About a week ago, the author of one of the cycling blogs I follow, the Early Morning Cyclist, posted an entry called “It’s over, dammit. It’s over“:

Yesterday, I wore my long cycling leggings for the first time since last spring. Even after two hours in the saddle, the ice in my water bottles had yet to melt.

Meanwhile, I don’t even know where the rest of my cold-weather cycling clothes are stored at the moment.

I’m simply not ready for it to end!

Now it’s my turn to face the music.  On yesterday morning’s ride, in which I set out at 50 degrees or lower, I wore my cycling leggings for the first time since probably March.

I started tracking my cycling activity on September 1st, 2011, although I only really dedicated myself to bicycling very early this year.  So I’m very much a baby in this sport, not having under my belt numerous cycling “seasons” like most guys have whose chronicles I follow.  For all intents and purposes, my riding started in the so-called “off-season”.  I do remember well the delight I had when this spring arrived, the daylight stretched out, the days got warmer, and riding further, later and warmer went hand in hand.  Cycling in winter is fun, but cycling during spring and summer beats the snot out of it.

Until just now, having had only one cycling “season” under my belt, I haven’t known the disappointment of the shortening days, the realization that the opportunities are increasingly scarcer for the precious long rides in not-really-cold temperatures, the resignation to the fact that I’ll have to wait till spring to ramp back up again.  But now, sadly, I can say that I, too, know this regret.  It’s been very obvious lately that the days are shortening and getting cooler; but as Mark alluded to, it really becomes reality when you have to break out the long clothes for the first time in 6+ months.

Later this blog will see a retrospective post from me on “this year in my bicycling life”, so this post is not that. What it is, is a postcard I’m sending to the warming, welcoming, waxing weather of spring:  we will meet again, and I wait longingly for that time; till then, wish you were here.

I’m taking today (September 30th) off the bike; accordingly, all my September cycling mileage is in the books, and I’m glad to say that I have a new personal-best month in terms of mileage. I put about 485 miles on the bike in September, about 4.5% more than my previous best 464 miles in August.

Excepting the month of July, where I was unable to ride for 3 weeks due to my fall/injury, I’ve now pushed my personal-best mileage benchmark forward in each of the past 5 months (April, May, June, August, September).  Mid-March is when I started to get very serious about cycling.  My September mileage, at 485, is nearly 50% more than my April mileage at 330.

With the days getting shorter & colder, this cannot continue linearly.  I expect October to be very solid with our Katy Trail ride at its heart; but I would actually be surprised if I top September or October until March at the very earliest.

I have a new, and now established, date for the start of my Katy Trail ride – Wednesday, October 10th. Ever since I set the goal last year to ride the Katy in 2012, I was visualizing a mid-October ride, but recently my buddy and I penciled in November 7th as the start date.  Through a variety of considerations, it emerged that October 10th was the best fit for the start.

My friend and consistent cycling partner Mr. V will accompany me for the four-day, ~240-mile ride.

The adventure begins in less than two weeks!!  I am quite excited.  I’ve been looking forward to this ride for over a year – been eagerly waiting to attain the physical shape that I felt confident to tackle it – and now it’s just around the corner.  Naturally I’ll document it on this blog 🙂

Recent days have seen several new personal-bests for me in terms of mileage on the bike.

  • On September 8th I achieved my personal 1-day best mileage of 70 miles – my first metric century.  The following Saturday, September 15th, I essentially equaled this distance, topping out around 69.5.

 

  • The past 5 days have resulted in several additional benchmarks being broken.  I’ve exceeded my best 2-day cumulative mileage (which previously was ~105 miles), riding 58+53 = 111 miles on Thursday-Friday.  I’ve exceeded my best 3-day cumulative mileage (which previously was that same ~105 miles – it was done in 2 days but I hadn’t yet ridden further in any 3 days), riding 58+53+23 = 134 on Thursday-Saturday.  In the process I’ve exceeded my previous best 4-day cumulative miles and most likely several “day notches” above that.

