Bike Riding: Fiction vs. Reality

Just as, at the top level of professional cycling, the fiction of superhuman athletes is being superseded by the reality of decades of doped champions, the fiction and reality of bike riding at my house (toward the bottom of the cycling world) have sharply diverged. In the movies, or at least the TV shows and commercials, a kid learns to ride a two-wheeler after a little struggle, and maybe a spill or two. But soon enough, the dad pulls his hand away from the seat and then looks on, beaming, as the kid speeds off down the sidewalk.

At my house, though, it’s been different. Julia was excited to try to ride without training wheels, and in fact did pretty well right away, going quite a ways without help – but always freaking out when she realized I wasn’t holding on. Then, for several weekends in a row, we couldn’t find the time for a ride, and now her confidence and skills (such as they were) are gone. A bike ride on Saturday afternoon was a colossal failure, 45 minutes of crying and begging to go back home. So tonight, the reality of bike riding was me in the garage at 11 p.m., putting the training wheels back on.

Sigh. I hope this at least lets her enjoy buzzing around the neighborhood for the summer. Maybe being six will encourage her to try the two-wheeled life again…

Gloaming Ride

I’d planned to do hill repeats this morning, but various changes to the household plans forced me to shift to a shorter, less intense ride this evening, through the hazy light. In the course of the ride, I watched a kewl d00d take a laughably bad swing at his golf ball, smelled fields that had been tilled literally ten seconds before I rode past, giggled at a car that had a “Kennedy|Johnson” bumper sticker, managed to ride without braking through a particularly tough S-turn, and heard a pheasant squawk at me. The scenery was damn good, too:
Springtime Fields

Saturday in Five Haiku

8:00 a.m.
Goodbye Blue Monday
Perfect for coffee, bagels,
A scone, and homework

11:00 a.m.
Talking with a friend
While our three girls play outside

3:00 p.m.
Vivi steams along
Julia rides by herself
For a long minute!

6:00 p.m.
A ride of my own
Cool, but ideally lit
Quads staged a revolt

7:30 p.m.
The girls are wound up
Richard Scarry can save us
Stories wind things down

A Real Cycling Workout

Julia decided, since the sun had risen in the east or something, that today was The Day to take the training wheels off her bike. Being pretty interested in hastening the glorious day of the first family bike ride, I acceded to this request right away.

Little did I know that I should have followed this simple act with six ibuprofen tablets, a cortisone injection, and a shot of whiskey.

Julia and I actually had a lot of fun getting from our house to the park a couple blocks away, tooling around the paved path at the park, and riding back home. In fact, we did this twice: once for a short ride in the morning and then again for a longer one in the afternoon. Vivi rode along with us on her little red (training-wheeled) bike – meaning, usually, that she was about twenty yards ahead of us and pulling away. She’s a regular Fabian Cancellara: all power.

Julia and I, on the other hand, went more like a tugboat than a steamship. True to her personality, she was very tentative about the entire experience, though she was helped along by the fact that she’d asked me to remove the training wheels. So long as I had one hand on her seat and one hand near her handlebars, she was fine.

So that’s what I did, walking next to her as she moved steadily and slowly along. I did pull my hands away a few times to show her that she’d already gotten a pretty good sense of how to maintain her balance, but this worried her more than it pleased her, so I stopped doing it – at least so obviously. By the end of our last lap around the playground, she was (unbeknownst to her) regularly getting about ten pedal strokes of distance on her own before I’d have to correct her direction or get her back in balance. Not bad for someone who, last summer, would have a screaming meltdown at the suggestion of a bike ride. Today, she said more than once, “This is fun! I’m so proud of myself! I love riding like a big kid!”

I was pleased by all this, and I’m 98% looking forward to our next try for two-wheeled solo riding. I can’t say 100% because oh my god does guiding a newbie rider on a kid’s bike do terrible, horrible, no-good things to one’s back and hamstrings. When we pulled into the garage at the end of the afternoon outing – after probably 30 or 40 minutes of cumulative time helping Julia – I finally stood up straight, which elicited vertical bars of holy shit running from shoulder blades to knees and a horizontal bar of what the hell along my waist. Seriously: I was nowhere near as agonized from skiing either the City of Lakes Loppet in February or my 50k Oakebeiner tour in March. I guess it’s true: raising kids is the toughest thing you can do to your body.

Since that unpleasant moment, I’ve taken four Advil, and I plan to chase this here DQ Blizzard with a little whiskey. I should be back to full strength by morning – and ready for Monday afternoon’s try to get Julia biking on her own.

Riding the Skies

Today was my first real bike ride of the year. After driving and taking the bus during most of the brutally icy winter, I’ve been bike commuting for a while again now, but two miles each way (even if they’re through the reawakening Arb) just doesn’t compare to a real ride.

