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I sent out the invite to our cycling friends Friday afternoon, hoping five would show up for our Saturday morning ride. It was due to be cold and quite breezy, so I figured it would be a small crew. The text list has grown in the last four years since I began putting rides together. It started out as a twelve-person text. The list has more than tripled.
My hope of five was vastly underestimated.
Friends started filing in around 8:20… Phill, Brad, Joel… then Mike and Diane rolled up. Then McMike… my wife and I made it a gaggle. We rolled out, heading west to unknown territory, roads most of us had never seen before – we ride paved roads out that way all of the time, never dirt. We were out for a straight up dirt road adventure.
We picked David up along the way, maybe five miles up the road, to make nine.
The ride was, for the most part, moderate and fun. There were times when it got a little fast, but as soon as someone fell off the back we’d hold up. We had almost every style of dirt bike there is, from mountain bikes to entry-level gravel bikes, right up to a $4,500 epic, a Crux and a Salsa Warbird. It was a diverse group, let’s say that.
Late fall in Michigan can’t be beat for dirt road cycling. Mountain bikes, gravel bikes, cross or fatties, and this autumn has been utterly spectacular. Cold, most of the time, with a few warmer days, but mainly dry. The “mainly dry” is the important part for me – I can ride in the cold, I hate riding in mud.
And so we rolled down the road, keeping a decent pace but certainly not crushing it. We laughed and caught up, told jokes and poked fun at each other as we rolled along. We simply had a good time in the cold sunshine.
Cycling makes things seem normal again for me. COVID, politicians, shutdowns, the utter silliness of politics, uncertainty… and the frustration of a nation, myself (obviously) included, that gets sucked into arguing the extremes to the benefit of politicians who consistently lie and flout their own rules and regulations to illustrate just how silly the rules, regulations and politicians really are… it all goes away for the time it takes to make it around a 35-mile dirt loop on my gravel bike with my friends.
Thankfully, talk of politics on bike rides is fading and turning to more pressing topics, like “where does that road go?” Here we were, nine friends out for a late autumn two-wheeled adventure. So it was yesterday morning for more than two glorious hours. When we pulled into the driveway, I couldn’t have been happier.
And I was so excited to see so many mountain bikes, I pulled mine out of the garage and got it ready to ride in case it was possible this morning. We’ve got a rain/snow mix moving in just about the time we’d clip in, so doubtful… but that mountain bike sure cleaned up nice. I just may pull her back out for a ride over Thanksgiving weekend.
Having so many bikes to choose from presents a fun problem to have; which one to choose?!
Until this year, it’s been a rare day I’ll ride outdoors after dark. I do the annual club “night ride” without fail, but my headlight was the least used piece of cycling equipment I own. Most years I used it just that one time. Even with my fantastic Varia taillight/radar and a decent headlight, I still felt uncomfortable riding in the dark.
The strange thing is, with proper lighting and a little thought about reflective clothing, I’m more visible at night than I am during the day. Whatever it is, I just didn’t like it.
I’ve gone through a change this year, though. I’ve got more rides outdoors than I do on the trainer in November, and to ride outside during the week, after the time changes back on the first Sunday, it’s going to be in the dark.
With the gravel bikes and riding dirt roads so much the last few years in the postseason, my appreciation for a lack of traffic has increased immensely. Not enough to switch exclusively to gravel during the spring and summer months (I’d can’t give up the speed), but autumn cycling is vastly more enjoyable when we’re only being passed by a single vehicle every 20 miles or so.
Due to that lack of traffic, I’ve chosen to ride outdoors with my normal riding buddy, Chuck, after work. Oh, it’s a chore getting all of the clothes out and on – it’s not as simple as throwing on a tee shirt and an old pair of bibs to ride on the trainer, but my God is it fun. With some consistency I’ve managed to drop my fear of cycling at night.
Last night was a phenomenal example of a perfect ride in the dark. 24 miles (and some change), and I think we were passed by two vehicles. Chuck and I sat up for most of the ride talking about work and current events, letting our problems drift off in the wind as we rode. By the time I pulled into the driveway, about an hour and a half later, I was feeling so good I could hardly stand myself.
