Dreamin’

Rainy fall afternoons on the East Coast get me thinking about other places I would like to be. Not now, necessarily, because I’m happy here. But sometime in the yet-undetermined future, sometime before I’m too old or dead to see them. Lately, most of these visions are tied to the bike trip I’ve been dreaming up with Autumn, one that would take us around the United States in a sort of six-month circumnavigation. I don’t know when we’ll be able to do it–we’ll have to quit our jobs, store all of our belongings, figure out health insurance, have some sort of a next step in place.

But from where I sit now, those logistics don’t look so daunting. They are overshadowed by the (surely romanticized) tug of the open road, by the joy and liberation we would feel spending each day at once away from everything and a part of everything, seeing all the contours of this brawny country at twelve miles an hour.

sign
Put me on a road somewhere 

I think about rolling along a stream in the Montana prairie beneath clouds more impressively sculpted and bulging than anything in a Bierstadt painting. I think about the starlit desert sky. I think about seeing the Pacific from winding seaside roads in California, seeing the Atlantic through a film of mist on the rocky Maine coast. I think about warm dinners in the tent and luxurious-feeling motel rooms and shade trees and tailwinds and wells pulling clear water from aquifers deep below the plains. I think about not having to work, not having to answer to anyone, not having any deadlines or objectives besides riding 50 or 60 miles each day. I think about experiencing it all with my best friend.

Our dreams don’t just happen. We make a choice whether or not to pursue them, whether they are worth the sacrifices necessary to achieve them. Basically, we decide how important they are to us, and act accordingly. This trip is really important to me. I want it to happen. But I can’t do anything about it. Not yet, not right now.

So, for at least the next year or two, visions will have to be enough.

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Bike Needed

Everything is set for my cycling adventure in Colombia. Except one tiny thing: the bike.

Originally, I was going to fly mine down there. I got a fancy bike bag and everything. Then I found out Delta charges $150 each way for bikes. Ooof. Then I found out that, even if I wanted to pay the $300, Delta doesn’t fly oversized baggage into Bogota from November to January. Double ooof.

Well, I’d just have to rent one there. Not ideal, but whatever. I found a company online that rents road bikes by the day or the week. Price was a little steep, but similar to what I’d pay anyways.

This week I went to their website. The trip is still a few months out, but I figured I’d better reserve one just in case. I filled out the online form with my dates and clicked “enter.” Hmm. Didn’t work. Tried again. Didn’t work. So I emailed the company, still unconcerned at this point, asking to reserve a bike for my dates.

Then a response that went something like this:

Unfortunately we don’t have bikes available at that time so basically your vacation, comprised of non-refundable, non-changeable flights, is ruined.

Triple ooof.

So now I’m starting to panic. I’m going to be there for a week to ride a bike, and with no bike, that plan looks pretty foolish.

Know anyone in Bogota with a spare steed?

Eating on a Business Trip

Ever find yourself in a foreign city on business, looking for a healthy and filling meal after a long day in the bad lighting and too-cold AC of a hotel conference center?

That’s where I found myself the other night. I could have gone to a restaurant (after all, I’d be reimbursed by my organization for the expense), but–surprise!–Reading, Pennsylvania is not a culinary hotbed. There was actually one all-vegan Chinese place, which is about as rare as a logical Trump tweet, but it was closed. So I did what I’ve becoming fond of doing, especially since going vegan.

I went to a grocery store to see how much I could get for $15.

It’s kind of a personal challenge of mine, to get the most food for the least money. It’s why the only restaurants I enjoy are buffets; everything else is simply not cost-efficient. Specifically, I’m interested in getting the most low-fat, nutrient-dense food as possible. This time, I set the bar at $15 because I figured that’s what I would have spent if I went to some crappy chain off the interstate like one of my coworkers would have done. Normally I eat local and organic, but those criteria were impractical for this challenge.

