Tag Archive for determination

Today’s post, in which I pause to applaud you

You’d think that I would have gotten good at riding hills when I lived in Colorado.

But pretty much anything east of the Front Range — that long wall of mountains that marks the east face of the Rockies — is about as flat as Kansas. So it wasn’t until I moved to the hills and valleys of San Diego that I really learned how to climb.

Even a simple ride up the coast north of the city meant at least one major climb along the east side of Torrey Pines State Reserve to get back home.

There was a another shorter, but far steeper route through the park, though. And as I developed my skills by hammering up that long sweeping climb outside the park, I promised myself that one day I’d be good enough to take on that other, more challenging route.

So after months of hard effort, it was finally time to give it a try.

I failed. Or more precisely, I made it, but only after the most excruciating climb I’ve ever inflicted on myself.

I cracked about halfway up — hitting that point where it was too much effort to go forward, and any rational solution person would turn back and try again another day.

But I’ve never claimed to be rational.

Maybe it was old-fashioned determination, or just plain old pig-headedness. But I had set a goal and I was going to make it or die trying. And considering the pounding in my chest, the latter seemed like a real possibility at the time.

So I forced myself to turn the cranks just one more time, followed by another. And another.

By the time I was three quarters of the way up, my body was screaming in pain, and every crank of the pedal was harder than the last. Finally, I began to whisper under my breath with every stroke, saying “Don’t quit.”

“Don’t quit.”

“Don’t quit.”

Or I thought I was under my breath, anyway. Because when I finally took that last painful stroke and rose over the crest, about a dozen people standing around at the top broke into a round of applause.

I was embarrassed as hell. So I gave a weak wave — the best I could muster at the moment — and continued on my way, blushing from head to toe as I rode off.

Yet they also made me feel like I’d just won the Tour de France.

Even now, I look back at that with a mixture of embarrassment and pride. Because it took everything I had just to get up that hill. And a group of total strangers not only noticed, but applauded those efforts.

And that feels pretty damn good.

I was thinking about that today beacause Patrick Pascal forwarded a link to the UK’s Guardian’s bike blog, which discusses a series of videos posted online by French prankster Rémi Gaillard. In them, he establishes a faux finish line along a popular cycling route, and treats an unsuspecting cyclist like he’s just won a hard stage on the Tour de France.

I can’t help but smile as I watch. And mentally put myself in the place of that anonymous rider.

In these days, when it feels like we have to fight for every inch of asphalt, and endure the taunts, insults and often painful indignities inflicted on us by a moronic minority of motorists, it feels good to have someone acknowledge the effort we put into it — even if it is just a prank.

Because we do a lot of good.

Every cyclist riding to work or doing errands on their bikes means one less car clogging our streets and fouling our air — something you’d think even the most impatient driver would appreciate.

Despite the frequent calls to register and tax us, we have virtually no impact on the roads. And the cost of cycling infrastructure represents just a minute fraction of overall transportation and road funding.

And everyone who gets out on a bike — not matter why they ride, how far or fast — is doing their part to improve their own health and fitness. Which benefits society in countless ways, measurable and otherwise, from lowering healthcare costs to lifting the mood of our current malaise.

So maybe we do deserve a round of applause.

Not for winning a stage or making it up a hill, but just for being out there pushing pedals when so many others aren’t. When you could be sitting at home packing calories on instead of pounding them off, or out burning fossil fuels instead of carbs.

So next time I see a cyclist fighting her way through traffic or struggling up a hill, I’m going to give her — or him — a thumbs-up. Or maybe break into a spontaneous round of applause.

Because you’re out there making our world a better place.

And what could possibly be wrong with that?


The first review is in on the new bike plan, and not surprisingly, it comes from Stephen Box. And the verdict is: thumbs down. Speaking of which, new bike lanes have finally appeared on Reseda Blvd. Taking Damien’s place on Streetsblog for the day, Stephen also reports on Sunday’s Crenshaw Crush ride. LACBC offers a look at what a 4th Street Bike Boulevard could be. A look at artistic bike racks in Downtown L.A. The latest side-effect of the growing bike community is an increase in bike thefts, as well as parts and accessories. A new iPhone app lets you snap photos of road problems, and forwards them to the appropriate authorities. Kill a cyclist in Arizona, get fined $254. Austin offers a preview of what to expect from David Byrne on Friday. Does it surprise anyone to learn there’s a gender gap in media cycling stories? Minneapolis’ mayor moves forward with plans to make bikes more welcome. Evidently, the fixie fad has officially peaked. Nashville is looking for artists to design new bike racks. Vancouver cyclists ride to say thanks for the bike lanes. The new Welsh bike share program hits a snag the first weekend. Finally, congratulations to Damien and Marybeth — and welcome to the world Samuel Lee Newton. We’ll try to leave it in a little better shape than we found it.

