Bad Days, Hard Days – Good Days, Always

I quit cycling so many times today I stopped counting.

It still amazes me that with all of the things about cycling that we can control (and trust that I try to control them all), you can still just wake up and have a bad ride. Just like that. For no apparent reason.

“Of course you’re tired!” Sal said cheerfully, “That was a big ride!”

And it’s true. It was.

75 miles with 6000 feet of climbing isn’t exactly a Sunday stroll. But we’d done a bigger, harder ride on Sunday – and we’d ridden faster. And I’d felt about 3.6 million times better about the whole thing.

It was just a bad day on the bike. Bad only because I was getting no love from my body. Something was a little off – I was well-rested, well-fueled and pretty happy. We’d been laughing and chatting the entire way before it went south.

Things were fine until mile 40 when we crested Old La Honda and then the wheels came off. One by one. Slowly. Sans drama.

An ache here, a hacking cough there, a numb toe, a sore back. Up on Skyline the temperature dropped and I started to shiver. We still had about 2500 feet to climb.

My head was still in the game so I talked myself through every fucking pedalstroke. I pulled out every trick in the book. I said nothing, breathed hard, and kept riding. I thought of pizza and hot showers and papa’s homemade wine.

I thought of how mama would call me “Disgratziata” (disgraceful/wretch – it’s kind of a joke) when I got home. She does not understand our long rides. She thinks we’re crazy.

I was looking forward to the descent down Highway 9 into Saratoga (anything to stop this never-ending climbing!), but by the time we hit the coffee shop at the bottom all my extremities were numb, my lips were blue and my teeth were chattering. We killed a quick cup of joe, split a piece of apple cake and headed toward Los Gatos.

I made a few jokes while were stopped at intersections so Sal would think I was still having fun. I wasn’t. But the act was making me feel better.

On the climb up Kennedy I failed to launch the kind of attacks I’d thrown down just three day prior. With a car idling behind me on the narrow roadway, I moved further into a grimy shoulder, slipped out on wet leaves that looked dry and almost laid it out, unclipping at the last minute to catch the fall.

The car roared around me and I swore at it. Very quietly. Sal was out of earshot.

Kennedy was the last climb. Kind of a miniature blip on the elevation radar screen in terms of the others that we tackled but good-sweet-lord, it almost outdid me today.

When we finally pulled in the driveway at home, we found Fina in the kitchen deep frying fresh broccoli from the garden.

She called me Disgratziata and I begged her to let me steal one.

I must have really looked like a wretch because she agreed.

And then I crashed. The murky depths. The bottom. Boom!

At dinner I could hardly move, let alone speak. I laid down on the bed and paid attention to the throbbing in my legs. They hurt to the touch. Out in the main room, I could hear Sal getting in trouble. “Your riding is too hard! Look at her! She can’t even hold her head up!”

Mama loves me, this I know, because her yelling tells me so. : )

I’m going to be fine. And despite not delivering the most mind-blowing physical performance of my life today, this may have been the most important ride of the year.

Because when everything was coming apart, I found a way to keep pedaling. Because I shut my fucking mouth and made it happen.

Because I made it home alive.

Disgraceful. Wretched. And starving.

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8 comments

  1. Brava. Davvero. Sento la stanchezza solo al leggerlo.

  2. Good on you for toughing it out!

  3. Those are the rides that make the rest that much sweeter! Going to Tuscon at Christmas, need to hook up and find out about some MTB riding…

  4. Jeff – Sal is your man for the Tucson MTB-ing!

  5. Oh for the love of sport. But that’s why we do it right?

  6. When I read stuff like this it makes me tear up. I’m a 49 year old dude who loves to ride a bike, if only I could get my freinds to understand what it means and how deep and personal the suffering can be, maybe they would understand as well. I get it and thanks for sharing. Ride On….

    @plochman

  7. The thing that gets me (in a good kind of way) is all this riding you both do together. An interesting perspective would be that of Sal’s. Regardless if one is stronger than the other, day in, day out you both share the miles and the suffering, while ultimately felt by one, on any particular day always has its counter. Does he feel your pain? Does he know how to push you through the depths of your weakness? How about you-do you know just how make him go a few extra miles? Or, is he merely a moto-pace for your own eventual glory? Even so, the connection has to be that of a dancing couple. (incidentally, this would be an interesting sport-cycling pairs… maybe it was all that ice dancing this year in the olympics) This, I would like to read about.

  8. I gave up long ago hoping for a life partner who was also an avid cyclist.

    But when I come home from a brevet that has utterly destroyed me, my partner understands and lets me crash. Doesn’t scold me for nodding off at dinner, gives me a footrub afterwards, and during cross season draws me a hot bath after each race and doesn’t yell if I miss the hamper while tossing dirty gear in its general direction. That is love.

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