Posts Tagged ‘road biking’

My Walmart century ride

March 6, 2017

Sitting home was not an option, but neither was running another mile in the shoes that had just claimed a toenail. (Sitting at home hadn’t been an option yesterday when I ran 7 miles in them and regretted it all evening as I hobbled around on a swollen toe.)

So today I set out on the uber craptastic Walmart bike of my nightmares. My approximate destination was a state park about 10 miles away that has mountain bike trails. As I got closer I realized it wouldn’t be fun on a busy Saturday afternoon when lots of other people would be on the small circuit I rode a few years ago. Despite its full suspension and knobby tires this bike is just a look-alike, it was never meant for actual mountain biking. I do it because I would lose my mind if I didn’t get a dose of trails once in a while — even if I worry about snakes and gators the whole time.

I rode at that state park back then the Walmart bike was brand new and I was pretty cocky about how easy the trails were (swoopy but flat, with a few obstacles thrown in). But now the bike isn’t new. In fact, I think I it’s neutered itself into a fixie with just one gear thanks to a combination of the corrosive elements in Florida and the stress of throwing it on the bike rack again and again (sometimes for 2,500 miles). Oh, and then there’s the issue of genetics: it was born bad, made of cheap components designed to appeal to 12-year-old boys who dream of pump tracks but really just sit on their bikes in the 7-11 parking lot eating Cheetos. Last summer I took it to the Vietnam trails out of desperation and was mortified that someone might see me on it. Mike bought its craptastic twin at Walmart and his is so bad that he has a screwdriver taped to the crossbar for those (frequent) occasions when the chain pops off and gets stuck between the sprocket and the frame. And he never even shifts gears. It’s pitiful.

So when I got to the state park entrance I just kept going. How far could it possibly be to do a big loop around the next town and back through some nice scenery? Not an awful way to kill a Saturday afternoon, right?

Except I became obsessed with how awful the bike is. I decided that riding 25 miles on it counts as 100 on any other bike, therefore I did a Walmart century. Pushing the pedals became a cathartic exercise in forcing the bike away from me. The miles melted away as I longed to end the agony of its existence.

There’s squeaking from the suspension that reminds me with every revolution of the pedals that I’m on a lousy bike. So I turned up my futuristic MP3 player and sang along with Shakira.. it was especially fun when a serious biker came up next to me, hunched over his aero bars and I was wailing away, a capella:

“Whenever, wherever
We’re meant to be together
I’ll be there and you’ll be near
And that’s the deal, my dear..”

As if that didn’t compound the shame…

Its one redeeming quality is the loud shuddering scream of the brake pads on the rims that generally gets attention from any driver pulling out of a street or driveway. So I guess I have the Walmart bike to thank for not being road kill yet (note to self, rear brake is almost nonexistent). So maybe if I had a nice, squeak-free bike with gears and disc brakes I’d be dead by now.



A drawerful of wisdom

October 20, 2012

We used to move every 2 or 3 years, filling a dumpster of outgrown toys with every new address, but we’ve been in this house for 10. Now that there’s no “we” and no (immediate) new address, I’ve got a conundrum: what do I do with all this stuff?


One dumpster full left in March. Whew. All of those old skis that were beyond tuning, the basketball net that only the squirrels played with anymore. Today I was swarmed at the town dump’s “swap area” when I showed up with a decent kid’s bike, a soccer backstop, a NordicTrak ski machine, backyard badminton set, etc. etc. But there’s more: I’m hanging onto a silly number of bikes, thinking that old Trek could be my cyclocross secret weapon if I had the headset and front forks replaced.. and I’ll need my road bike, old as it is, for winter riding near my next home because they don’t get much snow down there.. and my Giant, well, that relationship just can’t be reduced to mere words..


And upstairs there’s a drawer full of race shirts. I never wear them. This whole rethinking of “stuff” has spilled over into rethinking activities too. I’m over 40. Ok, I’m really over 45 but I don’t feel like it. I’m not an elite runner or rider or anything. Can I quit spending hundreds of dollars on competitions that don’t mean anything, and only serve to fatten somebody else’s wallet? As much as I love to get out and participate, forking over $75 or $100 per race gets silly when it’s not going to a charity, just the guy in the golf cart who’s yelling into a megaphone about staying in the right lane when I’m trying to focus and get into the zone.

After publishing this, I found my 1986 Run of the Charles race shirt stashed away .. should I keep it?

