HERE’S TO OLD BIKES AND OLDER GUITARS.
I love old bicycles and old guitars.
They’re both fetish items to this writer, for sure.
With an unlimited budget and no self-control I would own a thousand of each.
And if I’m not online browsing bikes, I’m browsing stringed instruments.
Seldom do the twain meet, however. And of those rare occasions, this has to be the best meeting of the two.
The above, damaged and soulful instrument belongs to singer/songwriter Glen Hansard. He started using it in his band The Frames.
As in “bicycle frame.”
In the band’s formative years, he would work on his friends’ bicycles. Soon, his house was so littered with two wheelers and their parts that their band name chose itself.
He rode this guitar hard for years and it’s taken him all over the world.
Bikes and guitars.
Both get more soulful with age.
Both become a part of you.
Both will take you anywhere you want to go.
HERE’S TO OLD BIKES AND OLDER GUITARS.
DON’T LOOK DOWN.
Don’t look at or think about falling. Or failure.
Where you focus and what you focus on is where you’ll go.
And what you will become.
So keep your eyes on the dirt under your tires and the trail ahead and enjoy where you are.
Listen to the sound of the gravel crunching under your tires.
The birds. The silence. The wind
Smell the sagebrush and soil.
Then look forward. Look at how high you’ve climbed and where you’re going.
Breathe. Take a moment and take a look around. Listen.
Do this and you will not fall. Or falter. Or fail.
You’ll just feel.
Don’t look down.
And before you know it, things will be looking up.
CYCLING IS NOT THERAPY.
Ever since the idea of therapy has been acceptable or even a known “thing”, that pearl has been thrown about almost mindlessly. So, we’re talking a couple decades or more.
And cyclists certainly don’t have exclusive rights to that saying.
“Running / swimming / triathlons / weightlifting / knitting / cooking is my therapy.”
And so on.
But I’ll only speak for the world of cycling.
Whether it be on the road or trail, a weekend jaunt or race, easy or intense, just the act of suiting up and rolling around on your bike is not therapy.
Therapy means more than just “me time” but it means introspection, observation, appreciation, processing and presence and I’ve seen enough surly guys out there on the road to know that just cruising along on two wheels ain’t that.
Cycling has more in common to the ride to therapist’s office.
Getting yourself in that car or bus or train and getting yourself to that appointment shows that you’re ready to commit.
Ready to listen and observe.
Ready to make yourself better.
So this year, I hope more and more of you suit up, get out into nature and listen.
It’ll make you better.
FOR TRAIL ACCESS.
You know how, during Thanksgiving week, everyone ponders what they’re thankful for?Inevitably someone mentions that, in an ideal world, we’d take the time to be this thankful all the time.
That’s what this post is all about – an attempt to stay present, grounded and grateful.
So I’d like to say that, on a daily basis, I’m thankful for trails.
Not merely that the trails are nearby, but that they exist, period. That someone, somewhere has resisted the capitalist urges to develop all empty land (for now). And beyond that, set aside funds to keep trails open to everyone like me – the folks who’s need to get out into the wild is as vital as our need for oxygen, water andfood.
I’m also thankful for the bounty of food and love that shows up this time of year, as well. But I’m thankful that I’m able to use that fuel to head outside, put on my running or cycling shoes and take in the fresh air on so many trails near me.
Hopefully you can do the same. Today. And when you get to a really beautiful place – and you will – stop. Be silent. Take in the sounds. And don’t forget to say “thank you.”
30 feet of climbing in 30 feet. Steep.
THE PAIN YOU KNOW.
Dear Old Cycling Aches And Pains,
It’s been a while since we’ve hung out and I just thought I’d write this note to say that I miss you. We knew each other for 25 years so you have to believe me when I say it was hard to leave you.
I was just thinking about how, when I first met you guys we didn’t get along. I didn’t like you. But as I got to know you I realized that you were mostly harmless. That most of the time you were just trying to warn me that I wasn’t warmed up enough. Or that I was about to get hurt. You were looking out for me.
Now I find myself around a bunch of new pains from running. These new pains are scary. I don’t know them. Maybe they’re looking out for me as well, or maybe they’re just dicks. Unlike you, they really seem like they want to hurt me and tear my ligaments and make me sit on the couch for weeks and gain weight.
So listen, do you guys happen to know anyone who knows these pains? Are there “pain bars” or “pain Facebook Groups” or some other crap you guys all belong to? And if so, could you shoot them a note asking them to take it easy on me? Y’know, just until I get to know them a little better.
Thanks. And again, I miss you.
PASSING THE TORCH
My skis in 1988.
My triathlon bike in 1992.
My first convertible in 2000.
All these things took me to amazing, interesting places. In the world and in myself.
But with all of them, there came a time when I was just…done with them. The fact that they were sitting around unsused just felt wrong. Especially since they could be used and giving someone happiness.
The happiness I’d felt.
Until I didn’t.
So I felt the same way when I sold my singlespeed race bike last weekend.
And I sold it for a song.
But I’m okay with that because it went to a really nice fellow. A friend of some friends. Not a jerk.
