Saturday, October 23, 2010

Cycles of Cycling

In two and a half years of living in New York City, I've never settled back into cycling. I've certainly ridden, and not only outside in Central Park and up to Piermont and Nyack, but also indoors on my trainer on the days when snow falls past my living room windows. These rides have affirmed new friendships and re-invigorated old ones, led to the discovery of my greatest Hudson River valley culinary delight (the Bunbury muffin), and let me pedal through autumnal landscapes with a sense of flight that only cycling allows. But the visceral joy that would course through my veins as I charged Buttermilk in Ithaca, or Mt. Tam in the Bay Area, hasn't reappeared since I moved here, and I wonder at its absence as keenly as I feel it.

This is actually fun.
I've considered these ambiguities before, and I should emphasize that the existence of these ambiguities doesn't mean that I haven't had fun on any rides here, or felt real excitement at flying down the Great Hill, or relished the dappled sunshine as I ride the shady Palisades river road. It's more that I haven't found cycling to be as fulfilling here as I have in other periods of my life, and a strong indication of this lack of fulfillment, so to speak, is that riding doesn't make me as happy as it used to. And so I don't do it as often, if at all. In contrast to my years in Ithaca and the Bay Area, months can pass in NYC without me touching my bike unless I'm either injured (and thus can't run) or want to get out of the city via something other than a train or zipcar.

The root of this disenchantment remains difficult for me to identify; it's certainly possible that the combination of limited places to ride and many, many people wanting to ride in them makes cycling feel more like a chore to me than it does elsewhere. I won't deny that on weekend mornings when I've gotten a "late" start (i.e. 9:00 am or so) and have ridden into Central Park hoping to complete three or four six-mile loops, I've egressed from Olmstead's idyllic fields after just one--the sheer magnitude and general obliviousness of runners, pedestrians, dog-walkers, rollerbladers, pedi-cabs, horse-drawn carriages, bird-watchers, children, Central Park Conservancy vehicles, and other cyclists can make riding impossible and my generally low blood pressure skyrocket. At the same time, however, riding in the Bay Area isn't always a picnic either; anyone who's had to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge when the bike lane is closed, or through Golden Gate Park or up La Honda on a weekend morning, can attest to the extreme riding congestion there as well. And Ithaca had its own host of cycling-related problems, from non-existent bike lanes/road shoulders to enormous potholes and frost heaves to cyclist-hating dogs (they always seemed to find me on deserted rural roads with spotty cell phone coverage).

My guess, however, is that I'm just in a period in which my love of cycling has abated for a while. I'm actually okay with this abatement, because it's allowed space for other activities to emerge again; it was here in New York that I re-discovered the soothing properties of lap swimming, and that I returned to hiking with a vigor that my Ithaca years in particular lacked. At the same time, my obsession with the TdF has yet to suffer a reprieve, and every Fall, including this one, I spend about a week mulling over whether or not I want to do some cyclocross racing. In fact, when AK emailed me last week and asked if I wanted to race in Highland Park next weekend, I spent an hour mentally listing what I would need to do to overhaul my bike in time.

But I'm not there yet, and one reason I know I'm not is because the day that my joyful love of cycling returns, I won't spend an hour thinking about 'cross race prep--I'll just do the 'cross race prep. Ditto for waking up pre-sunrise and wondering if I really want to go spin through Central Park; instead of wondering, I'll simply hop on my bike, just as when I now wake up to go running, I simply run out the door rather than curl up under the covers and ponder my desire to sprint past Sheep Meadow. It's happened before, and it will happen again.
One day I shall again jump 'cross barriers.
As a result, I do have faith that this love will return at some point, although I can't predict when exactly. I recently went through a bunch of my old graduate school emails, and in the process, I came across the following one, which I'd sent to the cycling team on a chilly, beautiful Fall day five years ago:

From: ____@cornell.edu

Subject: Saturday ride, 10am, CTB

Date: October 14, 2005 2:58:43 PM EDT

To: cucycle-l@cornell.edu

At the risk of tempting the rain-gods, I'm posting a ride for tomorrow morning, leaving at 10am from CTB. Right now the forecast says tomorrow will be cloudy with occasional showers, and not too cold, so fingers crossed....

