The last time I saw a David Bazan concert in Grand Rapids in November, I was turning around and packing up my car to drive down I-80 to I-355 to spend a month in Illinois getting proton radiation treatment. This year, after an loud and grungy Bazan show at The Pyramid Scheme, I hit the same road, but instead of going north on I-355, I went west west west.
So Adam and I are renting an apartment in Fort Collins now. At least through July. I loaded up my car with bikes and outdoor active wear and drove straight west along Interstate 80 for 15 hours from South Bend to Fort Collins for my first vacation since I started my new job last April.
I didn’t really have many plans aside from seeing some mountains and drinking good beer, but on those fronts, I was quite successful. I rode my bike a few days, up canyon roads that climbed for 11 miles and 2,800 feet, and down the backside, hitting 58.4 mph on the descent. My hands only froze from the cold on the first day. I got used to the altitude.
I swung by Denver, and Boulder, hiked through Eldorado Canyon State Park, went backcountry skiing in Cameron Pass, trail running in the foothills near Fort Collins, and just generally unplugged from the modern world for awhile.
I visited 7 breweries and sampled as much beer as I could. The New Belguim tour is the best brewery tour I’ve been on. Brooklyn Brewery is still the worst tour.
I drove back across the great prairies of the Midwest, bookending my trip that started with wine tasting and dune hiking in Michigan and ending with hiking a “rugged” trail in Indiana meant for “advanced hikers”.
November has gone fast.
So it has rained for nearly a week straight. Tuesday was dry, I think. It has been a busy work week, where I’ve hardly gotten home before dark most evenings. And the sun sets by 7pm these days? Doesn’t it seem like just a couple weeks ago where we didn’t even start our rides until 6:30pm and we could fit in 40 miles on the bike and still be home with copious amounts of daylight remaining?
On the Wednesday Dirty ride, it was just Joel and me, and we left late because I was rushing home from work and having to stop at the hospital for yummy CT contrast, but at least it was warm. I didn’t pay attention to the weather forecast, because the sun was out most of the day as I sat at my desk and wanted nothing but to be on my bike, so that by the time I got home, the radar map full of green would never dissuade me.
We headed south and fought the wind until we got to the good gravel roads, where we already had to switch on our headlamps. But we rode the dirt and chatted and tried to spot the sandy sections with what little light there was and it started raining but I honestly can’t tell you when it started raining. We were just riding and that was all I wanted to do in the world at that moment. And the rained began falling in buckets, and there was a fresh layer of ungroomed sand on 122nd Street to prepare for winter conditions so we dodged tire ruts and pushed onward. And I threw on a jacket to keep warm, because we were still by Fennville, and even with the tailwind, we were nowhere near home.
I imagine the few cars that did pass by us in the downpour with our tiny front and rear lights thought we were crazy, but warm fall nights are a rarity now, and what else would you rather be doing but riding? I couldn’t not smile.
Pretty soon it will turn to snow and my only concern is finding the right pair of cross country skis to buy before that happens.
My commute to and from work is lined with trees for miles and miles that, just in the past week, have seen their leaves go from all green to a hint of yellow, to full on orange, to blood red. It’s much more scenic than the commute I had for the past 4 years, even if it is over twice as long. So after my annual rereading of this excellent McSweeney’s piece, I’ve been getting out of the house and watching the colors and enjoying the wonderful weather we’ve had here in Michigan, where all the trees are just the right height.
Last week I went to Grand Rapids 4 times. To go for long walks in the city while drinking iced coffee and soaking in Artprize, to see a funny movie and enjoying time with others even if we completely missed this, to drink good beer, to race a little cyclocross, to just get out of the house and go do things. It was all so great. Every week should be like that.
I had a good race. Finished 8th or so. Maybe by the end of the season I’ll move up to the “A” race. It just feels good to bust your legs and lungs for 45 minutes straight. I’m technically tapering for the marathon on Sunday, but I can’t stop moving. I just want to ride my bike and be outside and get dirty.