I did manage. And after dinner, I drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face. As could be expected, I slept like a brick.
This evening; rinse and repeat.
Oh, how I love November 18th! One more year in the book, only three more years, 200-some odd days left to hit 1,000,000,000 seconds in recovery! And if you’re curious, 28 years and a few hours (six) works out to: 883,634,400 seconds.
Looking back on the final months that led up to my ultimate swearing off of all mood and mind-altering drugs, it doesn’t take but a few seconds to remember why I quit. My life was a freaking train wreck and my prospects for a happy future were bleak at best. I couldn’t even deliver pizzas very well.
28 years later, I’m on the back end of a cool career that I quite enjoy, in a wonderful marriage that produced two wonderful daughters, with a nice roof over our heads and reliably decent transportation. Above all, I am content and live in peace.
Before I quit, I couldn’t muster enough cash to get out of the state (that’s a long story).
In recovery, it’s literally been decades since I’ve had to look over my shoulder. Life isn’t perfect, of course, but “perfect” was never in the brochure. Peace, happiness and contentment were, and I’m plenty fine with that. After all, once you’ve already lived through hell and had your HP lift you out and save you, well, it’s easy to look at recovered life as wonderful.
So the message for today is this; I don’t know if I’ve got another recovery in me, but I know I’ve got another drunk in me. As long as I don’t drink and work a program of recovery, just for today, I don’t have to go through what it took to get here ever again. Better, peace and contentment are not only possible, they’re probable.
That walk through hell sucks, and I don’t want any more of that.
There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Just Bad Gear (And Other Nonsense Having to Do With Cycling In Bad Weather)
There is such a thing as bad weather for cycling. Let’s see if you can guess which photos best depict this simple truth:
Friends, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. When you have snow stuck to your eyebrows, that’s a pretty good indication you’ve just ridden in weather bad for cycling. Let’s say you know someone who’s extra-dim, though. Have them ask anyone who lives in Ireland (or most of the UK for that matter) and they’ll be more than happy to tell you all you need to know. Sadly, in such places, if you want to ride, you’re going to have to come to grips with a popup rain shower. I’d bet my lunch the saying originated either during a Minnesota winter or anywhere in the UK. There once was an All Seasons Cyclist who loved that saying (and did more than his fair share to prove its plausibility). There’s just one problem: real bad weather sucks. All good gear can do is make bad cycling weather suck less.
Let’s just say we’ve got, for comparison’s sake, on one hand, a sunny 80° day with a gentle breeze. On the other, a windy, 34° (1 C) day with a smattering of rain/snow mix. The first example, if you hadn’t guessed yet, is a good day for cycling. The second would be bad. You can’t put enough lipstick on that second pig to make it pretty.
See what I did there? I took a perfect day and compared it with a perfectly lousy day – I took the two extremes as examples to bolster an obvious statement so as to create controversy in the middle by playing the poles. That, my friends, is politics. Let’s look at a simpler scenario. Let’s take out the wind and rain and just go with a chilly night for a ride. I had one just the other night as a matter of fact, that provides an excellent example of how not to dress for the cold.
When I walked my bike out the door at 4:50 pm, it was 54° (12 C). Not exactly balmy, but pretty normal around here for mid-November, average. I rolled out over to Chuck’s house and found myself riding a little faster than I’d planned, to stay warm. I had on arm-warmers, a short sleeved jersey, and a nice long sleeve that I love for 50° rides – it doesn’t block the wind at all, though (thus, the jersey and arm warmers). For below the belt, I went with wool socks, mtb shoes, leg warmers and bibs. Again, normal for 50. I should have been fine and was quite flummoxed as to why I was cold.
In hindsight, once the sun started going down, the temp went with it, and the Weather Channel completely missed this happening. It had us in the upper 40’s till 9pm) but that’s not what we got. It turned cold. By the time I had four miles in it was down to 45° (7 C). Just two miles later, 37° (or 3 C). I was on the bad side of cold most of the ride (though it wasn’t too horrible as long as I didn’t coast much). I didn’t know why I was so cold while I was riding, but now that I can see the temp reading from my Garmin on Strava, it makes all the sense in the world. I should have had a thermal vest on as well, and a second layer down low, with either foot covers or at least toe covers. And that’s exactly where the saying “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear” makes sense.
