Back to Day 16

2 PM

Last night, sitting on the patio with Mike, Katy and Ginny, I noticed a nasty spot on my right hand, in the V between my thumb and forefinger. I’m sure it’s somehow related to my gloves, although that doesn’t explain the localized nature of the ickiness. So we all looked at my hand for a while, and then Katy went inside and returned with Bacitracin ointment, Band-Aids,and blister pads. I now have a lovely first aid kit, and it’s amazing how well the Bacitracin is clearing up my ickiness. Thank you Katy!!!

This morning we enjoyed an upscale breakfast buffet in our upscale hotel, then we walked to the Hunts Point mall. Our major purchase was a stylus – better to blog you with, my dears. Dana made me buy a grown up looking one, although I would have preferred the one shaped like a crayon. Then we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods, and I found lots of clothes I’d love to buy, but it will have to wait until we get home. We also found some very tempting hand weights – proof of why you should never shop on a long distance bike tour.

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It’s hot, and it’s an outdoor mall, so we mostly just found shady and air conditioned places to rest our butts. Tomorrow we will ride 50 miles, almost to DC, but they are looking to be the flattest miles yet, and we will cross our 600 mile mark. So, after 2 weeks of whining about hills, and with most of the nasty hills now behind us, I’d like to offer a brief retrospective on hill climbing…

While many people assume I am an avid cyclist, the truth is that this really isn’t my sport. I’ve been riding a road bike for almost 40 years now, and I’m always the slowest hill climber in every group. Because of this, supportive people have offered me advice, which is nice, but seldom useful in the moment. Less patient people have simply stopped riding with me, which is cool. Mean people have laughed at me, or ridden circles around me, which is not cool.

I look at cycling as a fun thing to do with friends, as in “Let’s go for a bike ride and get ice cream.” Dana, on the other hand, loves cycling, and is always pushing to improve. I like to come home from a bike ride slightly sore and sweaty, with a telltale ice cream stain on my shirt. He likes to come home dizzy, nauseous, and dripping with sweat. Thus, when we planned this ride, I had more than a few reservations about what he expected of me. But he has been patient and understanding from the start, continuously assuring me that he had no grandiose expectations about our pace or progress. Nonetheless, I have been feeling guilty, always aware of how much better he could be doing without me.

What? Me feel guilty? Never!

We’ve been talking a lot on this trip, often just trying to keep the headsets alive. We’ve talked while slogging up hills at 3 MPH, and walking up hills at 1 MPH. And we’ve gotten into more than a few arguments – probably more arguments than we’ve had in the last 25 years of raising kids. Between my guilt, my general hill slugginess, and Dana’s opaquely disguised frustration with my tortoise speed, he has sparked many an argument by saying such things as:

  • You know, you would do better on this hill if you were in a lower gear.
  • You know, you would do better on this hill if you were in a higher gear.
  • You really shouldn’t shift gears on a hill like that, it’s bad for your derailleur.
  • You should try standing up on hills.
  • You shouldn’t stand up so quickly on hills, it’s bad for your knees.
  • You should focus on pushing over the top of your stroke.
  • You should focus on pulling back at the bottom of your stroke.
  • You should focus on having a smooth, circular pedal stroke.
  • You shouldn’t get so down on yourself, you’re doing fine on the hills.

It’s nothing I haven’t heard, over and over, for the past 40 years, and I’m really not trying to pick on him. My attitude about the hills, and about my hill climbing ability, has been horrible. And my problems go far beyond any particular hill climbing achievement or failure on this ride. Truth be told, I have never felt completely comfortable on a bike, never been able to take both hands off the handlebars, barely able to take off one hand with the pannier weight in the back. Riding without a shoulder, being passed by trucks, riding fast downhills, riding on narrow bridge sidewalks, riding near cliffs or guardrails  – it all terrifies me. As a cyclist, I deserve a C+ for ability, and an A for effort.

So I have been down, depressed, and nervous, and every little thing sets me off. We’ve met about 10 other riders on the ACA route so far, and all 10 are stronger than I am, by far. I am not imagining this. If I read their blogs, I see that they do more miles than I do, in the hilly terrain, in less time. If we compare miles per day, they always do more. People in the big boy bike blog say things like “a beginning rider should expect to do at least 40 miles per day at the start of any cross country tour.” It all makes me feel bad.

Yes, I know it’s not a race, and it’s not a competition, and I am only competing against myself. I’ve been a coach. I’ve been an athlete. I get it. But here’s the thing… if I am in competition with myself, I’m winning, but I’m also losing. Silly when you think about it that way, isn’t it?

Before we started this ride, when I was nervous about the hills, Dana said “Don’t worry. You’ll see. By the time we’re through Connecticut, you’ll do great on the hills. All you need is some time and practice.”

WRONG.

I am glad to say, for the record, that I have officially proven that I will never be great on hills. Perhaps I can get better, perhaps I have even gotten a little better, but I will never be great. I will never even be good. And that’s OK.

I’m sure I would improve if I trained more, but I do not enjoy training. This ride, for all of it’s challenges, is fun. It’s an adventure. If Dana had said “Instead of riding to Florida, how about we just do a 50 mile training ride around home everyday?”, I would not be blogging. At least not about riding. Maybe about divorcing, but not about riding.

So as the miles accumulate, and we try not to argue, I have tried to turn this topic to a more general level. Not about me, not about us, not even about biking. Is it OK to just accept a plateau, be happy where you are, and stop fighting yourself? Dana says no, that anyone who isn’t always striving for improvement is depressing. But I think some of the happiest people are those who’ve accepted their limitations, accepted where they are, and have learned to live within those parameters.

Meanwhile, Dana is talking about what we will do on our next bike tour. And here I was thinking I would just toss the bike into the water in Florida and rest my butt for the next – oh, let’s say 40 years. But nooooo. So I am making a few rules because, as thrilling as it’s been proving that a hill slug can ride from Westford, MA to Cockeysville, MD and keep going, I have no great need to do it again. So if I get a vote – and I’m not sure I do – our next bike tour will involve less biking and more touring. Or I will buy one of those little motors for my bike, because I no longer have anything to prove to myself or anyone else.

I am also going to buy a Hill Slug shirt, which I will wear with pride.

On to Day 18

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