So the summer heat has finally given permission for fall weather to arrive, and I’m maybe a little less enthusiastic than normal. I’m eager to wear sweaters and flannel and hats and drink darker beers and fall asleep with an extra blanket on top of me, but there’s one thing I would really prefer to do without. I’ve always had relatively cold hands/feet, chalk it up to a combination of a low resting heart rate (under 50bpm these days), lower than average blood pressure, and just not a lot of fat to insulate things, and it’s not a surprise that I have to opt for gloves and wool socks before most. But last winter it was worse, and I wasn’t sure why, but I slowly figured out, that well, yeah, Raynaud’s syndrome is my new reality thanks to all the long term damage that chemo did last year. I went for a run today, and I lost feeling in my fingertips halfway through. It was 55 degrees out (not really all that cold), and I was wearing gloves too! And really, the only cure is, “bundle up”. My fingers and hands will be turning white a lot this winter, methinks.
Exactly a year ago, I was completing a half Ironman with very little training. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the last chemo I treatment I had. Wow.
It’s been an entire year, and I still don’t really know how to process it. I know one thing though – the fatigue that comes from a half Ironman, or multiple marathons with no training, will never match the fatigue from chemo. There’s something about lying in bed, feeling like all of your limbs are made of concrete wrapped in lead with the gravity of Jupiter, physically unable to sit up to turn off the alarm clock in the morning that makes running a couple extra miles after a long day at work pretty easy. Even with numb fingers. There’s fatigue, and then there’s fatigue.
And so, these days, all of my focus is on running the Chicago Marathon in 3 weeks, and how I’m actually more confident that I’ll be in good shape for it as the days go by. I keep going for runs and bike rides and my legs just never get tired. It’s magical.
At some point on the Sprint Ride yesterday morning, I ticked off the 3000th mile on my bike for the year. In January, it was my goal to ride 3000 miles by the end of 2012, and I’ve reached that point 3 months early. I’m a little proud of riding so much, but also a little apprehensive, because, like, that’s all I do with my free time, and it can get lonely. I feel stronger than I ever have on my bike, and it’s nice to look back and see how much I’ve improved over the year, but when you think about it, cycling really is a weird sport to dedicate so much time to. After a long day of work, or a long week of setbacks outside of work, I get on my bike and try to escape. I try to suffer. I try to cause my legs pain.
I finished reading The Secret Race this week, and in it, Tyler Hamilton mentions how when he was first discovering his love for cycling, the main draw was its escapism. He was had a coach tell him to “stay within himself” during a race, and Tyler’s only reaction was to think how backwards that advice was. Wasn’t the whole point to push all of your boundaries and lose yourself in the effort?
I suppose the escapism offered by cycling isn’t all that different from burying your nose in a book, or a good movie, or playing the guitar, but there’s generally a lot less suffering involved with those activities. At least 3 days a week, I roll up to a nondescript, empty parking lot on my bike with a dozen or so mostly middle-aged men, and we try to rip each others’ legs off. Some days I’m the one sprinting ahead of the pack for a sign on the side of the road, and other days (more often the case), I’m shelled out the back and burying myself to catch back onto the group. And so we do this for 30 or 40 miles, all with the same goal in mind – to feel the breeze blow by our ears at 30mph, to feel the lactic acid build up in our legs sprinting up a climb, to maybe try to set a new record on an arbitrary Strava segment, to come home and climb off my bike and have to sit still for 15 minutes before I can summon the energy to take off my sweaty kit and clean up.
The Chicago Marathon is 3 weeks away, and I woke up before dawn this morning to run 20 miles. My legs always have some soreness in them from all the miles I’ve been tallying up lately, and I was filled with doubts that I would actually get through my run this morning. I was tired, my hands were freezing even with my gloves on, and it was just me and the quiet, quiet Sunday morning. A funny thing happens after about 50 minutes of running though – my legs loosen up, feel light as air, and go on autopilot – running becomes almost effortless. You probably don’t believe me, but between minutes 50 and 120, I can float. My feet kiss the ground and pain turns to numbness, and my brain forgets my legs are even down there, doing their thing stride after stride. Invariably, some hitch brings me back to reality, but this time, I caught a second wind of sorts after breaking through the paper thin pain barrier that had risen, and I finished not really all that tired.