There’s no question I was underdressed for that ride. In a case like that, the gear selection made for a chilly ride, even if it wasn’t technically my fault. The prognosticator at the Weather Channel wasn’t riding my bike, so “blaming it” on him does about as much good as $#!++!ng in my hand to prove a point. It wasn’t a “bad” ride by any stretch, either, but the right clothing would have made it vastly more enjoyable. And that was my first poorly judged weather scenario of the fall season.
In cases like that, good gear choices can absolutely make or break a ride. Getting closer to the bad pole, though, sucky cycling weather is sucky cycling weather, was ever thus.
Suffice it to say, some frickin’ days are meant for Zwift. Or a good movie. And jammies.
I was all set to ride with my regular riding buddy last night. We decided on the gravel bikes, but on paved roads. Our warm snap is over and we’re freezing colder than we were the day before, or, as has been par for the fall, 10 degrees below normal (4 C below normal, about 6 C yesterday).
We started out the first mile and Chuck asked if I could hold his bike while he messed with his cable so the cage wouldn’t rub the chain. I suggested we just take it back to my house because I had the stand set up and we could work on it proper. We had him set and rolling in five minutes.
We rode side-by-side for the first mile and Chuck took the next up front into the wind. He was at about 18-mph into a pretty stout wind and I wasn’t liking it. My legs doth protest too much. Chuck took the next mile, and I let him, still into the wind. And the next, and the next… and I’d have to rewrite that “and the next” several times because I didn’t take a turn till mile 14. I still hadn’t warmed up and I just wasn’t feeling it at all. All of the miles over the last week and some change finally caught up to me. Throw in the cold on top of that and the ride hurt.
I did end up helping for the last third of the ride, but I have to be honest here, I was pretty useless… It was a good ride, but I’m definitely going to need to chill out tonight.
Now to the lesson, the important part of this post. Last night was my brick & mortar meeting for the week (we’re all socially distanced, etc., etc., mea culpa, mea culpa) and a guy came into the meeting before the meeting complaining about his new job, that he felt his new boss hired him into a position that might be one step above his comfortability. This guy has a history of mentally screwing up a perfectly good situation.
So I chimed in and not gently reminded him of something a good friend of mine (who usually offers really bad advice) once shared with me; God is either everything or nothing. Take your pick. I’m easy. God is everything. In fact, ask most who mind f*** themselves and they’ll say the same thing.
Where the rubber meets the road, though, is if God really is everything, that fella is in exactly the position he needs to be in right this very minute. Don’t question it, don’t fret about it, and certainly, don’t work yourself into a damned panic attack over it. Just do your best and be happy.
Then the meeting started and I read the Daily Reflections… and I’m not making this up:
We know that God lovingly watches over us. We know that when we turn to Him, all will be well with us, here and hereafter.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions page 105
I pray for the willingness to remember that I am a child of God, a divine soul in human form, and that my most basic and urgent life-task is to accept, know, love and nurture myself. As I accept myself, I am accepting God’s will. As I know and love myself, I am knowing and loving God. As I nurture myself I am acting on God’s guidance. I pray for the willingness to let go of my arrogant self-criticism and to praise God by humbly accepting and caring for myself.
Well, you can imagine the laughter as I read that last sentence. A few who came in a little late missed it, but I quickly explained why three of us laughed so hard.
Next week will be 28 years in recovery for me. In all that time, the number of conversations at the meeting before the meeting that matched a reading, usually a random passage from the Big Book, are too plentiful to count. None, in all those 10,220 24-hour periods was as perfect as that one.
Boiled down, the message is quite simple: God wants us to be nice to others and to be happy. Get on with it, and stop letting that mush between your ears get in the way.
