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Swimming through the thickness of life's waters - Cycling Through Life's Challenges
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Cycling Through Life's Challenges
Wednesday I went to the bike store to get a new seat and padded shorts to help get rid of all this saddle soreness that has severely, um, tainted my biking experience. I've been biking every day as part of the BTA Bike Challenge, a Portland initiative aimed at promoting better health and positive environmental impact by getting folks to cycle more during September. Here at work 12 of us are participation as a team (more than half the staff!!!). I am the only member at 100% participation for 100% of possible workdays (quite a few took leave around Labor Day weekend). We have a bet of drinks on the line with two other teams, a friendly competition, no more.

While I was at the bike shop I asked them to check out my bike and found out that I'd been one severely incompetent bike rider. Well, that is my own judgment... and I think it is valid, even though the guy who helped me was super nice and understanding about it all.

Problems with my saddle-soreness, my biking exhaustion, and my epic-fail bike maintenance, included:
  • Severely under-inflated tires, meaning I had to work much harder, and bumps and the like would result in far more impact. This was adding extra time and work to my rides and aggravating the saddle-soreness. Apparently I should be checking my tyre pressure at least every two weeks and aiming for 60 psi on my broad tires.
  • Poorly oiled chains. Apparently I need to oil them weekly and make sure I properly clean the dirt off too. I had not done this in a month, meaning pedaling took much more effort.
  • Bad seat for my build and duration of rides. The padded seat was apparently actually making the saddle-sore worse because of how it spread my weight. Further, the broad padded seat made the bike rides harder (added friction on the thighs).
  • Bad seat angle, also messing with my comfort and peddling efficiency.
  • The last time I'd replaced my removable front wheel I'd somehow managed to put it on backwards. No, really. This meant that the tyre tread was facing the wrong way, making cycling harder. And it is so easy to see that the tread is facing the wrong way that this qualifies as an epic logic fail and earns me a dunce cap.
  • When replacing my removable front wheel I had not reattached the front brakes properly and they were pulled to taught, meaning the pads were too close to the wheels and would catch on the tyre during turns, making cycling tougher.
  • I'd avoided cycling pants, seeing them as akin to speedos and more than a bit creepy, and I didn't need to be that aerodynamic. However, that is but the least of the uses of biking pants. They have padding, magical padding, near mystical padding. So soft and cuddly padding. Saddle sore just goes away. The pants fit snugly and you wear them without underwear, so they also reduce friction. This and the padding both combine to drastically reduce saddle-soreness.
  • My gears were too tight, which made for clunkier gear changes, exaggerated by the age of the bike, due to the much wider gaps there used to be between gears. It also meant that I was apparently never actually getting into my lowest gear at all... meaning I was even going slower when going downhill.

So all of this mean that my rides were much more difficult than they needed to be, took longer and were more uncomfortable. I would get home exhausted, sore, stiff and very sweaty every single night. I was only keeping up that 100% record through sheer force of will, not any semblance of cycling competence. And I hardly ever passed anyone, despite usually pedaling much harder. I thought it was my old bike. Nope. It was me. I had neglected and abused my bicycle... should have been reported to the SPCB.

I got all the above issues resolved, including replacing my seat with one better suited to me and my commuting, and purchased cycling pants with manna-from-heaven padding. And what did all this translate to? A much more comfortable ride yesterday and today... as in near orgasmic! No really. As in even the existing constant saddle-soreness that was there even first thing Monday morning after 2 days not cycling, was gone. Poof! w00t!

So yesterday, on my cycle in, working no harder than normal... I beat my previous fastest time in by 5 minutes, and even passed a couple of folks... and I'd been passing so very, very few people. Until now, almost everyone passed me... hell, some folks passed me so fast that they were already a block ahead before I even noticed... and once there was this old guy with one of those walkers... okay, so the later is a joke, but barely. I was the cycling equivalent of that guy. I will still get passed more often than I pass others, particularly on the uphill ride home, because my bike is big, heavy and old, has broad tyres, clunky gears and upright seating. This does not bother me one bit because it means even better exercise for me, and exercise is my primary motivation here. Still, at least my suffering, struggling and exhaustion have been greatly reduced.

And I love my cheerful red bike. It was a gift, from sweet Janet, given with a smile and a lot of advice, during a most difficult time for me. It is a part of my journey and my healing. I'll take better care of it from now on.

Results were evident on the ride home yesterday, when I beat my previous fastest time home by over 10 minutes, and my slowest by 20! Holy crap. And I felt fine when I got home, not like an old fart on the verge of heart failure, who should be smart enough to just call it quits and get on a bus. Even so, it's been a tough half-month and last night my upper legs were still burning and crying out for a day or two off.

"One more day," I pleaded to my tired, worn parts, "Just one more day!" I so very much want to keep this 100% record. I don't know why... I just do. It's not for competitive reasons, well, not entirely. It's for me.

Today, tired, sore legs and all... I flew in. Oh my ghod, I flew. It was awesome. Two cyclists blew by me on a steep downhill, just as I'd gotten on the bike, before I had any speed of my own. I caught up to the first quickly and then even had to hold back and wait for a safe place to pass, and then I blew by them and their fancy bike with skinny tyres and fancy gears, and all their fancy bike gear. Me the plebeian on the clunky bike, in sweatpants, T-shirt and sandals, and my precious padded-ass pants hidden underneath (thanks for the term, Kirsten). And best of all I blew by working no harder than normal.