I'm thinking approx 25 miles, 15-17mph, probably Ellis Hollow to Whitechurch to Coddington unless there are any strong objections.

Come ride before snow--not rain--starts to fall!

Best,

CGC

I remember how much I loved riding down Whitechurch, with the leafy hills rising on either side of the valley and the scent of snow in the air. Someday, and probably fairly soon, I know I'm going to feel that joyfulness--the kind that only two wheels can create--again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quotes of the Week

Since work has dominated my life to a disquieting degree these last few months, I have few quotes to post, and all occurred, well, at work. Still, each is a subtle gem, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
-----
On an email MJL had just sent.
CGC: "I like that when you emailed to say that she'd stopped by, that you wrote "cher" with a lower case "c" so as to distinguish her from The Queen".
MJL: "Precisely".
-----
While meeting a student at Princeton with AXD.
AXMD: "Hi, I'm Anne".
PS: "What?"
AXMD: "Anne".
PS: "What?"
AXMD: "Anne, like Anne Boleyn".
PS: "What?"
AXMD: "Anne--A-N-N-E".
PS: "Oh, Anne".
-----
CGC: "Maybe in my next life I'll be one of those goats".
LP: "How do you know you are not one who's in a dream of human life?"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Interview with Kary Haddad

This week I had jury duty. It was, for lack of a better word, unpleasant, not least because I had to bail on attending a live performance of The Slate Political Gabfest with my friend Kary. As I sat for hours in the windowless jurors' waiting room of the New York State Supreme Court, I tried to think of how best to make said bailing up to him, until, like the dingy fluorescent light bulb buzzing over my head, the perfect solution flashed before me. What better salve than a Freckle interview? The moment the bailiff let us turn on our phones I emailed Kary his five questions, and, good friend that he is, he returned his answers in a matter of minutes. Thus I present to you the arch insights and commentary of Kary Haddad, who not only introduced me to Obadiah Parker's cover of "Hey Ya", but who also helped bring the phrase "PI Land" (meant to describe any tract of land that might possess poison ivy) into general usage. And by "general usage" I mean used by me, him, CMXD, and sometimes LVT.
Kary, in Ithaca, serves an unstoppable ball towards PI land
CGC: What is the worst thing about having to be at work by 8:30am every weekday morning during the academic year?
KH: The worst thing about getting to work at 8:30 is realizing that I am a half hour late, because I am supposed to be there at 7:55 for homeroom.
CGC: Did Roswell, NM, enhance or diminish your sense of empathy towards UFOs?
KH: My sense of empathy towards UFOs is unchanged. My sense of *sympathy* is significantly increased, due to the realization that the UFOs landed in a really uninteresting part of the world. They probably had no idea that they were landing in the type of place where residents think nothing of dressing alien blow-up dolls in patriotic American flag t-shirts without any apparent irony whatsoever.
CGC: Why is Avenue A a better musical than American Idiot? Or is American Idiot a better musical than Avenue A?*
KH: Avenue A is not a musical, and so therefore cannot be better than American Idiot. If you are referring to Avenue Q, then I'd have to say it's a better musical because I have friends that worked on it.
CGC: Fill in the blanks: Glee is to _________ as Rochester is to ________.
KH: Glee is to _underused emotional nouns_ as Rochester is to _fading centers of industry_.
CGC: If you could only play one game for the rest of your life, would it be Beersbie, The Settlers of Catan, or Apples to Apples?
KH: Beersbie, while fun, caused me my first sports-related injury since elementary school so that's clearly out. Apples to Apples is fun, but highly dependent on the crowd you're playing with. So that leaves Settlers of Catan by default.
*This question underscores The Freckle's near total ignorance of contemporary musicals.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The First Monday in October

Early this morning, on my run in Central Park, I had an unusual person on my mind: Elena Kagan. The point of that sentence isn't to suggest that Kagan is essentially "unusual" (although her life now is by no means "usual"), but rather that she or any other Supreme Court justice is an "unusual" individual for me to consider as I round Cat's Paw and summit the Great Hill. This morning, however, thoughts of a determined little girl from the Upper West Side replaced my "usual" mental fodder of breakfast foods and athletically-themed daydreams (last week's featured a long fantasy of what it would be like to run Western States).