I don’t recommend this to anyone really, because I know it’s not an entirely sane way to spend a Sunday morning, but for me, for right now, it works. I was talking to a coworker who grew up in a small town in Indiana and used to be a really good cross country runner in high school. In explaining how he go to be so good, he matter of factly said, “Well, there was nothing else to do growing up in that town, so I just ran all the time.” I can never listen to music while I run, because I think, like Tyler, the goal isn’t to distract yourself from running, it’s to focus so deeply on the state of pain and the art of the act that you escape from reality. Sure, I think through other things while running – work, future life plans, the lyrics to the catchy song stuck in my head, whether girl X or Y likes me, what’s for dinner – but those minutes when all I can see is a few yards of pavement ahead of me and my mind goes completely empty as I float along, that’s divine.
And so I’m not even that sore or exhausted. I wish I was so pooped that I could collapse in my bed and get a long, full, decent night of sleep for once, but it feels like I could’ve done even more today. My toes are tapping and I’m antsy for more.
There was a man with a leaf blower at the state park this morning trying to clear the sidewalk that leads to the pier of sand. The sidewalk that cuts over the beach and is surrounded by sand. The sidewalk that ALWAYS has sand blowing over it because well, it’s the beach. And it was indeed windy this morning. I’m guessing by the time he got to one end of the sidewalk, the other end was already dusted with sand again. Oh Sisyphus…
I was supposed to be riding my bike 120 miles over actual hills in Ohio this morning, but the race got cancelled because of all the thunderstorms in the forecast brought on by the remnants of Hurricane Isaac, and my weekend opened way way up. So instead, I woke up early this morning and went for a long run. From my house to the pier at the state park and back – 18 miles. My legs were still sore from being up and about all day yesterday, and it took me 50 minutes to warm up and feel comfortable. And then I just floated for the next hour. I had the highest of runner’s highs.
And later, because I didn’t eat enough, I suffered and had to shuffle the last several miles home. But I’m still learning, every day. It was the longest run I’ve ever done that wasn’t a race, and because I’m actually pretending to follow a training plan this year, I’m feeling stronger every week. I am so so confident that the Chicago Marathon this year is going to go off well for me. The only weird thing is that I’m trying to focus on marathoning and cyclocross at the same time. One requires long, slow endurance, the other requires sprints and short, max efforts. The first cross race of the season is on Friday night at Cannonsburg, and luckily those don’t get cancelled because of rain. Muddy terrain is the goal.
There’s been an algae bloom for the past 3 weeks in Lake Mac. You won’t believe me, but when the water is still, like it was this morning, and has been for most of my runs past the Heinz plant in the evenings, it is glowing green. Not quite neon, not quite Simpsons-style radioactive, but green like the Chicago River when they dye it on St. Patrick’s Day. But completely natural. Well, if you count massive fertilizer runoff from the watershed feeding algae that consumes all the oxygen in the water as natural.
I finally got around to reading On The Road for the first time. I’m upset that no one ever made me read it earlier. I dog-eared a dozen pages of Kerouac’s stream of consciousness excellence. I felt less alone reading his stories. I also felt like maybe I need to go out and see more of this country, without any plans of what to really do along the way.
I sold my Subaru Forester, the only car I’d ever known. We had a lot of good times. She took me to a lot of important places. I’m going to miss her, I know it. I bought a new Subaru Outback. I named her Sydney. Sid, for short. I’m going to give her her first decent road miles this weekend. I have a lot of adventures to look forward to.
I’m going to go turn off my TV, go outside, and hop on my bike now.