Gratitude

Times like these, home from a fun ride on a gorgeous late summer evening, I realize how many things I love about cycling. How grateful I am for everything it adds to my life, how lucky I am to be able to ride. It can be far too easy to take a strong heart and pain-free joints for granted.

So here are some things about cycling I love, the transcendent parts of riding that make all the boring and painful parts worth it. We’ve all seen lists like this on websites and in cycling magazines. They seem a little too easy, a little clickbaity. Maybe this list will sound like that. I don’t know. All I know is that I mean these things.

Quiet roads along quiet creeks.

The way light from a sinking sun shatters though the treetops, bright but not blinding.

The unspoken agreement to pause a conversation on the descent and resume it seamlessly at the bottom.

Pre-ride panckakes. Post-ride pancakes.

Two-hour loops with a little bit of climbing but not too much, where you get a workout but still feel fresh when you get home.

Swooping through shady spots, feeling the rush of cool air.

Waving at old men on porches who would normally never wave at a man in lyrca, and seeing them smile and wave back.

Talking about rides you’ve done. Planning rides you might never do.

Riding two or three wide in the middle of the road because you know there are never cars on it.

Coming back into town after rush hour.

Seeing the light change to green just as your faux-track stand is about to peter out.

Riding with friends, sometimes.

Riding alone, sometimes.

Discovering a perfect new road.

Forgetting your heart rate strap, and realizing you don’t miss it.

The first pedal stroke. The last pedal stroke.

Pressing “save” on your Garmin.

Realizing a hill wasn’t as steep as you remembered it.

Taking the bike path back to your neighborhood, even though you say you hate maneuvering around pedestrians, because sometimes it’s nice to just  ride a bike like a kid would ride a bike.

Things Not to Do on a Group Ride

I’m not going to say this behavior was exhibited by a companion on this morning’s group ride. But I’m not going to say it wasn’t.

Here’s the bottom line. Beginners, veterans, racers, weekend warriors, anyone in between: don’t do this when you’re riding with other people. Just don’t. Unless you want them to hate you and/or talk shit about you behind your back and/or never invite you to ride with them again. In that case, go for it.

  • DON’T hog the pre-ride banter conversation with a story about your recent KOM conquest. Nobody cares. Want to show people how fast you are? Enter a race.
  • DON’T nix somebody’s suggestion to take the bike path out of town instead of a busy street because one time you crashed on a bike path so now you think they are more dangerous than busy streets. Maybe take a statistics class at the local community college.
  • DON’T turn off your Garmin when you’re going slow in order to preserve a high average speed for your Strava file. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this.
  • DON’T view someone dropping from the paceline to ride side-by-side with his buddy for a few minutes while they discuss the most recent Tour stage as an opportunity to hammer off the front and get a gap. Especially don’t do this at mile ten of the 70-mile ride.
  • DON’T, after said hammering, continue to vanish into the distance even as the two people try to catch back on to you and the unlucky soul who was on your wheel and had no choice but to go with your “attack.” There are things called stop signs and gas stations and intersections where you can actually stop your bike and wait for a minute. Try it sometime.
  • DON’T not check your phone to see a text that might say something like, “hey, where are you guys? Are you waiting somewhere or should we consider the group ride disbanded at this point?” Merckx had the excuse of phones not being invented yet. You don’t.

This is just a few things. There are others, obviously. Basic stuff. You can find those on other blogs or in clickbaity-titled but actually somewhat informative GCN videos. But these are a good start. If you can avoid them, hopefully you’ll avoid being blacklisted by your local cycling community.

 

My Favorite Climbs

A couple days ago I read Aaron Gulley’s article in this month’s Bicycling magazine. It’s titled “Columbia Rising” and it describes an epic week of riding in..you guessed it… Colombia. (The place looks incredible, and I absolutely want to ride there; more on that to come). A sidebar to the article listed the top five climbs in Colombia, which got me thinking: what are the top five climbs in my area? Admittedly, none compare; still, we all have our home roads and our favorite routes, climbs, and segments. But coming up with my list wasn’t as easy as I expected. I was forced to confront  basic question:

What makes a favorite climb?

