I Will Survive: Training for Switzerland

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Recently, as I’ve dropped off Facebook and found it extremely rewarding, I’ve been thinking a lot about Grant Peterson’s aggressive question to bikers in his fantastic book Just Ride: Would you ride, or ride as much, if you couldn’t blog or Facebook post about it? The answer for me, after the past few months, is yes. I’ve actually done more riding, as I have more time. But to be honest, I do have the urge to talk about it, which probably includes bragging of some form. 

Two and a half years ago, cycling was for me just an enjoyable way to live without a car in a bike-accessible city. For six years in San Francisco I commuted to work in Pacific Heights on a single-speed Kona Lanai (built by Box Dog Bikes) from the Mission via Market St. through Hayes Valley, and then at night biked to band practice way out on Cesar Chavez. Not much climbing, a lot of coasting, and – embarrassingly – no helmet or lights. And usually I wore all black and listened to loud music on headphones, behavior for which I at least deserve to be punched in the arm several times.

Then, in April of 2011, I was given a Marin Muir Woods 29er – a steel city bike that doubles as a not-terrible trail bike and/or touring bike – by my boss, a longtime bicycle fanatic who promptly took me up Four Mile Canyon in Boulder to Poor Man Road and back down, a popular local ride for veteran cyclists who only have an hour or so of spare time. That first ride up to Poor Man, I didn’t even know how to use gears, having rocked only single-speed or BMX bikes previously. I was literally shifting to higher gears up Four Mile Canyon because I thought that the higher you climbed – the Poor Man ride stretches about 1,250 feet in less than an hour – the higher you shifted, and for two good stretches of the difficult dirt-road climb that makes the Four Mile / Poor Man ride a popular shorty around here, I had to walk.

Now, after graduating during the past two years to a Kona Splice mountain bike and Bianchi Volpe cyclocross/touring bike (making my way from DC to Pittsburgh in four days this spring, and routinely biking from Boulder to Denver, Boulder to Jamestown, Boulder to Ward and the like), Poor Man has become very much a barometer for the cycling shape I’m in. After disgusting myself the first time up there two and a half years ago with my boss, I regularly did the Poor Man ride on my own on the Marin Muir Woods, first taking three 30-second breaks, then two, then one, then none, always making it to the lowest gear possible on a three-chain-ring bike by the time I reached the very top, sometimes cursing myself along the way.

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Last Wednesday, I shocked myself by cycling from 28th St. in Boulder up Canyon Road and Four Mile Canyon up to Poor Man in third gear, then making it up Poor Man at the very bottom of second gear, never using my final chain ring, aka the Granny Gear. And tonight, in beautiful, thick (for Colorado standards) after-rain air I cycled from Amante Coffee in North Boulder up to Poor Man and back without even using the lowest rear gears in conjunction with my second chain ring. The Granny Gear must be wilting with loneliness.

This may sound comical and meaningless to a serious longtime rider, but for me it brings a sense of comfort and strength that comes along with gradually allowing one’s body to reveal its capabilities. Most importantly, it brings me the belief, or even a belief in the possibility, that I might not die on my office’s 10-day bike trip through Switzerland two weeks from now, during which the easiest day will probably be around 60 miles and the toughest hills will be like nothing I’ve climbed on a bike, or even gazed upon with my eyes.

I’m excited to get back on an extended bike trip, after falling in love with the experience in April on the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage; pumping my legs while taking in the gorgeous scenery of lush forest, dark rivers, Civil War architecture and countless turtles and geese; and becoming so in tune with being on a bike that it became not unlike a part of my natural body.  But that 300-mile DC-to-Pittsburgh ride was almost completely flat, with very gradual climbing thrown in once in a long while, and completing 10 days on a bike in Switzerland will be a more serious physical feat, not only because of the hills but because the two mates I’ll be riding with grew up doing serious Colorado rides on mountain bikes and touring bikes, not tooling around Pittsburgh on a Boss Bad Boy or commuting in San Francisco on a stickered-up single-speed, so they will no doubt be miles ahead of me, with no cell phone service. Tonight’s ride told me I might survive.

Friday night’s ride from Broadway & Yarmouth in Boulder to the Jamestown Mercantile (via Lee Hill, not 36, of course) told me that it’s always better to ride with an accomplice, even if she has zero interest in cycling for leisure and is only humoring you AND beats you to the top because 20 years of ballet have her legs forever in Schwarzenegger shape. To be fair, I was on a mountain bike with loaded bags training for the Swiss tour and she was flying up Lefthand Canyon on the Fox.

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