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In Praise of Rollers

In the old days — before, say, last November, when I began my cycle training — I used to think that there were three kinds of biking terrain: uphill, downhill, and flat.  But now I know that there’s a fourth kind, and it’s the funnest kind of all: the roller.  Rollers are little hills, one after another — and if you play them right, they can turn you and your bike into kind of a perpetual motion machine.

Here’s how to do it: you build up as much momentum as possible when descending, and then let that momentum carry you up and over the next (mild) hill — at which point you start descending again … and the blissful process continues, over and over, until Satan decides that it is time for the rollers to stop.  At which point you come to the painful realization that you are back in the universe of regular physics, of ups that hurt and downs that frighten, of endless flatnesses that can sap you of all hope.  Rollers are sex and jelly beans and discount matinées; the rest is silence.

Well, maybe I exaggerate: there’s often a grim satisfaction to grinding up a hill, and it certainly can be exhilarating to swoop down a winding mountain road, and you might be able to make a decent case for coasting along a zero grade while taking in the view.  But rollers … well, they’re just friggin’ awesome.

Maybe it was because of all the rollers that our training ride two Saturdays ago — nearly 80 miles through Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon, Danville, Livermore, and possibly hundreds of other cities (see map below) — actually felt like fun.  None of our previous rides had felt like that: all had been gratifying, in the sense that we had survived them.  But this one — I mean, we were smiling, and cracking jokes, and thinking of new nicknames for one another (it was on this ride that I became known as “Manimal,” for the stripes of sunburn on my bald head due to the air holes in my helmet) … it was actually enjoyable (mostly)!

By the same token — or, more precisely, by the flip side of that token — our subsequent ride out of Walnut Creek, last Saturday, though “only” 50 miles, felt much more challenging.  Oh, there were some rollers, to be sure, but they were overwhelmed by the big ups and scary downs and headwindy flats.  Plus there were some people along the way who looked like, if we happened to stop near where they were standing, would have enjoyed killing and eating us.  (A theory: not everyone is fond of stretchy-outfit-wearing, pedal-clipping, goo-chugging bike riders.)

This was our “taper ride” — the last one before the Solvang Century, which happens this coming Saturday.  “Taper” as in tapering off, saving ourselves for the big event; not, as my wife would like to imagine, “tapir,” as in replacing our bikes with large browsing mammals.


The tapering has continued throughout the week, and this has been messing with my mind.  Prohibited from doing strenuous workouts, so as to remain fresh for Solvang, I have felt myself reverting to the static, lumplike me who existed before all this cycle training began.  Gym time has been replaced by, well, thinking time — and we all know that this cannot end well.

So I am counting down the hours to Solvang, when I can get back on my bike and stop thinking for 10 hours or so — or at least limit my thinking to thoughts like Ow! or Hungry! or Must pee! or Only 82 miles to go!  I’m like that daughter of Tevye’s, early in Fiddler on the Roof, who begins the song wishing for a dreamboat of a husband, only to end up saying she’ll settle for pretty much anything with arms and legs.  I’m not ready to stop yet!  I’d love a hundred miles of rollers, but you know what?  Bring on the gnarly hills, bring on the switchback descents and the monotonous straightaways.  Solvang, do with me what you will — just keep pushing back the time, that horrible awful inevitable time, when I must return to being … myself.

Though, happily, I have surpassed my fundraising goal, you can still donate to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in support of my ride (through April 9) by clicking here. And thanks to everyone who showed up at the Ashby Stage on Feb. 27 for my benefit performance of Ben Franklin: Unplugged — it was lots of fun, especially as no one mocked my “Manimal” head-stripes.

Manimal (detail).


Comment from Sue Trowbridge
Time: March 9, 2012, 3:57 pm

Josh, good luck with your bike ride!!! I’m sure you’ll do an awesome job and I look forward to reading all about it!

Comment from Josh Kornbluth
Time: March 20, 2012, 3:21 am

Thanks so much, Sue — it turned out to be lots of fun!!