I rode a lot last year, a WHOLE lot, for me anyway. While most of that was for transportation, a significant portion of it involved long-distance recreational riding. And the use of the term "recreational" seems, well, a little confusing at times.
I started riding longer distances in order to train for a big charity ride. I got involved with some really nice folks who do long-distance riding on a regular basis, for fun. I practiced my form. I got a little bit faster (attaining a cruising speed of almost 12 mph). I got stronger. I completed three populaires (rides of 100km, or 62.5 miles) last year and dreamed of riding longer distances, growing ever stronger and more invincible. Randonneuring really woke up the sleeping Walter Mitty inside me. And I did achieve some things I'd never thought possible on a bike. At the end of last year, I had racked up over 2,700 miles. I had completed three metric centuries and successfully completed 141 out of a possible 210 miles on that three-day charity ride. I made some new friends through my involvement in the local randonneuring club. And I began to plan my 2008 riding season. Among my great plans for 2008 were more populaires (those metric centuries) and an attempt at a brevet of 200km.
This spring, my riding plans have been repeatedly stalled; my drive and desire for athletic greatness diminished.
So what happened?
Well, LIFE happened. My partner lost her teaching job last fall and became "underemployed"; and I needed to work more hours to help make up some of the shortage. Important time spent with family and friends took priority over some of my planned rides. The cold, wet winter and early spring made it difficult to go long on the weekends. A series of cold and allergy distresses forced me indoors more often and made it hard for me to ride longer than my typical morning commute (indeed, even my commutes were hard and I wound up tossing my bike on transit more often during the winter). I had a Crohn's flare-up over the winter that kept me off my bike for nearly two weeks. In short, I made plans and other stuff happened that got in the way.
So how am I working with it now?
Well, the 200km is out for the year. I simply cannot set aside enough time to prepare for that distance safely and effectively; and I am not angry or sad about it at all. It's just life. As for the populaires, I had hoped to enter an early one in March but the weather and my colds combined to keep me out of it. The next organized group populaire I can hope to find time for isn't until early November. (I could sign up to do one by myself but there hardly seems any point in that; the truth is I'd rather just go out for a 25- to 35-mile ride with friends and have a nice lunch somewhere along the way. If I could do this two out of four weekends a month I'd be pretty darned happy.) I am doing another charity ride, a shorter one-day event that's close enough to home for me to take public transit to and from the start. If I complete this ride -- and I'm pretty sure I will -- it will likely be, at something like 70 miles, the longest distance I ride in one day this year.
And something else has happened. I have not felt the least bit stressed about how things have turned out. I still ride my bike nearly every day. When I'm tired I take the bus part of the way. When I feel an extra burst of energy in the evening (especially since daylight sticks around till 8 pm now), I'll ride a longer, more "scenic" route home. And as I read ride reports by some of my new randonneuring buddies, I find that their descriptions of literally suffering through a particularly challenging stretch of a ride no longer hold the same allure for me. I feel as though I've found my limits, and I am turning them into my groove.
It's natural to want positive reinforcement simply for being the people we are. When I look around for that reinforcement, encouragement for the bicycle rider I am, I have to look a little harder. It's not found in the popular bicycle literature, in the magazines and articles found at most bike shops. It's not found in the popular media, who still equate Most Things Bicycle with Lance Armstrong. And it's not even found in most mainstream advertising for bicycles and bicycle-related product. Pick up any major bicycle catalog and the first thing you will see is someone who is young, sleek and ferociously fit, most likely a guy, clad in lycra and pounding his way up the mountainside with a determined grim on his tanned face. One must look and dress the part in order to Be A Cyclist.
I'm not so much a Cyclist as I am a Bicycle Rider. And I find that reinforcement by looking at my family and friends, at my co-workers who ride every day, and at regular folks who are just going from place to place on a bicycle, wearing whatever clothes they grabbed off the top of the clean clothes pile, ferrying their groceries or nothing at all while they pedal and smile and enjoy the ride. They are becoming my model of choice more and more, every single day.
That doesn't mean I've given up on riding those longer distances. I get a sense of accomplishment from doing those rides that's hard to explain, and they give me a chance to ride out in the country where it's quieter and there's more wildlife to see and hear. I love those longer rides and plan to do more of them, for as long as I'm able. But they are not the majority of the riding I do, and that is totally okay. Most of my rides are five miles or less each, and they are often as enjoyable as the country rides are. Because the point isn't speed or distance, it's simply that I get to ride my bike.
Any day I get to ride my bike is a good day.