Today, I had only thirty minutes to ride, so I headed out from our place, up and down a sizable hill that’s literally 90 seconds away, and then back over the hill and up a nice easy road to the edge of campus, where I took a few laps of the fun, technical trails in the Upper Arb. I cleaned the junk out of my legs from my last workout, and built up some new junk for tomorrow.

Besides the pure pleasure of riding – which is second only to skiing as a wellspring of joy – today’s ride was notable for the incredible skies. Northfield is frequently blessed by some spectacular skies, but today’s were especially amazing. While I rode, Northfield was under blue sky that was bounded on all sides by the ragged-veil clouds of distant rain. It was stunning to see: literally a ring of rain all around us, but not on us. The late-afternoon sun was doing some wonderful things to the rain, too: making it a deep purple off to the west, a paler indigo to the north and south, and a light blue to the east. For a few minutes of the ride, I was tracked by four circling turkey buzzards, as black as the jets heading in to MSP were silver.

Different Strokes

After dinner, I suggested to the girls that we go outside to enjoy a bike ride in the nice weather. As I knew she would, Julia balked at this idea. As I knew she would, Genevieve like this idea. I asked Julia if she’d like to walk with me while Vivi rode her bike. She said, “No, but I think I’d like to read magazines.” I asked if she’d like to sit outside and read magazines while I accompanied Vivi on a bike ride up and down the block, never getting out of sight of the house. Julia thought this sounded good, “but first I need to change into my jammies.”

Of course.

So ten minutes later, I was outside with Genevieve, who was wearing an appropriately safe helmet and an inappropriately thick jacket and sitting on her bike, rarin’ to go, while Julia, in her pinkest jammies (and sandals), got situated in her Disney Princess “camping chair” with roughly two years’ worth of Ranger Rick and other such magazines.

Internet, there has never been a more vivid display of similarities and differences between my daughters.

While Julia silently read, Vivi zoomed up and down the block for a while. She was just getting bored when Shannon came home, letting us head off to the hallowed bike path while Julia read through vol. 6, issues 9-12 of High Five or whatever. After a good half-hour ride, Vivi and I were back home, tired out, to collect Julia and her library and go inside for baths and bed.

Springing Forward, or Okay, Start the Off-Season

I guess winter is well and truly over. Yeah, we might get one last storm, but even a colossal one won’t save the skiing, which is now finished until December – November if I’m really lucky.

This isn’t all bad. The snow looks horrible right now – brown, filthy, icy junk – so it definitely needs to go. We could use a few solid rainfalls to wash the grit off the pavement, cleaning it up for rollerskiing. I think my skiing improved quite a bit this winter, which encourages me to try to use RS’ing and other “ski specific” workouts to maintain some of my form and strength. I don’t want to start from scratch next winter.

Though this week has been gray and damp, I hope we get a string of warm, sunny days to dry off the Arb trails and the gravel roads. I haven’t run since November, but I can’t wait to get back into the Arb for some nice muddy runs. And a few long bike rides on the endless gravel roads would be an even better way to welcome spring.

Snow Riding

Snowy Ride

Until this morning, I’d only biked in any kind of snow when I had to commute in the white stuff. But having a nice bike has changed my mind about biking in the snow, and since today was a brilliant winter day – about 20°F with a slight wind and sharp yellow sunlight – I hit the Arb trails. It was a lot of fun,* both because the Arb is especially pretty in the wintertime and because it was interesting to negotiate well-known trails when they’re snowy and icy. I did more fishtailing than a school of mackerel.

Snowy Ride

On top of that, I twice rode past the Arb crew and various Northfielders, cutting down some unneeded evergreens to serve as Christmas trees. There were lots of happy kids! I’ll be out riding in the Arb until or unless we get some serious snow soon.

* I did determine that I need to wear better gloves and socks, though. Because you don’t really move your fingers or toes while biking – or at least because I don’t, much – my fingers and toes were much more numb after these 45 minutes than they get after an hour’s skiing in colder temperatures.

Another November Ride

I took advantage of a moms-and-kids playdate today to take a long, fun, and tiring bike ride on gravel roads east and south of Northfield. I didn’t have enough time to make it all the way to Kenyon, but I did enjoy a steady ride through a countryside that’s looking increasingly, beautifully bleak. I detoured off my route to visit the well-known Vang Lutheran Church (slides two and three in this slideshow), a classic Norwegian-American church in that it’s roughly five miles past the middle of nowhere. Those old Norwegians liked their churches white and far, far away.

Elsewhere, I saw acres and acres of cornfields in various conditions (standing, harvested, plowed under), several flocks of sheep, plenty of horses and cows, dozens of farms, and of course miles and miles of wonderful rolling roads. The roads were all substantially less rutted but more gravelly than they had been the last time I took this ride, in September. I’d guess that the county dumped more gravel on the roads and graded them in preparation for the winter. If so, I’m sorry to have carried a few pounds of that gravel back to Northfield in my tires, tights, and pack.

