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.

But he's also a cyclist!

John Burbank is a friend of mine who is also the Executive Direcor of the Economic Opportunity Institute here in Seattle. Here's the mission of the EOI:
The Economic Opportunity Institute is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy center advancing new ideas to build an economy that works - for everyone. We pursue change through research, media outreach, public dialogue and policy initiatives that help make Washington State a better place to live, work and do business.

But he's also a cyclist! John knows his way around a good policy, and for him bicycling is just good policy--all the way around!

Path to health is best taken on two wheels
Last Sunday my wife and three friends and I decided to bicycle up to Snohomish from Seattle. We had a great ride north, finishing with a swooping downhill on the Springhetti Road, past Harvey Airfield, and stopping at the Snohomish Pie Company for a few delicious slices of pie.

That in itself was worth the trip. I had marionberry, and tried to poach some bites of the peach, apple crumb, and rhubarb as well. We came back along the Snohomish River, appreciating the farms and forests along the way (and, incidentally, the growth management act that prevents unmitigated sprawl) until we had to make the long slog up the Woodinville-Duvall Road back toward Seattle. We went longer than we had planned, and ended up good and tired for the evening. But what could be a better thing to do on a beautiful June Sunday?

This bicycling thing is not just about long weekend rides. What is more important for our health and our climate is to make bicycling part of our normal way of life in getting around to work, to school, and to do errands. In King County the Cascade Bicycle Club and Group Health have just concluded the May Commuter Challenge, with more than 10,000 participants logging more than 1 million miles on their bikes.

In Snohomish County, Community Transit's and Group Health's Bike Commute Challenge runs through Friday, so there's still time to join in. Already 819 participants have logged over 85,000 miles in over 11,000 trips. They are closing in on the 2008 record of 102,000 miles biked. They have already eclipsed 2007's totals for participants, trips and miles biked. For more information go to:

Bicycling to work can be daunting, if you let it. But think about taking this in chunks. Maybe you drive to a park and ride and take the bus. Try riding a bicycle to the bus. A lot of people are doing this. Community Transit now reports 100,000 bike boardings on its buses annually. Want to go to the local coffee shop? Get on your bike. That way you can enjoy the iced mocha and burn a few calories! But be careful and wear a helmet. Last weekend a dog ran out in front of a friend. My friend toppled over and scraped some skin. But his head is fine -- he was wearing a helmet.
You don't need a fancy bike. Dig out that 10-year-old bicycle that's been gathering dust in the basement.
In the past decade, our local governments have made a big effort to connect the dots for bicycling. In Snohomish County, you can download maps of the best bicycle routes at www.commtrans.org/FAQs/BikeMaps.cfm. There are some great paths, for long and scenic weekend trips, like the Centennial Trail, or for getting around in the urban and suburban sprawl, like the Interurban Trail. That trail directly connects to the Lynnwood Transit Center and the Mariner Park-and-Ride.

The good news is that 20 percent of Washingtonians rode bicycles in 2001. The bad news is that only 1.6 percent of U.S. commuters bicycle to work. Not surprisingly, cars and trucks in our country consume 10 percent of the world's oil supply. That's just not sustainable. With volatile and increasing gas prices, our dependence on the automobile is not sustainable for the family budget. Our health while we sit in our cars or just watch things is also not sustainable. After tobacco usage, the leading cause of death is inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. Bicycling can solve all these problems at once.
Don't get put off by the bicyclists whizzing by in their spandex body suits with garish colors and advertisements. I plead guilty to that, occasionally. But you can also get on your bicycle with street clothes and a helmet, bicycle at a leisurely pace, and start work refreshed. You don't need to start out svelte. (Indeed, with those spandex shorts and shirts, we often see a little too much of people's physiques.) New bicycle commuters, on average, can expect to lose 13 pounds their first year of bicycle commuting. A 150-pound cyclist is estimated to burn up 410 calories while pedaling 12 miles in an hour. That's something to keep in mind when you're pedaling along, especially on the uphills!

John Burbank is executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org ).His e-mail address is john@eoionline.org.

This piece by John appeared in the June 10 edition of The Everett Herald.
Keep it literate,