I didn’t take up cycling to learn anything. I didn’t take it up to get fit, to prove that I was faster, stronger or smarter than anyone else, that I was special. I didn’t take it up as a means of self-expression.
I took it up because it was fun. Oh, and I dig bikes.
It’s true; I like the mechanical-ness of bikes. If we are stored energy, they are the expression of it, a noun to our verb. They move as if they are equations describing the very action of human potential, gravity, the laws of physics.
I didn’t take up cycling to learn anything. But learn I did.
At first, the lessons revolved around equipment and learning that being a cyclist meant more than having a bike. There were the shorts, the pump, the shoes, the seat bag, jersey, water bottle, computer, even the non-dorky helmet. Next came the education in how to care for the bike and all that gear.
I read magazines by the pound. At first, I read them because they took me places that I couldn’t go on my own rides: the Rocky Mountains, California, France. As I read more I began to decode the language of the dedicated. I learned about sew-ups, intervals, the wonder of titanium. References to a guy with a misspelled first name (who spells Eddie with a “y”?) peppered talk of the great races, greatest racers.
I was no student, yet I learned.
There were other lessons that came unbidden, lessons for which there was no guide. My first bonk was an event of such supreme impact on my body I could have confused it with a mystical experience. I arrived back at my dorm room and gradually pieced together my state, a drunk fitting the house key in the tumbler.
There came a turn. Just when, just where, I’ve no idea. However, I began to understand that I, like Plato, knew nothing. All the knowledge I’d collected didn’t add up to an understanding of the sport. I didn’t understand what fast really was. I rode everywhere at the hardest pace I could sustain. I arrived anywhere I went by bike leaking sweat. I was as unaware of what fast really was as what slow meant.
I began riding with a group. They showed me pacelines, drafting, how to hold my line. They taught me how and when to eat. I’d arrive home as tired from from absorbing all the skills as from the riding.
I became a student of speed. I entered races. Glued tubulars. Pinned numbers on. Learned to pin them on the right way—out of the wind and so you can get to your food.
Yet even once I chose to learn, became a student, I continued to learn lessons that were unexpected, surprising. Some, like road rash, were unwanted. Others, like being second into the final turn of a crit only to get 10th, were mystifying. At some point I experienced an epiphany. My entire conception of cycling had changed. When I started, riding a bike was fun. Nothing more and certainly not less. But in my application of self to the body of knowledge that is cycling, riding a bike had taken on a personality. The sport had moods.
Suffering dominated my days. There was the pain of the interval, but I came to understand how legs can hurt following a ride, sometimes waking you up from sleep. There was the calm of the recovery ride, a serene meditation of the pedal stroke. Once I moved to a land with mountains, ecstasy entered the sport. Icarus had it wrong; the drop held life itself.
As the years river their way through my life, the desire to learn continues, an appetite that can never be sated. What surprised me is how what cycling now gives me isn’t cycling, it’s the world.
I’d never have studied French were it not for cycling. I’d never have wanted to visit the country. I’d never have discovered lavender or the way a ton of any fresh-cut herb will fog the air with a perfume to beguile your consciousness, drugging you with reality itself.
In a twist of irony only a cyclist could appreciate, cycling gave me wine. As a racer, I’d all but sworn off alcohol. I drank alcohol less often than Sean Kelly had sex. I’d turned my back on micro-brewed beers and never considered what I was missing. That is, until I was touring through Provence and my glass was graced with a single ounce of Chateauneuf du Pape. That one sip contained within it more tones than an orchestra, more words than a Pynchon novel.
I faced a choice: reject wine, or surrender some speed. I chose wine. As a result, I’ve traveled from Napa to Nice and ridden the roads between the rows.
Cycling was making my world bigger.
The strangest, most unexpected lesson is the one now unfolding before me, how to age, how to slow down, how to share the sport with others. I won’t be the guy winning national championships in the masters races, and I’m more than okay with that. For me, the prize is striking that balance between fit, fun and family. I haven’t learned how to do it just yet, but if cycling has taught my anything it is faith, that an answer, like fitness, comes when I do the work, and I trust the sport holds a lesson or two more.
Fans of ultra-tough gran fondo/cyclosportif events have just been given a dream come true. The French promoter OC ThirdPole has announced a new event called La Haute Route and is the multi-stage gran fondo. The seven-stage event will encompass 700km from Geneva to Nice.
If that concept sounds familiar to you, the event is in broad strokes very similar to the Route des Grandes Alpes trip that I did last summer with Erickson Cycle Tours. Our route was based on the historic auto route through the Alps. This route will leave out the loop rides and out-and-back rides we did that broke up our adventure. Even so, the course will encompass some 700km and Alpine climbs with famous names—not Miley Cyrus famous, but nerdy bike-geek household famous. Think Galibier.
By the time riders reach the Promenade des Anglais in Nice they will have climbed roughly 18,000 meters—some 59,000 feet.
Basics of the route include:
* 7 days in a row, from the 21st to the 27th August 2011
* 716 km over 7 stages
* 14 peaks and 18,000 meters of climbing
* 4 high altitude finishes
* Start: Geneva, Switzerland
* Finish: Nice, France
* 5 overnight host cities : Megève, Les Arcs / Bourg-St-Maurice, Serre Chevalier, Pra Loup, Auron
Registration is already open and is a seemingly reasonable 595 euro before 12/31 and 630 euro after the first of the year.
Every rider will receive:
* Official travel bag (to be used by each competitor)
* Mechanical support (in the race village and during the race)
* Food/drink supplies during the race and at the finish of each stage
* Access to a secure bike park at each stopover
* Cleaning service for the bikes at each stopover
* Massages / rest and recovery at the finish
* Pasta party organised every night
* Transfer of personal luggage from the start to the finish of each leg
* Transfer of bike bags and covers from Geneva to Nice
* Accommodation at different levels and return shuttle (Nice-Geneva) as an option
Honestly, if an entry to this accompanied with a hall pass isn’t the gift of the year, I don’t know what is.
Learn more here: www.hauteroute.org