Sunday, September 16, 2012

1983: Yes, You're an athlete

My fanatical interest in bicycles was already enough to make me an odd teen ager in rural Michigan in the early `70s. But that was only compounded by my lack of interest, and ability, in baseball, football and basketball. They were the “Real” Sports, the only ones that mattered.

Even before bikes, I had loved to read, and was not much for the pain of even casual contact sports. I also had two left feet after my pre-teen growth spurt, and a lack of confidence that made it worse. And on top of that, a couple of my brothers were natural athletes. Combine it all, and what ever the sport, I was always the last one picked, or left sitting on the bench.

It didn’t mean I didn’t try, playing little league and basketball, eventually making the high school freshman basketball team. But height and spirit were not enough. So while I biked all summer, my last three years of high school were limited to running cross country each fall. I enjoyed the team experience and running through the woods and parks we trained on (and I never enjoyed running distance in track). In cross country, I even found limited success, lettering 2 years and running 7th man, but in a small town, it was never the same as being in the real sports.

After high school it was on to part-time college and work, and more bicycle riding. On my days off I was likely to do an all-day ride across the county, or to ride a multi-day tour when ever my schedule allowed. I never got the racing bug, but I was riding 3-4 a centuries a year. Those early centuries were all-day affairs of 10-12 hours, with long sag stops and a lunch in the middle. These were the original “Fred” rides, including collecting patches. I even had a patch jacket that I had started filling up, though I soon learned that the patches did not hold up well in the washing machine.

And despite not being interested in racing, very early on I picked up a used racing bike, an early 70’s Raliegh Pro.  This was my light sport bike, since I decided fenders and racks needed to stay on my touring bike. And I picked up more of the fast gear of the day, leather cycling shoes shoes with nailed on cleats, and wool shorts with leather chamois. I did enjoy fast rides and watching the clock when I wasn’t carrying all my gear. But it was just faster touring and sport rides, not real competition, or so I told myself.

Soon after meeting Linda, along with more time on the tandem and group rides, I was also going on more fast rides, both short club rides, and longer rides and centuries. My centuries came down in time, with 6 to 7 hours becoming the norm.

By our third year of marriage, Linda and I had the The Tandem Shop going full tilt, and we sold a tandem to another couple at Purdue, Rich and Laura, who were just a few years younger than us. Rich had been a high school wrestler and baseball player, and was very competitive. He was relatively new to cycling, but was strong. We started doing more rides together on singles, and pushing each other. (The four of us also pushed each other on tandem rides too.)

One morning Rich and I met at 6 AM, and just headed out for a long ride. Before we knew we were 40 miles out, averaging 20 miles an hour. We finally turned back and ended up with 90 miles, an unplanned century. When we got back to Linda and my apartment, Linda was just getting up. (To be fair, she had a 14-hour work day on Wednesdays, and always slept in on Thursdays!) In any case, it was an epic ride, especially since I had to clean up and ready to work from Noon to 8 that day!

The four of us got together for pizza the next night, and both our wives were carrying on about how crazy we were, and with Rich’s wife adding I was really great to have another athlete pushing Rich into shape.

“I am not an athlete”, I replied - it was just bicycling. Years of imprinting had never let me think of my bicycling as an athletic pursuit, a real sport. I had never moved beyond that.

“What you talking about!” was her reply - “Yes, You're an athlete. You are one of the most athletic people I know. Both of you are!” she went on “You ride 200 miles in a weekend, and the two of you (Linda and I) just finished an 18-day 1,000 mile bicycle tour, and you bike to work every day, and you think you aren’t an athlete?”

Then Linda looked at me said I was just as much an athlete as she was.

I had always thought of Linda as an athlete for her running in cross country and track, as a state high school champion and national ranked college distance runner. But for whatever reason I had never applied that standard to me, and especially not to my cycling. Up until that conversation, I was just a kid out on a bike. Even when it for rides 50 miles or more non-stop, at 18 or 19 MPH.

But her statement and the conversations that followed had a profound impact on my view of myself. Despite everything I had accomplished riding, I had never given myself fair credit. Having some tell me “You are an athlete” was something I never expected. I was not only active, I was improving and challenging myself.

In the years since I realized that I was no longer on the bench or the last one picked, I was still in my game while so many others had moved off the field. I was fortunate enough to have found in bicycling one of the true life-long sports that allowed you to be athletic for years, if not decades, if you are so inclined.

