On a ride recently with two new friends, I had an experience that I haven’t had in some weeks. While climbing a rocky fire road, I hit a short, steep and rather technical pitch. To ride it, rather than dismount, I needed to gun the engine, so to speak, and hit a line narrower than a super model’s waist, careful to unweight the saddle slightly as my rear wheel popped over a rock.
What happened next was that I noted a feeling in my legs, the one that I think the pros are referring to when their fitness really starts to come around and they say, “The sensations are good.” It’s one of those phrases that I think can be hard to parse, difficult to comprehend, the way “short of breath” is, that is, until you actually feel it. The funny thing isn’t that I felt good, but that the way my legs felt, my ability to rev then engine felt good, that the revving itself is what felt good and like when you get a good kiss, the next thought for most of us is, I’d like another, please.
I haven’t felt like that on a hill since before a bout of the flu I had two months ago. That feeling that you’ve got power to spare, that your body is ready to crush is one of the real delights of endurance sports. It’s a place that can’t possibly be explained to someone who hasn’t devoted years to riding; imagine trying to explain the beach, the ocean, to a Sherpa, without the aid of photography. The greater revelation is how different your perception of the experience is if you’ve gone whole years without feeling that depth of strength.
In the wake of my 2012 crash and the Deuce’s birth six months later, I rode as if there was a governor on my heart in both a physical and spiritual sense. Rarely did I even want to go very hard. There were plenty of occasions where I tried to convince myself I did, and even times when I tried to dig, but the desire would melt away, an ice cube on hot pavement. I’d think back on certain performances from years past and would have to admit to myself that going all-out on a climb for 20 minutes didn’t even sound fun.
In that, I saw a gap between two stages of my life. Current me couldn’t even fathom what old me had done. In 2001, I won an uphill time trial, six miles, on a climb I knew like my father’s face. It was the one and only time I rode the main portion of the climb in the big ring. I rode at speeds that defy comprehension—my comprehension anyway—if only because I’m so far from achieving that now. And if I hadn’t done that, the idea that you might ride at close to your maximum heart rate for the whole of a race would seem utterly implausible for an amateur rider not bound for the pros.
And while I rarely place much stock in what the pros have to say, I’ve read plenty of interviews over the years in which some pro has talked about how changing to another team reinvigorated their training and racing. I was always suspicious about how important that could be. But moving to Sonoma County has given me an interesting analog. I’ve found both an inspiration to ride more (when able) and ride harder (again, as able). Part of the inspiration is rolling with new friends. The caboose is no one’s first call, right?
I’ve dropped more than a dozen pounds since the move and despite the reservations I have for what Strava has done to many rides and routes, it continues to be my favorite way to track my training. Here’s where the definition of segments has delivered a real benefit, though: In the mobile app, I can look at every time I’ve ridden a segment, and my times on every segment I ride are quicker now than they were last July. To burn up a KOM would require the ability to drop Peter Stetina, a variety of unlikely that turns egos into laughingstock. Heck, simply seeing the progress of me against me delivers more dopamine than picking up 20 places on the KOM roster.
The alignment of my drive and the nature of the events I’ve been doing here in the 707 has been the lighting of a new pilot in an old stove. It’s a lucky thing. I managed to find a place that made my whole life fresh. That statement seems so hyperbolic, so clichéd, so P.T. Barnum that I checked myself twice before typing it.
No matter. It’s midday, the sky is blue and a breeze is pushing 75-degree air through over emerald hills. The only question I must settle is what type of bike I’ll take out.