The Bike Gig

Regular readers of this space — if it is a space, but I won’t wander into that corner of linguo-journalistic inquiry for now — know I’m fond of mentioning my exploits in the world of road cycling. One of the things I’ve been aiming for this year is a Paris-Brest-Paris-length endurance event — 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) in 90 hours — to be held next month here in California. A large part of the challenge is the preparation and training involved, especially a series of four shorter (but still long) rides (called brevets) that qualify you for the ride. The qualifying distances are 200 kilometers (125 miles) in 13.5 hours; 300 kilometers (187 miles) in 20 hours; 400 kilometers (250 miles) in 27 hours; and 600 kilometers (375 miles) in 40 hours.

All in all, I had no problem doing the rides to qualify for PBP in 2003 or in doing PBP itself. By that I mean my body held up well and my motivation only flagged once, during the cold, rainy, dark middle of the 600-kilometer qualifier as I ground very, very slowly up a steep mountain road in Mendocino County. The only other significant breakdowns — I didn’t get a flat tire all year — involved my ass and my good humor, though not necessarily in that order.

But this year it’s been a different story.

I’ve only finished two
brevets — both 200s. I skipped one 300 because it was a stormy day;
failed to finish one because of an unfixable equipment failure (I
snapped off a pedal at the axle and trashed my front wheel in the
subsequent low-speed crash); skipped another 300 because it was raining
cats and dogs; missed a 400 because I had tweaked my knee somehow and
had doubts about completing the ride; missed a second 400 because —
well, the reason really isn’t very clear, so I’ll just say I talked
myself out of it.

Still, after all that, I had a chance to qualify for the Gold Rush
Randonee in July. The ride organizer agreed to accept my finishing the
Davis Double Century (about 320 kilometers) in lieu of a 300 brevet.
And very generously, since he knows I’m a PBP finisher, he also agreed
to waive the 400 qualifier if I finished a 600 and let me enter the
Gold Rush.

Well, that 600 was today. And I’m sitting here typing, not riding. The
shorthand reason — maybe the whole catalog of stuff behind this would
be fascinating to write, and to read, but I’m not sure I or anyone else
has that kind of time on their hands right now — was that I
procastinated on sending in my application and just kind of figured the
ride organizer would let me in at the last minute. But when I contacted
him — on the eve of the ride — he said he wouldn’t do that, though
there’s no strict rule against that. I thought about going over to the
ride start this morning and asking him again, showing him I was ready
to ride; in fact, I got all my stuff together and was dressed to go.
But I didn’t do it; I told myself (and my friend Bruce, with whom I
intended to ride) that I didn’t want to put the organizer on the spot;
and sure, that was a consideration; but I also know that if I’d been
absolutely on fire to do the ride, I would have done that and might
have persuaded him, too; or I might have said the hell with being
"allowed" to ride and hit the road anyway. But I didn’t do any of those
things. Instead, I’ve spent the day — as I’ve spent other brevet days
this spring — thinking about where the riders must be on the road.

I’ve rarely not finished a long ride I’ve started — it’s called a DNF
(did not finish) when you do that. But I have lots of DNS’s — did not
start — and that weighs on me just as much, or more, than if I tried
something I couldn’t finish. I’m trying to pare away the layers of
what’s going on with all this: Yes, this kind of riding can be very
tough. This year, unlike a couple years ago, I have questions about my
conditioning. I feel ambivalent about a style of riding that not only
demands that you put in long miles, but also that you ride around the
clock if necessary to finish.

I did manage to go out for a short, hard ride in the Berkeley Hills
before sunset. It was beautiful, and I worked hard, though not for
long. There’s one more 600 on the West Coast I could ride to qualify
for that Gold Rush event — next weekend in Portland. I’ve downloaded
the route sheets and followed almost the entire route on Google maps. I
have no idea whether I’ll actually do it.

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