This time of year, these rides either happen exclusively on weekends, supplemented by a night or two during the week indoors on the Kreitler rollers. There's simply not enough daylight at the end of the workday to get many quality miles in. That leaves the option to go out and ride in the morning... but really? Leave the comfort of a warm bed when it is sub-freezing outside? I'll simply admit here and now that I am not enough of a "hardman" as we like to refer to those Belgian hardmen of cycling's 'Spring classics'. These days, I'm actually trying to heed German pro Jens Voigt's admonition to "HARDEN THE F*** UP!!!" Indeed.
In recent memory, it seems more and more that my idea of a "hard" ride is one that fails to involve a stop at a Starbucks or Caribou for some sort of pumpkin-gingerbread sugary syrup latte goodness. ESPECIALLY during the fall months.
So, today, while I thought my ride would be "epic" only in spirit, it turned out to be quite epic for real! On my way home, it seems the temperature dropped a good 10 degrees and the wind really started to howl. To add to the epic-y-ness of the experience, I had somewhat miscalculated the amount of sunlight I would have left late in the afternoon, and dusk quickly gave way to darkness. The suddenly overcast gloom did not help my cause. Finally, my lack of ANY lights on my bike for this ride meant that I'd become that guy... that idiot who goes out to ride in the dark with no reflectors, no flashing tail light, no head lamp... LUCKILY, most of my ride was along portions of the Fox River bicycle trail, so by the time it got really dark, I would mostly be invisible to other cyclists, runners, and evening strollers. Jens Voigt's injuries (seen here in hospital bed) were sustained not on a recreational bike path, but during the 2009 Tour de France. Jens and I are almost exactly the same age, separated by only 5 months, and a pro racing contract here and there. Otherwise, we have so much in common, Jens and I. "Jens" even sort of sounds like "Jes" doesn't it? But, I digress...
As much as I do enjoy group training rides (the more, the better), most cyclists know that it is essential to sometimes go solo, or with very few others from time to time in order to better manage the prescribed intensity of the ride. This time of year though, unless people are still racing cyclocross, most racers are well into post-season mode, and it can become increasingly difficult to round up a posse. So, one rides alone... and after a few miles, the mind starts to wander. On days like today, the brain turns to fantasies of Belgium or northern France early. "And now they've entered the Forest of Arenberg!!!."
The introspection comes next, along the lines of "It really is sorta cold today... perhaps I should have stayed in the house and hit the rollers..." and that leads to the self-doubt of "Why am I even bothering to do this? It's really not THAT much fun, just riding a bike... IS IT?... Come on, it's gotta be better than that Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 1980 with French great Bernard Hinault off the front..." THAT was EPIC.
I mean, it wasn't even snowing today. Fortunately, most racing cyclists also have an extremely high capacity for self-delusion regarding our past, current, and future abilities on two wheels. A little bit of self-delusion is essential to keep at it, for if one ever realized exactly how futile the pursuit of actual victory is (given all the variables one cannot control for), it would drive one insane (like thinking too much about the massive black holes that are said to exist at the center of galaxies). Not good.
However, a *little bit* of delusion, of the "I *am* big!!!" Norma Desmond-variety (as opposed to what used-to-be) will keep one training and racing well into AARP eligibility (perhaps they can kick down a race registration fee discount?). So it's not only the Lance Armstrongs and Brett Favres of the world who delude themselves into one more ride, one more season... but most of the amateur racers I know in their 30s, 40s, 50s. But what else would we do, really?
So the same desire and commitment to extend our viable racing lives thus gets applied to extending the season itself, when we DO remember to take our bike lights with us. Just like that... fiat lux and there is light. Here are some of mine:
Ultimately, we all ride for different reasons. Some a *bit* more deluded than others at their prospects for actual victory in competition. Winning is nice, and I can attest to that with the few podium spots I attained the better part of a decade ago (SO CLOSE to winning,... As Springsteen sang, "Glory days well they'll pass you by..." No doubt!). But it's really something else that keeps us slogging through, mile after mile, year after year. Bragging rights on the local circuit? A lifetime of (exaggerated) memories? The chance to win a stale box of Clif Bars? I'm not really certain.
But I do believe that Robert Louis Stevenson was onto something when he wrote:
"To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life."
I only know that quote because I had to write the sentence about 800 times as punishment for daydreaming and "acting a fool" during the 6th grade. I now, somehow, feel vindicated.
Best go get my things ready for tomorrow's ride.