I’m thrilled to announce that a concert film of me performing my comic monologue The Mathematics of Change is now available on DVD! Directed by my brother Jake, filmed by famed cinematographer Hiro Narita, and with beautiful music by Marco d’Ambrosio, the Math movie captures me in the lofty confines of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) in Berkeley. You can see the trailer, watch clips, check out videos of interviews I did with MSRI mathematicians — oh yes, and also buy the DVD! — here.
It was really fun to record these three shows — at Berkeley’s legendary Fantasy Studios, no less — and I hope it’s a really entertaining experience to listen to them.
I’ve started practicing the oboe again — as part of the long development process towards my next theatrical piece, Sea of Reeds (a commission by the Shotgun Players in Berkeley, in collaboration with my long-time producer, Jonny Reinis, and director, David Dower). And so all the sensations of oboe-playing — which I haven’t done regularly since I was a teenager — are coming back. The feel of the reed between my lips. The too-loud clacking of the keys as I press them (working on that!). The smell of cork grease in the morning.
And the awareness, at every moment, of my longing to create something that’s beautiful! It is that gap — between the sounds I am making and those I wish to produce — that, more than anything else, brings me back to those teen years, when my hope was that I was going to become great: at oboe-playing, at math, at sports, at love. But what I was really good at, in retrospect, was in not becoming anything other than this — my parents’ child. And somehow I got it in my head that being their child meant never working hard at things. If I was precocious: fine! But when that precociousness was challenged — when, in the terms of math or marathon running, I “hit the wall” — I was at a loss. To be struggling was to be uncool.
The funny thing is, as I’m writing this, I’m remembering one of the very few criticisms that my father ever addressed to me. I was a teenager; we were standing in the narrow hallway of the bustling apartment that he and my stepmother, Sue, had set up, with my young siblings underfoot everywhere; and he must have been reacting to something I’d said, or hadn’t said, that reflected a privateness — a distance, at least, from him. “You’re cool,” he said, appraising me. … I know, it doesn’t sound like much of a critique! And I don’t think he meant it in a totally negative way, either. But it was as if, after idealizing me since my birth — and projecting the most glorious future onto me — Dad was, in that moment, seeing right through to my essential self; and he was realizing, with a sigh, that his ideal and the reality had, somewhere, diverged.
Through no fault of his, or of anyone’s, I have devoted much of my time since then to trying to close that gap — to revert to the contours of the perfect vision he (and maybe Mom as well) had of me as a little boy. Kind of like standing partway out into the ocean and hoping that, if I just stay there, doing absolutely nothing, the currents will pull me back to shore. When in fact that journey has already, irrevocably, begun — when, in fact, it has mostly happened. So that the real question is, What will I do as I head to the other side?
It’s shocking that progress is not inevitable! Neither in our individual selves nor in society. As a child I believed it was inevitable, with all my heart; I was a fundamentalist of progress — I had no doubt. So how to reconcile that ideology with my experience of practicing the oboe and not becoming great? A conundrum! This, I think now, is where faith comes in. But I also think I need to adjust my concept of faith — or perhaps that adjustment has already begun. Because I used to think that faith required — was pointed at — a perfect result: a utopia. Now I don’t consider perfection a goal — or even a possibility, or even (God help me) desirable (because it suggests the death of change). Now I consider the goal to be: better. Just better. A better world. A better transition from C to C-sharp (lots of fingers have to be slapped down at once, as quietly as possible). Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that the object of my faith is now a process — one that keeps open the space for improvement.
Also, the oboe being what it is, I have a short-term goal of being able to practice for more than 20 minutes at a time! (The old embouchure ain’t what it used to be, which itself wasn’t what it should have been.)
I’ve been doing scales, sometimes with a metronome. Also, etudes from the massive Barret Oboe Method book that has weighed down the music stand of every oboist I know. And — with a vague idea that the music of J.S. Bach will play a featured role in Sea of Reeds — I’ve been dipping into a book I have containing many of Bach’s lovely cantatas for oboe and voice. That book is called Difficult Passages — a title that’s bracing in its blunt honesty. It leaves unmentioned the fact that those passages, if played well, are also beautiful. … Actually, they’re beautiful even if not played well (as just happened when I practiced a few of them). Because, somehow, in these compositions the ideal is always immanent. Which I now feel I am finally beginning to understand as, facing back at where I began, I blow myself, in tiny increments, towards the other shore.
Last Thursday I had the remarkable, perplexing, and wistful experience of returning to Princeton University, my almost alma mater. The occasion was a performance of my monologue The Mathematics of Change, as part of the J. Edward Farnum Lecture Series (co-sponsored by the Princeton Math Dept.).
