Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Biking is important to me. I remember being in high school in a suburb of Los Angeles when my friend Marty told me that he'd ridden his bike to Marina del Rey and back, a distance of nineteen miles. I was flabbergasted. It seemed impossible to ride a bicycle so far. Given the bikes that we had in our garage, maybe it was. Then I went to college in bicycle-mad Palo Alto, had a bike-touring freshman roommate, and took up biking. I told myself it was a way to keep fit for backpacking, but it rapidly became an end in itself. As I started riding with the team and doing centuries, a nineteen mile flat ride became something I would do as a shopping trip.

Since then, biking has been many things: a way to get from California to Wisconsin, a way to learn about an area, a way to make friends, a way to blow off stress and keep in some sort of shape. It was how I met and got to know the Real Doctor. Our wedding invitation has a picture of us on a tandem, and we rode away from the wedding on the same bike.

The last few years, however, haven't been so great for biking. Sacramento has the American River Bike Trail, which is wonderful, but if you don't want to drive to ride your bike, that's about it. So, biking became exceedingly flat and one-dimensional. Sacramento is very sprawly, so although we made friends through the excellent bike club, we rarely interacted with them outside of rides--an evening dinner would mean a 45-minute drive each way. We gradually lost interest in waking up at 6:00 on a Saturday and driving an hour to get to the start of the club ride, and biking lost a lot of appeal. In the last two years, I don't think we've ridden a ride longer than fifty miles with more than a couple hundred feet of climbing--the most you can do on the bike trail. This year, the stress of moving and teaching a class of 300 frosh and aging parents and more kept me off the bike entirely from about May onwards.

So now we are Roseburg, an excellent town for biking. Good roads, good terrain, a nice club, and we're trying to get back in shape. Our first ride, in mid July, was awful beyond words. It was about the same length as my high school classmate's mind-blowing ride, and about as flat as possible in this neck of the woods. We were slow. We went up gentle rises in our lowest granny gear. That evening and all the next day I was walking around like an arthritic cripple, with shuffling step and plenty of groaning.

Riding has gotten better, though. We've started to explore new terrain, and for the first time in over a decade I am having the wonderful feeling of discovery you get from riding up an unknown road for the first time. There are hills that forced us into the lowest granny gear a few weeks ago that we now sail over in the middle ring. Last weekend, despite much trepidation, we did the 60-mile Cycle Umpqua Vineyard Tour. It went very well--we finished in good time and with legs that felt pretty good. We actually ended up dropping our original pacesetters, a bunch of FOGs* from Grant's Pass. I formerly regarded metric centuries as a cop-out. However, I'm pretty darn pleased. Hopefully we'll be able to keep this up through the snotty season.
(The Real Doctor (shadow on the right) takes a picture as we ride through scenic Garden Valley, a few miles out of Roseburg)

*FOG = Fast Old Guy; there are usually lots of these at centuries.

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