Monday, September 1, 2008

On the Road Again

Labor Day weekend is pretty much the pinnacle of the bicycling season in Michigan. Every year, 1500 or so cyclists ride the DALMAC tour, 350+ miles from Lansing to Mackinaw City, over the course of 4 or 5 days.

I didn’t ride DALMAC this year; but, in honor of the Pinnacle of Michigan Bicycling, my riding buddy and I rode 77 miles on Saturday, the pinnacle of our own riding season. And this morning, 4M and I did another 35 miles, which put me over 1000 miles for the second year in a row. Woohoo!


To put that in context. . .

I bought my first touring bike after I got out of college, before Molly and I started dating. I started going for rides out on the country roads around OurTown, maybe 20 miles or so at a time. When Molly and I got married, I bought her a bike (a mixte frame, which she still has; it’s almost kind of a cool relic these days), and we would go on rides together.

By around 1982 or so, a few other guys in our community took up cycling, and we started riding together. I rode my first DALMAC in 1983, and every year from ’84-’86, I rode over 3000 miles per year (in ’85, I maxed out at 3664 – one of my riding buddies and I thought it would be really cool to say that we averaged 10 miles per day for the entire year)

2F was a year old when I rode my last DALMAC, and Molly, uh, let me know that training for DALMAC was starting to interfere with the demands that two toddlers were placing on our lives. So, I stopped riding DALMAC, and cut my miles back. Still, from ’87-‘93, I averaged over 2300 miles per year. Changes in my job meant that I rode even less after that, but still, in ’95, I rode over 1200 miles. ’96 was the year I switched jobs and started with my long commute. I didn’t even track my miles that year, but Molly and I, in honor of turning 40, ‘bootlegged’ the last day of the DALMAC tour that year. We weren’t quite in ‘DALMAC shape’, but we had a good time.

After that, I basically stopped riding for several years. My long commute and growing family just pushed cycling to the bottom of the priority list.

About 7 or 8 years ago, I started getting back on the bike. My old community riding buddies invited me on a ride with them. I rode about 5 miles, and thought I was gonna die. I had to stop, and lie on the ground, and wait for my heart to stop pounding out of my chest. It was really pretty humiliating – I used to ride 35 miles just as a routine matter, and here, I could barely do five miles without dying.

But, I knew the only way for me to get in better shape was to keep riding. If five miles was all I could do, I was at least gonna do five miles. And then eight, and then ten, and then twelve. For the next several years, I went out as often as I could on the weekends, riding miles considerably reduced from what I’d once done. There was a 17-mile ride that I used to do as my first, shake-out-the-legs ride of the season. Now, it was my goal for the summer – if I worked hard, I could do a 17-miler by the end of the summer. Or maybe (*gasp*) a 20-miler. I didn’t track my miles for those years, but I vaguely recall that something around 200-300 was a typical season for me.

And Molly, solicitous as she has always been for my health and well-being, would ride with me, when she could. Which provided another marker for how far I’d fallen. ‘Back in the day’, I’d ride with Molly when I didn’t care how good a workout I got – if I rode hard, she couldn’t remotely keep up with me. But now, she was dusting me. It became one of my goals to get strong enough to where she didn’t have to wait for me.

In 2006, I started my weight-loss program, and, as part of the program, I took a more aggressive approach to riding. Instead of starting the season with 10-12 mile rides, I started with a 15-miler, and built up to 20 miles pretty quickly. My ‘pinnacle’ goal for that year was to do the 35-mile ride that I used to do ‘back in the day’. It was actually kind of an exciting year – I was rediscovering miles and miles of really nice rides that I hadn’t done in years. I think I finished ’06 with something on the order of 600 miles.

Last year, I was even more aggressive. We built up to 30-milers pretty early in the season, did a 50-miler over Labor Day, and ended up with over 1200 miles for the year. And this year, I’m on pace for 1300-1400, depending on how the weather falls in November. . .


This is all like the next chapter of The Great Weight Loss. It’s like a whole chunk of my life that had been lost has been restored to me. I had almost forgotten the joy I got from being out on my bike. And, when I was over 300 pounds, even though I was getting on the bike in whatever ‘reduced’ capacity I could manage, I was pretty sure those days were gone forever.

So, as I said, when I started being able to ride miles that I hadn’t been able to do in years, it was like being re-introduced to an old friend. Corners of the countryside around OurTown that I hadn’t seen in years, were becoming familiar to me once again. . .

There is this huge sense of having gotten a reprieve, a ‘do-over’ on a massive scale. I am so grateful to be able to ride again. At age 52, I’m in as good a physical shape as I’ve been in many years.

And, it’s a complete, gratuitous bonus to be able to ride with my sons. At various times, if my regular riding buddy has been unavailable, I’ve been able to ride with 4M or 5M; both of them are high-school athletes, and I’m sure, if they really put the hammer down, I couldn’t stay with them. But, I can make them work harder than they used to have to. . .

So, next year, I’m thinking of doing DALMAC again. 23 years after I did my last one, and 13 years after I even rode any part of the route.

And Molly and I are saving our pennies to buy a tandem. . .

8 comments:

for a different kind of girl said...

One of my favorite moments of spring is the day the bike comes out of the shed and is dusted off and the wheels start turning again. I'm by no means on the level you are, but there's something truly pleasurable about skimming through the town.

Cocotte said...

The last few times I attempted to bike ride, I found it truly painful in the crotch. Do most bicyclists have special seats? I can't imagine how you'd do it otherwise.

Congrats to you on so many miles!!

Sailor said...

This is so great- I love the whole idea of your getting a "do-over", so many people I know don't ever see that opportunity.

I wish we had a better area for riding, but the roads here are extremely narrow, and very windy/hilly. We panic if we're out, and hear a car- cuz there is NO room for error, and we've been out on the Fire/Rescue calls way to many times for bike vs. car.

Anyway, good for you, and for Molly, and for all the 1-8K

Christian Husband said...

I've had a cold for the last week, and I'm really missing my daily rides. It's addictive.

Therese in Heaven said...

The kids love it when I take them on a bike ride, but I can't do even a small portion of what you're able to.

My parents had a tandem for a while. That is a really fun activity!

Desmond Jones said...

DKG - I hear ya. That first spring day, turning the pedals in the fresh air again, is just really cool. . .

Cocotte - That 'butt-pain' is why I finally broke down, years ago, and bought myself a pair of those lycra cycling shorts; I finally decided that I wanted my butt to stop hurting more than I cared about what I looked like. . .

Sailor - I think our county leads the world in paved back roads; and, Michigan being what it is, at least where we live, pretty much all the roads are on a north-south/east-west grid.

I took my bike on a vacation to Cooperstown several years ago, and I know what you mean about hilly/windy roads 'out east'. . .

XH - It is addictive, isn't it?

Therese - We used to have a trailer that I'd pull a couple of the smallest kids in, from time to time. But I wasn't doing that for 50 miles, usually. . .

And hey, just like when five miles was all I could do - you do what you can, and over time, you get in better shape. . .

FTN said...

Picturing the two of you on a tandem... That's just gold.

It's great you are getting back into the riding. I haven't ridden a bike in a looong time -- I don't even own one. Guess I'll stick to running for the time being. Er, not that I run all that often. I'm sure I couldn't run 35 miles! Thirteen miles is more than enough for me.

Desmond Jones said...

FTN - Hey, we're talking a touring tandem here; serious biking, eh?

And, one nice thing about biking is that, on my bike, I'm just a bit faster than world-class marathon runners. . .