One More Cyclocross Post

Over the past eight days, I have spent more hours hunting for pictures of the big St. Olaf cyclocross race than I actually spent “training” for it. What can I say – I’m a lazy narcissist living in a place where it gets dark early.

But lo and behold my efforts paid off last weekend when I found a small collection of photos of three guys who came down from Grand Forks for the race, shot by one of their family members. I think you’ll agree with me that each photo substantiates my towering athletic prowess. Click through to see bigger versions of the photos, which make it easier to read the annotations.

St. Olaf Cross race 012 1

St. Olaf Cross race 027 1

St. Olaf Cross race 033 1

St. Olaf Cyclocrash

Check out this clip from last weekend’s bike race. The rider isn’t me, thank god, but he won the $24 prize for best crash of the race. I doubt it paid for a quarter of the damage to his bike, or for a tenth of the hit to his ego after so spectacularly failing to bunny-hop the barrier – a point eloquently made by this critical frame from the video.

“Back to School” Cyclocross Race: Whee!

So the big cyclocross race at St. Olaf was about ninety-nine kinds of fun. I’ve never raced bikes before, so there was that fun for starters. There were also the various kinds of fun which all racing entails: passing, being passed, working hard, feeling just a little bit pukey, enjoying the acid-lung feeling after the race. (Personal note: I could have done without the bass-drum thud of my heart rate in my skull, which I caused by forgetting to take out my hearing aids before the race. Lesson learned.) The organizers did a great job with the race, too: the registration was painless, the concessions were ample, and above all the course was well designed and well marked.

And the race had lots of cycling-specific kinds of fun, of course. In (what I recall to have been) race-course order:

  • making the first few corners in traffic,
  • getting the timing right for every time I hit the first dismount and runup (at a barrier that was actually just a big scraggly log!),
  • climbing Thorson hill, the damnably steep “sledding hill” slope of the east side of the Olaf campus,
  • gulping air while riding the short flat at the top of the hill,
  • trying not to soil myself (or crash) on rocky descent to the football fields to the base of the hill,
  • focusing my exertion-fuzzed brain enough to negotiate the various features on the flats: several sharp turns, a combination barrier/water hazard, and the tricky involuted “pinwheel,”
  • managing (with one bloody exception (semi-gruesome photo)) to clip in and out of my pedals well enough that I probably gained four or five spots just by being able to pedal before the other guys were clipped in,
  • enjoying the shouts of “Go, Daddy!” from the girls and the clanging cowbells rung by other spectators around the start/finish area, and
  • looking down the course and seeing the hill just a couple minutes away. Again.

I climbed the hill four times, but only rode it three times after misunderstanding how many laps I had left. (I thought I was on my penultimate go-round, so I planned to run/walk the hill and conserve a bit of energy for the last lap, but it turned out I was on my last lap. The “2” on the board must have meant “two laps” for the front riders, who, I think, caught me early in that lap. Oops.)

I had no idea what to expect as far as results, and I wound up 28th out of 41 riders in my category. Not great, but passable for a first race. A bit more cycling-specific training – especially climbing hills that aren’t long, straight, gravel inclines – will go a long way. In other words, I have a few dates with that hill.

“Athletic” Experiment: Cyclocross

What with my new bike, my riding a fair bit since August, and my complete lack of fitness for running races this summer, I decided to try a bike race this fall – the “Back to School Cross” cyclocross race that’s been held at St. Olaf College for the past few years. This year’s race is going to be held on Sunday – quite a while after school started at Olaf, but at a good time for me.

Cyclocross is a kind of racing in which riders use bikes akin to typical road bikes(drop handlebars, relatively high gearing, skinnier tires, and such) to cover off-road terrain that usually includes various obstacles like mud pits, low hurdles, unrideably steep hills, and staircases – all of which can require a rider to jump off the bike, run through or jump over the barrier (sometimes carrying the bike on one shoulder), and then hop back the bike to resume the race. Dismount and carrying sections are the classic elements of cyclocross courses, which are typically pretty short, twisty loops (a mile or so) which the racers have to do over and over for, say, an hour. The Olaf course is classic in this sense, though the beginners’ race at Olaf tomorrow is shorter, just 31 minutes long plus one 1-mile lap.

I’ve been practicing my dismounting, carrying, and remounting “skills” (the sneer quotes are my own) for the past month of so, but I still expect to make a complete fool of myself on those parts of the course. And riding in a group (at least off the start line) will be interesting. My experience with “packs” pretty much begins and ends with the occasional walker in the Arb. On the other hand, I hope my experience as a runner will help on the (few) “run up” sections, and my riding this summer (both on gravel roads and in the Arb) will hopefully at least keep me from passing out during what promises to be a pretty intense half-hour or so. God only knows, though, what’ll happen when I hit the Olaf course’s notorious “Pinwheel of Death”: