Becoming a “Cyclist”

Who goes out and joins a racing team without having ridden their bike consistently for ten years??  Um, I do.  Which is why I couldn’t help but describe myself as a cyclist, complete with air quotes for a very long time.  Sometimes a laugh would slip out when I said it because the idea of me, as a cyclist, seemed so preposterous.

All jokes aside, I was serious about becoming a cyclist. So I started to ride.  I rode at every opportunity that presented itself in the fall of 2011.  At first the rides were short, but they gradually became longer and faster as my fitness improved.  I had a lot of ground to cover ~ literally and figuratively ~ if I wanted to become remotely competitive with the other women on my team and in the sport.

I quickly realized that I needed to formulate a game plan for my “inaugural” racing season of 2012.  When the racing schedule came out, I picked the races I would do and began to “train” accordingly.  My first race would be the Oredigger Classic Lookout Mountain Hill Climb in Golden, Colorado in March of 2012.  To ride from my home to the top of Lookout Mountain and back is a round trip of about 35 miles with about 2500 feet of elevation gain, depending on the specific route ridden.  To an experienced cyclist, this seems like a very easy ride, but to someone new to the sport, this would fall into the category of  “long ride”, perhaps even “epic ride” given the right circumstances.    Complicating my training was the fact that most of it would be happening outside between December and March – winter in Colorado.

My approach to training was to check the weather forecast at the beginning of each week. On the warmest day (or two, schedule permitting), I would plan to ride up Lookout Mountain.  This also required driving to Golden because I was unable to ride the entire round trip from my house in Arvada.  As the weeks passed, I began to park further and further away from Golden, gradually building up my ability to not only pedal up the hill faster, but endure the miles before and after the climb.  Eventually, I simply left my car in the garage and pedaled to Lookout Mountain from my driveway.

lookout

Upon reflection, my approach to training for that first race was similar to the way that I had approached other challenges in my life.  Break the problem or challenge into smaller, more manageable pieces.  At the same time, try approaching the problem from different angles, similar to how I moved my car from place to place to build up endurance.  Sometimes a fresh approach to a problem is all the perspective you need to see the solution.

On race day in March of 2012, I certainly didn’t come in first.  I’m proud to say that I didn’t come in last either!  At some point that year, I was able to refer to myself as a cyclist without the air quotes; but I still smile and laugh about it because riding the bike has brought me a profound amount of peace and joy.

lookout3 lookout2

Airflow

I’m lucky to live in beautiful Colorado where, given the proper equipment, I have the option to ride my bike year round.  When I started cycling seriously, I only had very old equipment and warm weather riding gear.  So when I started training for my first race in the fall of 2011, I had to make some investments in quality, warm clothing that would enable me to train outside on my bike throughout the upcoming winter.

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The Cannondale Cypher helmet

My helmet never made it into a classification of warm weather gear nor cold weather gear.  It was just a piece of equipment that I don before departing on each and every ride.  I had a fairly serious mountain biking crash last fall which left a gash in the old helmet, so I was a little suspect of it’s ability to adequately protect my melon.   When the opportunity for a team issue Cannondale Cypher helmet presented itself through Treads, our team store, I decided to buy one.

It turns out that the new helmet has more airflow!  Which in the summer will be great for keeping my head cool, however in the winter, it means brrrrrrr!  Now I was in need of another layer between my head and the helmet. Being that I am both a knitter and a somewhat frugal cyclist, I did consider knitting up a nice little wool beanie to do the job.  But that would have cut into the precious little riding time available this time of the year, so I ended up with this:

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The Halo Anti-Freeze Skull Cap – complete with team logo

First of all: I promise that I’m not trying to look like a gangster!  This beanie is from Halo and it is wonderful not because of its name (Anti Freeze Skull Cap), but because of the ear flaps, its thinness, and the fact that it keeps sweat from running into your eyes.  Yes, you will eventually sweat enough to warrant this feature when riding outside in the winter.

As I was pedaling along the other day in my helmet and skull cap, it occurred to me that a helmet’s airflow is similar to our willingness and ability to be open to new life experiences.  Remember when you were a kid and anything was possible?  Think waaaay back to before you became skeptical; before you felt hurt, rejection, or failure.  That’s when you were going through life wearing the invisible helmet with the great airflow.  As you rolled through life, you began to close off portions of your heart and mind to the pain that inevitably results from life experiences.  This is when you replaced the helmet with the great airflow with a helmet that restricted airflow.  Maybe you went so far as to place a buffer around your feelings, like a skull cap.  Between the two, you may have created a very safe place for yourself… but if it’s a place void of new life experiences, may I suggest a new helmet??

The Gift of a New Bike

I always started the countdown to my birthday on The Fourth of July because that meant there were just six more agonizing days until the big day.  I remember my 10th birthday like it was yesterday.  It was the weekend and I had been outside playing with friends.  When I came home, I walked through the front door and headed straight for my bedroom.  On the way there, I noticed my dad sitting on the couch with the newspaper spread open before him like a giant tent.  As I approached my room, I noticed the door was shut, which seemed odd as I didn’t recall closing it when I left earlier in the day.  I reached for the doorknob, opened the door, and immediately pulled the door closed after a brief glimpse of what was inside.  I remember thinking to myself: “am I dreaming?” and “am I in the right place??”  My hand was still on the doorknob and I turned it again, slowly.  I peeked into my room again and it was still there!!  I opened the door all the way and started to jump up and down which is when I noticed my dad, paper folded in his lap, watching my reaction to seeing the brand new, lime green, 10 speed Schwinn bike sitting in my bedroom.

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What the green Schwinn may have looked like – circa 1980

I’m not exactly sure what happened next, but I hope a hug for my parents was a part of it before I pedaled away.

There haven’t been many bikes in my life since the green Schwinn.  In fact, I can probably count them on one hand.  However, I was lucky enough to receive a new bike as a gift this year.  The difference being that this time around, it would not come as a surprise.  As an avid cyclist and racer, I special ordered the bike in the fall and was told not to expect it until spring.  The weeks of waiting for the bike turned into months.  The wait became agonizing, and this time I didn’t have a definite timeframe for the countdown.  Then one day mid January, my phone started to ring.  I saw that it was the bike shop calling, and I couldn’t stop myself from jumping up and down… just like I did when I was 10.

The new Cannondale ride

The new Cannondale ride

I picked up the bike the following week.  I’m not exactly sure what happened next, but I hope a hug for my husband was a part of it before I pedaled away.