At some point, if you ride long enough or just become hopelessly addicted to cycling, getting out for a ride changes from a “want” to a “need.” I know, because I need to ride right now. Badly.
This has been a pretty good year for me cycling-wise. I’ve averaged about 500 miles per month, and even nudged that total up to about 700 during the fall. My fitness is probably close to an all-time high in terms of endurance, and I’m feeling strong. Or at least, I was feeling strong. After months and months of high mileage, December proved to be one cruel month. Yes, I know I’m a wimp, but we set the record for coldest December in recorded history here in my area. That was already making the month a challenge, but then I got a stomach flu that was raging through my family over the Christmas holidays, just as I was trying to make up for lost time. One minute I was out riding marveling at my hearty immune system, the next I was headed for the…well, I’ll spare you those details. Before I knew it, I was looking at the month’s end feeling weak, dehydrated, and with the fewest miles logged in over a year.
With a new year comes new hope. I got out for my first ride in a week with a friend, and knocked off 45 miles without really feeling the effects of my illness. In fact, I felt really good. Unfortunately the very next day I went in for some rather extensive dental surgery, the unexpected result of an injury I had suffered a year earlier. (Good news – I still have all my teeth!) That stomach that was just beginning to recover has now been assaulted by antibiotics and painkillers, and thanks to a mouthful of stitches that will stay for two weeks, my diet has been limited to mostly liquids and mush. To add insult to injury, the doctor told me I’d need to take about a week off any serious aerobic activity, and even then ease back into it. I’m feeling sore, weak, and depressed…and unable to do the one thing I know will make me feel better.
At the conclusion of his book Tour de Lance, author Bill Strickland quotes Lance Armstrong as saying “I think people are better, smarter, more present, and more patient when they’ve done some type of exercise—that goes for an eight-year-old and a sixty-eight-year-old—and I need more, perhaps than most people, to get the results I want.” Strickland goes on to note there’s some scientific evidence to back up Armstrong’s theory, specifically when it comes to cycling. Basically, cycling mixes sustained aerobic exercise with complex brain functions — balance, timing, and spatial awareness. For that reason, it may literally be able to “soothe” the brain. Studies at universities including Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown back up this theory. I know I feel much happier after I’ve returned from a good ride. Sometimes, if I feel I’ve ridden particularly well or hung with certain people on a group ride, I’m almost giddy.
Right now, however, I’m going crazy. Somewhere along the line, between accomplishing that first 30-mile ride and riding my first century, between trying to fit in rides around life to fitting life around rides, riding a bicycle has gone from something I want to do to something I need in my life. That’s why today, with my doctor’s blessing, I’m getting out on the road, sore mouth and stitches and bad conditioning and all.
Because, as a lot of you will understand perfectly well, I really have no other choice…