 

  • Finally, with plans to not ride tomorrow (Sunday), which is the end of my “riding week”, I’ve achieved a new personal-best weekly distance of ~174 miles, exceeding the previous mark of 148 miles, set the week ending June 24th (prior to my sidelining fall on the bike on July 7th).  This exceeds the total monthly mileage in most of my first several months riding the bike (although, not after I bought the new bike).

Without wanting to jinx myself, I am also almost certain to set another new monthly high-mileage mark for September.  I’m not a mathematical lock yet to do it, but I should get well over what I “need” in the remaining 7 days which start Monday.

Last night I sent the following text to my buddy:

People don’t know I’ve changed, man.  Nobody can see it.  I’m not wearing a sign or a T-shirt.  But I’ve changed.  Remember this date of this text.  I’m going to lose a LOT of weight in the next few months & be quite different.

I’m finally ready to get fully committed to my fitness.  I want to prove to myself what I am capable of when I apply myself to this mission.

A Story of Two Forced Wins

September 16, 2012

I played chess avidly as a youngster.  Still enjoy playing recreationally.  Sometimes (in fact, in 100% of games that don’t end as draws) there arises a moment in the game when one side has a “forced win” – which means that the finish is clear, even if several moves away, and it cannot be derailed or averted by the opponent.  It’s another way of saying “the game is not yet over, but the path to victory is clear and certain.”  This writeup is about how I found my “forced win” for losing weight and escaping obesity – twice.

As described in this blog’s about post, I reached a top weight of 284 pounds (I am 5’6″ so this is extremely heavy) in 2009.  This was the “peak” (nadir, really) of a gradual increase in weight which had dogged me for about a decade.  I always knew I needed to shed some pounds, but nothing really stuck – primarily because my dedication wasn’t fully there.  I would eat healthy for a short time, but fall back.  I would go on walks or try jogging (“try” the key word) without big progress.  Now, somewhere in the back of my mind, for at least a few years I had the idea that I should buy a bike & ride it.  I remembered very fondly how much I loved riding the bike as a young man (16-20 years old) and I knew it would be a more enjoyable (for me – certainly not knocking walkers or joggers) method of cranking out weight loss.

But, like the hero in the story of my second “forced win moment”, I simply procrastinated for years.  I would allude to getting a bike but never took firm action.

Finally, in April 2011 – April 25, 2011 to be precise – I was ready to move forward. My buddy Mr. O dropped me off at Wal-Mart to pick up & ride home a bike I’d scouted out and decided to buy.  I picked her up, paid, and rode the bike home.  The ride home was only some 2.5 miles, but it was exhausting for me.  I had to stop at least once, and maybe twice.  This was the bike featured in the initial entries on this site, e.g. this one – which I realized only later was a girl’s bike!  I had no clue when I bought it.

I rode the bike somewhat regularly but always fairly short distances.  No more than a handful of miles at a time.  It was always hard work for me. I distinctly remember feeling a kind of elation when I was able to ride up to a local shopping center, circle its parking lot, and back home – a total distance of perhaps 2 miles – with ease and without stopping.

Fast forward some months.  Roughly summer / fall of 2011 (I don’t know the exact date) my weight loss had progressed albeit in several “two steps forward, one back” increments…with the most recent weeks being more steps back than forward.  Then, eating dinner at my favorite restaurant (Chipotle) I Googled “losing weight riding bike” or similar.  I clicked on the first interesting-looking result – a story about a man named Scott Cutshall.

Readers Digest version (although the full story is a very rewarding read) – Scott weighed 500 pounds – a quarter of a ton. He’d been given 6 months to live (at 38 years of age) and even if he opted for surgery, he had a 50% chance of dying on the table. He was a dead man. But then looking out the window he saw a man on a bike, “[weaving] through traffic as if he were a fish swimming up a stream, slipping past boulders and rocks with grace and ease.”

This touched off a flurry of activity as Scott researched what kind of bike to get.  Keeping the story brief, he did get one but procrastinated actually riding it, for varying reasons.  On Thanksgiving 2005, though, he had a kind of vision – a diet that would work for him in addition to riding the bike.