This was my first time back at Princeton since June of 1980, when I attended graduation ceremonies for my class, even though I hadn’t yet written my required senior thesis. Princeton lets you “walk” if you’ve done everything except your thesis; you just don’t get your actual degree until you do submit your thesis and it is accepted by your department. And amazingly, you can submit your thesis anytime in your whole life. What I was told, way back when, was that I’d get two grades: one for the submitted thesis, along with an “F” (for, I guess, being Way Friggin’ Late).
I did a monologue about not graduating from Princeton (oh, and also about democracy), titled Citizen Josh; incredibly, and excruciatingly, I am still working on my thesis! I’d intended that show to be my belated thesis, but the Princeton Politics Dept. told me that I needed to append some actual thesis-like prose to the Citizen Josh script. I’m now working on an abstract for that added section, with the benevolent guidance of a current Politics prof., whom I’ve never met but is almost certainly way younger than me, and definitely smarter.
In the meantime, now at least I’ve done my other Princeton monologue there: The Mathematics of Change, about when I “hit the wall” at freshman calculus. I’d been trying for years to do this show at Princeton, and finally made it based on the efforts of two brilliant Princeton mathematicians, Peter Sarnak (a bit older than me, I think) and Manjul Bhargava (unbelievably young). Somehow — perhaps using their number-theory wizardry to confuse the authorities — they arranged for me to perform the piece as a “lecture” in McCosh 50, the storied hall where Albert Einstein and many other luminaries once spoke.
It was, on the one hand, lovely to be at Princeton with my wife and our teenage son; back when I was a brooding, fumbling undergraduate, few (and certainly not I) would have predicted that such familial happiness lay ahead for me. It was, on the other hand, creepy to return to the scene of my academic crimes after 32 years and still feel like an outsider — someone who didn’t, and doesn’t, seem to fit in with the privileged vibe on campus, like a financially aided microbe that is being continually rejected by the host as a pathetic (and/or slightly dangerous) antibody. Or maybe it’s just that I should have studied harder, and that knowing this continues to bum me out.
In any case, it was totally lovely to do my math “lecture” in McCosh 50, before an audience of math faculty and students, along with anyone else who may have wandered in. (The event was free and open to the public.) It just goes to show that the route back into one’s past is sometimes made possible by the careful description of one’s abject failures. Or else it means that great mathematicians can make things happen for the rest of us — not the original definition of “applied mathematics,” perhaps, but it worked for me.
P.S.: One of the many silly comic riffs I go on in The Mathematics of Change has to do with the naming of Fine Hall, the math building at Princeton. In the show I speculate that, like many other buildings on campus, Fine Hall was named after a rich alum (presumably named Mr. Fine). I give this fictional guy a silly voice and silly things to say. … Well, it turns out that the real “Mr. Fine” was (a) not rich and (b) a beloved mathematician who, against great odds, managed to found a world-class math department at Princeton. Henry Burchard Fine was born in 1858 (a bit more than a century before me) and died in 1928 (a year after my mother was born), after being hit by a car while riding his bike on the outskirts of Princeton (cycling being something he loved to do, as I love to do it now). I was gently informed of these facts by several mathematicians who had been in my audience in McCosh 50 — and have supplemented them by reading a fond obituary by a friend and colleague of his. My friend Cynthia Dwork — a great mathematician herself — happily recalled her mathematician father’s office in the original Fine Hall, which was beautiful and grand (unlike the somewhat boxy structure that bears his name today). … This all lends further ammunition to the argument that one should never trust an autobiographical monologuist! (I certainly don’t.)
P.P.S.: Right after my “lecture,” I was interviewed by a reporter for the Daily Princetonian. His report can be read here.
A dog was barking, furiously, as we began our 100-mile bike ride on Saturday, March 10. It was about 6:30 in the morning in Solvang, California, and my Team In Training (TNT) teammates and I were thrilled to finally be starting the Solvang Century after months of training. The dog was in a house on what I’m sure is normally a sleepy street, and it clearly considered us to be potential intruders. What it couldn’t have known was that we were only the first of thousands of riders who would be pedaling past the house that morning. I wondered whether the dog would have the stamina to keep barking until the last possible helmeted intruder, smelling of sunblock and chain lubricant, had wheeled off into the distance.
Also, I wondered — and not casually — whether I would have the stamina to make it through all 100 miles. I really, really didn’t want to fail. In the week leading up to Solvang, I’d felt nervous and restless — a condition that wasn’t helped by our coach’s strict instructions that we not do any strenuous training during that week, so that we’d be fresh for the ride. Over these months I’d gotten used to doing four days of workouts each week: core-strengthening, spinning, and stretching (including the continuation of my futile lifelong quest to touch my toes; I bet my toes feel like smooth pebbles on a balmy Mediterranean shore; I’ll never know). Without that daily endorphin rush, my essential, sedentary self threatened to wrest back control from the wannabe athlete who’d been in charge lately. Maybe, by the time we were ready to start at Solvang, I’d have completely reverted to a couch potato.
