Experimental Cinema

We rode hard the other night, the group of us, in 90° heat, and though we went the usual route to have the usual fun, I suffered. Stomach cramps when we set out should have told me I was on a hiding to nothing, but an inner voice told me just to roll it out, to finish, even if off the back. So that’s what I did.

There is a way of riding that doesn’t feel much like riding. The pedals turn. Your legs pump up and down, and yet you put nothing into the effort except where the road is mean enough to rise. If gravity is a cruel mistress, sometimes inertia is her prettier, more forgiving sister. We strolled together, she and I, until I was at the foot of the mile-long climb that leads to my house, and then she was gone.

The darker sister dogged me to the top, whispering insults in my ear.

When I rolled into the drive way, covered in road filth and dead bugs, I felt close to dead. I stripped off kit and shoes on the cold basement floor and contemplated the long climb to the 2nd floor bathroom. Eventually, I sat in the shower and watched the dirt stream off my legs and down the drain.

I drank some water, and then some more water. I ate. Something sweet. Something salty. A banana.

Then I felt really badly. Light-headed. Exhausted. I went up and lay on the bed in the air conditioner’s blast. And, just as I was drifting off to dizzy sleep, someone down in the engine room called for the full reverse. Eyes shot open. Feet found the floor. I stumbled to the bathroom and emptied myself face first into the commode.

Here I kept control of myself. I felt almost wistful as the spasms wracked my guts, a cyclist’s sense of tragedy. Can you be proud of the way you throw up?

The wife came upstairs to express wifely concern, and I gave her my best sardonic grin. I tried to say, “This is funny, eh?” with my eyes, but they were maybe too watery to make my point. I brushed my teeth.

I had not vomited in more than a decade. What had brought me here? Heat? A stomach bug? Those were my last thoughts as I drifted off to sleep. Spent. Not sure the answers mattered.

There is something in our reptile brains that files away the circumstances of a full system reverse like this one. It’s the mechanism which leads so many to cross tequila off their list of thirst-quenching beverages, or to negatively correlate corn dogs with roller coasters.

But I think I have failed to view this experience through the common prism. I didn’t revel in it, but neither did I regret it. Without romanticizing what happened, I think it was more like some of the foreign films I watched when I was in college. I didn’t enjoy them, because, if I’m honest, I mostly failed to understand them, but there was a part of me that was very glad I’d sat through every minute, that was glad I’d experience them, if only to be able to fit each one into a larger context.

And I think rides are like that. Some are good, and some are bad, and some I just don’t properly understand, but it’s important, possibly, to sit through them, to expand the context of your riding and to understand what is suffering and what is actually just inertia.


  1. spiff

    I had a bad ride this past Sunday. One of the guys had 2 flats. We rolled with (chased) a few small groups. And it was hot. The flats took way too long to fix, but I was like, he needs to learn how to do it, so I did not help. Then I got hungry, then tired. By the end I was done, it was well past my 4 hour window of fuel. By that night I realized I was getting a head cold.That I still have. The week can’t end soon enough.

  2. DavidA

    I remeber sitting in the kitchen in a village outside of Gent Belgium in 1980. I think the Pro Het Volk race was being covered live by radio. It was cold and raining that day just miserable. The commentator was saying that Jan Raas had a stomach flu, and had a horrible case of the runs, all over himself and the bike. Peter Post was screaming at him to control the race at the front. Raas was screaming back at him about his condition. Raas finished the race in cold, pouring rain 5-6hrs over the cobbles and with his guts heaving and everything else blown out of him…..this is left out of the glossy color snapshots in the cycling mags…the real cruel side of pro bike racing, where it is your job on the line everyday you ride. I have always thought about that all these years he was not allowed to stop. nor would he give….hardmen in a hard profession.

  3. A Stray Velo

    Nosferatu…comforting to know I’m not the only film/cycling geek here.

    I threw up once while racing my mountain bike. I felt it coming so I kept my mouth shut and just swallowed it again. Never sure why I did that.

    The bad experiences on the bike are good because you learn from them and later on when you think back to them you realize that they really weren’t that bad at all. These experiences raise your own belief in yourself and what you can do and what you are comfortable doing.

  4. scaredskinnydog

    At least you made it home to barf. I once got a yellow line infraction after I briefly crossed over to hurl without getting it all over the side of the road we were racing on.
    p.s. always try to barf on the non drive train side.

  5. RPD

    After rupturing my left Achilles at the beginning of March, I finally was given the OK to ride… Day 1 was 35 miles and felt ok. Day 2 was a reverse of the route I did the day before and a reverse of how I felt the day before. Enough said.

    1. Author

      @ChrisC – I grew up in Mobile, AL. I know about hot. I can’t pretend to do well in it, or to like it. I respect roadies down your way, because I don’t think I’d be one, given the conditions.

  6. GeeTee

    You guys. Down here in ‘Stralia .. (winter now) in summer eg during the TDU – we ride in 42 celsius – for weeks on end. That’s 107 – so dont go moaning about heat to us !!!

  7. Buzz


    You live in J’town, maybe? Last night, my stomach was turning over by 6:30 (we didn’t start until 6:00). Hot drink bottles suck big! Thankfully, my much-stronger buddy was there to help me through our 30 miler.

  8. Conrad

    cool post. Sort of reminds me of the way I often feel at the start of a race, especially on the track: this isn’t fun, its just painful and sort of scary, why the hell do I do this, and so on. But afterwards, I’m always glad that I lined up and can’t wait to do it again.

    1. Padraig

      Conrad: You’ve just touched on one of the fundamental truths of our sport. And it’s why I so loved Robot’s post. Thanks.

  9. Henry

    I threw up in my mouth during a points race (on the velodrome) this evening. Not ill just overreaching myself trying to hold the wheel, or rather get back on one, after contesting a sprint.

    At times like this I wonder why I do myself over so badly just for a Wednesday league. I wonder why I do these things to myself sometimes, but then I pin a number on again with just the same enthusiasm the next week. I think its that I like the feeling of pushing my limits, I always seem to be able to go just a little further than last time….

  10. Jprummer

    Stomach cramps are a late sign of dehydration. Probably started days before and you never caught up with your hydration needs. With what happened to you at home your lucky that didn’t happen on the road. I see it a lot at work (wildland fire fighting). Very serious and dangerous. Be careful and stay safe.

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