Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Ever have one of those days where forces ally against you?

Luther is a very fast car. A very sensitive car. Sometimes, a very twitchy car. Usually, Luther and I understand each other well. I know what I want to do, he knows how to do it, and the rest flows naturally from the decision point, an inexorable flow chart from here to there. Only rarely is anything tactical consciously addressed; typically, the planning is high level and strategic, the realization of the larger campaign an automatically effected series of subordinate steps each of which plays a necessary role in the sequence of actions necessary to reach the intended goal.

Usually, Luther and I get along fine.

Then there are those days where Luther's got a problem. Or I have a problem. And we communicate poorly. As in any relationship: a day of missed signals, awkward silences, angry words. Often, these days fall on hangover days for Moon. Then, I assume, Luther has nothing to do with it. Luther's just stuck putting up with a crabby friend for the day, who even when he means well does everything wrong. And who doesn't always mean well. Sometimes, though, booze has nothing to do with it. Sometimes I try and I just can't get it right: I'm slow off the line, my shifts are clunky, I'm uneasy on the brake pedal and my stops are less than smooth, I spin my tires when I don't want to, I catch potholes I usually avoid, I jerk the wheel through curves, miss the apex, and exit irregularly, knowing that at speed I'd be halfway out of control coming out of the curve.

Cut to this morning, and my fixie (which hasn't yet earned a name; I'll keep you posted). Until now -- and I've posted on this before -- there was a sort of linear progression of comfort. I started out awkward and fearful with the new powertrain, and struggled to adjust, to accept, to manipulate to my liking. With time, and with every mile I managed to ride without hurting myself, I grew more comfortable, until finally I stopped using the handbrake relying solely on the pedals, I grew comfortable enough with my line that I would whip through narrow openings while keeping my seat -- my accelerations, decelerations, ability to anticipate traffic and pedestrians and tailor my movement and pace to their future vectors, all became natural, second nature.

This morning marked the fourth time in six days I have ridden downtown, including during last Friday's rather inclement wet-snow and slush. Before this little run, I'd barely been riding once a week for the preceding month or so, weather and mechanical issues and just plain old laziness conspiring to put me on the bus each morning and making the thought of an after-work ride positively laughable.

But I'm in the swing, feeling stronger, and enjoying the way my day begins when by the time I've hit the office I've already turned over my cranks as many times as it takes to cover four miles, dueling morning traffic on Liberty Avenue, through the Strip District, and on the cobbled bricks of downtown whose syncopations rattle in my head for an hour after each morning ride.

And this morning I was a menace to myself, to others -- really an embarrassment, and a dangerous one at that.

Yesterday's riding entailed more than my regular commute from and to Bloomfield. Yesterday, I left work early and headed to Oakland, a triangular commute I've only done once before by bike. Having left the office later than intended, I had to push hard along the jail trail; by the time I reached the Panther Hollow section, I was wiped. Then through Panther Hollow a merciless headwind threatened to stop me dead in my tracks. I hunched low over the bars, hands in the drops for the first time in weeks, and imagined myself razoring through viscous winter air like a hot knife through butter. It was a nice idea, but it didn't help at all. Hunching over, maybe, but the whole knife / butter thing.

Later that evening my ride home from Oakland was uneventful, and I figured everything was fine.

But this morning by the time I'd made it two blocks my thighs were singing. It wasn't an entirely unfamiliar sensation; the first stretch of Liberty is slightly sloped against my morning passage, and there was a breeze in my face. By the time I reached the downhill toward Ghetto Food Land (as two of Moon's best friends insist on calling it), I was already beat, looking for a rest.

From then on it was just abject misery: I felt clumsy, weak, slow, dangerous. Whereas I usually can make the ride in without entirely stopping or putting a fut down, this morning at every intersection I found myself kicking out of my pedals just as the light turned my way. Through the Strip District I found myself unable to anticipate traffic teeming behind me. On Grant Street I found myself in the middle of traffic to no discernible benefit; even pulling onto the sidewalk beside my building, the pedestrians between me and the door baffled me, and I nearly ran into the marble foundation in avoiding them.

Today, my bike and I simply didn't understand each other. Mostly, I think it's a consequence of my fatigue, and I'm going to need to take a day off. But it's also a reaffirmation: I find that having such an organic relationship with an inanimate object testifies to the importance of that object, that machine, to your world. It's how cars and bikes end up with names. And the bike will have one soon.

I'll approach this evening's ride home with the same open mind and heart that I would approach an encounter with a new partner, even if we'd fought the evening before. Neither grudge nor insecurity warrant a place amid such mutuality.


Blogger matt said...

Something I was usually guilty of on cold mornings that I learned to change was doing a little bit of stretching before starting out. This did wonders for the the thigh muscles especially... just stand on one food and pull your ankle up behind you like you're trying to put your heel into your butt (or maybe you actually are, who knows?). Do this once or twice for each leg, and that'll get the blood flowing to the quads. As soon as you start getting tired when you haven't stretched, you start doing all sorts of unnatural motions to try and compensate, which just makes you more beat.

11:39 AM  
Blogger brian said...

stretching smetching. poor a beer on yer rice krispies and follow that up with some scotch when you get to work and yer good to go. perhaps pick up one of these -- it'll help.

seriously...nice work on riding so many days. the rest of week looks good weather-wise. i'd say let's ride home together, but, i'm already home.

11:57 AM  
Blogger matt said...

I'm sorry.. is that the same brian that I know? I'm the biggest lightweight this side of the Rockies, and he makes me look like Gary Busey! Advocating drinking and riding??? Probably not a good idea.

12:09 PM  

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