Saturday, August 27, 2011

Twin Sons From Different Mothers

"The Fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm is terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore" - Vincent Van Gogh

As I was lacing up my trail shoes not long ago at Oak Mountain, I noticed that whenever I'm there, there is an intermingling of the runners and mountain/road cyclists at the trailhead. We usually don't talk, just a friendly wave or a "how-ya-doin' " nod of the head. Half the bikers will roll on down the paved roads on their carbon fiber bikes that are probably lighter than my trail high tops, while the other half get on their huskier bikes and disappear into the woods. As I began my footed travails through the forest, I began to think about my biking brethren and about when I dipped my toes into the cycling sea. Although we are all in this endurance thing together, we really are in separate worlds in relation to our sports. I feel a camaraderie with them as I do with any endurance athlete, however, I'm always amazed by how much work goes into riding a bike.

About 25 years ago, I decided to buy myself a 40th birthday present and got a bike - I think the brand was Nishiki - surely not American made - and cost a mint. Something like 300 bucks! Then I had to get special shoes that "clipped-in" though I had no earthly idea how to clip-in, or more importantly, how to clip-out, especially in the millisecond it takes from when the bike comes to a complete stop to the "oh-crap-I'm-going-down-because-my-damn-foot-is-stuck-in-the-pedal" moment. Then there was the helmet (obligatory for the aforementioned clipped-in accidents) and special cycling pants, which I never got used to because of their extreme snugness and that area of "extra-padding". Add to that the extra gloves, tubes, cycling computer and tools, and I was getting away for under a grand for the whole biking experience.

Now, I got pretty serious with the riding for about 6 years, though never giving up my long distance running. I was pretty much a fair weather & weekend rider, but I even progressed to doing six century races (100 miles). Funny thing about those - I NEVER got the same thrill as I did when running a marathon or longer. It seemed like the rides were much more laid back without the urgency of a race. And Good Grief...I have never seen a group of athletes eat so much during a competition. We'd come to an aid station and I would be used to flying through, grab something and keep flying. Other riders would get off their bikes, stroll around, fill their jersey pockets like they were going to be stranded in the woods for a week and finally get going again. Like I said, the urgency was missing.

But, compared to running, which I have always enjoyed, biking to me seemed to be either end of the Bell Curve. I mean there were aspects that I loved...the mailboxes go by a lot faster, screaming 55 MPH down a hill is a white-knuckle experience I'd never get running, and actually learning how to use 15 gears was somewhat fulfilling. But, the other side of the Bell Curve was totally unpleasant. A flat tire can ruin any good ride. Riding in the middle of who-knows-where, and Psssssssss....flat as a pancake! Then you have to go through the whole show of taking the tire off, getting the old tube out, then either patching the tube or getting out a replacement tube. Here comes the real fun that I never mastered - getting the new tube back in the tire. This would invariably happen on a 95 degree day and of course I would pick a Fire Ant bed to kneel in to change the tire. Even on days when nothing went flat (tire), broke (spoke), rubbed (brakes), or fell off (chain), I still had to load my bike on a carrier on the car, drive someplace, pump up the tires, oil the gears, and I can't remember what else before I finally was rolling down the road to fitness.

When I rode, even when it was wicked hot out, I could create a breeze and it felt good. I could eat and drink to refuel while I rode without it bouncing around in my stomach. And I can coast down a hill to recover. But no matter how hard the "up" side of the hill was, I could never get over the feeling that it did kind of feel like cheating when I was rolling down without doing a doggone thing.

I outraced dogs, I rode with my son through long country roads, I freaked myself out riding in a lightning storm, and I carried my bike down 7 flights of stairs when our hotel in Gulf Shores had their fire alarm go off in the middle of the night. I have some biking memories for sure. But the big difference in them and my running memories is I think the biking memories have long reached the finish line, while I still have hope for more to bank in the running log.

To those of you who bike, to those of you who swim, to those of you who have your own individual endurance loves, I'm with ya! Running is my love, biking was a passing friend. All the pieces just never clicked between us, but when I see you bikers at the trailhead, or on the road, as Dan Fogelberg once sang, we are "Twin Sons of Different Mothers."

I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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