Ridin’ In The Rain

This morning’s ride never felt right. Tired, got in too late the night before. Dead legs, maybe from a big swim the day before. Mentally just not into it.

And the clouds.

Looking out the window when I awoke, it was dark. The forecast was for intermittent showers. But I either rode this morning or never. Too much to do later in the day. So I kept going. Filled the water bottle. Put on the bike clothes. Checked the tires.

Off  I went.

There was this constant feeling of dread. I looked up to the heavens ever few minutes. The sky was dark…but was it getting lighter to the west? The sun would pop through the clouds every once in a while and yet it was mostly dark. Inside and out.

The feeling of dread continued. My legs were not working as they should. I was struggling and I had not even gone 5 miles (on my way to 50 was the plan). A pack of bikers passed by. I entertained myself trying to keep up but then the hill came and they were gone.

I knew I had work and house stuff to do and if I rode 50 I would be too tired.  That weighed on my mind. So even as I lurched forward my mind and body conspired against me. And then there were those clouds. I picked a spot to turn around that was way too soon. I would go out later and add miles if I felt better I promised myself.

Within minutes of heading home the rain came. Heavy at first. Big drops. Then a steady downpour. I was 10 miles from home. That would have been 40 minutes in dry conditions but the rain makes me drop to casual ride speeds. I had learned my lesson early about speed and turns and thin tires at 100 psi. that day just left me with scraped legs and a bruised ego. I will not risk being that lucky a second time.

For a short time ridin’ in the rain had a romantic feel. The storm was not strong enough to invoke a sense of adventure. But this was different from my usual ride. The large drops felt cool on my skin and I figured what the f…

That romantic feeling faded fast. soon I was just wet and cold. My feet felt as if I was standing in puddles and the rain drove the sweat into my eyes. That burned. No, not in danger but this was no longer fun.

It took an hour but I was home. Ripped off my wet stuff wrapped a towel around me and made breakfast. Finally the day ahead seemed brighter. Then the scream. Hundreds of ant in the food pantry. That is another story.

It Was The Best Of Rides, It was the Worst Of Rides

When I do something particularly well I imagine the next time will be as good or better. Assuming an upward trajectory is a common mistake. Reality more often is a series of hills. If you are good, over time the overall elevation gets higher but there is always some up and down. (Not sure if that analogy worked as well as it did in side my head. What do you think?)

Two weeks ago I rode better than I had in years. I woke up sluggish and the first few miles on the bike were nothing special. The conditions were good but not great (3.5-4.0 on a 5.0 scale). Temps were in the mid 60s and a modest wind from the east which had little effect on my mostly north-south ride. But soon something magical began to happen. I decided to push the pace and my body actually responded. I felt strong the entire first half of the ride. Instead of merely pedaling I was pedaling hard.

OK. This was the first half. This has happened before. More often than not when I feel like a hero I discover that the wind has been at my back. I turned after 27 miles. Waiting for the wind or for my legs to begin to beg me to slow. Never happened. I felt great. I forced the action for the next 28 miles. I rode 55 (it was my birthday and I rode one mile for each year on the planet.) I averaged a hair under 16 mph while riding which was more than .5 mph faster than my best time so far this year. I cannot remember averaging that speed for that long in several years. The difference between my total time and my ride time was only 8 minutes. That was one 3 minute break at 30 miles and lots of stop lights. I have been semi-seriously riding for 6 years and my speed had plateaued. Riding faster has been a desire for several years. On that day I did feel like a hero.

Fast forward to yesterday. Yes I completed 52 miles. But I can’t really count this as a 50 mile ride. I struggled from the beginning. Barely able to move for ward. The signs were there at 17 miles that I should not make this a 50 miler. (Visualize in cartoon fashion a big sign saying “Rick Turn Back NOW!!!) I had to stop, I was breathing hard and my legs ached. But I am stubborn. Or stupid. On I went.I ended up making several stops along the way. Towards the end I stopped every few miles. I only can hope that the effort I put in burned a whole bunch of calories. If not the 4+ hours I spent were for naught.

So how did I fall from my best ride ever to hell on wheels? Certainly part can be explained by the weather. Yesterday was 85 with high humidity. It was my first ride in the heat. And yet the delta was too great for the heat  to be the only factor.

I can think of several possibilities. I had not gotten enough sleep that night or for the past week. After many weeks of relatively healthy eating I had given into candy on several occasions recently. I do consider sugar to be a poison. Just a particularly tasty one.  Lastly I had not gone swimming for two weeks. Swimming adds to my aerobic capacity and overall feeling of goodness.

Whatever the reasons, I have until tomorrow to contemplate what this means for the future. Was my birthday ride an anomaly and destined to be the pinnacle of my riding success? Will i be able to adjust to the summer heat? Can I ride enough to complete a century ride by the end of the summer? That is my ultimate goal. As of yesterday the answer is no way in hell.

But tomorrow thanks to the extended holiday weekend I will ride again. The intrigue of the unknown consumes my thoughts. And I hope for the best.

