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My First Season(12 posts)

My First SeasonPatrick
Dec 15, 2003 8:14 AM
My First Season

At the tender age of 45 I bought my first bike ever. The ones I rode as a kid, a Rollfast and a Raleigh three speed, were bought by my Dad. Good choices on his part. The Rollfast was an awesome bike; big, heavy, and stealth-like. Well oiled and greased, I could sneak up on most of the kids in my neighborhood, never emitting any other sound than the hiss of tires on asphalt. The Raleigh was a great bike too in it's own right. I loved the classy British style and the green and gold paint and lettering. I came to resent the Raleigh though; in those early teen years I lusted after internal combustion and wanted no more to do with bicycles.
I was so lost then. Years and events came and went.
In the spring of 2001 I found myself cruising the local bike shops looking for a bike after 30 years of velo-dormancy.
My choice was a Trek Hybrid. At the time I thought it unlikely that I would ever need more performance than it offered. My plan was to use the Trek to cross train for my chosen hobbies of Mountaineering and Rock and Ice climbing. So much for plans.
I'm a late entry to athleticism, having spent my teen years and much of adulthood abusing any substance that I could get my hands on. All that substance abuse left little energy or desire for outdoor pursuits. What I saw of the outdoors in those years was viewed as I went to and from package stores and bars. I was fortunate enough to embark on a path of recovery in 1991 and have been clean and sober ever since. My recovery has allowed me to return to the outdoors that I knew as a youngster. I've spent many weekends during the 1990's on the trails and crags of New Hampshire's White Mountains and in more recent years I've had some successes climbing at higher altitudes in Colorado, Alaska and Mexico.
There is a dark side to my hobbies though. I'm always pushing myself to go further, higher and faster. Once I found out that my body was still in reasonable working order after all I'd done to it (amazing!), I seem to always be pushing it to its limits. Maybe I'm trying to play catch-up for all those years wasted in blind excess. Normal enough I guess, until it became clear that I tend to attach my self worth to each new goal. This is where things get a bit grim. Friends, loved ones and advisors have called me to task from time to time about my sometimes cheerless "all or nothing" approach to my athletic goals. They're right; I have to admit that often I'm not having much fun in either the preparation or the event itself. Fear of failure looms large. To top it off, I notice that I never savor an accomplishment. I always critique harshly, and tell myself that what I've just done was "too easy".
All this makes me tons of fun to be around!
Which brings me back to Cycling. I had a great time on the Hybrid that first spring and summer. Carmen (my girlfriend) and I logged many miles around Boston's Metro West area on evenings and weekends. Plus, I began to love the after work rides I took on my own. I remember one ride in particular that seemed to firmly implant the riding bug in me.
I had started out from my apartment in East Arlington on a hot, muggy summer evening and decided to take the Minuteman Bike Path from Arlington center to the terminus in Bedford and back. I worked hard all the way, head down, sweat dripping off my nose. I was about to return when I stopped for a moment and just looked around. For an instant my mind was distracted from my performance and whatever goals I had set for myself. Instead, I experienced one of those rare moments where I could see and appreciate clearly where I was in my life. I realized that I was an incredibly fortunate individual, still very much alive despite several close calls during my years of abuse. Here I was, spending a summer evening cycling around these New England streets, pushing myself to improve, to go faster, and in the meantime I was missing out on so much.
As many New Englanders know, there are a
Oh...The got cut off...:-)biknben
Dec 15, 2003 8:32 AM
I'm glad to see you cut yourself off from the booze but you got cut off here as well. There's a limit to the size of a post. Please finish it. I was enjoying it so far.
Oh...The got cut off...:-)Patrick
Dec 15, 2003 9:03 AM
OK, I'll do an installment thang...

