This has been one odd winter. Strange, really. I haven’t looked once at my mileage for the year – I haven’t even a clue how many miles I’ve been putting in on a weekly basis let alone what I’m doing monthly. Normally, I’m all over my stats. I’ve also taken a lot of days off – three, even four days in a week. If I took two off a week in previous winters, that was a lot. This led to, at least for a week or two, a crisis in discipline. I got to a point I could talk myself out of riding – even after setting my bike up. That is not me and I didn’t like that one bit. That was a step too far. It got so bad, I actually started wondering if this was the beginning of the unraveling of my love of cycling. It wasn’t something pernicious or pervasive, it was just a small thought here and there, but it was spooky nonetheless.
When registration for DALMAC got close, the normal group I ride in started chatting back and forth through text messages, posting when one of us would sign up, plans for car rides back home, things of that nature. Then a couple of unexpected people started texting in about signing up. Before I knew it, we’ll have the biggest group I’ve ever been a part of at this year’s ride – and the thought of how much fun that will be provided that little bit of excitement that translated into an extra push to get cracking on the training. It’s exactly what I needed – and now I understand, finally, those who need an event to get fired up about training.
I started hitting my workouts a lot harder while still taking my days off. I’ve been pushing hard gears for almost three weeks now and I’m one gear harder on the trainer than I could ride at the end of last season. It’s been nice, really, taking days off this winter aside from the lack of motivation to pick things up again. In the end, though, I got just the push I needed.
And now it looks like we might even be outside this weekend! Our long spring is just around the corner and I’ll be ready (though a little fatter than I’d prefer).
The Great Pillow Proviso; How I Went From Wracked with Pain to Feeling Half My Age… with Nothing More than a Different Pillow
Now, you might be wondering how this has anything to do with fitness or cycling, but if you’re too much pain to want to ride, guess what?!
I wrote about this before but the difference in how I wake up in the morning is so stark and astonishing, I felt I had to give it one more post. The reason for the surprise was that I went from fine to hurting so badly when I woke up in the morning that I had to head straight to the medicine cabinet for a couple of AdviNol (Advil & acetaminophen) just so I could get moving in only three days.
I was hurting after the first night on the new mattress. I put that to bowling. On the second morning, I was worried that maybe I’d been mistaken about the new mattress. I couldn’t figure out why my lower back and hips were in so much pain all day long.
I woke up in the middle of the night on night three on that brand new mattress that should have been perfect for me thinking, “What in the f*** is going on here?!” I put the pillow I’d been using on the floor and laid back with my head on the mattress with no pillow and I could literally feel the pain begin to melt away. After a few minutes I grabbed the second pillow that had been between the mattress and the wall at the head of the bead and slept the rest of the night on that. This pillow is nothing special, I’ve had it for years, but it fits my head and neck just right. The other pillow, the one that caused all of that pain and now resides permanently betwixt the mattress and wall, is one of those new-fangled memory foam pillows that cost an arm and a leg and is all the rage. It should have been spectacular for what my wife paid for it.
I woke up two-and-a-half hours later feeling much better. The next morning I felt even better and by the third morning I felt like I’d gotten a perfect night’s sleep and felt like I should. No pain meds, up and at ’em long before the alarm. On the fourth, I felt younger than my 51 years… like I expected I would sleeping on a brand new, perfectly fantastic mattress. Here we are two weeks later and I actually look forward to going to bed at night – I’d rather sleep in our bed than on the couch.
The only difference being a pillow that works and one that doesn’t. I have no advice on how to pick a pillow, because I have no idea why my cheap pillow works and the expensive one makes me feel like I’m 90. I just know my experience. I do know this, I’m going to pay a lot more attention to my pillows in the future. I can’t believe the difference!
League play wasn’t great last night. The warm-up two games were great. It seemed the lanes were well suited to my shot/line and I threw an easy 181 & 192 before packing up and heading up the alley to our lane. The league warm-up 10 minutes exposed a problem, though. Our lanes weren’t anything like what I was rolling on earlier. I had to change everything and come at the pocket from a different angle. I made my adjustments and rolled a decent first game 199. Great!
The second game started well but I found I’d burned my line up a little earlier than expected and ended up changing from my Scorpion to the Quantum Evo. I struggled to find a decent line. The middle game sucked. My third was even worse. I couldn’t find a good line to the pocket, at least not one I could hit consistently. I was all over the place.
