It doesn’t make intuitive sense, but cycling on a flat road for many miles seems to be tougher than going up and down hills over the same distance. Such, at least, was my experience on Saturday, as we rode nearly 60 miles out of Vacaville. There was quite a challenging ascent at about the 10-mile mark — but after that: flat, flat, flat.
Which turned out to be really hard! Hard on your butt, for one thing: you tend to stay in the same exact position on your saddle, instead of the natural adjustments you make when ascending and descending. Hard also on your genitals. And on your hands, strangely. Hard, certainly, on your leg muscles, which — especially with a headwind, which we had for most of the day — are engaged all the time, rather than intermittently as in an up-and-down ride. But mostly, I’d say, it’s hard on your brain: there’s a numbing quality in doing exactly the same thing over and over, and in seeing pretty much the same stuff again and again. I tried thinking of interesting things — like solutions to the problems in the screenplay I’m working on — but my mind would always snap back into zombie mode. It was as if I had become just another accessory on my bike, a thing whose job was simply to turn the pedals around — a cycling automaton.
Though, to be fair, I did see some notable things: A peacock, for instance. Also, a baby deer. And, disturbingly, a dead cow. Well, it looked dead: it was lying on its side, with its legs sticking straight out and another (living) cow staring down at it. Also, I learned that people in Vacaville apparently like to combine such activities as truck-driving and dog-walking with the activity of marijuana-smoking: at one point, a truck went by in the other direction with a bunch of people in it looking really, really happy — and it was going slower than we were on our bikes! The fumes in its wake were pungent and medicinal.
Most notably, toward the end of the ride, a power line came down. Fortunately for me, I’m in the slowest group — it was a faster group, just ahead of us, that bore the brunt of the downed line. Actually, it was one particular rider in that group — Mark, who is doing his first Team In Training ride, like me, but is a vastly stronger cyclist. The rider in front of him observed the surreal sight of a power line coming down, and called out “Wire!” just as a thick cord literally grazed the top of his helmet. On hearing this, Mark, while zipping along on his bike, instinctively looked down at the ground (for a wire). And this, Mark thinks, may have saved his life: with his head tilted down, the power line struck him in the crown of his helmet, rather than in his face or neck. The helmet pulverized; Mark, fortunately, came through with only some nasty-looking facial bruises (and maybe a broken nose). Amazingly, he wasn’t thrown off his bike; he just kept cycling. When I got back to the parking lot that was both our starting and ending point, Mark was being tended to by a teammate, who was applying band-aids in a big “X” across his face. Showing Clint Eastwood-esque toughness, Mark refused an offer of painkillers. He also expressed relief that his expensive sunglasses hadn’t been broken. (People from Marin are really protective of their shades!)
So on this ride, nothing happened for a long time, and then something really did happen. Though what happened was so much better than what might have happened that it kind of took my breath away. Turns out, the flatness I’d experienced had been a gross misperception on my part: all that time, the future was veering drunkenly toward us, killing cows and downing power lines; it almost took Mark away from us. So what was flat, really? Certainly not Vacaville. (How could a town be flat when half of its inhabitants are high?) No, the flatness, it seems, was — is — in me.
[UPDATE: I later found out that the cow I saw wasn’t dead — rather, she was about to give birth! When I heard this, I said, “Well, I won’t get foaled again” — which I thought was pretty clever, until I remembered that a foal is a baby horse, not a baby cow. I really shouldn’t have dropped biology.]
You can support my upcoming ride in the “Solvang Century” by making a contribution on my TNT fundraising page.
Below is a map of Saturday’s ride: you can click on it for more info.