From that day forward he rode the bike nearly daily.  The first ride took 3 hours to go 1.9 miles.  He rode a month before he was able to go 3 miles at a stretch.  But he kept working – eating healthy and riding basically every day.  Over the course of three years he’d lost 320 pounds to a healthy 185.  He still rides all the time.

Reading this story was itself a kind of vision for me.  It was like a second “forced win”.  I realized that if I ate healthy and got on my bike to ride as often as I could, as much as I could, I basically couldn’t fail.  It was like a revelation – like a brilliant shaft of sunlight streaming across a path stretching to the horizon.

Losing weight isn’t easy – in fact it’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  So even since that “forced win” vision, I’ve taken several steps forward and some back.  But the vision provided the spark, and after recently re-remembering that day in Chipotle for a kind of “third awakening”, I try to keep the story foremost on my mind.  Healthy eating and big miles on the bike.  This is where I need to be.  This will get me where I need to be.

Yesterday (Saturday, September 8th) I accomplished a new personal-best daily distance, in the process accomplishing my first-ever “metric century” (100 kilometers — 62 miles).

I rode a total of 70 miles, all but 5 or so of it on the Prairie Spirit Trail.  The indomitable Mr. V and myself took the trail from its start at the Ottawa Depot, south 32.5ish miles to Welda, and back, stopping in Garnett for lunch on the return.

My previous longest ride was about 55 miles, which was the first day of my first Ottawa-Iola-Ottawa round trip (over two days) chronicled here.  So Saturday’s ride was roughly 25% further than my previous best.  It also represented the longest ride Mr. V has taken.

We had between 0.5 and 1 inch of rain in Ottawa the day before the ride, so I had some trepidation about the softness of the trail.  But a reconnaisance check at 8 PM Friday evening reassured me the trail was fine.  Mr. V and I were originally planning to ride “only” to Garnett and back – a 50 mile round trip – but not too long after we set out both of us, feeling pretty good, began to suspect this could turn into a longer ride.

Great training for the planned Katy Trail ride which is just over 8 weeks away. This 70-mile ride more or less mimicked what one of the 4, or 5, days on that ride will be like.

We got in a little extra unplanned workout as well – the recent storms (not only the Friday rain but the remnants we received of Hurricane Isaac) had knocked several trees down across the trail, a couple of them completely blocking progress.  Mr. V and I tore down and moved a total of 4 trees – three of them north of Garnett and one just a bit north of Welda.


It’s gratifying to see progress being made:  one of my first posts on this site was to announce that I’d accomplished my first 50-mile week…50 miles for the entire week…and now I’ve done a 70-mile day. Slowly but surely, slowly but surely…

Baby v5.0

September 9, 2012

“Baby” is the name I’ve long ago given to my bicycle.

Recently she’s gotten a few improvements, which represents roughly the 5th “iteration” of the bike since I bought it.

V1.0 is below – the bike brand new, with no changes or additions.

Shortly after getting the bike, I added a small “trunk bag” (of sorts) on the back rack, in order to carry various fuels, car keys, whatever.  The below picture shows this “era” (V2):

Not terribly long after this, I also added a serviceable handlebar bag to the bike.  Interesting to observe that the evolution of the “equipment” on the bike parallels that of my fueling strategy – see related posts here, here and here.  In this handlebar bag, in the early stages of my fueling evolution I would carry a water bottle and small cut-up pieces of wheat bagel, as shown below.

I did this for some weeks or months, then upon discovering Hammer Nutrition, I switched to carrying Hammer Gel in the trunk bag and, at first, a single water bottle & my phone in the handlebar bag and then, more recently, 2 32-oz water bottles in the bag (one with plain water, one with Perpetuem).

Below is the picture of the handlebar bag from the early use (V3):

After a time, I had the handlebars changed to an extended and adjustable handlebar stem, in response to some hand issues I was experiencing at the time.  The below recent picture shows this and is representative of the “equipment” I used on the bike for some time until very recently (“Baby V4.0”).

Recently, then, I’ve made a number of small changes/improvements to the bike.  Below is a picture of the bike as she currently rolls:

First change is that I’ve finally started carrying a small air pump (along with spare tube in the bag) on the frame, following my first flat.  I’ve also removed the water bottle cage which was there, since I carry 2×32 oz in my handlebar bag.  The pump fixture still allows the cage to be reconnected if needed.  See below.