Then we hit the after-league practice session. Our league can bowl free of charge after our games are done so we’ve been taking advantage of that to figure out how to navigate beat up lane conditions. Also, because the crowd thins out considerably, we can talk more freely about recovery. I figured something out in the process last night. You see, my Quantum Evo is supposed to be a stronger ball than my Scorpion – that was the idea when I bought it. That’s not exactly the way it turned out, though. The Scorpion, well, it does what its name implies. I found out in the after-league practice session that, once I burn up the lane to the left with the Scorpion, I can switch to the Quantum and get another game out of my slot if I stay a little bit right (this is left hand perspective). Craig and Noel stayed after and the three of us threw three games. I bowled decently, around the 190s. Then Craig threw a dollar on the table. Noel and I knew what that meant. We each reached into our pockets and put a Buck on the table. And it was on…
Craig and Noel started with strikes and I had the perfect one-liner all set up – I’d been rolling with confidence the last three practice games… and I missed. I didn’t know it at the time because I only missed the strike by a hair, but I’d just burned my line on both lanes. I nine-spared. Craig and Noel opened the second leaving the door open for me… and I left it open, too. What a mess. Craig and Noel struck the next two and I nine-spared both. I was behind by a bunch, now. Craig struck in the fifth, and Noel and I opened. Craig opened in the sixth, Noel struck and I was stuck between a rock and a dry lane. I was completely out of shots on completely broken down lanes for the Quantum – it simply wasn’t working anymore. I decided to get a little radical – at this point I was down so far there was no down side.
I picked up my Hammer and moved three boards right and threw the ball at the 9 board at the arrows… straight toward the gutter (I hate this shot from throwing too shallow a hook for decades – throwing at the gutter means one thing in my mind… that’s where it’s going). Halfway down the lane the ball grabbed and started to roll as it snapped back toward the pocket. I missed by a hair but nine-spared and I’d found a new line. Craig had a nine-open in the sixth, Noel struck and I had my spare. The score was 115-98-94. Craig nine-spared the 7th, Noel eight-spared and I hit that wild hook with my Scorpion for a perfect strike. Craig struck in the eighth, Noel spared and I crushed the pocket for a double. Craig picked up the three Dollars from the table figuring he had it in the bag at that point. Neither Noel nor I protested. We both believed Craig had it in the bag.
Yet, I persisted. My line was working spectacularly. I wasn’t thinking about the gutter at all. Craig struck in the ninth, Noel spared, and I struck again for a triple. Craig struggled in the tenth with an eight/spare/nine for a 202. Noel went nine/spare/nine for a 174, then I was up. I struck for four, then five in a row before missing slightly for a nine. As far down as I figured I was, I thought I was close but… I headed back to my seat and glanced back at the scoreboard… 213.
Craig dropped the cash back on the table (I couldn’t believe it, either) and I swiped it up, stuffing it in my pocket.
So the main lesson I learned last night is, I have to stop trying to be on the perfect line once things break down. This leads to over-thinking, over-analyzing and crappy scores. I also have to remember how I went back to the Scorpion once the lanes broke down too much for the Quantum Evo… that $#!+ was fantastic!
Bowling: A Humorous Look at the Single Best Practice Drill That Can Save You From YEARS Of Bad Bowling!
I was perusing YouTube bowling videos the other day when I happened on one that suggested practicing release drills by rolling a ball, gently, onto the couch to get the feel of the thumb exiting the ball before the fingers:
I practiced that for a few days and took it to the bowling alley… it was a game changer. Never before was throwing a hook so consistent and simple.
Then I took that concept and raised it up a notch. I realized I had our last mattress sitting in the bike room/spare bedroom waiting to be donated… why not roll a ball on the floor into the mattress? Then I could get in my actual finish position and roll the ball like I would on a lane. A little like this:
Well, I worked on that a few minutes a day, all week long and took the new skills to the Friday night league.
So, between my warm-up games and the three league games, I was quite consistent. Not fantastic, but definitely above my 172 average at the same time. Better, I never felt like I was struggling as I had in the past when the lanes started to break down.
There are plenty of options other than a full-blown mattress. A foam camping roll, some old pillows against a wall… the big deal for me was I could practice at home at my convenience and that practice easily translated to the lanes.
To put this in perspective, in one month I completely changed how I’d thrown a bowling ball for 30 years… and I’m actually bowling better. The tips above are literally a game changer.
One final tip: The less your wife knows about this $#!+, the better. Especially the on the couch option! Just remember, you weigh ten times the bowling ball should you get caught.
There are a list of at least a dozen paradoxes in recovery, but they all begin with the big one: I had to be willing to give up to win against drugs and alcohol. Only when I was completely out of options did recovery seem like a viable option.