I could go on and on about the weather this week. We paid for it, of course, and up front. We went through three brutal weeks with temps 10 to 20° below normal, gray and nasty, to get to the last few days, but we’re in the midst of some spectacular weather. Sadly, there is a light at the end of this tunnel and it is a train. Wednesday, we go back to normal. Which is to say, below normal.
We knew this break in the bleak was coming and I was prepared. I procured a day of hooky for Friday and took full advantage. We had a fair bunch of friends to ride and ride we did. Mike and my wife had grown accustomed to shorter rides so we planned a fair 37-mile course.
I simply didn’t go home when everyone else did.
I rode with Chuck to get him close to home and then made my way back home myself. I ended up with a most excellent 50. The first 29 miles were easy – one of the guys who doesn’t exactly take the best care of his bike(s) had his wheel on crooked and it wasn’t till we were 20 miles in that we realized he was effectively riding with his brakes on. I fixed him up on the side of the road and the pace picked up after (and his heart rated dropped from 165 to 145… chuckle).
Chuck and I split off from the group and after a few miles of headwind, it was tailwind and good times for the next twelve glorious miles. We talked about the state of the nation and fixed all of the problems dividing us in about five minutes (which is all it would take if politicians weren’t politicians – and Chuck and I both view a Dollar bill from opposite sides).
Chuck split for home and I had about six miles in a straight shot home. Sadly, three of those were into the wind. It wasn’t too horrible, though. I just got down in the drops and trundled on. I thought about adding another couple of miles with a longcut, but decided against it….
We’ve got a big ride planned for today. More perfect weather and a tailwind all the way home. If it gets better, I don’t know how. It’s a great way to head into the snowy season.
Chuck and I showed up way early for a warm-up. Normally, we’ll show up just before 5:10 pm, pull out the bikes and take a seven mile warm-up. We spoke on the phone and showed just before 5. Chuck was already getting ready when I pulled in.
We rolled out for the warm-up at five after. The southwest wind wasn’t at all troublesome, in the single-digits, and we were rolling easy, around 15-mph, talking about current events. We chose to ride the loop backwards so we wouldn’t be riding directly into the sunset and after all of the headwind was done, we picked the pace up for the push. Slightly more than five miles in, we ran into Dave, heading right at us, so we turned around and headed back the way we came. Chuck and Dave headed north for a couple of extra miles while I took it to the barn for a 10.4-mile warm-up.
For the main event, the turn-out is normally pretty heavy. With the perfect weather and temps in the low 50’s, we assumed it’d be huge this year. We were wrong. Mike and Diane showed with their tandem and Greg and Todd showed up. That was it, five single bikes and a tandem. We turned our lights on and rolled out at 5:59. The final Tuesday Night In Lennon was on.
And it was fast right out of the gate. I’d advertised it as 18 to 19-mph to get a bigger group to show, but with the group we had, three solid B’s plus the tandem (Mike and Diane are solid, fast B’s on the tandem, Mike is an A on a single) and two A’s, Todd didn’t have a slow filter… and his engine is amazing for a big guy. He powered us dead into the headwind at 23-mph and for almost the entire four mile stretch. He was up there so long, I had to drop to the back after being second bike for three.
The remainder of the headwind was reasonable when one of the B’s was pulling, but when Greg or Todd got up there, it was better to be four or five bikes back.
We had a crosswind for the hills and the pace was kept pretty reasonable. We kept the group together for all of them and stopped at the re-group spot for a quick drink and to change bottles. We rolled out with an tailwind and it got lively. 24 to 26-mph. Now, with daylight, 24-26 is not a big deal. In the dark, 26 feels like 40. It was fast. Cycling in a group is completely different in the dark, with lights. You have to rely almost fully on your spatial awareness because you can barely see the front of your own wheel, let alone the wheel in front of you.
We hammered down the homestretch with a quartering tailwind and as we got closer to the City Limits sign, Todd couldn’t help but ramp the pace up. Technically, Mike and Diane started it, and Todd and Greg simply took the baton. In three-quarters of a mile we went from 23-mph to 29. There was no sprint. It wasn’t necessary. We rolled across the line over 20-1/2-mph for an average. Easy in the daytime, not so much at night.
