Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m an Addict



Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m an addict.

Hi, Steve.

I’m a bicycle addict.

How many have you, Steve?

Nine bikes.

That is quite a few.  

I know people with lots more.  With me, it started out innocent.  Just a cheap mountain bike, no big thrill, just a bit of fun on the weekends.  Recreational use only.  It seemed like everyone was doing it. 

How was it back then?

Casual.  It didn’t affect family time or the job. Then I ran into some other cyclists. 

What happened?

They did it every day.  They were serious.  It was a bigger thrill.  I wanted to be part of the club. So, I bought into it.  It was amazing. New bike.  Made in Italy.  The performance was astonishing.  And I became one of them.

How did that feel, to be part of the club?

Well, it was cool and weird at the same time.  But still just for fun.  These were my new friends, and they became good friends, because of our shared obsession, but I barely knew their names.  Isn't that nuts?  We were just out hammering.  Work and family never came up because we were always at redline.  And as we stayed out longer and went faster, the payoff got bigger.  Man the endorphins!  After a while it was all I could think about.  The next time. 

It progressed from there?

I hung only with lifers after a while.  I was all hardcore all of the time. There are rules only experienced people know.  The highs were amazing.

How serious did it get?

Many of us were racing.  We wanted to do the hardest of the sick stuff.  Climbs, crits, track, time trials, cyclocross.  Each kind of race needed a different bike, different shoes, different gear.  We tried different supplements, yoga, intervals, massage, stronger coffee, anything to go faster and harder. 

So, you started buying…

Yeah and Italian steel wasn’t good enough anymore.  First, there was aluminum, then titanium, two kinds:  3/2.5 and 6/4 and then the ultimate, carbon-fiber.  Man, do you know how many different kinds of carbon-fiber there are?  It’s crazy. They make everything out of the stuff, frames, saddles, spokes, rims, bars, cranks.  It makes me dizzy to think about it. The lighter, the better, all for more speed.  I had to have it.

You are safe here – deep breaths.

I was totally hooked, totally addicted.  I couldn't see what was happening and I didn't care.  I thought it was under control.  I had goals like a sub hour 40K. But I quit a good paying job to work at a bike shop.  I sold stuff to buy more bikes and bike gear.  I ignored the house work.  It wasn’t just weekend recreation any more. It was a way of life. I rode to work even in terrible weather.  Did intervals in the evenings.  Lunchtime rides instead of lunch.  Ate salads to lose weight.  After hard rides I could only lay on the couch.  It was taking over.  I was exhausted most of the time.  I only eased off before a race.  It’s called tapering.

Yes, we know.

I color-coordinated my kit and bar tape. I followed all my bike heroes on twitter. I started my own ironic bike blog.  I moved the cars out of the garage so I could have my own shop space.  It makes me want to cry.

You can cry here if you need to.

It all came crashing down this Spring.  It had to end somehow.  My hospital bills are pretty crazy.

It happens to everyone sooner or later.

I’m actually relieved.  I’m still recovering.  But I couldn’t keep going at the same pace.

It is going to take a long time.  Be patient with yourself.  We try to be the tortoise, not the hare. 
We are here for you.  This is a lifetime project now.

 I have a new job.  It’s respectable and pays well. 

Congratulations.  That is a big step.  Our time is almost over.  Any last thoughts?

They are going to let me park my commuter bike downstairs.  And there is a shower I can use.  Cool huh?  Well, see you next time.  And thanks. 













Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Upon a Pillory





"Upon a pillory - that al the world may see, A just desert for such impiety."

What flashed through my mind as I was falling was the scene in GoldenEye, wherein the evil henchman Boris, thinking that he was finally victorious, yells, “Yes! I am invincible!” Of course, Boris gets his just deserts immediately afterwards when a tank of liquid nitrogen spills over him and his building crashes down.

So it was on that day in March, when a dear and longtime cycling friend, Bob, fell hard in front of me after tangling with another rider during a fast group ride. I remember thinking that perhaps Bob might continue sliding down the road and out of my line and that I might avoid running him over.  But no, I went over the top of him, thinking of Boris and my 26 years of hard group rides with nary a mishap and only a handful of humorous close calls.  I awoke flat on my back, unable to sit up or move my right arm.

My bike was fine, thanks.