From that one point we move to others; we show others compassion and find we love ourselves more for it. We give up our old life for a new one. When I face fear, I gain courage. I have to examine my dark side to see the light…
This was the topic of yesterday’s Daily Reflection, and is one of the more beautiful lessons we learn to evolve with early on in recovery.
When I walked up to the doorstep of the treatment center, I was a broken man. I didn’t know it yet, but I was a wreck. Over the next two weeks my eyes were opened to a horrific reality. Three conditions converged in perfect harmony and desire met desperation and I gained what I needed to quit fighting.
And that’s exactly how I won.
Another favorite paradox, for later in recovery, has to do with passing along what was so freely given to me. Specifically, whenever I’m feeling down or things don’t appear to be working out, the key to turning that around is not looking within. It’s working with others. Only by “getting out of myself” and working with others can I receive what I need to work out what’s happening with me. Often, I get direct answers to what I’m lacking in.
That’s where I’m at today and it’s all good.
A small businessman in the United Kingdom recently, according to reports, banned his bicycle delivery people from wearing helmets whilst they ride, citing data that, if used falsely (and ignorantly), shows an increase in injuries with helmet use. The notion goes, people ride bikes more safely when they don’t have a helmet to rely on to protect their melon in the event of a spill. If we leave the argument right there, that business owner has a point, but that’s where the “ignorance” shows up to the party. This discussion is never that simple.
I ride my bike in a manner that is inherently more dangerous than anyone out for a little spin around the block. I rode solo, and mainly on back, dirt roads for a couple of years and could have legitimately justified not wearing a helmet but nowadays most of my mileage is with friends. We all wear helmets because we’re riding so close together at high rates of speed:
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, helmets were banned citing that same data. In that last photo in particular, we’ve got a bunch of hammers. We were cruising downhill at around 30-ish miles per hour or 45 feet per second. I have enough fun, even if helmets weren’t available, I would ride the same way. I’d risk it, as would most of my friends. In that case, you’d see catastrophic injuries from bicycle accidents skyrocket. Then the politicians, being what they are, would move to restrict how people are allowed to ride bikes; no more group riding. Politicians do stupid shit like that every day – restrict freedoms based on flawed data and the implementation of poorly thought out policy. Oh Canada!
That’s only a second third of that discussion, though. Here’s the final third: a very good friend of mine went for a 40-mile ride and didn’t bother taking a sip of water the whole ride. It wasn’t particularly hot out. It was mild, in the mid-70s (23-ish C). Two miles from home he passed out while riding. His helmet split when his head hit the curb, but he suffered no brain injury whatsoever. None. Without his helmet we’d have been attending his funeral. Another friend, riding in a group, stopped his bike with his face when another rider’s chain snapped in half in front of him. He grabbed a handful of brakes and went over the bar. He was in the hospital for a week. Without a helmet? Funeral. No doubt about it. Another friend who likes to ride mountain bikes and has crashed twice a year for the last three… well, let’s just say he’s not very good at mountain biking (though he’s since sold his bike and sticks to the road, now). Every one resulted in a busted helmet. He had one concussion but no other head-related trauma (he did have a bunch of scrapes, a couple of broken ribs, etc., etc.). Without his helmet(s)? Funeral. I was out for a leisurely ride with my daughters. My daughter fell when she went off the side of the asphalt and tried to bring the bike back onto the road too shallow. I fell right behind her rather than run her over with my bike. I was a quarter of an inch away from the asphalt with my melon and I wasn’t wearing a helmet. I bought one each that day – for my whole family. Another friend was hit from behind by a car. He’s alive because he was wearing a helmet. Still more friends would have suffered similar fates.
Folks, there are data out there that, if used improperly, can justify not wearing a helmet. The question is, are you willing to bet your life on it that the data isn’t manipulated? Not me. I’ve got one of the best helmets on the market because I know better than manipulated statistics. My own experience is good enough – add to that the half-dozen funerals I haven’t had to attend, and I’m good, thank you very much.
To put a bow on this, I do not advocate for mandatory helmet use. I say to each their own and compulsory helmet use is compulsorily stupid. I don’t get into mandates because in the USA, Canada, most of Europe, etc., etc. the job of politicians isn’t to protect my life. Their job is to protect my freedom.
Funny how they’ve lost their way and met with problems, innit?
I can remember a video a while back where the vaunted (and often hot-air-filled) Durian Rider stated a Shimano Sora equipped bike was enough to keep up with the fastest of cyclists, even the pros. He then managed to find the likes of Chris Froome and Team Sky to latch on the the back for a couple of miles before they dropped him. Keep in mind, pro training rides rarely top 20 or 21-mph for an average. In other words, a fair bit slower than our Tuesday Night Club Ride B Group average.