And since that evening many years ago, I have always smiled inside with each new milestone of time and distance, for being in the arena, and never doubted that I am still an athlete.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2012: In the blink of an eye

Bike Tuesday - Year Round
It’s our Bike Tuesday evening ride with the gang. We are an email group, riding together for over 5 years, every Tuesday, year round, on the rural roads north of Indy between Cicero and Sheridan. Sometimes just a handful, sometimes a dozen or more. Pat and Margaret, the couple who put the ride together, have over 30 years of riding together, and like Linda and I, rode before kids, with kids, and now are moving into empty-nester riding. I am not a weekly regular, but it is a ride I make when I can, once or twice a month.

Some of the group have similar experience, but most have only been riding at this level for only a few years, and many of them have been nurtured along in the riding through this ride, and the other rides we make as a group.

It is a social sport ride, with the focus on social, rather than anaerobic. But it is not slouch riding, almost every rider is on a fast road bike, and capable of riding 18 to 20 mph with the group for 40-50 miles. A few of the stronger riders, including me, who could ride faster if they wanted, will set a pace that all can ride, and everyone is used to watching out for each other.

Tonight we have 12 riders setting out. As we start, a few of us get separated by a string of cars while leaving the parking lot, so I am in a group of four a couple of hundred yards behind the first 6 riders. But this is not a problem on this ride, no frantic chase is needed, we will be a group again soon enough.

After work rides are always good for stress relief. An easy 25 or 30 miles (yes, a short ride) followed by a pizza and socializing. In one form or another, I have had a weekly ride like this for over 35 years, since the first time I joined a bike club and lived in a city or town.

Tonight I am on my touring bike, complete with rack, rack trunk and fenders. While loading the car for the drive to the start, I found a bad tire on my sport bike, so rather than rush a tire change, I changed bikes.  In the parking lot, I get a look, and one guy asks about my commuter. No, this is touring bike, with the same weight wheels as my sport bike, and not a commuter. He is much more worried about my keeping up with group than I am. Whatever, it is a bike I have 40,000 miles on, and still a joy to ride.

We are just a couple of miles from the start, and now one group. We are two abreast, no-one overly tight on anyone else, just relaxed and chatting. I am 5th in line on the outside (near centerline), the second bike a tandem, and just about to say hi to the rider beside me. I am a full wheel behind the next rider,  the last pair of riders are just about 3-4 yards behind us.

A yell from ahead draws my eyes go forward.

A flash of purple to the left ahead of me.

A full bike length ahead of me a red bike is still upright, but it is WRONG, falling.

Flashes of color and sound to my right.

The bike in front of me is down, a sprawled rider in the lane.

Yells behind me.

“I AM NOT GOING TO HIT HIM” screams a voice in my head, and a memory of another fall and PAIN years ago goes through my mind.



I come to a stop upright on the left side of the road, at a right angle to travel, front wheel in the grass, rear wheel on pavement. I have not even pulled even to the first down rider. A few yards ahead of him, on the right side, a pile of bikes and two riders are down, feet-to-feet along the side of road in the soft grassy ditch.

My bike has a flat tire. I am all right, No one else is down.

The wife of one the downed riders, riding ahead of the crash, throws down her bike and yells her husband’s names and comes running back.

Everyone is conscious.

Phones come out.

What intersections are we between? We have ridden this a 100 times, but no one is sure. A couple of us finally map it on our iPhones.

I stand in the center of the road and direct the light car traffic while other tend to riders, and we move all the bikes off the road.

Thank God there are no head injuries. Everyone is awake and talking.

It seems to take forever but soon we hear a siren, and a first responder arrives and starts talking to the 3 down riders. Thank God there are no head injuries. We have two ambulances on the way.

We sort out logistics of who can ride back to the parking lot, and Pat heads back for his van.

I need to look at my bike before the ride back, and start to change the tire. A 2” patch of tread and sidewall is gone down and through the cord; my rear tire is totaled, that was the bang.

In turning 90 degrees at speed and stopping, I have to have been sliding at a 45 degree angle, and then come back to upright, with out putting a foot down. Something I used to do as a kid on a 20” bike on gravel road into our drive way. That and drills from teaching cycling skills classes, and maybe just knowing the bike I was on.  And some luck.
90 Degree Turn and Stop

The tandem team hands me a spare tire, and I finish changing the tire as the ambulance begins to load up. Pat arrives with his van to begin picking up the 3 down bikes and the rider who tumbled but didn’t need an ambulance. With that done, the rest of us begin mounting up for the ride back to our cars at the start. Some are done for the night, some still want to unwind with a few miles, the intent of the ride to begin with. I call home, and then load up for the drive home.

Latter that night, Linda and I check in on one rider and his wife, a couple we know well, at the hospital ER near our home. He is very sore but will be home that night, with some painful rehab ahead, but is otherwise ok.

The next morning we learn that the other rider will need 24 stitches in his thigh.  The first rider that fell is okay, with some scraps and scratches, but we all know he is very rattled.

All in the blink of an eye.