It might be hard to be sympathetic when a person injures himself having fun, getting his jollies and some exercise goofing off with his friends while avoiding house and yardwork on a lovely and calm weekend morning. To be sure, it’s a first world problem. But the pain, confusion and the sense of loss afterwards is the same whether it is caused by throwing hay bales or swinging a tennis racket.

So, it came to me, as I was falling and breaking my shoulder in about four places, that my self-confidence, bordering on arrogance, from having ridden with professional teams, from having worked for a bike company, from having never fallen in 26 years of cycling, from my acquired feeling that “It will never happen to me. I’m too good at this,” had finally triggered some serious karma.

Well, I am more than just humbled. There is a lot going on here beyond a cosmic course correction. To quote from the internet, “Athletes react to injuries with a wide range of emotions which may include denial, anger, sadness and even depression. An injury often seems unfair to anyone who has been physically active and otherwise healthy.” Yep, I have experienced all of that. In my case, I had envisioned an elaborately active retirement of fun, biking, hiking, motorcycling, fly fishing, climbing and all manner of exploring. All of this seems now to be only a dim statistical cloud of maybes as opposed to a glowing fantasy to daydream about during my time toiling away in an office. I do know that it is hard to maintain a positive attitude because I have nearly constant pain, and activity makes it worse. My recovery will likely take the better part of a year. The bubble is officially burst.

I am surprised at how mentally fragile I am right now. I never realized how much I depended upon being physically fit and connected to and accepted by other cyclists. I was proud that I was as strong as cyclists half my age. I thought I was mentally tough from all of the suffering in the saddle.  But now tears appear easily. Staying focused is hard.  I don't enjoy my other hobbies as much.  It is clear that my sense of myself was not balanced and this has magnified my sense of loss.

Now, three months after surgery, I can sometimes find small victories during my workouts.  I notice the good days and ask for help on the bad days.  I’m trying to sleep more. I will schedule some psychotherapy to reduce my anxiety about returning to active life. I should get better. Who knows?

There are some things that I replay. While I was waiting for the ambulance to arrive, another long time cycling friend, Dave, held my hand the entire time I was lying on the pavement. I don’t remember what he said when I said "I am really broken.” But I will not forget that he kept me from freaking out. The gang surrounded me to protect me from traffic. People stepped up. Bob was in anguish about me going down. For a bunch of testosterone-crazed, coffee-fueled scofflaws with unnaturally big legs and bad tans, I am reminded that my friends are good people first.

Someday soon, Bob and I will go for my first post-surgery ride. We have talked about how important this is. It will be different. It will be slow. It will be uncomfortable. But it will happen.

I have understood from the beginning of this process that my life will never be quite the same. But it will be right.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Quote of the Day



We are born, we grow up, we live our lives as best we can. If we are thoughtful we are good parents and good partners. If we are wise we strive for integrity and intimacy. If we are fortunate we discover love and joy. If we are able, we make the world a little better than we found it. That is all there is for any of us.

Robert Reich

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time - Yo Yo Ma and J. Lawrie Bloom

This photo is from the reception after one of the most moving and meaningful concerts I have ever attended.  Yo Yo Ma and our friend J. Lawrie Bloom performed the Quatour pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano.  By the end of the piece, which is completely immersive and transformative in scope and effect, I was unable to stop the flow of tears.  This is now one of my favorite pieces of music.  Period.  You must read about the circumstances under which the piece was composed and hear it for yourself.  Everyone brings something different to the music in the sense that one can easily adapt one's own narrative to the piece - a characteristic of all great art, I think.  I believe that no person can come away unchanged by hearing it played live.

Music can have this effect on me from time to time, especially when it is so personal and connects to some emotional event in my life.  In this case, it connected to my recent sense of loss surrounding my injury and difficult recovery; some very hard recent nights trying to sleep without pain; and a late night solo viewing of Throne of Blood (Spider Web Castle) by Kurosawa.  The movie, in particular, was emotionally and visually a match for and added substantially to the depth of my feelings surrounding the experience of the musical piece.


Afterwards, we enjoyed the company of our friends Lawrie and Nan Zabriskie, and Yo Yo Ma at a reception for the performers and some guests.  Yo Yo Ma spent time chatting, laughing and sharing with each and every person at the reception.  We marveled at how accessible he was and how completely engaged he was with each guest and colleague.  We now are big, big fans and are even more committed to enjoying and supporting Chamber Music - especially the modern pieces.

This was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Ask me about it sometime.