I had never really asked myself that. I’ve always liked certain climbs more than others, but never actually examined the reasons why. Like many matters of taste (books and lovers come to mind), it was just a vaguely articulated feeling, a reaction to stimuli with untraced origins.

Breaking it down, climbs have a few main ingredients: distance, grade, elevation gain. They combine in all sorts of ways; no two climbs are exactly alike. There are endless combinations. I guess I tend to like climbs that are long enough to allow me to get into a steady rhythm, but not too long. I tend to prefer steady grades, although steep pitches add challenge and break up the monotony. The more elevation gain, the better it looks on Strava.

But you can’ reduce a climb to just those factors. There are so many others. Road surface, the contour of the twists and turns, roadside vegetation, traffic level. The view from the top. The descent to the bottom. And how much of the climb’s beauty comes from the feeling of accomplishment afterwards rather than the actual journey up it?

Technically you could measure all the variables, if you had enough time and patience and free intern labor. But I’m content to just say that a climb is a sum of innumerable parts, and sometimes even greater than that. I’m content to believe myself, my mind, my sensations of pleasure or pain (or usually both). My gut (I know, it’s really my brain) tells me what climbs I like, and that’s good enough for me.

So here are my five favorite climbs in and around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with a link to the Strava segment and a one-sentence description. I’ve narrowed it down to only categorized climbs that I’ve done more than once, figuring that would help select for my favorites (though most often ridden doesn’t always mean that).

They’re all different in some ways and similar in others. I suspect your list is like that too.

  1. Blue Mountain Parkway: Really steep, no great views from the top, but it for some reason I ride it more than most others.
  2. Granite Quarry: So damn pitchy; one of the first climbs I discovered around here, so it has a special place in my heart.
  3. Lamb’s Gap: Quiet, well-paved road, babbling brook alongside–what more do you want?
  4. Sleepy Hollow: Actually not spooky at all; doesn’t even feel like you’re climbing.
  5. Peter’s Mountain: Amazing panorama from the top, and a nice steady grade to get there (despite some traffic).

 

A Week Off

I spent the last week in Iceland with my girlfriend, navigating F roads and hiking and camping and taking pictures. Though I saw lots of bikes (most of them being ridden by tourists, loaded with panniers like mules in old mining photographs) I didn’t ride one. I went for a couple runs but that was the extent of my physical exertion. (Plus the hiking, but hiking is really just walking in nature.)

I actually didn’t miss riding as much as I thought I would. That realization worried me. If I love riding so much, I should miss it, right? Instead of enjoying my ride-free days, shouldn’t I have been dying to get back on the bike? Shouldn’t I have been worrying about losing my fitness?

landmanalauger
No road biking here.

But I got back home yesterday, and this morning I did a 55-mile loop with a couple climbs. And yeah, my heart rate was a little higher than normal, and I felt myself breathing kind of hard in the beginning. But the world didn’t end. I can still ride a bike at pretty much the same speed I could a week ago. I still felt comfortable in the saddle. I remembered how to balance. Most importantly, I enjoyed it. It wasn’t hard to get back out there–I didn’t lose my motivation somewhere near the Arctic Circle. But it wasn’t mind-blowingly incredible either. It was just…a ride. Fun, somewhat challenging, beautiful at times and dull at others. And that’s probably the best sign that a week off didn’t fundamentally alter my relationship to the sport, to a part of my life I am passionate about.

So, I learned this: it’s okay to not ride for a while, and it’s okay to be okay with that. Rest, explore, travel, take care of business, whatever. The bike will still be waiting when you return, and there are always more rides ahead of you.

Epilogue

A pleasant surprise when posting my ride on Strava: I did my best time yet up Peter’s Mountain, despite not feeling all that fast and setting what I thought was a manageable, easy climbing pace. So maybe there is something to the whole “rest is actually good” thing. For those of us somewhere on the exercise addiction spectrum (yes, it’s a real thing), this is an easy concept to understand but a difficult one to implement.