Monday, June 23, 2014

Breaking the Sound Barrier

Never eat a barbeque pork sandwich with beans and potato salad after you’ve biked 34 miles and have another 15 to go. You won’t find that in the writings of Confucius or Ann Landers. Why? I don’t know, because in retrospect it seems pretty important. I kept it down. I’m just mentioning that for those of you letting your imaginations run off the leash. Nothing so awful as heaving on the side of the trail knee deep in field grass and gnats, but it did sit like cement in my stomach. And when you’re struggling to break 50 miles at an average speed of better than 12mph, which at my age and level of fitness is the equivalent of the sound barrier, a stomach anchor isn’t an afternoon delight.

If you’re just tuning in, I am training for the Ride to Conquer Cancer this September 13-14th. The challenge is a hundred and fifty miles in two days. I’m asking folks to pledge their hard earned dollars, so I feel it is just and good that I keep you appraised on what I’m doing.

I’m an author. I’m not an athlete. Want to get that out in front to avoid any misunderstandings. Authors spend most of their days sitting on soft cushy seats that swivel and rock. We drink lattes in coffee shops, and if we’re feeling ambitious, walk around a bookstore or library breathing in through our nose and out through our mouths. And we look out the window for inspiration, not as a prelude to anything crazy, such as investigating what the deal is with that bright light in the sky.

I’ve never tried doing a marathon, a 6K, or even a power walk. I’m not an invalid. I can run a mile in about 12 minutes. If you’re under thirty, I hear you’re able to run a mile in 7-9 minutes, so since I’m nearly 53, I think that’s a decent display of physical prowess. And once upon a time, I rode my bicycle forty miles in single day. Come this September I’m going to have to ride one hundred and fifty miles in two days—seventy-five miles a day, back to back.

I obviously need to train. I started a little over a week ago. Last Saturday my wife, Robin, and I rode thirty miles. Then just to see the extent of the damage we rode another 35 the next day. We took it slow, about 10 mph, but we did it. We both have hybrid bikes, which is to say they are a cross between a sleek racing street bike and a rugged tank-styled mountain bike. How they got these things to breed I have no idea, but I thought we had nice bikes until we tried to ride 35 miles on it. Now I see that what we own are heavy, iron-wrought behemoths from some age when men had thighs the size of oak logs. When two days later we tried to up our speed, Robin, who lagged behind me, decided to put her ironclad out to pasture and get a sexy street machine. A street bike is one of those low-slung handlebar bikes with tires thin enough to shave with and so light you double the weight by adding a water bottle. At least that’s the way it looks to me from my perch atop my WWII battleship of gunmetal gray.

Our next ride was on this past Friday, and we rode for a record 46 miles. Using her new sporty ride, Robin became “Zippy Girl” flying into a dot on my horizon and having to wait for me to catch up. When at last I did, puffing, sweat covered and grimacing, she sat with one leg over the bar and a guilty grin on her lips.

“Maybe I should get one of those, too,” I said.
Horror and shock replaced the grin. “No!”
“Why not?”
“This way we’re even,” she told me.
Even my ass, Zippy Girl.
She looked at me with big Sherik-styled Puss-in-boot eyes.
“Fine.” I climbed back aboard and resumed peddling like Bart Simpson with a light generator pressing against his bike wheel. That’s how I remember it, anyway.

After a day of rest, we went out on Sunday. The weather was good and we pushed out on the trail to the tune of twenty-five miles. This was the farthest we’d ever gone, and the trip home would make it a clean 50 miles, a new record.

Along the trail is a rustic pit-barbeque restaurant that caters to trial riders.  People come from 600 miles for their authentic North Carolina cuisine, and on the way up the trail I was captured by the siren song of barbeque smoke wafting across the path from a giant black kettle drum. Bright red umbrellas shaded picnic tables and the place was circled in bicycles and packed with riders. I had loaded up on tuna salad carbs and beans before the ride so I was still good, but I promised myself we’d stop there on the way back. I deserved to sit under those festive umbrellas and eat that authentic pork with those exquisite plastic utensils and Styrofoam plates. The farther up the trail I went the more I began to dream of that dinner as a kind of heaven. Everyone there would be friendly, and beautiful. Old Jimmy Buffet songs would be playing from some outside speaker, and I would definitely have beans and potato salad for my two sides.

My steel horse was running out of gas by the time we made the round trip to the restaurant and I knew I wouldn’t make it home the last 15 miles without food. Oddly, by the time I got my food I wasn’t all that hungry. Exhaustion was setting in and maybe a bit of dehydration stole my appetite. I ate anyway. I had to.

The Zippy Girl, being on a diet, trotted off to a nearby organic café and came back with something in a bag, something that crunched when she ate it.

I cleaned my plate and wished I hadn’t. The sitting and the weighty food left me lethargic. I felt so heavy that I think my bike grunted when I sat on it. “It’ll be okay. We’ll make it, girl.” I patted the Trek’s crossbar, as Zippy Girl shot off, a spandex clad arrow vanishing toward the horizon.

Burping isn’t fun while exercising. Ruins the breathing rhythm, and beans never taste as good the second time. On the way up I had enjoyed the forests and fields. After leaving the restaurant I only saw the streak of pavement blurring beneath the all-too-wide tires. Maybe there were moments of downhill. Robin said most of it was. It all felt uphill to me. One steep grueling climb where I never had the chance to coast, to breathe, to hear what was playing on my playlist that I spent an hour the day before making—Music to Fly By—I had envisioned. As I burped and breathed my way up that non-stop hill, I’d become deaf.

There’s no way I can do this. And I only went 50 miles! I have to ride 75, sleep in a tent and then get up and ride another 75! I’m way to old for this. I was too old for this when I was twenty-four.  Zippy Girl is probably rocking out to tunes in the air-conditioned car back in the trail parking lot by now. Easy for her, she’s a whole nine months younger—younger and she has that miserable bike—that magic Pegasus. So unfair. I’m not going to vomit. That’s something. Feeling a little better actually. Oh look, a bunny on the side of the trail. Hey bunny! Wonder if the Nationals won against Atlanta today…

Then I lifted my head and I was back. I could see the parking lot and the car. Zippy Girl wasn’t there. She was behind me. I’d passed her when she paused for a short rest. Bending over the racing bike hurts her back and she needs to take breaks.

We’d done it. We’d broken the 50 mile barrier. Checking the cycling app it turned out we’d averaged over 12mph. A new distance and speed record all in one day!

Today I’m dead. I should lift some weights, maybe jog, but I’m just blown out. I need to rest and rebuild. But we did it, that much at least. And we still have another two months. Maybe we can do it after all. Maybe if we just keep trying. Maybe the impossible is possible. I’m a published author, I suppose I should have learned that lesson already.

Tax-deductible donations to sponsor my ride can be made from this link.



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