The newer generation of Sora components are fantastic and I can absolutely vouch for them as I have a gravel bike with Sora components. The operation of the shifters and drivetrain is every bit as good as the Ultegra on my Specialized Venge or the 105 drivetrain on my Trek. I curse trying to keep up with my friends on more expensive gravel bikes, though. I have to cheat by using slicker tires, otherwise their leisurely ride on a 17-pound gravel rig has my tongue dangling by my spokes on my 24-pound rig. Now, there’s a lot I could do to lighten my gravel bike up, and I may yet (a new set of decent wheels, better disc rotors, etc.), but there’s no way I’m keeping up comfortably with the B Group on Tuesday night (let alone the A group) the same I would on my 16-pound Specialized Venge or 18-1/2-pound Trek 5200, on the gravel bike in its current configuration unless I’m sucking wheel and hiding all night.
On the one hand, “the faster you want to go, the more expensive the bike you’ll need” has some truth to it. On the other, there are ways to cheat this; the problem is you have to make it up with “want to”.
Let’s start with keeping up with the fast groups, 20+mph average (aka 32-km/h). First, like lunch, there’s no such thing as free speed.
Now, my Specialized Venge at $6,000 and just barely 16-pounds (I can get it down to 15.6 with a costlier/less comfortable saddle and Dura-Ace or SRAM Red cassette) is just shy of tip-of-the-sword top-of-the-line. My 25mm x50 mm wheels are light (1,470 g for the set) and I’m running Ultegra components. The Venge is enough bike that the bike isn’t an excuse. If I can’t keep up, it’s the engine, not the bike.
My Trek is a little heavier at 18-1/2 pounds and it requires a little more effort to get around the block but it’s still quite the capable bike. I can do everything on my Trek that I can on the Venge, though watt for watt, the Trek is about 1-mph slower, give or take. The point with my Trek is that I can hang on that bike, but it’s a little harder to do it. We could get into the technical aspects of this, but this would be a much longer post.
Where this gets fun and exciting is with my 24 pound gravel bike. Even with slicks on the bike, I’d have a tough time keeping up with my normal Tuesday night group. Riding the bike is just harder. There’s no question I could keep up with the C Group on the gravel bike, but I’d be at a serious disadvantage with my friends.
So, here’s the breakdown: For the E, D & C groups you’ll be able to get away with anything from entry-level up for a road bike. For those groups, the main issue in keeping up is the engine… you. For the B group, we start getting into the need for a better steed. Something with Shimano 105 or the Campagnolo or SRAM equivalents. Also, upgrading the wheels from those 25 mm alloy rims to something a bit more carbon fiber will be helpful. Those deep-dish wheels aren’t a big deal at all when you’re looking at slower speeds but above, say, 23-mph the difference is huge. Having ridden excellent alloy wheels, 38 mm carbon and 50 mm carbon, I’d go with the 50s. The 38s are great but the 50s are a little better.
Finally, you’ve got the A group (and in our case, the A Elite group). I don’t know too many with top of the line pro rigs, but there are a couple. My Venge is somewhere in the middle and like I wrote earlier, it’s enough. It’s light enough and sleek enough that I have no excuses if I can’t keep up. As road bikes go, if your goal is to get into the A group fast rides, entry-level won’t do unless you’re Peter Sagan. In that case, your sister’s steel bike will do. At 51-years old, I need all the help I can get… and a decent bike makes fast just a little more attainable.
The festivities started Friday, after I was able to scoot out of the office a little early. My wife had things to do with our daughter so that left me to my own. Which meant I had zero responsibilities… so I made a beeline for the bowling alley to throw a couple of early warm-up games.
They went really well. I found my line after the first frame and threw three games in the 180s, all a bit above my average. I wasn’t great but I was consistent and didn’t make any costly errors, exactly what I wanted since completely overhauling my delivery last week.
I finished up 30 minutes before the league matches and moved up the alley to our lane. The first game was excellent – I seemed to be in a decent groove and ended up sixteen over. We won the first game by a massive margin. I struggled with two big unforced errors in the second but managed to grind out a decent 168, just four under my average. Unfortunately, our opponents couldn’t miss and the beat us by almost the same margin – we were only up by two pins going into the third. We held the lead in the third from the first ball thrown. I didn’t roll an excellent game but I ended nine over my average. With the win, we took two games and totals (5 of 7 points).