Still, I managed to sleep quite well for an election night… and as is usual, Trump spoke and said a little too much, imprecisely. And the media completely lost its collective(ist) mind when it misinterpreted everything that was said. “The voting has to stop”, which is accurate and true statement, was taken out of context to mean the counting should stop, which only a partisan hack would glean from what was actually said – if that partisan hack knew the context of that comment*.
Such is life in America. At least the cycling was awesome.
*I changed this statement… it was a little offensive and a friend of mine from Ireland commented and, for anyone who isn’t a bit of a wonk, there’s no way, really, they’d know the context of what Trump stated about the “voting” being stopped. Folks, he literally meant “voting”, not counting. See my response to that comment for the rest. If you want an in-depth explanation, click on this link.
In the vast majority of my posts, I am hard on us recovering folk, mainly flogging myself as an example. Every once in a while I’ll pull out the hammer. The reason for this is I believe we tend to be too soft on ourselves. I hear it in meetings regularly, talk of “forgiving ourselves first” or “learning to forgive myself”… hell, I’ve said it, too. It really sounds good, especially to a noob. “I had to include myself in my eighth and ninth steps”, he said.
Well, that all sounds good, but it’s largely bullshit for the noobs. Most of us have no problem forgiving ourselves. We’re arrogant enough to try to play the victim in all of this while we were a hurricane in the lives of those around us. Folks, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t quit booze and weed because I was on a winning streak and it just seemed like the next neat thing to do – and I sure as f*** didn’t remain sober for the next 27 years because it was fashionable. I quit and remained quit because my life whilst using was entirely freaking miserable and I don’t want any of that $#!+ back. Ever.
However, with all of that said, one thing I did have to do was learn to stop kicking myself for being a loser. For me, it was like I had a rope wound around a pulley that was attached to a harness strapped to my back… the rope was tied to my ankle, the other end dangling just above my head. Every now and again, I’d give that rope a tug, pulling my heel right into my ass. Then I’d give it another tug, just because I deserved it. Then another, and another… and then I’d get a rhythm going.
Now, that never did anyone any good. It was a useless form of self-flagellation, a form of penance, really. Perhaps this is what people really mean when they talk about “forgiving themselves”? The main point, at least in my case, is that I’d get down on myself for what I’d done because the “trust me, I’m a better person” part wasn’t working fast enough for others to start believing I was okay. This, my dears, does not lead one to “forgive” oneself. It just meant I had to stop pulling on the freaking rope.
And therein lies the rub.
There’s a big difference between forgiving myself and being done with it (once I’ve forgiven someone, I’m done with the resentment, and if I bring it up again, that’s on me) and remembering that I’m only to do the next right thing in any given situation and life will improve. I didn’t have to continually kick my own ass because I’d done bad things, I needed to keep doing what was right and good to stop being that guy.
Quickly, let’s look at this a different way. Here’s the definition of “forgiveness” from Wikipedia:
“Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, and overcomes negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance.“
Intentional and voluntary, check. Process by which a victim… Stop. I wasn’t a victim. I was a volunteer. The entire rest of the sentence is then impossible because there was no offense. I was the offense that created the negative emotions.
This is likely to stir controversy, I know. But there’s purpose in the semantics. I must always remember that my alcoholism, that guy, is in a cage in my mind and the door isn’t locked. I am fully capable of being that guy again, after all I’ve learned… just add alcohol. I must always be vigilant against the notion that I am a victim. I must always remember I am a volunteer.
A volunteer knows the door is unlocked. The victim doesn’t even know there’s a door, let alone that there’s something behind it waiting for one little flaw…
Just a thought. Recover hard, my friends. We may not get a second bite at that apple.
Surprisingly, COVID messed a few things up in a good way this year. My Thursday meeting went to Zoom and I added an in-person meeting outdoors in a parking lot on Wednesday. When it comes to meetings, face-to-face trumps hiding in the basement any day of the week and twice on Sunday, so it was easy to skip the Zoom meeting for the in-person one… which allowed me to ride with the gang on Thursday night.
