I've been riding for about 16 months now...and in that time, I have yet to have a "bad" day on the bike...until yesterday. Looking back at all the days leading up to yesterday, one could say that I've had my share of setbacks, disappointments, painful learning moments and even an exhaustive life and death epiphany. However I have always been able to find some joy in the day, regardless of the inability to meet a goal or the failure of a bike part or a body part. Even on the really bad days, I always felt assuaged by the mantra that tomorrow is another day.
Yesterday was "bad" on so many unexplainable levels, it defies reason. Part of my catharsis here is to get it all out to understand why it was bad. Let me define "bad" before moving on. "Bad" to me means, I found no enjoyment in what I did. Plain and simple: there was not a single element of what I did yesterday that I found enjoyment in.
The blame game could go something like this: I was dehydrated from too many Arrogant Bastards the night before (never been a problem for me), I have not really ridden since the Crazy 88 (it's not like I've never taken it easy for a 2-week clip), I had heartburn from the nachos the night before (I always have heartburn from the nacho's the night before), blah, blah, blah. As I look at all of these excuses....none of them rate as to be a significant factor as to why I found no joy in the ride yesterday.
Right off the bat....the air was cool and moist as I pushed away from the house; my muscles straining past the 2-week rest to come back to life. I told myself that I would not be hammering today....I did not have a goal and I would just go where my heart told me....little did I know that my heart led me to a new and dark place.....a place where the seeds of joy could find no purchase.
Climbing up mudflaps....my muscles felt unusually tired and the sweat poured off of my body. Telling myself that the humidity was much more a factor than what I had imagined...I still easily cleaned the hill even though it was mentally tougher than it had been in a while. Topping out....I decided to stop and take a look at the view before me. This is not normally part of my routine...at least for the past 3 months. Having focused on mileage and speed....stopping for pictures was just not much of what I did. Perhaps I had lost a little of what I had originally started out to do when I took my very 1st ride on the bike over a year ago. As I looked NE to the McDowell's, the humid air blanched the view just enough to make the clouds ringing the middle elevations of the range look like the mountains featured in those North Korean propaganda paintings featuring Kim Jong Il, mounted on his steed; the glorious mountains off in the distance....beautiful and inviting, yet foreboding and dark.
Pushing away after taking the view in....I found myself coasting downhill....not pedaling up to speed so I could enjoy the banked corners and whoop-de-doos that rewards riders after mudflaps.....the thought hit me in the chest like a branch of cholla sticking out into the trail on Wild Horse......I'm riding my bike...not driving it....riding it! I can't remember the last time I rode my bike. Again....without a long term goal...I felt aimless, wandering in my purpose. I was simply riding along...not knowing where I was going, where I wanted to go...how I wanted to get there. I had a loose idea that I just wanted to do 20 miles....but this sense of commitment ate at me. The idea of setting a goal and then sticking to it gnawed at me even more.
Mindlessly turning north onto saddleback...I still found myself lollygaggin along....not finding the inspiration to hammer down the hills to enjoy Disneyland....but not enjoying the ride either. For a time, I shut this void of emotion out of my head and turned onto secret...stalling out in a sandy area just off the entrance. I silently cursed myself for being so lame as to not negotiating this section like a respectable bike handler....very lame. As I pushed my bike uphill to a good starting point...I told myself I needed to either step it up...or perhaps just turn for home and drink beer all day. Strangely....neither inspired me. It was as if my Id and it's bifurcated emotional process had been taken over by a gang of nihilistic neurons. Moving through the sandy washes in the canyon...I noticed that the wash had been beat up by the steps of a number of riders before me...each stalling out and hoofing it...as I was forced to do as well. It was at this point that I laid my bike down.....and just walked off.
Looking up at the steep granite walls as I stumbled up canyon, I spied an impossibly green ocotillo that I had not noticed before...so I climbed up to it. I briefly thought it strange that out of all the ocotillo I'd seen lately, none had been nearly as green as this one, given the absence of rain during our "nonsoon" season. Yet this one was as green as a vine of kudzu...oddly out of place. Looking back at my bike....I felt oddly detached from it...it laying on it's side in the sand of the wash...me perhaps 10 feet above it in the canyon wondering why I was here. I had a strange thought that it would be odd if I continued up the canyon....never to come back. What would someone think as they rounded a turn and found a blue pivot laying in the wash without an owner. Perhaps the blue of the bike would strike them similarly as the green ocotillo did for me....or perhaps they would think....hey, free bike.
