In a previous post (link here), I gave a shout out to the song “The Great Divide” by VNV Nation.

Remember well the things that you will leave behind
As you set out to cross the vast and great divide

I’ve always found this line intriguing.  Seemingly a wistful sentiment, a ponderance of things that will be missed in the tradeoff of choices made, I perceive in there a neat double meaning. What you leave behind isn’t necessarily only good stuff!

In my continuing quest to become a stronger cyclist and achieve better health, there are many things that I, too, have left behind – especially in these last few months in which I’ve seen a real sea change in my fitness, which I attribute almost entirely to going regularly to the gym, adding strength, building muscle.  On the obvious level, I’ve left behind several “decades” of body weight – ten-pound increments on the scale, i.e. 280s, 270s, 260s etc.

But perhaps less tangibly and more specific to my cycling, I’ve recently become aware of leaving other things behind.

I used to have a dread of hills.  I’ve written about them a decent amount in this blog; and every cyclist has his/her own brand of love-hate relationship with hills, a relationship which is often complex.  For me, until recently my power-to-weight ratio was fairly poor, so that I would dread hills and just a few of them would wear me out.  I’d approach them with dread, fight my way up them, and couldn’t wait to be clear of them.  Nowadays, I don’t fear them any more.  Make no mistake, this isn’t hubris…there are plenty of hills even locally that can whip me.  I’m not suddenly, in my mind, King of the Mountains.  But I no longer fear any of them.  The ones I can eat up, I eat up; the ones I can surpass with effort, I do so; the ones I cannot yet beat I can either gear way down and just eke up, or, for the time being, defer tackling till I am stronger still.

Similarly, I used to have a dread of strong headwinds.  I STILL hate this more than I do hills.  Whereas hills eventually have a descent that you can enjoy, strong headwinds are merciless.  So I still am not wild about this; but as I mentioned in a previous post (link here), I’ve gotten much more comfortable in my own skin/with my own style.  I can endure wind better than previously and just work my way through it.

It’s an interesting thing to me that these changes are a hybrid of mental and physical components.  Physical because it’s mostly attributable to improving power-to-weight ratio, better musculature and therefore heightened ability to withstand stresses and recover more quickly; mental because the confidence this generates turns the key to some mental doors that I previously closed on myself.

Enough rambling for now, hopefully the thread of thought that motivated this post glimmers somewhere in here.  I’m gradually become a stronger cyclist and am reflecting on the process, with satisfaction but also with simple objective interest.  I definitely do remember well the things I’ve left behind, and in some cases I bid them goodbye and good riddance.

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March 9, 2013

Dude, is there any music that goes better with cycling than some old-school Tangerine Dream?

Well, except maybe VNV Nation.

And, except at times some Angels & Airwaves.

Oh, and what about….

God bless Pandora. Give me my Pandora mix station, a phone with charge, earbuds, a serviceable bike and a little free time, and I’m the happiest – and luckiest – man on the face of the earth. We all have our escapes. Mine is into the saddle of the bike, the gratitude my body shows me for taking care of it, the time for contemplation or just to exist and observe and absorb, the cascade of music across cables into ears and the synaesthetic swirl of experiences that is a good bike ride.

“Tonight I understood much.”  So starts one of this blog’s first-ever posts.  This evening, also, I understood much.  I got a glimpse of my future cycling self on today’s ride, and I’m very fired up.

On the short drive from my office to the start of the ride, “Draggin’ the Line” by Tommy James was on the radio.  Whether it was the song’s timely reference to “[digging] snow and the rain and the bright sunshine” (the nearly 2 feet of snow we recently got is melting, running random rivers through the streets) or just the upbeat, positive vibe of the song, it seemed to set the tone for what I was heading into.

I chose a route I’ve not previously done.  It is the start of a local RUSA populaire-length (62 mile) route that begins in southwestish Overland Park.  This is a route that I’ve been eyeballing and will likely choose for my (successful!) return to randonneuring (see previous post here).  It’s also a route that contains, for my fitness level, plenty of climbing and lots of rolling-hill action.  This is a course that, not all that long ago, would have whipped me.  Feeling myself a more capable cyclist lately (see previous post here), I wanted to gauge myself against this virgin territory.  I knocked out only a portion of the ride this evening – I had no intentions to attempt a full 62 miler.

This evening indeed I did understand much, and glimpsed my cycling potential that is just dawning.  At times in the ride I imagined myself flying through the French countryside, a carefree and privileged rando enjoying his first (of many?) Paris-Brest-Paris 1200-kilometer brevets.

A certain freedom has evolved for me recently, with my improving fitness, and with it more tools in the toolkit.  Climbing isn’t quite as daunting as it used to be; recovery comes a little faster now; mental factors that exist in-ride are managed with less wasted energy.  Cliche though it is, it’s a little bit like becoming more comfortable in my own skin.  Whatever gift I may have with the language somewhat fails to capture the nuances of what I feel lately, but it’s essentially just becoming more comfortable and confident in my riding ability, in a way I never have before.  My style is evolving, developing; the fitness is coming together.  All the pieces of the puzzle that I’ve worked hard for years to put together are finally falling into place, and in the last few rides – especially tonight – I’ve been able to glimpse the picture.  And, happily, it’s even more galvanizing than I actually imagined it would be.

So just a super quick update on progress.  This morning I had my recently-traditional first-day-of-month weigh-in.  I was quite pleased to see that I’m down to 201 pounds.  I’ve lost about 83 pounds from when I first decided to start losing in July 2009.

Three weeks ago I reported having achieved 204 pounds, and said that I’d hoped that today I would finally be in “Onederland” (pronounced “wonderland”) – sub-200 pounds, i.e. the first number on the scale being a One.  I obviously didn’t quite make it; but given everything that I’ve been through the past few weeks as alluded to in this post (some personal-life drama, a nasty battle with flu which still isn’t 100% resolved, and our sudden heavy snow which impacted both gym and riding for me), I am actually just fine with having lost three pounds in three weeks – being these particular past three weeks especially!

I’ve gotten back on the bike in earnest.  I rode about 16.4 miles Wednesday and 16.8 yesterday.  I’m going to gradually but consistently build myself up to bigger mileage and better on-bike fitness into the early spring and beyond.

I went to the gym Wednesday (and am going again today).  I was amazed to see that Wednesday was only the fourth time I’d been to the gym in the past 28 days(!) – a consequence/victim, again, of the myriad “stuff” going on.  But knock on wood, the way forward seems to be cleared of major obstacles now – so, on toward the big goals I’ve set for myself for 2013.

Next weigh-in will be April 1.  For certain I’ll be in Onederland then – in fact, I’m assuming I’ll be under 200 pounds by March 9th or 10th.  And the 200-pound “range” will be behind me for good.

The train is officially leaving the station.