Saturday was a good morning for a ride on the trainer. It was exceedingly cold and windy. And we’d gotten a little more snow overnight. I rode with a little extra pep in my step after all of the good news about DALAC ’22 last week… I actually had something to work for. Typically, that’s not me. I can find motivation in any day of the week ending in “y”, so this was a neat little bonus. Sadly, after our trainer ride we had to get ready for a memorial service. An acquaintance who had drifted away from the safety of the middle of the wagon took his life in a bout of depression.
The permanent, irrevocable solution to a temporary problem from one of our own always breaks my heart. It’s so tragically unnecessary.
After the service we went home and watched a couple episodes of Castle (my wife and daughter are on season 5 – I just got into the show). After, we went out to dinner at our favorite haunt. Then home to another few episodes before heading to bed.
Sunday started with another hard ride on the trainer before heading out to breakfast with my wife and daughter at a local diner. This has become a regular Sunday treat as we do our part to fight against the insanity related to Covid paranoia. After, another couple of episodes of Castle (it really is a great show) before heading to the bowling alley with the ladies for a couple of games. I bowled well enough, testing my newfound hook on much of the alley.
After the hour, we headed home and prepped a steak dinner. I grilled the steaks after my wife made mashed sweet potatoes and cut up veggies.
Another couple episodes of Castle and it was time for bed. I slept like a rock, grateful the life I’ve made with the chance I was given… one day at a time.
But for the Grace of God…
Up until this winter I started out feeling “okay” about trainer season. I didn’t love it, but with the snow flying and the temps well below my 20 degree cutoff, well a fella’s gotta stay fit somehow. The trainer was the best option.
By this time every year I was Jonesing to get outside, though. The movies got stale and I started thinking about bombing down the road on my 5200… or better, the Venge. I’d write a few posts every year about how I was getting to a point I hated the hamster wheel…
Until this year.
My distaste for riding in the cold, specifically the farting around with cold weather cycling clothing, outweighed my disdain for the trainer. It’s not even close, and I’m perfectly okay with waiting for the weather to change next month. This is a distinct departure from previous years.
Oh, sure, I still think about suiting up in my Tuesday best, tightening the Boas on my S-Works shoes, donning my Bontrager helmet and matching white rimmed shades with red mirror lenses and throwing a leg over the Venge for the warm-up lap… then, the main event. Bombing down the road at better than 25-mph… the descent into Vernon at better than 30 and the final 5k kick to the City Limits finish line. Those are the days. In the meantime, it’s not even 20 degrees outside (-7 C) and it’s quite windy, which means the wind-chill is likely around 5 (-15 C on the nose). It’s a typical February day in Michigan.
So, here we are at just before 8 am and I’ll be locking my Trek into the trainer shortly. I’ll put in my 45 minutes watching Ironman III (the rest of it, we got through the first 45 minutes yesterday) and I’ll take my wife and daughter out to eat at the local diner. Then, early this afternoon I’ll take my girl out bowling for a few practice games. Later on, we’ll cook some dinner together before sitting down to binge on a few more episodes of Castle before turning in for the night. Well, that’s the plan, at least.
I think that sums it up pretty well, right there. Summer is a different kind of busy on the weekends. There’s long miles and yard work to attend to. We’re always going. This year I’ve managed to make more of what is usually time spent on the couch. The trainer’s just been the best way to keep from getting too fat before we hit the road to work all of the extra goo off.
I think I’m not as eager to get outside because I’m already having a great time on the weekends. It’s as simple as that.
I woke up this morning with a spring in my step. It took a minute to get rolling, but my heart felt happy. Usually that’s a fair sign I’m doing something right (and thankfully I stopped worrying about “the other shoe dropping decades ago). There’s a lot of good going on in my life right now. My wife and I are riding a fun streak. My daughters and I couldn’t possibly be better, happier. Work is difficult, but they pay me a lot of money to deal with difficult. My fitness is good and I fell healthy. And, between cycling and bowling, I have a more friends than I ever have at any point in my life.
My sponsor’s sponsor told me three decades ago (literally 30 years), “If you keep coming back and working the steps, you’ll get to a point you’ll think life can’t get any better. If you keep coming back, six months later you’ll realize it did get better. All on its own.”
I’ve been there so many times I’ve lost count. And here I am again.
I love it when this happens. Better still, I know why it happens – and the keys to allowing it to continue. Rocket science this isn’t. And for that I am grateful.
Without recovery, a life this good simply isn’t possible for me. Good orderly direction is the key to my peace, happiness and contentment. And I’ll keep coming back, just to see how good this can get.