When All You Can Do Is Laugh

Comedy is tragedy that happens to someone else. Some days I live in a sit-com.

Another long day on top of a string of long days. Morning meeting in Cleveland, fly on a tiny commuter jet, and  run back North to a 3 hour meeting.  (I know, you are thinking, stop whining before you get out your tiny violin.)

Come out of the meeting. I am limping. Not sure if it from too many plane rides, too little exercise or old age. Go to my car. I am holding my sport coat in my hand and I want to lay it on the back seat. I flick my wrist to get the jacket to lay flat. Car key in same hand. It goes flying. Fortunately into the car.

I am bending over checking the floor and then crawling around my back seat. Half in and half out of the car. It has gotten cold. I am tired and just want to go home. Can’t find the key.

Remember the scene in Young Frankenstein when Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman go to the cemetery to dig out a body. Remember the classic line? “Could be worse, could be raining.” Suddenly it is.

To recap. Cold. Tired. Limping. Add wet. Twenty minutes to find the stupid key.

I start laughing out loud. By myself. Like a crazy person. Nothing else to do when all you can do is laugh.

p.s.  I come home to a note telling me there is a squirrel tail laying just outside the back door. No squirrel seems to be attached. Please remove.

Anything else world?

Real Men Change Tires

The counter is that is why motor club service was invented.

I had not had a flat in years. Only once before with my VW and that was actually my son a few days after getting his driver’s license.

I left work that night at 9 with a 45 minutes trip home. On the usual highway when I hear a noise and then a constant thudding. It sounded more like I had rolled over something that stuck to the car than it sounded like a flat. I probably waited too long to exit. No, I definitely waited too long.

I pulled off into the parking lot of a small fruit store that was right off the exit. It was closed for the night.

History has taught me that you never know how long it will take for the motor club to send someone. It was late. I was tired. I had done this before.

Lesson One. Keep a working flashlight in your car. The lights from the store were of only modest assistance. After emptying the trunk enough to get to the spare  I struggled to find the tool kit and the jack. 15-20 minutes at least. The lack of light hampered the process several times.

My wife and I are all over our teenage son when he rattles off a litany of obscenities at the slightest provocation. My son could have learned a thing or two about spewing obscenities if he had been with me that night.

Lesson Two. Periodically check to make sure the spare has enough air. I got lucky, mine did. I have not checked in years.

I figure that the tire should have been changed in no more than 30 minutes. The whole thing took well over an hour. The lack of light and search time for tools contributed. So did the fact that VW includes one of the worst jacks possible.

I am accustomed to having the longest, widest part of the jack be on the ground. Such a design leads to stability as a couple of thousand pounds is lifted off of the ground. When after several minutes this clearly was not working, I checked the owner’s manual. Stupid me, I should have realized that the 2 sq. inch piece of metal at one end of the jack  would be what will ground the force of the two thousand pound car from slipping and crushing me. Of course.

The icing on the cake. I had the car up on the jack, the old tire off, the spare on the frame but could not get the lug nuts to screw in. I tried six times. By then I was sure that I was missing some crucial piece. Fortunately my brother had spent most of his adult working like as an auto mechanic. I called.

What he told me to do was exactly what I had been doing. Yet with him om the phone it worked. All I can figure is that his mechanic aura had come through the cell phone towers to my phone and made magic happen. Yes at 10:30 at night after a long work day and more than an hour struggling with the damn tire, it as MAGIC!

Admittedly at the end of it all  I felt a sense of satisfaction for taking care of something myself. I would not have felt this way if I had called the motor club. But I might have gotten home sooner.

Road to Exhaustion

No, not a remake of an obscure Hope/Crosby movie (does that date me or what).

No, I rode the road to exhaustion today.

I had been riding stronger. Each of the last two weeks I had finished my 52 mile North route. Last week with good weather and little wind I even finished at a 15.6 mph pace which is good for me.

I have been wanting to ride 60 since that would be an indication that maybe I could compete and complete a century ride this year. I had skipped last year after 2 years in a row. I did not have the legs for 60 last week. This week, I am bach-ing it for the weekend so I could go to sleep early on Saturday and not worry about being tired on Sunday.

Also, it was time to switch things up. I had not ridden the South route yet this year. The Southern route is more crowded as it goes through the Chicago lakefront path and even early in the morning it is lousy with bikers, runners, walkers, skaters and dogs. On the other hand it is far more scenic so South it was.

I flew from my house to the South Shore Country Club 22.5 miles away. Being an experienced rider I knew that I had not suddenly become Lance Armstrong on steroids (forgive the redundancy). No, I knew that the 17.5 mile pace was due in large part to the wind being at my back. Unfortunately I now had to ride into it for 22.5 miles home. And it was fierce.

I averaged about 12.5 mph on the way back. Each pedal cycle took incredible effort and sent needles of pain through my thighs. Not much fun.

As I finally willed myself to within a few miles from my home, I started thinking, “can I go 60 today?” “Nooo” was the response from my legs. “Do not even think about it.” “What about my normal 52 or at least 50. How can I justify riding only 45 today?”