I found a supermarket and walked in with my backpack. Here’s what I emerged with:

lots of food

 

Peasant food. Man, it’s the way to go. Healthy, filling, tasty, cheap, vegan. Corn tortillas cost basically nothing. Same with canned beans and corn. The giant tub of salsa was only five bucks. And sauerkraut doesn’t fit with the whole taco thing, but I love it, so I got some.

All told, it was just about $15. I absolutely stuffed my face and only ate about half of it that night. I finished the rest on the drive home the next day, and still had salsa left over for the week. I don’t think I could have done much better in terms of dollars–calories ratio.

I hate when people say that being vegan is A) not for high-level athletes or B) people on a budget. Those assumptions are patently false. And you can find a great meal in the big-box sprawl outside the poorest city in America when the only vegan place is closed.

Bad Day

Some days as an endurance athlete, you feel amazing. You dance up inclines like someone half your weight. You add on an extra few miles because your legs just feel so damn fresh. You feel like someone should be filming you because you’re crushing it as much as anybody in those outdoor adventure videos on Youtube. You are pretty sure that you missed your calling as an Olympian (if only mom and dad had seen your potential instead of pushing you into whatever team sport you spent your high school and college years playing).

Yesterday was not one of those days.

Maybe I should have seen it coming. After all, an 18-mile run after work was always going to be dicey. Hell, an 18-mile run at any time of day is dicey. But I naively thought, I’ll be fine. It would be just like riding two hours after work. I do that all the time.

Things got off to a bad start when, walking home from the office, my stomach wouldn’t shut up. Not just hungry moans. Uncomfortable, GI tract-is-dealing-with- something protestations. An orchestra of gurgling. Given the fact that running triggers the worst of my GI issues, I made what I thought was a brilliant decision: instead of 18, I’d run the 13 I’m supposed to do this weekend. Then I’d do 18 this weekend. Perfect! Problem solved.

Except it wasn’t. A bathroom trip once I got home didn’t provide much relief. I ate an ear of corn and some peanut butter because I was hungry. Probably not a great idea either. By now, I was sensing that this wouldn’t be an easy jog, and I delayed for a few minutes, further crunching my window of light.

Finally I left the apartment, wearing a long-sleeve cotton shirt, thinking it was chilly. It wasn’t. Damn. I rolled up my sleeves as I jogged north on Front Street through clouds of midges swarming in the slanting sunlight. I looked at my watch. 7:45 pace. Okay, not terrible.

As the miles ticked by, I fell further behind. 7:55, 8:00, 8:10, 8:35. I wasn’t going uphill, or into a headwind. I was just going slow. I could feel my colon bouncing around, could hear the food sloshing in my stomach. I was breathing hard and my legs felt like they were burdened by ankle weights. I stopped at an overgrown baseball field, behind a dumpster, in a bathroom at Wildwood Park. Nothing helped. Something deep inside my body, between my stomach and my spine, kept jangling with each step.

Somewhere around mile five my goal became just to finish. Around mile nine, my goal became just to get home before dark. The sun had disappeared over the horizon in the west and the remaining light in the sky was rapidly fading. I abandoned my planned 13-mile route and took the shortest route home along Cameron Street, wishing I could speed up and knowing I couldn’t. Birds flitted and perched on telephone wires, settling down for the night. I slogged on, now with kneecaps that hurt more than they’ve ever hurt after less than 10 miles.

Finally, mercifully, it was finished. I ambled into the parking lot and turned off my Garmin, sweaty and defeated. Total distance: barely 11 miles. Time: fucking slow. I crawled into bed and resisted the temptation to doubt myself, doubt my ability to complete this marathon in a respectable time, doubt my overall fitness. Am I getting worse? Am I getting slower? Have I been training too much, or not enough?

But enough of those thoughts. Who knows what it was. Probably some combination of tiredness, poor timing, and a GI flare up. And maybe, as frustrating as it may be, sometimes you just don’t have it.