Sunday, May 26, 2013

On Catching Up or Falling Behind: Another Study of Perspective

photos by Jay

There was a moment at the end of this Saturday's ride-- around mile 89 for me-- which succinctly captures my experience of the past two weeks in the intimate, wordless way only cycling can: I found myself in a pace line with Ward, Jay and Cisco D-- and worried that they would drop me because they can all go much faster than me on the flats. But somehow, I always found myself tucked behind one of them, until mile 89. And then, feeling guilty about staying on a wheel the entire time, I used what was left in my legs (not much) to pull ahead in order to pull the last little bit before I'd go my own way, toward home.

Only, it didn't quite work out that way: I pulled ahead, and perhaps they all got the wrong impression and thought I was racing. Or, maybe I am just slow and I pissed everyone off by becoming the human roadblock. Either way, a pack of three would cruise right on by, leaving me where I have consistently been in running, swimming, writing, riding and... life. Breathless, exhausted and feeling pretty awful about what I've got to offer the world.

At the top of Morgan Territory. At this point, I wanted to go home where it was warmer. Cisco D, however, suggested a map stuffed in my jersey might make a difference. In the end, it didn't.
I'm sure it has something to do with effort. With having too much of one sort and not enough of the other. Granted, I've been spread pretty thin as of late: work at work is exploding with the increased pressure of book promotions as summer publication dates approach. I have taken on another job as a news editor of an online music magazine-- a fun job, but one that requires me to write a lot more than I would otherwise write which would be a good thing IF I wasn't also approaching a HUGE deadline for the Tin House Writer's Workshop-- an honor that I've been graciously granted by some strange twist of luck (someone liked MY writing?? Weird!)-- only to find myself now, ten days before the deadline with absolutely NOTHING to submit because my writing is absolute crap.

Needless to say, I've developed an ulcer which feels like knives stabbing me in the gut, GI issues that feel worse and a habit of sleepless nights. All of these have required a lot of effort to obtain, but unfortunately, they have taken whatever reserves I had left for what I consider the "important" parts of life: everything I do when I'm not sitting on my ass at a desk. (Well, aside from the writing I do for myself. That is the one ass-sitting activity that is completely acceptable. That, and sitting in the saddle of my bike.)
At a crossroads. And I should have bagged it here. But I didn't. I decided, against all sanity, to keep going. 

I half wanted to bag the Saturday ride. The guys are in incredible shape and, due to my new schedule, I'm, well, not. Or, that's not quite true: I still swim three days a week and this would be my first week of running 50 miles in 7 days. Not a huge effort for many: but a milestone for me since, for the past two years, my body just couldn't take it. I haven't been on the bike, though and I have no excuse for that other than 1) I'm lazy 2)I'm running a lot more and 3) I have an expensive deadline coming up that makes me feel as though I'm going to vomit nearly every hour of the day.

So. That's me, starting off at 9:00 am on a Saturday. We were headed, first, to Morgan Territory, an area that's just past Clayton and among my favorite rides. I think, in some ways, because it reminds me of home: this is horse-country where the landscape, though hilly, opens up. Stables, corrals and a narrow, winding lane: if there was sagebrush, maybe I'd be back home. This isn't to say it isn't a challenging climb-- it is-- but this, too, is one of my favorites: once you're in the narrow canyon, you're under the shady cover of trees as the road turns and undulates up.

Today we would ride as a pack for the first part of the climb. Dave and Jay out in front; Ward, Matt and I exchanging positions in the second row of cyclists. Political banter laced with the ridiculous would keep us company until the incline increased and the front pack pulled away leaving Ward and I (and whomever was behind us) to climb on our own. It's one of my biggest fault that I go into a "zone" when I'm doing something--riding, running, swimming. I just find a pace and stick to it: fast or slow. That's what I did for that first climb and so I remember only the flicker of shadows and the sound of my own breathing. I passed a few other cyclists-- guys with hydration packs, or those who had stopped by the side of the road-- but really, it was a solitary effort which was fine with me.

The wind at the top, however, nearly drove me home. It was sunny-- but COLD. Damn, it was cold. As I left the bike by the fence and sat down at the wooden table for my water/snack, I was seriously considering going home, wrapping myself in blankets and working on my Tin House submission. I nearly had a reason: Cisco D said he felt awful, too (although his awful would be a pretty stellar day for me.)

How did I get talked into doing more miles? I didn't want to and I knew it would be a shit-show because no matter what I do these days, I feel awful: about my work, about myself. But then, I don't know, I just sort of wanted to and did and it isn't so hard to imagine what the rest of the ride was like: I'd go out in front and turn back to see the rest of them, in a pace line, streaming past me. Again and again.  But they are a nice group: even if I'm in the back, they always waited for me to catch up.

Talking to Mike-- a real inspiration. A true long-distance rider, I wish I had his grit and determination.  Instead, I will feel awful for pretty much the entire ride.

Out to Livermore and Del Valle Reservoir: a steady two (or three?) mile climb up. It's usually the type of climb I love: steady, nothing too steep. The key is hitting an aggressive pace and sticking to it. But Saturday, I just felt "off"-- my stomach feeling like I'd eaten knives for breakfast, my left knee tugged by a too-tight IT band and the constant reminder that I am not really good at anything.

Feeling awful, but the scenery's great. Del Valle's behind me.

I made it, though, to the top where people fly electric gliders in the wind and down the other side to the reservoir where they hold open water swim events I've signed up for and decided I can't do. The campground was filled with tents of all sizes and colors-- and kids. Cisco D. joked he wanted a hot dog. The mere thought made me want to throw up. I ate some of my second bar but I couldn't finish it; by that point, my insides were doing gymnastics. It didn't help that Jay told a story about a woman they used to ride with who would eat full meals (hotdogs?) in the midst of these long rides. His story was funny, and I laughed: but I worried, with the laughing, if I wasn't about to throw up, too.

What can I say about the rest of it? I made it, obviously, because I'm writing this post. I made it to Livermore and past the water tanks painted with whales and the stink of sewage. I made it to our stop just past the Livermore Airport where I bought a big, cold jug of water and Fig Newtons for everyone to have because of how guilty I felt about my own awfulness. Then, there's Collier Canyon when I thought I had a thorn stuck in my front tire (it was only a rock) and the way the rusted old windmill turned at the top of that last climb in those desolate, brown-hilled miles and how that somehow reflected how my body felt: old and rusted. With knives in its belly.

I'm the fat cowboy, on the right.
Down the boulevard; at first I didn't keep up. And when I did, I tucked in behind a wheel for self-preservation so no one would have to wait. Until mile 89 and then... well, you know.

I woke up and ran today: the ridge trail, around the Lafayette Reservoir. I received correspondence from my contacts at museums for the research I'm doing for this writing project which have given me promising leads; I attended the graduation of my colleagues at Saint Mary's College.

The wonderful thing about sports is that there is always the promise of getting better: you just have to train harder, try harder: the human body will respond. It isn't like that with writing: sometimes you create something amazing; most times you don't and you're rejected. I wonder what it means that I'm focusing on the capricious half of my life. Or, that my body is beginning to respond to the writing and not those other things I do when my ass isn't in the chair.

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