But as we continued past the barking dog, through more residential streets, and then onto a freeway, those fears mostly evaporated. Biking with my teammates had become a natural thing for me: My feet now belonged in biking shoes, clipped to the pedals, and my butt belonged on the saddle. As always, we called out potential hazards to our teammates: “Car up!” “Glass!” “Slowing!” And we thought about the people we loved — and people whom others loved, as well. It occurred to me, as we went along, that after a lifetime of obsessively thinking about and talking about my family (particularly my late father), I now was focusing, in part, on people I’d never met. For example, Alex Pezzuto. Alex died 22 years ago of chronic leukemia. I learned about him from his daughter, Mary, who is on my e-list. He was a delightful guy — accordion player, delicatessen owner, terrific dancer, loving father of six children. He had one wonky eye, and he was always joking and teasing. This is my favorite thing that Mary wrote to me about her dad:
Alex had a signature comment whenever anyone was aggravated or impatient with him. Usually it was in response to some horrifying or deeply embarrassing breach of etiquette to which he paid no attention. His response was: Love Me, Love My Dog. It always put us into stitches because it’s so ridiculous. I don’t know, maybe you had to be there. Anyhow.
“Love me, love my dog.” I thought of that phrase over and over during our training, and it helped to sustain me through the Solvang event (including when that dog, which I’m sure is very much loved, was barking at us), making me smile even during long climbs.
Of which there were several. The first ascent happened relatively early in the ride, between miles 20 and 30. It began the way so many climbs do: You’re just cycling down a hill or along a flat stretch of road, minding your own business, and suddenly … you’re going up. And up, and up. Before I started my training, I was mostly preoccupied with whether I’d be able to deal with climbs — but now, after so many Saturday sessions with my team, I knew to just go down into my easiest gear, pin my ears back, and pedal my way to the top. Inching up the incline with hundreds of other cyclists, all of us stretched out in single file along the side of the freeway, felt something like being a tiny part of a giant, wheeled millipede. Though of course, here — as throughout the event — many cyclists would, traffic permitting, speed past me. (A teammate would warn, “Biker left!” — which, for part of the ride, I daydreamed about titling a publication for progressive cyclists.) One time, a biker zipped by me, really close, and it momentarily unbalanced me: suddenly I found myself veering out into the traffic lanes (albeit incredibly slowly). (Something like this — a possible near-spill — happens to me on pretty much every ride. So far — knock wood — I haven’t actually had an accident.) I managed to unclip my left shoe in time to get my foot down on the road and prevent myself from falling — and fortunately, there were no cars coming up behind me at that moment. Within a few seconds, I was back on track, in my single file of cyclists. Voices called out: “Are you okay?”
One of the concerned voices, inevitably, belonged to my coach, the Bumpster. The Bumpster has a very distinctive voice: sweet and sharp and high. Her laugh (and she laughs quite a lot) is amazing — you can hear it from a long distance away. On this day I decided that the Bumpster’s laugh kind of resembles the call of a seagull: you know, that resonant, question-marky sound they make? In my little group (nicknamed Team Margarita, for the drink that the Bumpster likes to serve during post-ride celebrations), we always responded powerfully to the Call of the Bumpster: no matter how far we may have strayed, that laugh drew us back to the safety and solidarity of our flock. In the non-cycling part of her life, the Bumpster is an ER nurse; I would bet that her laugh has speeded many a patient back to good health.
When we got to our second SAG (refreshments) stop, my wife, Sara, and son, Guthrie, were already there waiting for me. I cannot tell you how much joy I got from having them down at Solvang to share this experience! They met me at several SAG stops, and occasionally would pull up beside me in my wife’s car as I biked along. These encounters made me feel glorious, like a participant in the Tour de France or something, only much slower and without any alleged performance-enhancers (unless you count the peanut-butter-honey-and-banana sandwiches that Sara had prepared for me). Several other teammates had friends and family members with them as well — and so did many other riders at Solvang (most of whom were not with Team In Training). As a result, especially towards the end of the ride, the vibe along the route was incredibly festive.
But before we could get to the end, we had to go up “the Wall.” Or, as it was often referred to, “the notorious Wall.” The Wall — a steady, relatively steep ascent — goes from about mile 70 to around mile 83. In fact, one of the things we’d been warned about regarding the Solvang Century was that the bulk of the climbing happens late in the ride. The thing is, a few miles before the Wall there was another ascent — one that, the Bumpster repeatedly told us, was actually harder than the Wall itself. Whether or not this was true (I have written before about the Bumpster’s propensity to lie in the service of motivation), it did make the Wall seem less daunting to me; after all, according the Bumpster, we’d already gotten through worse. Moreover, our training rides had often packed in way more climbing per mile than Solvang could throw at us. So we just downshifted, pinned our ears back, and kept going.
