Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hump Day Harangue: Appalachian Zen Cycling


How we get things done in Eastern Kentucky
I’m absolutely itching to ride.  I’m pining for ye olden days when Jeaph Mowsur and I used to ride like fiends all over the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, surfing the crashing wave of the Pottsville Escarpment, and mightily (well, at least Jeff was) subduing hills like Cobhill, Patsey, Sky Bridge, etc, ad nauseum on our sporty sport bikes.  I love mountain biking and it is still my primary obsession, but road cycling on the crenellated terrain between the Red and Kentucky River watersheds is a discipline unto itself.  It’s like zen cycling; putting your nose down on the handlebars and granny gearing your way home after a deep bonk in the middle of rural Appalachia on a humid summer day where you daren’t knock on a door to ask for water, and even if you did the bleeding from the dog attack might be too much fluid loss to survive the ride.
It takes a special kind of focus and inner contemplation to complete those kinds of rides we routinely used to go on.  It only took stupid bravado to say: “Hey, let’s go ride all the steepest hills within fifty miles of home!” Sobriety and maturity came later.  At a great cost.
But still…I want to be back on the road more.  I miss those rides.  But they take so much time and in all likelihood a level of fitness that I don’t currently possess…at least enough to enjoy the rides.
Did I ever enjoy them?  I think I did.  In most cases my brain may have been bone dry of lubricating materials by the time the ride was over.  I know the focus was usually on my legs and knees.  And the next ride.   
What has kept me away?  Time.  Never enough time.  But other things interfered as well.  Jeff and I don’t really ride together anymore.  No particular reason I guess.  Just people drift together and apart throughout life.  Time again diverts our attentions to other things.  And then after a moderate hiatus it’s just hard to get back into that kind of rhythm.  Once the bike is hanging on a hook in the basement it’s much harder to put rubber on the road.  I’d have to move the mountain bike out of the way.  So part of the problem has been an organizational one.  Spatial clutter. 
My mental game fell off too.  And this is something that’s been dogging me of late.  Fear has crept back into my mind.  While we were in Colorado when I was a full time bike commuter I had pushed the fear of traffic mostly out of my mind.  Or at least I mitigated it with the right kind of internal dialogue.  That carried over for a couple or three years when we returned to Kentucky.  But that edge is dull now.  I need to get it back.
The funny thing is that I was defensive of riding on rural roads in Eastern Kentucky when we moved back.  After plying the mean streets of one of the larger metropolitan areas in the country it was somewhat refreshing to share the roads with more friendly Appalachian folk.  People seemed less frantic.  Less impatient.  Less hostile.  People actually waved in a friendly manner at me on my flashy road bike with my skin tight clothing despite their evangelical values.
I ask myself what has changed.  I’ve become insulated from the exposure of road cycling; driving around in my own steel and glass enclosure.  I’ve gone out of practice and so my mind fills in the empty spaces with fears.  That’s maybe human nature.  Don’t change; it’s not safe.
Weekend before last I did the Gorge loop from home.  The ride was pretty good.  I sparred with some traffic on the edge of town on my return, but otherwise it was an enjoyable and uneventful ride.  I even got Sky Bridge Hill clean which was not a given setting out from the Red River Regional Bikeport at the beginning of the ride.
On this day in 2013 I rode Cobhill and Patsey (hence the earlier reference).  Facebook has reminded me of this horrific solo ride I made.  It was one of those rides that shouldn’t be forgettable, but maybe it was because my mind tried to suppress it to prevent future such excursions.  A year later was my first (and only complete) Redbud Ride century.  I did that on the Cannonball (Xtracycle).  It was a lot of fun and I miss doing the occasional organized ride.  Though I don’t pine for them like I do the light and fast Mowsur-induced death rides.
I need a good, long soul crushing ride to clear my head.  I need to see if I still got it.  At least I tell myself that.  In reality I guess all I need to do is live, die, and pay taxes. 

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