It felt good. It felt easy. This bicycling stuff was not as hard as I thought. Now, sore legs and all, I wanted to go a bit faster, to see how fast I could go, so I put foot. I put foot in a big way... well, for me that is, for this tired old fart and his stiff aching legs. By the time I reached town I'd caught the second cyclist too, also on a fancy bike... and I'd had to make up a two block deficit to catch him. We're all a little bit competitive out there. Many times I pass someone and they pass me right back, like I insulted them. Its sill and funny and fun. For me it was just nice not to be passed all the time, for the ride to feel so comparatively effortless, so doable.

My efforts today had decent results. I shaved 3 minutes off yesterday's time. I was worn out and tired, but I felt exhilarated. I laughed aloud as I rode into the garage here at work. I laughed a-frigging-loud. I'd not only made it through the week and kept my 100% record intact, but the improvements were so awesome. It all feels so very doable now. There was real joy in me. It's always good to have those moments, especially during this time in my life where growing is so much a part of my every day.

At just over the halfway point in the month, eleven work days in, I remain the only person on my BTA Bike Commute Challenge team with a 100% record on 100% of possible work days. It's a modest achievement, 11 round-trips for a total of 93 miles. But on my undernourished bicycle it has been really tough, particularly the ride home, which before all these fixes had been 40-55 minutes of mostly uphill cycling. Now I expect 30-35 minute rides home (and hope for faster) and depending on traffic lights, 13-20 minute rides in. The big time difference is because it's mostly downhill coming to work and mostly uphill going home, and downhill on a heavy bike is waaaay easier than uphill.

In case any of this seems boastful, I must clarify that I'm very much a novice and not remotely the best, nor the most impressive member of our team. One of the women on our team is by far and away the best cyclist we have, one who cycles great distances all year long, even through the winter. She is the one I went to for advice about the saddle-soreness and who advised me to get a new saddle and padded pants. She will remain a good resource going forward, and an inspiration to me as the loooooooong rainy season begins and many fair-weather cyclists quit the roads.

Another team member, Cathie, is in her 60s and has just as long of a ride as I do and is at 80% participation. What an achievement. She'd been aiming for just 6 days of cycling, to beat the 5 she did last year, and at just over the halfway point she has already exceeded that goal... with 8. And this on a bike that is both older and heavier than mine, and with just 2 gears. Just incredible, and pound-for-pound, for me she is by far the most impressive member of our team. Still others on the team have tougher, longer rides and are much more accomplished cyclists. I am waaay down the list, but damn it all, I want that 100% out of 100% record for the month. I can contribute that way at least. I can give myself that little gift. I can enjoy this lovely little sense of achievement.

Wish me luck as I go for 100% of 100% of work days through the end of the month. And for me to keep finding the joy in it. And keep trimming down and getting fitter, and yes, both have been happening (w00t!!!).

And kick my ass if I neglect my shiny red bike again.

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kmarkhoover From: kmarkhoover Date: September 16th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good grief, when did bike riding become so complex?
thirdworld From: thirdworld Date: September 16th, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
The weekly oiling is more for the winter weather here... 7-9 months where we get a lot of rain. But yes, if you commute regularly you have to take care of your bike.
dave_gallaher From: dave_gallaher Date: September 16th, 2011 09:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Congratulations and good luck! Just don't stop riding at the end of September.
thirdworld From: thirdworld Date: September 16th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, and in answer to the second sentence, absolutely. I've actually been riding before September, since early June, and have been riding quite regularly just not at 100%. It slowed down when I moved to my new place a couple of months back, and all of the kerfuffle associated with moving, unpacking and getting new furniture, etc, later aggravated by sickness, allergies and my Worldcon trip, which all messed with my fitness. My intention is to keep at it all through winter... and as you probably know all too well, in Portland with endless rain and such, that would be an impressive achievement. I'm aiming to do that. We'll see how it goes.
ann_totusek From: ann_totusek Date: September 17th, 2011 05:55 am (UTC) (Link)
Good grief. I don't believe you sunk so low with that pun. And if you weren't doing it on purpose, I'm embarrassed for you for not catching it, and embarrassed for myself for having such a dirty mind as to catch it when it wasn't put there on purpose.
thirdworld From: thirdworld Date: September 17th, 2011 06:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm a little confused...
thirdworld From: thirdworld Date: September 17th, 2011 06:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Unless it's yet a third meaning for cycling?
kyrieleison From: kyrieleison Date: September 18th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think Ann might be referring to the word "tainted". It made me laugh out loud. Congrats on your biking success! It's awesome that just a few simple changes have made such a difference for you. Good luck in achieving your goals!
thirdworld From: thirdworld Date: September 18th, 2011 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah. Thank you clearing Ann's pun comment up. I had used that joke several times, but in conversation and other writing. C'mon now, Ann... that pun is pure genius, almost to the point of raising me to another level of consciousness!

Thanks for your encouraging words.
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Grant Kruger
Name: Grant Kruger
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