Moving on...I climbed higher onto some larger boulders, some of which had been finely polished by sand running over them during flash floods. In such a dry canyon, I mused it must have taken 10's of thousands of years to get that kind of polish on such an intermittent drainage. Duly impressed with this level of commitment by nature, I was aware of my lack of commitment in anything at the moment. I sat down and stared up at the walls, down at my bike...still detached from me, not just physically...but emotionally. I had thoughts that perhaps I should just lay here for 30 minutes...an hour....several hours....all day. All was quiet save the cactus wren farther up the canyon walls. I had not seen a single rider...I was all alone.
However I became restless and eventually descended back to my bike. Hah! My bike......as I picked it up....it felt foreign to me. In an almost begrudging fashion....I got back on and continued up the trail in much the same fashion as before....just riding along...coasting....slowly cresting the hills. I came to the granite step area which I had previously taken an endo on earlier in the week.....I cleaned it without much of a thought and moved on. Coming to the mine/saguaro/saddleback intersection....I saw movement out of my right eye and then heard some conversation....two people trail running down. If I had been driving my bike instead of riding...I would have pressed on so as to not have the runners direction dictate where I would go...but I stood there...paralyzed....looking up at the top of mine to my north. As the runners came close, I vaguely recognized them as Waltaz and CoyoteKis...Waltaz said "hey dude"....I automatically said "hey" back.....but was far off into an aloofness which perhaps bordered on an out of body experience. As they continued running downhill on saguaro...I realized that it would be stupid for me to turn home to only have to force them to get off the trail to let me pass....so I felt compelled to continue on up the hill.
I wanted to take a self-flagellation approach to this ride yet secretly wanted to enjoy the ride.....to stop and smell the ocotillo....but felt bad for wanting to do so....at the same time....cursing myself for not allowing me to enjoy these moments. Conversely, I was not hammering...so I was also hating myself for not committing to pushing myself. I was on the river Styx....with the fitness ride on one bank and the enjoyment ride on the other...my lengthy conversation with Charon was the only thing which felt right....yet I knew I had to get off the boat somewhere. Quite simply, I had never been here before. I was neither having fun, nor was I pushing myself....I was squarely in the middle of the two. Confused as to what this meant and how I could get out of it...I pedaled on blindly up mine, reaching the intersection and turning right to Twisted Sister.
I briefly thought....why did I turn right instead of left (the way home)....but then stopped short of answering it....I kept on going. On good days, I can clean all the up's on Twisted save 2 tricky spots. On bad days, there are 2 additional ups which give me fits. Today....I failed to clean most of them...again cursing myself for my lack of commitment. If I wanted a fun ride...I should have stayed in the canyon......or.....if I wanted a funner ride, I should have committed to a 50 miler on this day somewhere in the pines.... or I should have been pushing this ride to my physical limit. Again...I was in the space between the two....clearly uncomfortable with this place in it's unfamiliarity. Charon was laughing at me as he oared the ferry along...me, it's only passenger.
Descending down past big rock, I found myself again coasting lazily along...not sure of what to make of my situation. I again came to a crossroads where I had the option of continuing north to the road to bail on my ride. At this point, a little instinct from he past few months took over and told me I needed to keep my legs moving to loosen them up after my rest period, so I tuned east onto Wild Horse. I reasoned that the easy miles should allow me to hammer out some calories. Clearly, I had not been listening to my inner dialogue going on over the past hour.
I approached Wild Horse much as I had the ride up until this point.....lollygaggin along. I never even attempted to hammer out a thing.....the trail seemed like it went on forever. As I looked at my total mileage on the day, I was dismayed at the number 12.....12 miles....and I felt like crap. I thought back to the crazy 88 and the feeling of elation at mile 44 coming back into schultz....I had more energy after 44 miles than I had at the start. Now here I was at mile 12...on the most benign section of trail around me....and it was beating me. I struggled for a way to fight back...but could not come up with anything. I felt pathetic for feeling this way....this is what it must feel like to be a quitter.....never committing to anything past the initial point of confrontation...the first instance of struggle....the initial view of adversity. I was out of sorts, out of place and out of coping mechanisms.
