking, I’m not evaluating terrain, anticipating corners, or making snap decisions—just grinding. It’s anger, acceleration, heavy breathing, freewheeling, self-propulsion, torque, isolation, and exertion all spread out on the waves of constant forward motion.

Tight shorts or not, the low overhead of road cycling really makes it feel like I’m riding in the buff. The equipment, preparation, and “posting” (my term for storing and drying everything out after a ski) are minimal; it’s my recreational equivalent of skinny dipping. The process is: decide to ride, stretch, get the kit on, AND RIDE—no exhaustive evaluation of gear and no checklists. I don’t have to get up early to find a parking spot. There is no long drive to the trailhead. When I’m done, I hang the bike up, recharge my light, and refill the bottles. If I were to imagine my outdoor pursuits as a sandwich, road biking is a satisfying turkey, bacon, and avocado. You feel good eating it and everything works in harmony. Skiing, by contrast, has started to feel like a severely absurd and excessive New York deli sandwich where they use two whole, stale bagels instead of bread. On the good side, this sandwich has 3” of warm, fatty pastrami covered in spicy brown mustard that will put you in a state of bliss, but in order to eat it, you need to dislocate your jaw just to take a bite. And once you get it in your mouth, the effort to chew the bagels nearly wipes out the pleasure of the pastrami.

I guess where I’m going with the analogy is, especially with skiing, I’m struggling to enjoy my sandwich of late. This is crossing into “Get off my Lawn-ism”, but with road cycling, I spend very little time suffering fools. [Now, in fairness, I’m sure motorists have an opposite perspective towards me on my bike in their terrain.] I realize cars are a major hazard that turns many people off to road riding, but I actually find a great deal of parallel between managing avalanche hazard and traffic. However, in spite of being on alert for stupid drivers, I don’t really find the Dark Side rising up during a ride as much as it does when skiing. On the slopes, I encounter entitled tourists wondering why lifts open at 9:15 and not 9, skiers coming down Devil’s Elbow pell-mell, kooks stopping on the traverse, and noobs putting a skinner right up a slide path. Then with mountain biking, there are large groups stopping right in the middle of the trail, fathers trying a little too hard to be cool with their parade of kids by blasting hip-hop on their Bluetooth speaker, riders coming down “uphill-only” trails, and E-BIKERS! These are all things that, admittedly, I allow to ruin my day. I’ll keep working to fix that, but you know what’s easier in the short term than learning to love your fellow man? Going for a damn road ride.


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