Friday, December 17, 2010

For the Love of the Sport

Well, cycling isn't really a sport but I think that the phrase really captures the essence of today's ride. I was able to get out during the daylight as I started vacation at noon. This is my big vacation of the year, two full weeks, which also means that I am done until 2011. Needless to say, I have been looking forward to this for some time now.

I put the wheel set which I should have been running last weekend back on my single speed cyclocross bike after destroying my ancient Ksyrium at the Ice Weasels race last weekend. This wheelset is pretty bombproof and was actually built specifically for the Ice Weasels race last year. It runs urban camo Velocity Deep V's laced 32 radial to an XTR front and 32 snowflake twist to a Paul's SS in the rear. They also have red annodized nipples on the DT Champion silver spokes. My plan was simply to head out for a local mixed bag ride and get in a few bursts of intensity to open up and also to spin the legs back out. The route consisted of light trail and old railroad bed, some colonial era roadways in Estabrook Woods, some back country roads, some trail in Great Brook State Park and some more road and trail to get back home. I am very fortunate in that this is my normal, local riding territory and it is without question some of the nicest around. We are truly lucky to have so much open land and so many quiet country roads in an area that is as populous as this is. I suspect that you would be hard pressed to find that elsewhere. Thank the folks who preserve this for you the next time you get the opportunity.

After Wednesday night's MTB ride which saw the ambient temperature in the teens, the 34 degrees and sunny felt entirely pleasant. It felt really good to be out on the bike today, a day where it felt good to be alive. This may well have something to do with the start of a long vacation or with the holiday season or with the fact that it was a beautiful day outside. I choose to think though, that the biggest reason was simply that I was out riding my bike for fun.

Throughout the ride I was reminded of the simple joy and sense of freedom that can come from riding a bicycle. Problems seem to dissolve away with the spinning of your legs. Day's like this remind me why I spend so much of my life perched upon a bicycle saddle. It is simply because I love it and I always have. As long as I can remember, there have always been bicycles in my life. Sure, there was that awkward teenage period where no self respecting adolescent in Northern Vermont would be caught dead on anything without an engine but eventually I came back to it. As an adult, cycling took root in me and has been a defining aspect for the past 18 years. Cycling has changed my perspective and my values and has transported me from the person I was, into the person that I am now.

When I first started cycling as an adult it was of course for fun and we would ride mountain bikes after work once or twice a week in the Middlesex Fells. We would be out for a couple of hours and cover maybe 5 miles. Not much of a workout by today's standard but it set the hook. This was in the fairly early days of mountain biking in this area, before the MTB explosion happened. I met many good people like Scott and Anita who had over the top nice Klein bikes during this time. I was also introduced to NEMBA by my friend Wick. This got me involved in advocacy and exposed me to many others in the community as well. Right about this time I also started to dabble in racing. This was the old me though, lets say me and a half. I "fondly" remember my first MTB race ever, the Surf and Dirt in Orleans. I raced beginner which was one 5 mile lap. I did terrible and thought that I was going to die. I honestly couldn't fathom how people could push themselves so hard for such a long period of time. I weighed 234# at that point.

Fast forward a bunch of years to the tail end of the century. I've gotten way more into riding and am racing as a very, very mediocre expert though fairly successful Clydesdale. The weight is down to about 210# at that point. Life has taken a bunch of turns and Cathy and I are living in our current home. I've become disenchanted with racing and my poor results so Cathy and I decide to just ride for fun. Just about this time I meet PK, who at that point and still today for that matter, was well know as a dispenser of torture on the bicycle. My focus changed and we just rode hard all of the time for fun. We also started doing more and more longer and longer rides, fondly referred to as death-marches during this time-frame.

During Y2K a new discipline of mountain biking was popping up in videos, free-riding. This was very similar to much of the hardcore riding many of has been doing all along in places like Lynn Woods and Vietnam. However, now it had a name, and a bunch of faces, and bikes started to develop specifically for it. I was hooked and started the quest for bigger and bigger travel bikes. I also started playing the Russian Roulette game of up the ante every time you went out on the trail. This meant that you needed to not only huck, drop and clean everything you had ever done before but you also had to do something new. My free-ride bike at that point was a Santa Cruz Bullit with a Risse coilover giving 8" of rear travel and a Marzocchi Jr-T with 6" up front. That was a mere gateway though to the real bike, my full on DH race bike, an Intense M1 with an Avalanche 8" butter smooth rear mated with a 7" RockShox Boxxer Pro up front. This bike was incredible. Cathy and I had bought a house in Maine and were riding DH at Sunday River every weekend. My technical skills went through the roof, my fitness through the floor. I struggled on the PK hammer-fests during the week. I also struggled with the constant self pressure of the ante upping to the point where I didn't want to go ride the technical stuff. Clearly this wasn't working and clearly I'm crazy, but we knew that part going in.

Alas, Sunday River pulled the plug on DH and so we stopped riding it entirely. Right about that time, a key aspect of my cycling development came into scope; the road bike. This was PK's idea and with reluctance I bit. I'd had a road bike for years and had dabbled but the bread and butter of my riding was always centered on dirt. The road was new and fresh and exciting. We rode everywhere and with the same zeal that we had offroad. The miles racked up as did the fitness. It wasn't long before the road racing started only this time, the results were better. Years of torture at the hands of PK had made a huge difference. We added in time-trialing to the mix and this got us involved in NEBC. Shortly thereafter we add cyclocross and the rest is mostly history.

Oh yea, flip back to Y2K for a minute. This was the introduction of the single-speed MTB for us. We jumped in with both feet and started riding them at every opportunity. We also started drinking PBR. One other note of interest happened when you fast forward a few years and we make a foray back into MTB racing. This time the results are incredible. I'd literally had this crazy recurring dream over the years in which I actually won a mountain bike race. Guess that means I had cycling on my mind but this was just a dream for the longest time. I could not comprehend being at the front of an expert level race when for all those years I had only ever been at the back. Apparently all of the years of road and cyclocross riding and racing as well as continued MTB riding were the key. The circle was complete.

Sometimes it takes rides like today to make you realize that it's all about the continual journey and evolution. Nothing is constant and nothing lasts forever. That said, with some variety within a given aspect, that aspect can live a long fruitful and rewarding life.

3 comments:

Jonny Bold said...

Great post Mikey

David said...

An interesting road travelled and I had no idea you had a clydesdale past, I would never have guessed. Huge credit for what you've achieved and it gives me some hope.

mkr said...

There is hope for everyone and nobody has to give it to you. Simply make it social, your sport or activity that is, and then use each other to build the motivation and enthusiasm. Also keep it fresh and new and don't let yourself stagnate. That means lots of different bikes :)

My biggest fear is reverting to what and who I used to be. That is the fire that drives and motivates me.