With over 1700 miles logged, it’s time to share my latest biking revelations. I didn’t dare hope for this so soon, but my Year of Fear is gradually fading from memory. These days I even dare to brag in Facebook.
My main goal last year was to desensitize myself to the intimidating aspects of riding on streets next to fast-moving cars. I still have plenty of skills to master: hand signals, drinking from my water bottle, and fast cornering. But these weren’t at all approachable with my whole body tightened up with tension. I don’t know how many times I had to remind myself, “Don’t strangle the handlebars!” “Quit hunching!” “Pretend you’re relaxed!” (helpful to my skate students). I know it’s not safe to get too relaxed in the face of these dangers, so lately I’ve had to add “Pay attention, be here now!” when I notice I’m daydreaming.
As 2013 saw the shorter days of fall, I returned to my favorite morning spin class. The noise has always bothered me. I made the mistake of researching the issue of ear damage caused by the high decibels so common in group exercise classes. When I learned typical music volume matches that of a chainsaw, my attitude began to sour. After two more classes trying out ridiculous-looking ear protection, I finally vowed, “No more indoors spinning for me!”
It’s not so bad riding at near-freezing temps. I learned that layering up in a neck gaitor, extra gloves, and fleece tights and vest works just fine for cold-weather commuting. When the days were at their shortest, I was still able to get just enough daylight before and after work to be safe, attaching a flasher to my handlebars and saddle for extra visibility. Once it became light enough, I found an hour-long morning commute I’m still enjoying this summer. It has a very wide bike path where I can safely practice lifting my hands off the handlebars and drinking from my water bottle. The route also has several long hills, both up and down, where I work on efficient shifting and try hard to resist braking on the fast descents.
The best indicator of my 2014 biking progress is that Dan and I are now riding together on the weekends. He’s shown me many of his favorite routes and for the most part, I am able to keep up. In the past few weeks, we have completed two 30+ rides with Team Chevron. (Thus my Facebook brag above.)
Riding behind Dan last weekend, I found myself thinking, “Why isn’t he pedaling harder? I’m gonna have to pass him! Those two guys up ahead are going to leave us in the dust!” And then I realized what was happening: I was drafting! I’ve always sworn I would never feel safe enough to get that close (and I never did on inline skates). But 25-30 miles into a long ride where I’m trying desperately not to be dropped by “the big boys,” my legs don’t care about my fears. I never realized how nice it could be to spend a few moments soft pedaling while the burn in my muscles gets a chance to subside. And actually, our wheels weren’t that close, just close enough.
And that’s where I am now: just close enough to taste the bright future promised by my sexagenarian fitness program.