Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It Doesn't Matter How Many Miles You Ride

Deception Pass, September 2016

Last fall, during Bike MS Washington, there were policemen stationed at either side of Deception Pass to control the flow of cyclists and cars across the bridge. When I reached the bridge on the homeward leg of Day 1, the policeman asked, "How far are you riding today?"

"Only 60," I replied.

"A lot of you are doing the 60," he said. "But you all say it as though you're embarrassed. Why is that?"

"I guess we were all hoping we could go farther," I said.

Crossing Deception Pass

Cycling, like most activities, has its instant camaraderies, its friendly ambassadors, and plenty of cheerful encouragement between enthusiasts who meet on a common road. It also has its snobberies and self-appointed elite, who gauge a rider's worth by his equipment, clothing, mileage, speed, and - if you can believe it - the smoothness of his legs.

Even for those of us who belong to the former group, there's a certain shamefacedness in admitting that we don't ride hundreds of miles every week. (Some of us don't even ride one hundred miles a week.)

I think this is partly due to social pressure, and partly to aspiration. The social pressure needs no explaining; it's merely the cycling variant of keeping up with the Joneses. The aspiration, however, is harder to deal with.

Once you get a taste of longer rides, and realize that yes, it is humanly possible to ride x number of miles and survive, you want to keep going. The numbers cease to frighten; instead they become alluring. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty - heck, why not a hundred? Why not a hundred and twenty? It's a kind of Rockefeller-and-money thing: you always want a little more. And, if you're like me, you always feel a little inferior in the company of those who have achieved it.

Rest stop, Bike MS Washington 2016

After my surgery last month, the transport tech who wheeled me out of the hospital (I could have walked, but you know how hospitals are) was wearing a bike-print headwrap.

"Are you a cyclist?" I asked.

"Yep," he said. "Are you?"

"Just a hobby cyclist," I said apologetically. "My rides are mostly short. I've never even done a century."

"I've done, let me see, five centuries since my knee replacement," he said cheerfully, "and I forget how many before that." He went on to tell me about some severe back and leg problems he'd suffered through, the many surgeries he'd had, and the riding he'd done before and after each.

"I dream of training for a century," I said, "but life seems to keep getting in the way. Every year I think 'maybe this will be the year', but something comes up to prevent it. So I do my little 15- and 20-mile rides, and keep hoping."

"Hey," he said. "It doesn't matter how many miles you ride. Some people make a big deal about distance, but as far as I'm concerned, if you're out on the bike, you're a cyclist. Getting out there is what counts."

Then Mr. M pulled up with the car. I got out of the wheelchair, thanked the tech, climbed into the car, and went home.


I've thought about the tech's words a lot since then. Recovery was supposed to be fairly quick, but in some ways it hasn't been. For several weeks I couldn't ride at all, and when I did get back on the bike, it didn't go well.

So now I'm starting from scratch, and things are slowly (oh so slowly) improving. I can ride a mile without hurting badly afterwards. Maybe next week it will be two. (Meanwhile the flowers blossom and fade, and the year is flying by.) When I get frustrated, which happens on most sunny days, I try to remember a fellow cyclist's kind words:

It doesn't matter how many miles you ride. Getting out there is what counts.

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