Left: Me after my 18.2 mile bike ride on December 25, 2011, yes, December 25, 2011, in Minneapolis, MN. I’m wearing tights and a long tshirt and a longsleeved turtleneck in accommodation to the cool 40 degree weather. (Also full gloves and I have earmuffs under my helmet.) But I never felt chilled for a moment even though there were 20 mph winds that day. Look at how beautiful that blue sky is!
I have been a complete shit the past several weeks (gulp, two months?!). There is no other way to say it. I am an addict. The bicycle, or rather the endorphins that I generate while on the bicycle are my drug of choice. (I also can’t say enough about it as a pain management tool and a physical therapy aid!) As the weather cools down in Minnesota and specifically as snow falls, I have to give up the bicycle until spring. Outside bicycling. I can still ride my bike on the trainer inside, watching Robbie Ventura speed through a race telling us all to keep the rubber side down. As much as I love Robbie—and I must because I haven’t purchased another tape and watch this over and over quite happily—inside riding is a totally different animal of existence from outside riding.
All fall I kept reminding myself how grateful I was to not be sick. This is the first time in two years I have not been ill in September after the exposure of the Minnesota State Fair. (2009 Bird Flu; 2010 pneumonia.)
Fall is a glorious time to ride a bike in Minneapolis. The parkways are beautiful and green and then they are golden, red, brown—luxurious. The light slants (something about the tilt of the earth or some other science fact you can go look up) and takes on the tint of the newly translucent dying leaves. (In spring there is a similar effect with a barrage of greens.)
I was ill for months earlier in the spring (some mystery virus the doctor couldn’t grip, but which eased out of my body in its own time) and I missed many days of cycling. I grumbled a lot. I pouted. I wasn’t easy to deal with then. I saw my goal of hitting 2,000 miles for the season slipping away. But then after the Fair when I didn’t get ill I found myself hoping for dry days (we’d had a rainy summer) to ride, just one more day, just one more day above 50 degrees. This morphed to a wish for one more day above 40. And as of December 2011 it has mutated into a wish for anything over 35 with no accumulated snow.
Which leads me to my current dilemma and bad behavior. The end of cycling season seems to me very much like break-up sex. You have this person (or in this case activity; well I guess in both cases it’s an activity) and you really, really want just one more go at it. You get all set in your mind that this is the last time, the final time. You even tell yourself that it’s right, that you really are too tired (in the biking situation) and that it’s time to move on.
But then in the case of bicycling the weather this fall has changed, and it’s on again, the whole compulsive act of it. Don’t even try to arrange a lunch with me in the fall because as the temperature falls I exercise my freedom as a self-employed person to bike at lunch time when it’s still “warm enough.” And so the season elongates. And so does the stress of wondering when it is going to end (if you’re an addict).
I started talking about moving to California sometime in November. Dick countered with questions about whether or not I could ride in a velodrome—something you would expect from a MacGyver engineer. We both laughed, knowing one of us (me, if you had to guess) wasn’t serious.
Then something unthinkable happened on October 19, I popped over 2,000 miles for the season. I began to make new deals with myself (don’t all addicts do this), while at the same time making new preparations for disappointment (again, not a healthy mode). Maybe I’ll get to 2,500? Nope, there just aren’t enough days left, enough days that can be both over 40 degrees and have no snow on the ground. Not in Minneapolis in November…
Then it snowed, a good covering. I thought, “It’s over.” I began putting time in on the inside bike. (Inside bike miles don’t count in my seasonal total; I keep track of duration.)
But the snow melted when we experienced record high temperatures. I found myself riding most days outside again. But of course there was always the expectation of a temperature dip and some weeks I faced 4 or 5 days of resignation that it all really was over and the inside bike was my only recourse. I would just get used to riding daily inside when the weather would warm up again.
And the snow would melt. Last weekend while I was binding books I was also able to ride my bike outside every day. A solid 40 degrees F, with equally solid wind speeds (on one day the winds were 25 to 38 mph). I rode outside last Friday, returned excited, and told Dick, seconds after dismounting, “I miss it already.” Such was the roller coaster of my emotions; and the deepness of my addiction.
I do miss it already, even though it looks like I might get one more day in before the New Year, which for me would be an official end to my outside seasonal miles total.
I miss it for a lot of reasons. I miss the speed. I miss the light. I miss my body moving with the gears and propelling me forward into wind or calm. I simply miss the going and the coming, because just as I never get bored with Robbie I don’t get dulled by the same out and back trail which takes me across the city and lets me see what’s going on within that city. I’m always wondering “how fast can I push it today?”
After a bit of a ramp up in the spring, because I’m protective of my knees, I ride 17 to 22 miles per non-rainy day. The mileage is a function of two things. First what can I get accomplished in a hour or slightly more? (Believe me there is a lot of bargaining around those limits; what if I did go more per day, what could I still get done in my life?) Second what can I do daily without the road noise impacting on my hands and the work I must do daily with those hands. (You guessed it, more bargaining, “I don’t really need to bead, I really should focus on my painting anyway.” For a person who prides herself on being orderly this type of back and forth bargaining is excruciating, and a huge dose of my own medicine—you have to make choices.)
Additionally the mileage is a function of me enjoying myself, me pushing myself. Me having fun. This is my time. I get to focus on being strong, no matter how achy or weak or sick I might feel (in our house we do our workouts unless there is loss of limb or major loss of blood). I find that is a great way to return to work: strong. And on my ride I find that my brain doesn’t wander, but focuses. Crystal clear ideas come to me, whole passages of writing, illustration ideas, and new projects.
It’s the spin of the gears, silence, sort of, a whir that says “power,” that sets my mind running in these powerful ways. I whisper blessings on the heads of mothers who raised their kids to work in the bicycle co-ops; the kids who tune my bike to perfection and smile when a woman old enough to be their mother comes in to have her tires changed and buy “gear.” These are polite, respectful, considerate kids with problem solving skills, who take all this strength of character and curiosity of mind with them into whatever area of life they branch out into.
Mothers of the bicycle co-op kids are deserving of our gratitude. They have raised their kids to love the Earth, to seek community, to embrace physicality, and to delight in the mechanical (which engages both intuition and intellect).
It’s on these pillars that any civilized (and civil) society can be built. That and joy—because it’s the experience of joy in however small a dose it comes that makes us hunger for peace.
I will leave you with one other thought—an image. I couldn’t paint this if I lived to be 100. Maybe someone with the skill of Sargent could because he understood light—but noses and the micro expressions of his patrons were his focus. Perhaps Girtin? If Turner was right and Girtin was all that.
One day this fall I was peddling down the Greenway, past the lakes and the dog park. The morning light slanted down the shaded path and filtered through the remaining leaves, illuminating the spider filaments attached to every fragment of surface on the black epoxy coated chain link fence. They sparkled, fluttering in the light, as dense as pennants at an Australian regatta.
Joy—to have seen one sight, or the other. Gratitude to have seen both in the span of one life. Each time I was on a bicycle.
Note: I wrote this on Tuesday, at which point I needed 21 miles to crack 2,500 for the season. Whether I do or not will be a function of the weather and my constant striving to not be compulsive, and to find balance, but at the same time grab every opportunity for joy that I can. In spring the dialog will begin again.
Note 2: It just occurred to me that some of you might like to read about my return to biking after a long haitus with the dogs, in July 2008. “Hairdos Matter” is all about it.
Note 3: My final total of bicycling miles for 2011 was 2,521. Any outdoor miles on January 1 or after became part of my 2012 total, even though it seems like one continuous “season.”