Monday, 26 February 2018

The long road ahead isn't paved

For more than a decade, I've been training for triathlons. Swimming in overcrowded pools, biking indoors on trainers . I've been running on crowded indoor tracks, tired treadmills and outdoors, only when the weather conditions were not too psychotic.

It was great. The sense of accomplishment when finishing a three-hour, indoor ride; or a two-hour swim was great. Completing a 21km or more run in -20 Celsius or colder was also, believe it or not, surprisingly fulfilling. After a lengthy thaw, the magnitude of the achievement and the perseverance of (my less than well-tuned) body lunging through the cold and wind and snow left a palatable glow that sustained me.

Completing four times and (twice) failing at Ironman were also great accomplishments that helped me grow in ways that I never could have imagined and that no one can ever take away. But I started running (and biking) into issues.

I won't lie. Indoor running sucks; I won't sugar coat that. Indoor swimming is okay and sometimes safer than swimming in a lake filled with boating yahoos. I even found it relaxing and invigorating, at times.

Indoor biking with the challenge of The Sufferfest and the social competition of Zwift both take personal training and skills development to a whole new level. These only make you stronger for when the rubber hits the road. And, of course, the six Tours of Sufferlandria and my Knighthood changed me in ways that I am most proud and pleased. But there was something else.

It's the road, stupid

The issue, after more than 10 years of training is: contemplating another long, straight, flat and windswept road. I'm, well, bored of riding on local highways. Don't get me wrong. The long road ahead, which is only a few more winter months away now, has many merits. This includes riding with favourite groups, such as Spoke 'n Hot Women's Cycling and Spokesmen Masters Cycling.  Both are groups that I'm a charter member of and that are near and dear to my heart.

This also includes taking the opportunity to ride with Elbow Valley Cycle Club out of Calgary, Alberta on one of my favourite rides, the Golden Triangle - a great three day ride through the Canadian Rockies that everyone should do twice, at least, in their lifetime. 

Then there are the fondos and the longer rides with friends. All of them a good day in the saddle. I did a gravel version of one last year, called Kettle Mettle and I was hooked.

But something was missing. I didn't know what it was until I ventured off the paved highway, beyond the road and onto the gravel and the dirt.

There, I found joy on two wheels again. Whether it was cyclocross or gravel grinding or just exploring on knobbies, my love for the sport was rekindled.

And then there was the snow! I love to snowshoe and hike in the winter, but Southern Saskatchewan is in the middle of a drought of sorts and there just has not been enough snow to make snowshoeing worthwhile. But throw in a bike, and a little snow and ice, suddenly become a whole new kettle of arctic fish.

Coming home after a muddy, dirty, and even snowy ride had me grinning like an idiot. Or at least more so than usual. I discovered that the joy of biking wasn't necessarily in going fast, but it was in just visiting places and environments that were different, challenging, interesting.

A new bug out bag

The marathoners or seasoned triathletes or campers or other sport participants will understand when I note that there is a mental preparation that goes into getting ready to participate in a given outdoor activity. That involves, not only getting oneself psyched up to do it, but also preparing all the clothing and equipment that will be needed. For seasoned (or fully baked) athletes like me it is having a bug out bag; a kit that, within a short time, can be thrown together to participate in a sport or a race, or in the case of triathlon, three sports plus travel.

With Ironman, my bug out bag took a couple of hours to assemble and I was good to go. It was known, it was comfortable, familiar, routine. But with cycling off road, onto the gravel and the dirt and especially into the snow; it was unfamiliar, untested, dangerous even! I found this exciting!

How would I dress? Would I get cold? How much cold could I endure on my bike. What about my hands and feet, how will I keep them warm? What about hydration? How should I keep my water from freezing - maybe add vodka? Will I have enough traction? What about the streets? How would I get to where I wanted to ride. I didn't wish to drive there, but would it be safe on the icy roads with car traffic driven by the same boating yahoos that I encountered during lake swims.

Everything about this new activity was interesting, curious, even,  I daresay, a little dangerous. What is it that Kate Bush sang in Cloud Busting? "What made it special, made it dangerous"  I just knew something good was going to happen when venturing out into the unknown.

The process of creating a new bug out bag actually created new brain  and muscle memory and I found that rejuvenating. I had to reorganize all my equipment and my clothing to figure out what I could use and wear and where!

The indoor was and still is necessary!

The going fast on the roads and highways was made possible by all the indoor training, especially with The Sufferfest, where I found bike riding, but also mental training and yoga programs. Riding at full speed wasn't always necessary, or even possible in some of these new conditions. This is true, especially in winter, when going quickly creates even more windchill on the Canadian prairies-- and anywhere else it is cold.

A brief lesson to those who don't normally encounter windchill. When it is cold enough for water to freeze, the outdoor temperature is relative. If there is wind, skin needs to be covered and layers need to be used. If you are cycling, you are multiplying the wind's effect and therefore need to further shield or protect yourself from it. Windchill is a dubious calculation, but it is not a rocket surgery to understand how the cold feeling is increased when one is going quickly against a frigid wind.

So, now I take my "other" bike out as often as I can. I call him Polyphemus Giant - for those with a mythological bent.

Snow is not an impediment. It is a catalyst to get outside. It is an enticement to use all that indoor training and suffering for joy and triumph.

Bikepacking is next

It was on a recent outdoor ride that I had a revelation. I really like to camp and recently was fortunate to do some winter camping at Prince Albert National Park. I really like to ride my bike. It seems lots of people are using their bikes for touring and, to a growing degree to camp, so why can't I?

So that is my newest goal. To get my self organized enough to do some riding and some camping - or bikecamping as the cool kids call it. It is just a question of getting all the gear together, but I've been getting my gear together for over a decade. Just a question of creating yet another bug out bag.

I'll share more details of my planned rad adventures as I get more organized. For the time being, I'm still running. In fact I ran outdoors in -11 Celsius at the end of February. I still love the freedom. I am still running indoors too. I am also riding plenty indoors, not because I have to, but because I do find it enjoyable and useful. Who knows, I may even swim a few laps or 200.

There is still much more of winter in these skies. But I now have more energy to play with, rather than avoid what winter can throw at me. I'm looking forward to the coming months and to the long, unpaved road ahead as the winter gives way to spring and the summer yields to the fall.

I'll be running and biking up that hill and to that horizon with no problems.

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