I know he’s going to have some great times out there as I did. It will live on.
The torch has been passed.
Surprisingly, my wife cried when he drove away with it.
But I didn’t. Because I knew it was going to go create memories.
Which is why I’ve never regretted any of the above things I’ve sold.
Other than the convertible.
That was batshit stupid.
ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RUNNING I LEARNED ON A SINGLESPEED.
When I started devoting myself to trail running, I thought it meant a permanent adieu to my mountain bike and all those amazing experiences. But just when running started to get really hard for me, I got an unexpected rescue in the form of my singlespeeding muscle memory.
See, I was beginning to think my body wasn’t made for this kind of grind. But one day, while slogging up a fire road in the heat, I began to feel a familiar sensation. The rhythm of a singlespeed climb. All I had to do was imagine myself astride my old bike and that was it.
That simple mental trick has added a couple miles to my runs.
Turns out there are a few things in common between trail running and singlespeeding.
Every run starts with that slow warmup as I grind through the fog and the aches and the pains.
Steep hills. I used to love, love, love them on my One 9er. Out of the saddle, finding a nice, bouncing rhythm and settling in for the long grind. Now as I slog up the steep singletrack on foot, I Imagine myself on the bike. It’s an old visualization trick from my ancient triathlon days, actually, but it totally works. I found that it even helps to hold my hands out as if they’re gripping the bar extensions as I settle into a loping, grinding rhythm. Heaven.
Oxygen-deprived, sweating buckets heaven.
Patience on the flats. Boy, my slow running pace certainly reminds me of spinning along in my 20 tooth while getting passed by the geared set. But hey, it means I get more time out there on the trail. At least this is what I tell myself.
One missing part of my running skills is still descending. I’m not as courageous on foot as I was on wheels. As I obsess about the possibility of twisting my ankle, I regularly get passed by gazelle-like, shirtless dudes bounding down a steep, rocky trail in 3 or 4 leaps without a care in the world. Someday, perhaps. Also, descending on foot is like riding a fixed gear. There’s no coasting in running and once momentum gets you flying down a loose trail, slowing down can be a daunting proposition.
Did I say there were only a few things in common? I’ve actually realized that they have more in common than not.
It also helps that the single speed I had on my singlespeed was“slow.”
OVER THE HUMP: HAMBURGER HILL
This week’s Hump Day hill story is not about the setting of the infamous battle in the Vietnam War.
This was the name given to a rutted, steep hill that sat right behind the local McDonalds in the town where I grew up.
Hence the name.
There it is, up there in the shot taken from Google Maps Street View.
There was one, well-worn path that led down the face that dumped out right into the vacant lot next to the Mickey D’s.
One of those vacant lots full of old shopping carts and tires.
My town was, and still is, quite unglamorous.
I never understood why there was such a well-worn path because we never saw anyone actually take it on.
It couldn’t have been more than 50 feet high but the thought of coming down that steep hill on our cobbled-together BMX bikes struck terror in our tiny hearts.
We’d tackled far steeper hills, even back then when we were 8 and 9, but this hill came with its own legend.
Rumor was that one kid tried it, crashed and crushed his trachea on the little cross-bar on his BMX handlebars.
He made it all the way home but his Mom, not knowing how to perform a tracheotomy, watched him die right there.
Probably just urban legend, but it freaked us out. And gave us all an excuse to get bitchin’, checkerboard cross-bar pads.
I remember years back when I stopped into town to visit my parents.
As I cruised by this hill I remembered that my bike was on the roof.
I slowed down and started to consider conquering this thing, once-and-for-all.
Then my wife and kids asked why I was slowing down (it’s not the best neighborhood, I’ll tell you. Never has been).
I gave them the short version of the story and, well, let’s just say that I shall not be conquering this hill.
And if that poor kid actually existed, I guess I owe him thanks.
Or it’s quite likely that the hill would have a new legend. And local kids would point to that filthy hill and say “…heard about that old dude who tried to ride down Hamburger Hill and died?…”
As much as I try to live within the 18milesperhour way of thinking on a bike – going at just the right pace so you still take in the world around me – I often exceed that and the world passes by in a blur.
Especially on the little, seemingly insignificant routes I used to think of as mere “access trails.”
These are the ones that are usually between a mile and three miles long, often connecting the neighborhoods below to the main fire roads up in the hills. On a bike, they’re okay, but over in a blink and so I seldom really respected them, preferring instead to lavish my attention on the longer, unbroken trails.
But now that I’m adding in some off-road running, these trails are juuuuuust right. I park at the bottom and, within a quarter mile, I’m up in the nature I love so much.
They’re just steep and long enough to challenge the hell out of me.
Running on these trails has opened up areas of the mountain that I never before knew existed.
And they’ve also opened up new areas of myself that I never knew existed.
Because I’m a slow runner. I’ll never be a fast runner.
And as I plod up these trails and, after all these years, look around and take in their beauty…I don’t mind being slow.
It’s as if time, and my lifelong lack of running ability, is giving me exactly what I need right now.
And all it seems to want in return is my attention and my thanks.
So thank you.