Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living for a Human Being

The cool inky darkness of a late September morning slipped past me like motor oil as I plunged my pedals earthward, propelling myself up the moderate incline of the bridge to another borough.

I hate riding this bridge, yet it is a lifeline to most of the cycling events in New York City. This bridge has dual anxieties: at once, it is both a lonely ride this early in the morning, yet a ride to be terrified to share the roadway on. The bike and pedestrian path is very narrow and at its pinnacle, there's a very short fence. It would not take much to fall hundreds of feet into the icy maelstrom below.

This bridge, it creeps me out every time I cross it. Cross it, I must. It seems pointless to ride a subway for an hour to get to a starting line when a ten minute bike ride through Harlem serves the same purpose.

I'm lit up like a Christmas tree when I ride this time of the morning, in an hour that I can count on the fingers of one hand. It's quiet. It's peaceful. I ride slowly, deliberately feeling each millisecond of each pedal stroke, assessing how my legs feel. Sometimes, the bridge wins and I end up walking my bike part way across, a function of too much too soon before I've warmed up. Most times, my bike wins.

The noise and vibrations of the roadway transcend to the bike path, as the bridge is a major trucking thoroughfare. Sometimes, the chain link fences along the roadway will rattle as if a gangbanger dragged a 2x4 along the metal wires, a function of heavy wheels and metal bridge joints in the road bed.

And did I mention the stairs? There are stairs to climb or descend, depending on your point of view.

This year, I've had three bikes.

(You may recall a post from a few months back about my accident. That bike, Shadowfax, was totaled, so I replaced that boy with a new girl.) The blue girl, Tiamat, has not been on a ride yet. I only just purchased her and I've been busy with other things.

I made a choice this year to do the "touristycle" thing: all the NYC rides that attract people from all around the world: the Gran Fondo and Five Boro Bike tour, Escape New York and yes, the City Century.

In their own ways, each of these beat me, or more to the point, I let them beat me. The accident didn't help, to be sure. It's a little disconcerting when I realize how close I came to being dead, and never even saw it coming until it happened. I heard a screech, felt something smack me on the ass, and next thing I know, I've got a new bike. A split second, maybe a hundredth of a second, was all that stood between me and a grave. That threw me off any momentum I had built training to that point. That was what? The end of June? 

But more than that, I learned this year that I didn't even know myself that well. 

Its funny. I pride myself on my "nosce te ipsum", knowing myself. And I suppose I should have known that, once in these events, I would go flat out. That's who I am: I have two speeds -- full out, and fuller outer. 

So I burned out. I cracked hard on some hills. I finished them all but I forgot the first rule of riding which is to ride within yourself.

On the Fondo, I found myself racing the sweep wagon, the vehicle that organizers will send out along the route at a pace that should coincide with the slowest possible speed a rider can finish in the allotted time. That was a little embarrassing, particularly as it caught me just ahead of the finish line, but I guess they figured by the time they stopped me and loaded my bike, I could have been across the line on my own steam. My legs were jelly when it passed me, but when it passed me, I found the few strands of muscle fiber left and cranked my way over the finish.

But there was a lot more to the season than just these rides. I made several training rides that I'm very proud of, including the ride that saw my bike destroyed (if I had finished that ride cleanly, it would have topped out somewhere north of 85 miles and would have positioned me perfectly for a century). I did some other tours and rides that I completed, not just finished, in style. Beer at the finish is a powerful incentive. 

I saw some beautiful sunrises, and took some awesome photos. I met and chatted with hundreds of people, many of whom I've seen from time to time out on their bikes, too. I had a lot going on in my life, and though cycling has always been a way to put those aside, this year it almost became an encumbrance: gearing up, watching weather reports, maintaining my bikes, figuring out routes (that one, especially after the accident, was troubling). 

It's October now. The oily darkness smears across the sky earlier and lingers later now. I'll still ride, probably into December, but it will be once, maybe twice a week. I'll revel in the freedom even if it now means keeping one eye and one ear cocked to the rear.

And dream of next year.