re: My First SeasonPatrick
Dec 15, 2003 9:08 AM
As many New Englanders know, there are a finite number of evenings such as the one I was now enjoying. All the trees and shrubs are full and fat. The asphalt is still warm from a very hot day. There is an orange muggy haze created by dust, humidity and the setting sun. Gnats hover in clouds along the roads and paths and the very air itself feels like a warm bath, almost swimable. "This is it" I thought, "This is prime time".
I decided not to turn back right away. Instead, I continued on through Bedford and into Concord, letting my whim and curiosity decide the route. I still kept a brisk pace but also worked on letting my awareness take in the full experience. What a ride! At times I could barely wipe the smile from my face. I've had many rides like that since, some even better.
Eventually, after a hectic year of buying a home and settling in, I found the time, energy and money to further investigate this sport and buy a road bike. The Hybrid wasn't cutting it anymore, and as much as I was trying to appreciate my surroundings and "smell the roses" as it were, I hated being passed by roadies. I envied those sleek fancy rigs they rode and wanted to zip along at the speeds they seemed to achieve so effortlessly.
I'd done some research and felt confident that I knew at least a little bit about what was on the market, and what would suit me best. After several weekends of test rides this spring, I chose a Bianchi Imola triple, with full Shimano 105 gear. Basic entry-level stuff by many standards, a two-wheeled Formula One racer to me. As a British friend of mine said after riding it; "quite a lovely bike really, very well mannered". That about sums it up. I've had great rides on it and couldn't be happier, although I do confess to schemes of making it lighter.
It's been a wonderful season on the Bianchi. Training rides are much longer, average MPH is way up and I've had many rides that have been filled with moments of absolute joy. If that wasn't enough, my competitive urges have been well satisfied. After discovering the CRW and going on a handful of Saturday rides with them, I've had a ball trying to stay with some of the aggressive pacelines.

So, along comes the Fall Century! I knew the minute that I read the description that I wanted to do it. The hills worried me though, the Delorme contour map looked a bit frightening from mile 30 to mile 50.
The thing is, I'm a lousy climber.
Maybe all those Marlboros (quit in '97) had done some irreparable damage that I could never overcome. Maybe I'm only a first year roadie and expect too much. All I know is that my heart and respiration rate shoots up as soon as I head uphill, I mean way up! It's the same with Mountaineering, my body seems to go into this super low gear to get climbs done. It's frustrating as hell. There's nothing worse that watching the hind end of other hikers or cyclists move uphill at a faster pace than I can manage.
The Physical suffering is one thing, I'm getting pretty good at ignoring the pain. The mental beating that I am capable of self-administering is quite another. It can ruin rides, and it has come quite close in the past to ruining some wonderful climbing trips. With that in mind, I made a promise to myself that I would try and approach the Century differently.
Meditation and spiritual practices have taught me much in the past few years. Probably the most important being compassion. A friend once joked with me after witnessing one of my self-beatings; "Pat, put down the bat and step away". He trained an imaginary gun at me and had his feet spread wide apart. It was funny and served to diffuse the moment. He was also right on the money. The trick, I've found is to drop the mental "bat" again and again, every time I pick it up. Sometimes, that practice seems to involve the whole ride. Other times I need only remind myself occasionally to be compassionate.
September 21st found me in a chilly high school parking lot in Acton fiddling nervo
re: My First SeasonPatrick
Dec 15, 2003 9:10 AM
September 21st found me in a chilly high school parking lot in Acton fiddling nervously with my bike and eyeballing the other riders. I also made several nervous trips to the thoughtfully placed Portajons. My game plan was as follows:
1. Ride a reasonable pace. After all, there are another 50 miles to go after the hills and the most I've ever done at one go is 55 miles.
2. Eat an energy bar at least once an hour, in addition to the goodies at the water stops.
3. Stay Hydrated
4. Stay Hydrated!
5. Look around at stuff
6. Smile at other riders and chat if there is an opportunity.
7. Drop the "Bat" early and often.
8. Have fun!

