Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Saying It Here and Now

Ok. You heard it here first. The woman from India who learned how to ride a bike when she was 19 years old, and all the kids in her friend's New Orleans neighborhood laughed to see someone that old fall down and get up...and fall down again. The woman who still is a little shaky riding standing up. The woman who just a year ago got clip in pedals and only just converted to a road bike with drop handlebars.

Signing up for a century.

Curious Randonneur (my sweet other half) has been wanting me to announce it and I've been too plain chicken. As a writer, I know that words are powerful...and words on a page even more powerful. Those words don't lie, they don't fade, they don't disappear. What I write here will be here for me to look at in six weeks when that century is over. Which means that I better do it now. I think that's the whole point of writing it down, right?

I've watched CurioRando and his (second) love affair with randonneuring with some puzzlement, a little jealousy for time away, and lots of admiration. As you probably know, living with a Randonneur is not always easy. In the beginning, I tried scorning the idea of riding (not racing, he would always tell me) unsupported long distances through the night without sleep. I tried casting some disapproving looks at all the magazines, books, videos that began turning up on his bedside table on randonneuring, long distance cycling, core building. I tried ignoring the cyclo-core videos he did religiously, in preparation for his rides.

And then I saw him working, training, pushing his body and his mind to expand. He became the most fit he's ever been, even as he turned 52 this past year. He trained, on rollers first and even converted his 30 year old bicycle into a fixie for a while to hone his pedal stroke and technique. He started combing the rando blogs, reading accounts of long rides, and researching training techniques for randonneuring. Early this spring, he completed his first 100K and then a 200K and then a 300K. The happiness. The sense of accomplishment and joy. The descriptions of roads stretching out ahead, two wheels and the powerful body. The sense of adventure, of completion, of exertion, of inner and outer confidence that comes in achieving something you set out to do.

Suddenly, it was very clear that this love was to be encouraged, supported, held gently. There isn't anything a partner would rather see than this! Best of all, even with his singular focus on randonneuring, he made it clear that there was no speed he wasn't willing to cycle at if I went along. And so, slowly I started to think about bicycling too.

What I really wasn't prepared for is the way in which bicycling would start to draw me in. No longer just something I did to humor Curious Rando, it became something that I started to first fear less and then even enjoy. It started a couple of years ago when Curious Rando convinced me that the way bikes and riders work is all wrong. "The best riders have the best bikes--they're lighter, faster, fit them well. The worst riders have the worst bikes. It's all screwed up! The beginning riders should have the better bikes--that fit them well, are light, fun to ride. That'll make them better riders and help them to feel better, bike more and get even better. The strong riders can ride on anything and still be strong." I fought that for at least a couple of months--the idea of sinking a couple thousand dollars into a custom bike seemed crazy for an occasional rider like me.

But then we went and started looking at new bikes for me and I decided that Rando's logic made a lot of sense--albeit expensive sense. We invested in a nice custom Rodriguez for me which is so light, I can haul it up the steps or on top of a car with no problems. Best of all, it hauls my body up hills with a lot less effort expended on my part than before. The action on the gears is beautiful--makes my still-awkward shifting up and down hills so much easier, intuitive and in tune with the ride.

For all you serious riders reading this, you probably are going to laugh, but I've never ridden a bike with drop bars! My old one was a heavy Gary Fisher women's hybrid with mountain biking handlebars. I had been convinced somewhere along the line that the missing disc in my spine meant I couldn't ride drop bars. The guys at R&E Cycle convinced me that a well fitting road bike with drop bars would do my back just fine and give me a lot more power. Wow, were they right.

Armed with a new light bike, frog pedals, new bike shoes, I started biking. But sporadically. Rando convinced me to do the MS150 in 2007--we did 50 miles the first day and 75 the second day and I loved it! I loved the feeling of doing something I never thought I would, and finishing--without hurting too much. But then came fall and winter and the bike didn't get much riding. Last summer, we did some more but not much. When Rando started picking up long-distance cycling, I started getting interested again.

We did the bottom half of Lake Washington a few times and each time, it got a little easier. He even convinced me to try the Populaire, but it was pouring rain, even hailing, the roads were slick, I was miserable and bailed not even 10 miles into the ride. Not one of our best biking moments but luckily it didn't deter me for too long.

A couple of weeks ago, we went around the lake, something I really wasn't sure I could do. I hadn't ridden that distance (55 miles or so) since the MS150 and it felt good. In fact, I would have kept going if we had had the time. The pizza and beer reward system didn't hurt.

I started riding to work--not a long distance but with a big hill between me and the office. Previously stymied by that steep hill that came less than a minute into my morning ride, I found a slightly more gradual hill to take up that gave me a little more time to pedal in the morning before starting up. A few more loops around Mercer Island, sprinting harder than I have before, drafting off CurioRando when I'm tired but trying to charge the hills more and have more consistency to my pedal stroke.

And then I decided it was time. Century time.

Now understand that I've always been nervous about serious athletic events because I never grew up thinking that I was an athlete. CurioRando jokes that I can speak in front of hundreds of people, as I often do, and not be in the least bit nervous. But tell me I'm going to do something athletic that I've never done and watch me turn pale.

I guess it's always all about what we lead ourselves to believe (or what others lead us to believe) we can and can't do. What I'm learning is that those beliefs are rarely unchangeable. And it's really our duty to not let beliefs get stuck in stone without at least questioning them first.

I can't quite believe it but I'm starting to feel like I really like this bicycling thing. I'm reluctant to say I'm hooked just yet, but I love the feeling of the whir of bicycle wheels on a quiet road. I love how the bushes and trees on the side blur at the corners of your eyes as you whip down a big hill. I love putting everything I have into climbing a hill--and finding fewer and fewer of those hills that seem impossible as I do it more. I love feeling the wind lift my jersey and cloak my body. I love traveling new terrain, or even old terrain but seeing it differently.

I've got about 6 weeks till the century and am out of town for two of those. But I'm excited. Nervous. Ready to show myself this is just another hill I can climb.

Not quite hooked just yet. But wait till that century is over.

To find out whether DartreDame finished her first Century attempt, go here.

1 comment:

  1. wow! this is so exciting. i love reading these entries. best of luck to you, DartreDame!