As often happens, the toughest ascent — psychologically, at least — came when many of us assumed we’d already gotten all the hard climbing out of the way. In this case, it was a section (around the 90-mile mark) that the Bumpster had (from her previous experiences at Solvang) nicknamed “Little Bitch.” Somehow, Little Bitch isn’t officially counted by the ride organizers as a hill — but believe me, it’s a hill! And a twisty one, at that. On previous ascents, I’d swallowed a packet of caffeinated energy goop to help propel me. But by this point in the ride, I was over the whole eating thing — especially sweet stuff; I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. Normally among the most avid eaters of peanut-butter-and-anything-sandwiches, I gazed upon the ubiquitous PB&J’s at our later SAG stops with utter disinterest. Like a camel that had learned to depend on its hump, I felt a serene certainty that my body contained sufficient stores to power me the rest of the way. Plus, I was the opposite of hungry: I felt like a nation that had suddenly gone from being a net importer of energy to an exporter.
Also, I felt hot. Throughout our training sessions during the Bay Area winter, it had always been relatively cool — sometimes, downright frigid. Down here in SoCal, the chilly morning had given way to a scorching afternoon. Anticipating this, I had, the previous week, bought a kind of skullcap designed to go under my helmet and protect my bald head from the kind of airhole-pattern burn-striping that had inspired my team to nickname me “Manimal.” I found it ironic that I was now biking while wearing a skullcap, as this reminded me of all the Saturday mornings that my cycling training had kept me from going to synagogue. (I have kind of a passive-aggressive relationship with God — though, to be fair, God started it.) What I hadn’t anticipated was that, for the very first time in my relatively short endurance-cycling experience, today it would become so hot that I’d be moved to take off the arm-warmers I’d worn on every training ride. As a result of this (and of my lack of sunblock), my arms became so burnt that — even now as I write this, nine days after the event — they are peeling like the skin of a horror-movie creature. Which, of course, makes me very proud.
The last few miles of the Solvang Century were all downhill or flat, and my teammates and I enjoyed them immensely. Guthrie and Sara were cheering by the side of the road as we neared the finish line — one of the peak moments of my day, and of my life. A bunch of us actually cycled past the finish line — causing the Bumpster to yell out to us, penetratingly, to circle back. But even though we’d covered that extra bit of distance, at the end of the ride my bike’s little computer thingie told me that we’d gone only 98.5 miles.
This wouldn’t do! After picking up my way-cool Solvang Century completer’s medallion and pin at the TNT booth, I continued biking to a nearby parking lot. And there, with my son jogging along beside me, I cycled an additional 1.5 miles — until I had officially made it through 100 miles. At which point, I finally got off my bike, and Guthrie, Sara, and I wandered around Solvang in search of some celebratory aebleskivers. Aebleskivers are said to be the supreme delicacy in Solvang, which is kind of a Disneyfied replica of a Danish town. Well, we finally found a place where we could buy aebleskivers. Let me tell you two things about the aebleskivers we ate:
- They tasted like blobs of deep-fried dough immersed in cherry cough syrup.
- I thought they were delicious.
(From some Googling, I’ve learned that apparently the correct plural is not “aebleskivers” but “aebleskiver.” I will not, however, allow the Danes to exercise their usual linguistic hegemony in this important matter.)
After the ride, there was a celebration dinner at a nearby hotel for TNT riders and their entourages. The food was terrible; I had three helpings. My hunger, briefly dormant for those last few miles of the century, had returned — with a vengeance. The Bumpster came by my table to serve me one of her homemade margaritas; it was the very stuff that dreams are made of.
The next morning, we hooked my bike onto the back of Sara’s car and headed back up to Berkeley. It was poignant to say goodbye to my teammates, and it felt weird to have already completed the event, after all those months of training and worrying and wondering. I don’t deal well with finishing things; it took me over a week to bring myself to do this little blog entry about Solvang, as if writing about it would seal the whole experience into an inaccessible past. I worked really hard to prepare for my first century ride, and then I actually did it — which, me being me, I find somewhat depressing. I’m a lot more comfortable with incompletion, even more so with failure. I realize that this is creepy and wrong, but really, there’s nothing to be done about it. You know: Love me, love my dog.
Again, let me offer my infinite thanks to everyone who contributed the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in support of my ride! You have helped to fight blood cancer, and to make life better for cancer patients and their loved ones. People who want to donate still can, through April 9, by clicking here.
Below is a map of my Solvang Century ride; you can click on it to get details regarding speed, heart rate, elevation, and more (though strangely, it contains no sunburn-related data).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.