Much of the focus on this First Monday in October has been on the Court's docket, which features a number of potentially incendiary cases, and which will reveal how the Court's new liberal minority bloc will act. But the docket and its adjudication are things that I consider while eating lunch or arguing with friends; early morning runs create instead the forum for imaginative epic narratives, the ones with larger-than-life characters and powerful dreams and enormous, messy questions. And so, you see, I found myself charging the Three Sisters while wondering what motivated Kagan to pursue her Supreme Court dream for so long, and what sustained her in pursuit of that dream despite the realization that so much depended on timing, and the other nominees, and the President, and the Senate.

Pondering Kagan's narrative mishmash hasn't led me to any sense of resolution, other than that I'm very impressed that she realized the singular focus of her life-long ambition. It does strike me as almost exquisite that all of the variables listed above fell perfectly into place, and I wonder at the number (10? 15?) of lawyers and judges with similar dreams who came so close to that same realization, only to see it disappear because of one better nominee or one flubbed confirmation hearing. Still, I can't help but think of Kagan and these other would-be justices in light of William Deresiewicz's recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "What Are You Going To Do With That?", particularly with regard to his comments on how we make choices, take chances, and make mistakes. Or more accurately, how many of us don't make choices, or take chances, or let ourselves make mistakes.

What I'm really wondering about, as a result, is to what extent Kagan and the other justices and those would-be justices really, truly wanted the positions that they currently possess (or don't). My guess is that they must have or they wouldn't have achieved them; on the other hand, what if they're seated on the bench because it was easier and more obvious than not sitting on the bench? In other words, a bright, hard-working, driven young woman at seventeen--the year that she wears a judge's robe and holds a gavel in her high school yearbook--has decided she wants to be a Supreme Court Justice, and from that moment on the following steps on this chosen trajectory are clear: college, law school, law review, clerkship, law practice, Justice Department lawyer, law professor, etc. etc. etc. Isn't it easier to follow religiously this completely visible path than to recognize, say, halfway through law school, or while snowed under a mountain of Justice Department cases, that maybe this isn't exactly what one wants, and, harder still, to change direction? Or did she--or any of the others in this data set--pause at each step, honestly assess herself, her happiness, and her dreams, and realize that, yes, this was the path she wanted to pursue?

I have no reason to doubt that Elena Kagan is and was very happy with her choices, or that she is, as Deresiewicz says, someone who "[made her] choices for the right reasons", and who recognized and embraced her "moral freedom". But it's on my mind because right now taking chances is very much on my mind, as is the difference between perceived safe choices and the right choices for oneself. I suppose that what I can't shake is the sense that by sticking for so long, and from such a young age, to the same ramrod trajectory, that Kagan never opened herself to other possibilities (who knows what those possibilities could have been?). On the other hand, I'm very happy that today a fourth female Supreme Court Justice takes her seat.
So, on that note, I say Happy First Monday in October, Justice Kagan. And here's to your new path.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cold Weather, I salute you

Because your arrival signifies a happy shift to cool morning runs and sweat-free subway rides. Because with your frosts and nightly temperature drops come honeycrisp apples, acorn squash, and a plethora of pumpkins. Because I've missed knotting scarves, wearing socks, buttoning up my peacoat, opening my living room windows, and including my oven in my cooking routine. Because I welcome my electricity bill sans air conditioner usage, and because your rain washes away the NYC street detritus better than any maintenance crew. Because you highlight the simple pleasures of autumn in a northeastern city. Cold Weather, I salute you!