Second is that I bought a slightly nicer handlebar bag that I am quite happy with.  The other one was never a true handlebar bag – it was actually a bag from an old camcorder – and it was very finicky in terms of balancing on the bike.  If I needed to take it off for whatever reason – cleaning, taking the bike to the shop, or anything else – it was VERY high maintenance trying to then get the bag correctly balanced with the 2 bottles.  It tried to flop around and favor one side of the bike to the other.  This new bag works great and feels locked to the bar, just as you want.

Additionally, I retired that small trunk bag (which also was not made for bikes – it was from a portable shave kit :)) and instead replaced it with 2 of the exact same bags that now sit on the handlebars – so on the rack these act as baby-sized panniers.  I am VERY happy with these – they don’t add much weight to the bike and can carry a great deal more than that little bag could.  Spare tube & tire-repair kit, plenty of fuel, spare phone battery, wallet if needed, even a change of clothes can all fit in here.  Very convenient little bags.

Finally, when I got my flat tire fixed at my LBS, I also replaced the well-worn tires, which were nearing the end of their functional lives, with smaller ones – 38’s versus 46’s.  I like these new tires a lot – less road friction, better acceleration, still solid handling for this bike & my body weight.  Much better than my old tires.

Below, a more close-up picture of the handlebar bag.  It still has a very small downside in that I secure its zippers to the bar with rubber bands, which is somewhat ghetto, but it works very well & much better than the old bag.

And below, a closer picture of one of the baby panniers on the rack.

Finally, a top angle showing the now-clear rack, the two panniers, and the new tire.  The rack being “empty” means that I can well add a trunk bag/box back there should I want/need to do so for longer rides, giving me plenty of space for stuff.

Also I still have the more full-sized panniers that I used on my first Prairie Spirit Trail ride (this post) which can be pressed into action as needed.

In all, I’m super satisfied with the modifications to the bike, as I continue my evolution toward being a “true” cyclist 🙂

The Size of the Fight

September 2, 2012

First in what will become an ongoing series of “cycling as metaphor” musings.

I tend to introspect/meditate on whatever interests me, and have intended for some time now to initiate a series of blog posts on “cycling as metaphor” – in which I reflect on things seen/heard/thought/experienced during bike riding which act as a mirror or metaphor of daily life.  A moment during a recent ride provided the debut 🙂

Mark Twain incisively observed, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

The other day during a portion of a ride taking me through a particularly rural area, a very small dog came running down his drive and into the road to bark at me and chase me as I went by. Not unusual for dogs to do this to cyclists – my first time of many since was chronicled here – but on this occasion I marveled at the boldness of the little beast.  This thing couldn’t have weighed more than several pounds and wasn’t more than two feet in any dimension, yet here he was, protecting his property and bidding me continue on my way with all the ferocity his little body could muster.

The analogy struck a chord with me somewhere.  I set a couple cycling goals for myself for this year which at the time were pretty optimistic; and similarly, I have much bigger grand cycling dreams for the next 24 months.  These are notions that, from my very humble start (I couldn’t ride more than 3 miles on flat terrain without needing to take a break, when I first bought my Wal-Mart starter bike a couple years ago), seem as unlikely as that little dog’s chances of intimidating me.

But, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight.  And happily, unlikely the instincts of this little animal, humans can choose to shape their natures and direct their will.  The dreams I have in mind would have been unimaginable to me 2, 3 years ago; and even now they are monumental and difficult to reach; but that’s what exactly what dreams should be.

Quote of the Day for 9/2/2012

September 2, 2012

Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

For my journey, this pithy quote is highly relevant.

My pursuit of fitness / weight loss / better cycling ability has been characterized by a constant cycle (pardon the pun) of failing, lessons learned, incorporating those, incorporating new knowledge, improving the formula, becoming better at achieving the goals I’ve set.

To err is human & unavoidable, but so long as you are determined to try again, fail again, fail better, you will get where you’re going.