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Archive for February, 2012


After last Saturday’s ride — 70 miles from San Rafael to Stinson Beach, and back — I felt pretty wiped out.  There had been a lot of climbing (by my standards, at least) and a surly headwind, and my tummy felt messed up starting at about mile 20 — but mostly … it was 70 friggin’ miles!  My coach, The Bumpster, usually says only upbeat and encouraging things during a ride (“You’re lookin’ great!  Lookin’ real strong!”); this time, as she pulled up alongside me around mile 50-something, she said, with audible empathy, “Hey — only one-quarter of the way to go!”  I must have looked miserable, or at least grim.  Certainly, by then both my muscles and my emotions had lost the elasticity they’d had early in the ride.  My basic — nearly my only — thought was, next-next-next-next, as I kept turning the pedals.

Actually, despite the strain and effort, occasionally my thoughts did just go kind of Dada.  Ascending one endless-seeming hill, I suddenly visualized a TV series called Touched by a Rangel.  Based loosely on the old drama Touched by an Angel (which, admittedly, I’ve never seen), this show would feature different folks every week — each of them suffering in some way, and each of them saved somehow by gravelly voiced New York Congressman Charlie Rangel.  That’s as far as I got in my conceiving of this program, as at some point I finally crested that hill and turned my thoughts to not crashing on the way down. …

Oh, someone did crash!  One of my several teammates who is currently enduring cancer treatment — but who, it should go without saying, is a much better and faster cyclist than I — was zipping down a twisty mountain road and didn’t see a dip in the pavement in front of him.  He flew off his bike and landed on the back of his head — which fortunately was protected by a helmet.  I was at the SAG (refreshments) stop at the 35-mile mark at Stinson Beach (just where we were to turn around and go back to San Rafael), with several of my teammates.  We saw a white truck pull up and a Park Ranger got out with the injured guy, who joked that the only thing that hurt was his ego.  The ranger said the guy knew who he was, etc., and so didn’t seem to have suffered a concussion; but, of course, there would be no more riding for him that day.  I noticed that the guy’s hand was shaking, and wondered whether that was from the crash or from his cancer meds.

Really, there’s a level of courage in my “honored teammates” (the term that Team In Training uses for participants who are now, or have been, in cancer treatment) that exceeds anything I could imagine in myself.  And I do think of them as I go forward in the later miles, and of all the kind people who have donated in support of my ride, and of my family and loved ones, and I wish — wish hard; you might even say pray — for their health and happiness.  So that’s another recurring thought that I was having, along with Touched By A Rangel (coming soon from C-SPAN3) and next-next-next-next and When will I be back in my own bathroom, with the latest New York Review of Books? and … and fractions: Okay, I’m one-35th of the way there … I’m four-sevenths of the way there …

But the weird thing is, each week, the moment the ride is over, I’m already recovering — emotionally, at least.  I feel relieved to have made it through the latest challenge, and not to have bonked or crashed or cramped up.  In fact, one curious thing I’ve noticed in our training is how each long ride is itself, in part, a series of recoveries: You strain up the hill, then recover going down.  Actually, it feels even more micro than that: I can get a sense of recovery at the top of a pedal stroke, before having to press down hard again.  Though of course each recovery doesn’t bring me back to the way I felt at the start: it just takes me to somewhere more workable than where I just was.

And the next day — Sunday — wow, that’s another recovery.  A big one.  Last Sunday I woke up feeling like something that a mastodon had just scraped off of the bottom of its foot.  Plus, as in previous Sundays, I had a terrible headache.  It only occurred to me last weekend that maybe, at least in part, the headache was from caffeine withdrawal: nothing that I had consciously done — it’s just that, as the rides have gotten longer and longer, I’ve been going all that time without coffee.  And anyone who knows me knows that I rarely go more than a second or two without coffee!  So for tomorrow’s ride, I’m bringing some goop from the bike store that has caffeine in it.  The young guy at the store told me that the goop would help lower my “level of perceived exertion”; it took me a moment to realize that he was basically saying it would make the ride easier for me.  Which, really, was all I wanted.

Tomorrow’s ride will be the longest of our whole training — 80 miles.  And then, two weeks later, the big event: the Solvang Century.  One of my honored teammates (not the one who crashed last week) had a medical setback and will unable to participate at Solvang — but he assures us that he will go on to do all the various marathons, etc., on his schedule, once he’s better.  His recoveries are achieved through enormous perseverance.  There comes a point, for those who are battling mortal illness, where recovering means surviving, means defeating entropy one more time.  As a result of all their effort and pain, more love is in the universe than there would have been otherwise.  This is a gift to all of us who have yet to reach that point, and who hope that when we do, it will be with at least a small measure of the grace that my honored teammates have displayed.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has contributed the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in support of my ride!  The official fundraising deadline has passed — and I’ve surpassed my goal! — but you can still donate, if you want, through April 9, by clicking here.  Thanks, also, to everyone who has bought tickets for my performance of Ben Franklin: Unplugged in Berkeley this coming Monday — all proceeds will benefit the LLS.  (As of this writing there is exactly one ticket remaining on sale!  If it’s still available, it can be purchased here.)