When we ran the Ragnar 100-mile relay race on Cape Cod last spring, I enjoyed the camaraderie of our team in the SUV, talking about running in the dark, sharing Powerade and passing around the sprinter’s stick for sore muscles. Yet when we stopped at exchange points only to find no porta-johns and no water to resupply the big jug in the truck, we began to realize that somebody was making big bucks off all these participants (think 100 teams x 12 people each x $100 per person) and providing damn little in return. I started to wonder if I’d been a little foolish spending my hard-earned cash this way. Better I should be the organizer than the runner?

So I’m planning to travel a little lighter in the future: fewer costly obligations that really just result in crankiness about not performing well. Less stuff, more fun. At least that’s the plan.


The money I save will come in handy to compensate for the reduced gas mileage..

A hardcore hit

September 2, 2012

So, what’s middle age got to do with it, anyway? Those of us who’ve gotten a second wind in athletic pursuits over 40 don’t want to slow down, dammit, we’re going faster and harder now. Trying to prove something? Lots of people will toss out the idea of “midlife crisis” but maybe we’re enjoying pushing a little harder on the limits because we’re mentally tougher now, having been through a bit of what life can throw at us: raising kids, changing careers, family crises, illnesses, divorce. And maybe we know this level of physical activity won’t last forever but we’re going to enjoy it while we can. It’s sweeter now.

And then this happens:

a friend’s spine that’s been pinned back together

Yup, that’s an inside look at someone near and dear to me, someone who crashed during a pretty hardcore bike accident. Those are, in fact, rods and screws holding her spine together. And wow, does it give me pause.

My initial reaction to the accident was, “damned unlucky to break a wrist with so much of the season yet to go.” Then the MRI results were added to the news and it got worse. And even when visiting in the hospital and seeing her in a Gladiator-looking body cast afterward it didn’t really sink in. There are months of limited mobility ahead, perhaps she will return to some level of normal activity by mid-winter, I was told. Yet nothing really sank in until I saw the x-ray. It actually gave me nightmares, flashbacks to all of my ungraceful near-crashes and endos that had thus far resulted in nothing worse than bruises and palpitations. What if my luck ran out too?

I’ve always been an advocate of the rope swing approach: jump and the net will appear. But maybe this changes things a bit. I’m still in shock, really, but wondering if my significant other is right when he says to be gentler to my joints and bones by emphasizing the lower-impact and less-dangerous things in life. I can no longer write his advice off as irrelevant because I’m younger; maybe I even have more at stake.

The shock I’m experiencing could be an infusion of wisdom that had been lacking. I can still enjoy what I do but I can never erase that image from my mind, and that’s going to govern the speed of my wheels and whether I jump headlong into uncharted territory. That’s a gift I didn’t ask for but will not refuse.

I got a gearache

January 12, 2012

Where the hell is the snow? It’s January, and as much as I love my bikes, I miss my skis. When I’m out running or riding the trails, I find myself daydreaming about moving through snowy woods in a different, more graceful way. Getting out for hours, pushing through untouched powder and enjoying the snow’s blanketing silence refreshes the soul. But those skis are sitting high and dry this year.

Still, biking on 40 degree days in winter is nothing a New Englander dare complain about. We know worse. In other years, we’ve prayed for 40 degree days in April so we can break the bike out of the garage for the first ride of the year. In other winters, we wouldn’t be out running in a single layer of Techwick in January. Right now, it’s different: I’d love to retire the bikes and running shoes for a while.

When I’m able to set my bike aside for a few months of skiing, it’s like new when I go back to it. Sadly, it’s difficult to get excited about either of them these days. Familiarity breeds contempt: I chuckled at the irony of using a battleship chain-like Kryptonite cable to lock my 20-plus-year-old Cannondale up at the trailhead while I ran today. I could probably leave the bike leaned against a tree and nobody in this town would look twice at it, I thought. As much fun as they are, my bikes are best described as “classics” — more than a little dated, and showing some wear.

can't be too careful with this gem

My Giant has been a war horse on the trails for months longer than it really should without a tune-up. When is there time? It’s on the rack and back out for heavy use again and again, now with mismatched tires (I am not a purist) and other semi-malfunctioning-but-not-quite-broken components. In past years it was fun to bust it out midwinter to try riding on the snow (mixed success and some spectacular spills). This year, after adding so many more weeks to the usual riding season — as much as I love it — it’s beginning to feel a little like work.

January in New England shouldn't look like this.

I don’t mind the shoveling. A few days of snow might be enough to quench this need. Without snow, I don’t know what I may do. God help me, I could become a climber.

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