It was at this point that I just resigned myself to being miserable....Mile 12 turning to mile 13...and on, and on and on. I became conscious of my quads and how they felt. My self loathing turned up yet another notch. They felt like my quads at mile 72 just 2 weeks ago. Not gone....but they were getting there. Incredulous at this notion....I continued on....looking up a the peaks around me, searching for some salvation in the form of the view of Pass Mountain which meant that I was rounding these hills which stood in my way between my place of self-hatred...and home.
Turning onto the road....I had committed to going home the easy way. Roadies were passing me and I did not care. In previous months....I would draft and challenge these roadies on my big knobbies...and made a pretty good show of it on the uphills, only to loose the battle on the downhills. Today...I was not challenging a thing....the things...were challenging me.
My last bit of self-hatred came as I approached Hawes road....I could continue on and take an easier way if I continued straight (less climbing), or I could turn north and finish out my ride by one last climb. I figured that I deserved more punishment for being such a piece of crap...so turned north and churned out the climb. I was able to exercise some semblance of pace on this stretch....straining against the gears....not giving up to my falling momentum. For the 1st time today, I was fighting back by refusing to downshift. Cresting the hill...I noticed an overweight roadie with his bike set up triathlon style, fully equipped with water bottles ready for a time trial for which I smugly assumed would never happen. I loathed this man....for his lack of commitment and his basic lack of understanding that lycra is not a right...it's a privilege. I now see that my loathing of him was reflective of my self hatred this day....except for the lycra part....I feel I look fine in lycra...I just choose not to. This man was doing circles around a roundabout as I passed him at the top of the climb....I wondered what he was doing...perhaps resting after his 300 foot climb before returning home to his hot pocket microwave dinner.
In any event....he passed me 30 seconds later on the down hill as I was doing what I'd been doing all day long....riding along in a bubble of.....blechhhhh. But seeing this piece of shit pass me....something snapped. I can only liken it to the switch in the mind of a German Shepherd as it sees a rabbit run in front of them.....yeah....it was like a bolt of lightning. Without even thingking....I dropped the bike into the big ring, stood up and cranked........20 mph....25.......I passed the fat ass in a flash on his right and kept on going.......27.....29....coming to a stop sign.....I saw the road was clear....I drove on through...only to see a black bmw coming at me in the other lane.....I swerved right to pass behind them....hopped a curve onto a sidewalk.......hopped back off on the otherside and continued on down.....cranking......cranking.
Rolling into my driveway...I put my bike away...went in the house....and laid on my ass the rest of the day drinking beer. I was spent, beat, demoralized. I've tried not to think about it much except for this rambling post. But today I plan to go out again with no expectations. I vaguely remember a time when I used to ride...early in my learning days...when just riding was pure enjoyment. Since then, goals have taken over. Goals to be a better climber, goals to ride farther each and every weekend. Perhaps this is what I've been missing all these months. With a goal...riding to meet a metric of performance became the fun for me. Seeing me progress against that metric is what I like to do. But something so ethereal as....riding just to ride....how does one measure success against that....how do I define failure?
These are questions for which I will not find an answer sitting here while typing. The answers will not be discovered in a hop-infused epiphany. Perhaps only out of tradition....better yet....automation of routine, will I find my answer. I know nothing else but to ride each day. I don't know if I have the ultimate faith that riding will answer my salvation from the strange place I found myself....but I know of nothing else to do. I will continue to ride...and have confidence that yesterday was a fluke. I'm going to ride today, but will be taking my armor to session some trial areas. I know this will be fun...because I have a goal....to ride a complex technical set of features only 5 feet in length. I just wonder if, on days where I don't have a goal.....is not having a goal......good enough to serve as a goal? And if that is to be true...then how will I measure my success or failure at not having a goal?
I think i just found my next goal......