This meant hard efforts on Tuesday and Thursday, followed by massive weekend miles on Saturday and a 40-50-mile jaunt on the tandem for Sunday. Monday, Wednesday and especially Friday naturally became “easy stroll” days for Chuck and I.
I also participated in more centuries than any previous year. Better, most of those centuries were with small groups. Most on Saturday. The last thing I need the day before a century is a hard day. That made Friday the perfect day for a relaxed ride around the block. Assuming a 20 to 25-mile block. I’d ride with my buddy, Chuck, almost every Friday and we’d spend the time catching up on what went on throughout the week in current events.
If I can manage 600 miles outdoors in the next two months (doubtful, it’s supposed to be a nasty winter), I’ll surpass my overall mileage for 2019 with outdoor miles. My indoor/outdoor total last year was 8,184 miles. I’m currently sitting on 7,526 outdoor miles for 2020.
There’s no question COVID was a disaster for the entire world, but in true “there’s good in everything”, depending on how you look at it, it was a great year for cycling in much of the United States.
UPDATE: In the USA, our Apple Cider is unfermented, therefore alcohol-free. I most certainly did not fall off the wagon yesterday!
We rolled out in the cold, sunny morning air. Crisp is a good word for it. The sun didn’t help much – that crisp. Below freezing, crisp.
There were seven of us for the ride and we took the l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-n-n-n-n-n-g-g-g route to Spicer’s Orchard/Cider Mill. We had our Saturday best beneath us, most on gravel rigs of some sort; one guy on a hand-built Ritchey, one on a Giant, the rest on Specialized in one form or other. We rode gravel, as we often do when the weather turns cold. There’s something therapeutic about not having to deal with traffic just to ride a bicycle.
We tackled all of the headwind on the way to the cider mill, and to be honest, I
barely noticed didn’t even notice which miles were into it and which were with a crosswind. Such is life on dirt at the end of the year for us.
The entire ride, all of it, was about friends riding together. We talked about everything except politics (the kibosh had to be put on that once). There were so many laughs, I lost count after three miles. I completely lost track of the miles several times thinking about how lucky I am to have the friends I do. An immense blessing it is to be able to enjoy life simply by throwing a leg over a top tube and pushing pedals with friends.
We arrived at the cider mill with just shy of 26 miles and I was hungry. I bought the donuts, a dozen cinnamon sugar, and they were still warm. We each got a hot apple cider (except Chuck, who opted for cold) and headed outside to enjoy our late-ride snack.
Even with the sun blazing, it was still cold enough to numb the hands if they were exposed too long (start temp was 27 with a feels like of 21 (that’s -3 and -6 in C land, Garmin showed an even “freezing” when we stopped). The wind was starting to pick up as well, but that was a good thing as we had crosswind or tailwind all the way home.
Sadly, Greg was struggling. He is not a hill climber. He’s a tall, lanky fella and as soon as you put the poor guy on a hill, any finesse he possesses is left at the bottom. It’s ugly watching him try to ascend a hill… and the route Chuck drew up had some of the gnarliest hills I’ve ever ridden. One was so immense, so grand, I couldn’t believe we were in southeast Michigan. Now, I’m a hill climber – I’m not near fast at it, but I like climbing, and this one put the fear of Jesus in me. Easily a half-mile long and better than 20-ish% in places. It was so steep I had to lean forward to keep my front wheel on the dirt to climb it – I was down to my granny gear, out of the saddle, grinding up the hill. It was awesome. I don’t know how Greg even made it up that one.
And then we were on the home stretch. While I was absolutely tired, I was bummed that it was almost over.
Chuck, Chuck, Joel and I went into the local bakery for a post-ride cup of coffee that simply hit the spot. We talked about lawns and leaves, and to-do lists. We were spaced, of course, but for the most part, except having to wear my neck gaiter over my nose and mouth to order, it was just a normal ride with friends. These times are a lot less trying on two wheels. On dirt. With donuts and hot apple cider.
Photos taken by Joel S.