Friday, June 12, 2009

Summer's First Ride

"The first ride of 2009", or better yet, "The first ride since February 2008", would be a more accurate title for this post, but in the interest of not immediately revealing how badly I've neglected my beloved Celeste these past sixteen months, "Summer's First Ride" it is. This morning, I met up with AMK at 7:00 am and we rode two wet, drippy laps in Central Park; due to a combination of our late start and the dreary weather, we were the only cyclists on the road, which is exactly what I needed as the great Bianchi and I became re-acquainted. Apparently JSH saw me as she was running the loop as well!
Celeste: Je t'aime
I know that the burning question on every reader's mind is why I haven't ridden for nearly a year and a half, and to that I can only answer....I simply haven't felt like it. After years of competitive sports, and with no immediate plans for racing or a marathon-like event on the horizon, I only run/ride/kayak/swim/play squash/[insert sport of choice] when I want to. Of course, after being conditioned by twenty years of practices and meets I end up wanting to do something every day, which is why I can usually be found in the pool or by the river on any given morning or evening. Not being able to run these past several months has been very tough for me, and while I've channeled my inner swimmer and yogi, I just haven't had the cycling bug.
The Honeymoon Phase
I can chart my years in Ithaca not only by crits and time trials, but also by the rides that I undertook through Brooktondale and Trumansburg, around Cayuga Lake and past the goat farm in Wilseyville, out to Owego and back through Slaterville Springs. The cumulative months that I spent in New Hampshire saw me ride in view of Whaleback Mountain and down the massive grade of Kings Hill, around Green Mountain lakes and across the covered bridges of the Connecticut River. After shipping my car, bike, and books back to California, I went cycling through France, including up the mythic Ventoux with JFL and AB, and when I finally returned to San Francisco I decided to celebrate my arrival by riding the Mt. Tamalpais century. At that point, something in me, relative to cycling, switched off. Somewhere over the course of the 7000' elevation gain, searing heat and freezing fog of those difficult 100 miles--which normally would have been a welcome challenge--cycling stopped being fun. I joined a master's rowing team, started running more regularly again, and left Celeste in the basement next to my snowshoes and skate skis.
Riding up Mt. Tamalpais, in happier times
I still rode occasionally, especially once MAR moved to the Bay Area, but I didn't look forward to riding in the way that I had for the previous three years. The intense traffic, even more intense SF cycling scene, and very crowded roads--especially on the flanks of Mt. Tam and the coastal highways--annoyed me more than they should have, and I would return home more frustrated than pleasantly exhausted, which is the optimal post-cycling state. Even one of my favorite rides, the Marin Headlands loop out to Rodeo Beach, could no longer cheer me up, and so at the end of February last year, I rode through the Headlands one last time, and then decided to ride again only when the cycling sirens called.
Rodeo Beach, Adieu
Months passed, and the sirens remained silent. I rode my trainer post-foot surgery for a spell in the Fall (largely because I couldn't swim), but I still didn't feel the desire to take Celeste for a spin in the Park. For what became my first year in New York, I never woke up to the irresistible anticipation of riding my bike. So I never rode it.

And then about three weeks ago, with the weather warming and the days staying light until 8:00 pm, on my post-work walk home through Central Park I saw a pack of cyclists drafting off of one another past Sheep's Meadow, and just as had happened during the Mt. Tam century, something in me clicked. I knew that it was time to ride again. I went home and nodded at Celeste.

I won't address my current cycling fitness, which is abysmal, or my squeaky brakes and ragged racing tires, which need to be replaced asap, but I will say that similar to when I went running for the first time two weeks ago, I felt like "myself" again as soon as Celeste and I hit the road. I was surprised at how quickly handling came back to me, at how instinctively I shifted my weight when passing over wet road paint stripes and unexpected potholes, and at how naturally I moved in and out of gear and in and out of the saddle on Central Park's rollers. AMK was a great companion (not too slow, not too fast, and infinitely patient as I settled back into cycling) and when I arrived home with both an impressive skunk stripe and a very dirty bicycle, I wasn't only pleasantly exhausted--I was smiling.

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