My legs just laughed in that guttural hyena laugh that implies something other than humor. “You tortured us long enough, we are headed for the couch and you should really think about coming with us.”

What else could I say? What else could I do?

Today I rode the road to exhaustion.

Government Bureaucracy Purgatory

It was time to renew my driver’s license. In fact I went last Monday, four days before it would expire.  I was going to be out-of-town for two of those days.  Now it was urgent. I had to take time away from work despite the pile of work that needed to get done before the end of the day.

Oh, and I had to take the written test. I needed to know the rules of the road. The Illinois rules of the road pamphlet is over 100 pages long. There are some items that I agree everyone should know and a refresher every few years is a good idea.  First one needs to know a myriad of distances by which you must take action, such as how far in advance of a corner to signal a turn (in a residential area or country road – the answers are different), stopping before a railroad crossing, etc. Then you need to know all of the signs. These fall into the “you should know this” category. But then there are the things I do not need to know about, such as where it is permitted to have car seats for infants (mine is 19), things about motorcycles (which I do not drive) and other arcane pieces of information. I had no time to have to take this test a second time. I studied for a couple of hours and prayed my memory would hold out.

So in I walk. I am stressed about the time this will take and  whether I will pass the test. I go to one of the suburban Department Of  Motor Vehicles locations because from experience and urban legend I know that doing this at a  Chicago one would take much longer. Still I am not prepared for a process that mirrors an old factory assembly line. A gauntlet of five stations must be run in order to obtain a license.

First is the line to get in. There is a triage station. A sleepy middle age to old man takes your forms and directs you to the next counter. You get a slip with a letter and three numbers. I am not sure why but for a few people in the line before me this process takes several minutes.

Then wait in some hard plastic chairs to be called by one of ten people manning the next station. After several more minutes I give my number and forms to the guy who looks up my name on the computer. I answer “no” to questions for which a yes answer would presumably bring my quest to a dead stop. Do I take any drugs or have any diseases  that would hinder my ability to drive? (No, I can drive while quite high thank you. Does anyone ever answer Yes to these questions?) I also take a visual exam at this station. At least something useful to weed out those that should not be driving.

On to the cashier. Like in a bad movie, the cashier needs to pause and count money and file some forms just as it becomes my turn in line. More waiting. I  pay and  get my exam. 20 multiple choice questions and I need to identify fifteen signs (No, the words are not written on the pictures of the signs. That would make it too easy to know which is the “Stop” sign.)

Bottom line is that I pass. Fortunately one only needs to answer 80% of the questions correctly.

On to the picture-taking. First step. Wait. Next step have picture taken. Third step. Wait. Last step take your license and run.

Total time, one hour twenty minutes that I did not have that day. Could have been worse. Purgatory, not hell.

I And You

This week I  have been witness to far too much “I”.  In this case “I” are all of the people putting their needs first and act as if either there is no one else in the universe or even if there is, it does not matter.  the desires, not even needs, of I trumps you.

From the ridiculous to the rude.

On the ridiculous side, this has been my week for public teeth cleaning.  In an earlier post I described the woman flossing while behind the wheel of her car. Midweek, as I was rushing through the airport I saw a 20 something male standing in the main aisle with this contorted facial expression. As I passed him I realized he too was flossing for all the world to see.  Four steps away was a bathroom. Then last night just before the curtain went up I noticed a man actively using a toothpick. This went on for a couple of minutes. I wanted to yell down, “I bet your mother did not raise you this way”.  But in a crowded theater that would have been rude.

Other I tunes included the driver of a Prius who was weaving through traffic on the highway at high speeds. On a couple of occasions the car barely made it through the tiny space between cars. An accident just about to happen.

The best of all traveling to an appointment an appointment in a city far, far away only to have the person I was there to see decide she was too busy for me.  At least her assistant was apologetic.

And yet in this same week there were too incidents of you before me that really touched me. In the first one, a work colleague spent much of two days working on a proposal that early in the process we decided he was not the right person to be working on the project should we get it. He had tons of other work obligations  and yet sacrificed his time for the greater good. As he said to me, ” Isn’t this just what we do? ”  meaning do the right thing, the mensch thing.  I knew that too often WE (everyone on our team) did not act that way but a few of us did anyway.

Then at the end of a long and brutal workweek, after 5 pm before a holiday weekend another non-I gesture. One of the administrative assistance in the group I manage, but not someone who works directly with me stopped by. My body language must have been reflecting the frustration and exhaustion I was feeling. Normally, as a “leader” I try to hide it better.

Instead of rushing for the door to begin her holiday weekend she came by to see how I was doing. She asked if I was OK. I told her it had just been a tough week but that everything would be good next week. She told me to let her know if there was anything she could do to help. She was sincere, not sucking up to the boss. Just as sincerely I thanked her and told her to go be with her family and enjoy the long weekend.

I must be doing something right to have a few “YOU”s and not all “I”s in my life.