It's actually not back to the grind. It's back to riding the way I like to ride, for fun. I broke out the fixie a couple weeks ago, actually converted the Surly back to flip-flop when I bought Ken's Fetish Ankhs off of him. After resting yesterday, I rode into work today and tacked on a couple extra miles, getting to work at a nice even 21. It's partly to help suck some weight between now and the start of Base 1, but also partly to just do what I like to do, which is to ride my bike and not be hassled by the man, aka Coach Bill Gros. Bill's a good coach. I still have a lot of limiters as a rider to overcome, but the ones I've overcome so far, I can attribute in part to Coach Bill. But after 9 months of structure in my riding - where the hardest damn part is taking it easy and getting off the bike when what I really need is two hours of stress relief spinning - I have a month of taking it easy, riding my ass off for fun on the fixie and MTB and winter bike. This is what I do to rest mentally, it's where I recover. Ride the bike long and pretty slow, charge up the hills for a little intensity and just to feel that pleasant sensation of work in the legs, stop for hot coffee mid-ride, eat lots, get cold, go home, drink hot tea and eat hot black bean soup to warm up, then take a nap. Or ride a long way going into work and get to my desk refreshed, with a smile on my face.
I'm remembering now what it's like to be a racer. Riding in the dark and wet during the winter - fendering up the bike to keep the mud and road grit off the nice white & blue kit. Nodding and waving as I pass oncoming commuters and other racers I know. The winter knocks the fair weather riders off their bikes. There's no Fakengers parking Pistas in the rack at work - it's hard core commuters on beat-to-sheeit Trek MTBs with commuter accessories on them, old Schwinns with a million miles, and this Irish trackie who is soft spoken but pretty obviously harder than a burlap bag full of ball peen hammers.
The commuters you pass are heavily dressed - they go slow and warm. Some of them look like firemen, they have so much glowing yellow and green on them it looks like a turnout coat and pants. They're alright, the hardcore commuters - mostly grizzled, bearded men, peaceful looking but taciturn as well. No matter what they look like, they're always good for a chat, and usually interesting to speak with as well if you take your time to slow down and ride with them for a bit on the way home.
The velo boys are all dressed in tighter kit, layers of lycra and Thermafleece and SuperRoubaixWhatTheHell, polypro and rubber booties, form fitting wool and thinner gloves than you'd expect. Most of the smart ones are tooling along, there's still a few hammering. Not too many of them wear team kit - it takes a lot of time to build up a good wardrobe of team kit, and the winter gear is the last stuff a lot of guys buy. So you see the NCVC shorts worn with a blue Pearl Izumi windbreaker, Route 1 arm warmers over a Woolistic training jersey.
The immigrants are out there too, just as they always are, pedaling along slowly, purposefully, on their Magnas and old Univegas. Typically they don't have any lights at all, or maybe just a red blinking light, often installed confusingly on the front of the bike. They bike because they have to, they don't have the money for a car. They don't dream of biking the way we do, they dream of driving a car. It's okay though, I respect their toughness and their industry.
The Biketrail Guys, the bane of Spring and Summer riding, are nowhere to be found. I suppose most of them are making asses of themselves at various Christmas parties, or checking themselves out in the mirrors at Gold's Gym, even as they are eyeballing the other guys, "the competition," and stealing furtive glances at the women. Surely they've morphed into the dating world's version of Biketrail Guys - irritating, not-to-be-taken-seriously, except as a serious irritation.
The wildlife has changed too. Gone are the little chirping birds. In their place are solid ducks and geese, probably from the far north and vacationing in and around the Chesapeake. Our own native ducks and geese, no dummies, are in South Carolina, enjoying the warmth. The young male deer I often see on the Capital Crescent is growing older too. No longer spike horned, he has a tiny 4 (or is it a 6) point rack. He's on the side of the trail tonight, and I say, "Hi, Buck!" as I pedal past. I always say the same thing and the deer looks at me quizzically. If he said, "Hi, fat guy on a bike" one time, I probably wouldn't be shocked.
Pedaling up the Crescent tonight I felt the bottom bracket clunking. It's probably shot after fixed gear training last winter, then serving as a 'cross crank all fall. It has served me well; it's two years old and survived the initial Assault on the C&O Canal, as well as the second attack, some cross bike cross-country, major commuting and road salt. I dropped it off in the shop tonight, it will be nice to get back a completely silent bottom bracket.
As usual, I pondered taking off the fat 700x32 Continental Contact tires and slipping on some 700x25 Maxxis training tires I have. Like usual, I'll think about it on every ride, and forget about it when I get home. Sure, it would be faster and easier. But I think I'll live like a commuter for now and wear the rest of the tread off the Contacts, before throwing them away (recycling them at Contes, actually).
I'll keep the fat tires for now because sometimes, suffering is good for you. It teaches you to suffer better, which is as important in life as it is on the bike. My knees hurt a bit right now since I'm running something like 71 inches. That's not a big deal until you think about the 90 RPM cruising speed (19 MPH) and the effects of wind and cold, and how this is supposed to be the off season. But the knees will adjust and I will get used to going everywhere at 19 MPH, uphill, downhill, flats, headwinds, tailwinds. The suffering will pass and pretty soon I'll be comfortable on the fixie and spinning out pretty often, wondering if I should drop a tooth on the rear cog.
Yep, it's the off-season. It's mundane, it's routine, it's unfocused, and the weather conditions are atrocious. There will be discomfort, wet, cold, sore legs, long, quiet rides even when riding with others, heavy suffering. In other words, some of the best rides of the year. It's nice to be riding in the off season.
Administrative Note: A while back, I said some nice things about Carmax where I recently had a good car buying experience, the best car buying experience I've ever had. One of their marketing managers, who apparently has a blogsearch set up, contacted me and said thanks for the good word, and then sent me a nice road atlas. That was pretty sweet. Can I say something else nice about them? There was a slight leak on the edge of the windshield, noticeable only in driving rainstorms. I contacted them, said I thought it should be covered under their warranty, and they fixed it, no questions asked. That's pretty good service, peeps. Studies show you pay about 7-10% more with Carmax, due in part to their 'no haggling' policy. If you can spare the money - and if you want to avoid 3-4 visits to a dealer, tons of product research, price matching research and all the other crap you have to do to haggle effectively - then Carmax may be an option worth exploring. I like how I was treated by them, and how I've continued to be treated by them. As with any corporation it's all about the money, but many corporations don't understand that treating the customers decently, as fellow human beings, can improve the bottom line.