After a brief pre-ride talk I set out with a lead group at 8:04 am. I knew I wouldn't be with them for long, but I was too itchy to wait any longer. I was shelled out the back at 8:06 am. I grinned to myself as other riders whizzed by me. "Easy Pat, there is a lot of riding left to do yet."
The first hour or so was spent sightseeing and warming up. Once I was warm, I shed my windbreaker and continued on. Occasionally I rode with other riders, singly or in groups. The groups, for the most part were moving too quickly for me and I would be dropped once a hill appeared. Being dropped was disappointing, but I reminded myself of the long day ahead and tried to remain cheery. In truth, deep down inside I was thrilled that I was even on this ride. Who woulda thunk it? Most people weren't even up yet, and here I was, attempting a century. A man to be reckoned with!
I attached myself to another group at the beginning of the hills and again was dropped. Only this time I had company. A rider whose name I've since forgotten confessed to be a slow climber too. He had good reason; I estimated his weight at around 260 lbs. It was like riding along with a nose tackle. He was used to being alone on hills and had done many centuries. We ground out the hills together and chatted about bikes and riding in general. After disclosing my beginner status I got lots of riding tips (some helpful). As we crested what seemed to be a high point (great view) he said he intended to pick it up a bit. He was gone like a shot on the descents.
I was actually surprised to roll into the 50-mile water stop in such good shape. I ate, drank, stretched, whizzed and took stock. My legs hurt a bit, but that was to be expected, I felt well hydrated and still had good energy. Above all, my attitude was great! This was fun. Sure, there was pain up the road but so what? When wasn't there?
At the pre-ride talk (where I paid attention for a change) there was a reminder that one more nasty hill remained after the 50 mile stop. With that in mind, I ate an extra snickers bar and headed up the road. Sure enough, there it was, Yikes! What a climb! I ended up in my lowest gear, switchbacking my way up this monster of a hill that I thought would never end. At one point I thought I'd have to get off the bike, but I dug down and found just a bit more push in my legs. At last it was over. I felt trashed, and in fact, I was never quite the same after that last climb.
Thank God for descents! there were a few beauties after that last climb. Once out on the relative flat though, I found that my legs were well and truly cooked. Once again, I found myself riding with another solo rider for a bit. We exchanged physical status reports and he encouraged me to keep at it despite the baked legs. His basic message was to try and mentally "begin again" every time I thought I could go no further. Awesome advise!
From then on in, after every groan and gasp and falter, I settled down and continued as if it was a brand new ride.
I noodled into the 75 mile water stop and replenished myself with water and bananas. I spent some time trying to stretch some new life into my legs too. Staying longer that 15 minutes felt like postponing the inevitable, so I headed up the road for the home stretch.
It wasn't pretty but I got it done. Those little rollers that
re: My First SeasonPatrick
Dec 15, 2003 10:11 AM
It wasn't pretty but I got it done. Those little rollers that made up much of the last 25 miles were tough. At one point, as I crept up a short hill in deep concentration, I was startled by a sudden "pong" as a previously unheard rider behind me ran over an acorn. I whipped my head around to see who was there and nearly rode into the woods on my right. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you" he said. I confessed to being in a world of my own and husbanding the remainder of my energy. He said he was exhausted too, and losing his riding skills. We wished each other good luck as he moved on.
Finally, I began to recognize familiar surroundings and knew I was almost home. Like a horse nearing the barn, I found some last bits of energy and got on the wheel of a guy who was also sprinting for the finish. We wrapped up the last two miles at a respectable 18-19 mph. And cruised into the high school parking lot. I glanced at my watch, exactly 3 pm. Whoo-weee what a ride!
After two sandwiches and some Gatorade and a handful of cookies, I felt pretty good. The memory of the hills and the pain was already beginning to fade. The warm buzz of accomplishment remained though, and still does.
I'm still squeezing in the occasional ride during these colder months but, the Fall Century feels sort of like an official season ender, the big game. My first season and first century will live on inside me to remind me how to persevere and also, how to enjoy. Sometimes at the same time.
I'll be back next year.
Good read, thanks (nm)c722061
Dec 15, 2003 11:05 AM
Great story! And Congrats! nmAsiago
Dec 15, 2003 11:22 AM
re: My First SeasonORdirtydown
Dec 15, 2003 3:52 PM
We are on very similar paths. I am a few years younger and started recovery a few years earlier. The obsessive/compulsiveness lives on. I re-ignited my passion for cycling in 2001 also. Ever since it has been full up a lot of up-hills and downhills. I started competing last year. My stable of bikes is at 4 complete bikes (road race, cyclocross, fs mtb, ss mtb). I started with a mtb and a Jamis hybrid. By the end of summer 2001, I had purchased a used road bike. This weekend, I started contemplating building up a fixed track bike with that used Trek carbon frame.

Like you, I am never satisfied with my performance. My obsession is on the bleeding edge of un-healthy. However, it sure is awesome being out on the road enjoying the clean life.

Awesome job on the century. Good luck next year.
Dec 16, 2003 7:05 AM
With a similar dark history (cleaned up '90, quit smoking '94) I bought my first bike @ 46, a Specialized hybrid. Several upgrades later, it's sadly taken some concious effort not to lose sight of my original goal: having fun. Increased fitness is really just a by-product, I'd ride if it wasn't. In fact with time I was strangely surprised at the new legs. I was surprised to notice one day that my recovery pace was now significantly faster the my first cruising speed. But I was most surprised that pain - which I so carefully, (so chemically avoided!) - was managable and desirable.
My third year now,it just gets better.
Have Fun,
Dec 16, 2003 11:26 AM
Right on Mike!
I continue to be suprised when a specific ride, hike or climb is "easier" than the last time I did it. Truly having your cake and eating it too. Now if I can just keep the ego dimensionally correct, I'll be all set.
Ride on!

re: My First Seasondave_w
Dec 16, 2003 3:11 PM
Very nice, the kind of thing I wish there was more of in the bicycling mags. Congrats on the accomplishments!