Below is a map of last Saturday’s training ride; you can click on it to get all sorts of statistics, some of them vital.

In Passing

Just a short entry to note our longish ride last Saturday — 60 miles and change.  Experienced a tire miracle: my front tire was flat in the morning, before the ride; I inflated it and hoped for the best; it stayed inflated through the whole ride, whereas like a dozen members of our team had flats; and then, after I got back home, it went flat again.  I’ve now replaced the outer tire (not just the flattened inner tube), as the woman at Mike’s Bikes thought that the holes in the previous one were allowing the flats somehow (there had been many unwanted deflations in that front wheel, none — knock wood — so far in the rear).  The old me (circa a few months ago) would have asked her to change the tire for me; but the current me, grizzled several-month cycling veteran that I am, calmly rode home with it slung over my shoulder and put it on myself.

Other than the tire magic, the ride confirmed for me that I am a slow but steady rider, whom most everyone else passes but who so far has gotten to the end eventually.  I see the other riders as they pass me — strong, usually happy, despite their lifely concerns.  I don’t feel left behind — rather, I feel that I am behind them all the way.  I guess that’s what teamwork can do for you.

You can support my upcoming century ride — and thus join the fight against blood cancers — by making a contribution on my TNT fundraising page.

Below is a map of last Saturday’s ride; you can click on it for more info.

Feb. 27 Performance to Benefit the LLS

Photo by Mark Leialoha

On Monday, Feb. 27, I’ll be performing my comic monologue Ben Franklin: Unplugged at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley — with all proceeds going to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  (The LLS runs Team In Training, the wonderful organization that is whipping me into shape to bike the Solvang Century next month.)

As far as I know, Ben Franklin wasn’t a major cyclist — but, contrary to his paunchy image, he was an athlete: he’s the only Founding Father honored at the International Swimming Hall of Fame.  My guess is that, if he were alive today, he’d ride a nifty folding bike to the printshop — and would blog about the benefits of physical activity.

Tix & info for this benefit performance can be found here.

Lollipop of Pain

Stafford Lake, just before we began our "fun" ride.

Over the course of my cycling training so far, I have learned that seasoned cyclists use certain words in different ways from what most of us are used to.  For example, when one of them refers to a course as being “fun,” or “great,” this probably means that biking it will hurt like hell.  Another example: My coach, the Bumpster, spoke of a section of last Saturday’s training ride out of Novato — a ridiculously steep ascent known as the “Marshall Wall” — as “enticing.”  Now, to me coconut gelato on a hot day is “enticing”; what climbing the Marshall Wall felt like was something more akin to “grueling.”  Actually, I suspect that for the Bumpster and other super-cyclists “enticing” and “grueling” go together quite naturally, whereas “easy” would be a turnoff.  And amazingly, I’m starting to feel the same way.  Starting to.  I still really, really like “easy,” but there’s definitely something gratifying about pushing through challenging terrain.  And even though the gratification is mostly in retrospect, often from the vantage point of a bathtub filled with hot water and Epsom salts, some of it is there even at the time of the struggle.  Or maybe it isn’t, and I’m just thinking that because it already happened and I’ve mostly recovered.  Perhaps cycling history would come out differently if it were written at mile 31, and were dictated by your quads.

At one of our “SAG” stops (where blessed volunteers dole out food and drink to all the training cyclists), a guy who seemed to be in tip-top shape pulled his bike over for a few minutes to chat with us.  When told of the route we were biking, he expressed approval: “Ah, yes — the lollipop.  It’s a great route!”  And indeed, when I later uploaded the ride from my bike-computer thingie, it mapped out as something like a lollipop.  (See below.)  At that moment, my legs were screaming obscenities at me — but yeah, even then there was something “great” about the experience.  It was a beautiful day in Marin (is that a redundancy?), and I was pretty much keeping up with my remarkable teammates, even though there had been times when I’d kept going by focusing only on the next pedal stroke, over and over — because to look farther ahead was an enticement to think, I can’t do it.  (Maybe that’s why the Bumpster called it “enticing”?)  And you know something?  I couldn’t do it: that course was too hard for me to complete — and yet I did complete it.  And when you do something you couldn’t do, even once, it makes you think that maybe you could do something else you couldn’t do.  And then (maybe) you’re hooked.

In any case, I plan to keep going — through all the “fun,” “great” courses that they throw at us on the way to the enticing Solvang Century on March 10.  Just don’t ask me how I’m feeling when I’m in the middle of a really difficult climb, or I might reply with some less positive-sounding adjectives.

You can join the fight against blood cancers by making a contribution on my TNT fundraising page.

Below is a map of Saturday’s lollipop-shaped ride; you can click on it for more info.