Riding through the pain

I remember watching a live broadcast of Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France.

I don’t recall what year it was, maybe his third or fourth victory, perhaps. This particular day, the course went over one of the great mountain passes; as I recall, it may have been the Croix de Fer, or possibly l’Alpe d’Huez. Or maybe it was some other steep mountain pass, I really don’t remember anymore.

What I do remember, though, is Lance starting his climb at the base of the mountain as the best riders in the world were spread out in front of him. One by one, he caught each of them on that ascent. And one by one, they struggled to keep up with him, before each one cracked and fell hopelessly behind.

Of course, some people looked at performances like that and assumed he must be doping, like so many others. Others said it was his muscle structure, that he somehow had more strength and endurance than anyone else on that course.

But the best explanation I’ve heard is that he was simply willing to endure more pain than anyone else. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel it; it’s just that he didn’t let it stop him.

And that makes sense to me. You see, I’m the same way.

I suffered a serious knee injury when I was just a kid in junior high school. Unfortunately, surgery didn’t fix it, ending my football career and leaving me with a trick knee that had me in almost constant pain.

For the next few years, I had a standing prescription for pain killers, as I tried to convince someone — anyone — that there was still something wrong with my knee. But the orthopedist who did my surgery couldn’t admit that he might have failed; instead, he told my mother that I was faking it to get the pills.

Fortunately, she didn’t believe him. But that night, I went home and handed her my bottle of pain medication. And I never took another one.

Not a few years later, when another orthopedist finally fixed the problem my first doctor had insisted didn’t exist. Not in my 20s, when I fractured my back — without causing any permanent damage, thank God.

Not a decade later, when I misjudged a corner while riding through a high-speed turn, and ended up with severe road rash from my ankle to my chin. Not over the past decade or so, when that first botched operation resulted in a severely arthritic knee.

And not this past year, when a freak beachfront bee encounter put me in the intensive care ward for a couple days, and on a long, hard path to recovery.

It’s not that I don’t feel the pain. I’ve just learned to ignore it.

When I stopped taking pills for that knee, I had no choice but to learn another way to cope with then pain. Eventually, what I learned was simply to tolerate it.

Just focus on something else, and get on with my life.

It’s not like I’m a superhero or some bizarre freak of nature. It still hurts. It’s just that I made a conscious effort not to think about it. And eventually, that just became second nature to me.

Of course, that doesn’t work with everything. A sharp, unexpected pain — such as a back spasm, or a sudden injury — always breaks through whatever defenses I may have, and gets my immediate attention, just like it would anyone else. And emotional pain, like losing a loved one, can bring me to my knees.

But chronic pain, or pain I can anticipate, like the kind you experience on a hard ride, I just don’t think about.

And that’s made me a better cyclist. Because it’s given me the ability to just keep going, no matter how tired I am, how strong the wind or how steep the hill. As long as I have the strength to keep going, a little pain won’t make me quit.

Like back when I was first leaning to ride hills, for instance. I realized that I could spend my entire riding career confined to flat courses, or I could just suck it up and learn to climb.

It wasn’t easy, as any beginning climber can tell you. But eventually I was able to ride every hill on my usual riding routes, no matter how long or how high.

So I set out to conquer the ultimate challenge.

There was a hill in a nearby state park; not that long a climb, really — maybe a half mile or so. But the road was so steep, most cars struggled to get over it, and I’d never seen another cyclist even try to ride it.

And that, to me, made it irresistible.

One bright sunny day, after a good warm-up, I started up the base. I only made it about halfway up before I cracked. But I kept going, inching along, already down to my lowest gear, pedaling one stroke at a time. By the time I was 3/4 of the way up — where the hill really got steep — my legs were nothing but rubber, and my heart felt ready to burst.

But I kept going.

Finally, about a hundred yards from the summit, with the road so steep I still couldn’t see the top of the hill, I was so far past the breaking point that I could barely turn the pedals. So I started thinking to myself, “Don’t quit.”

Each time I pedaled, every time I turned the crank, “Don’t quit.”

“Don’t. Quit.

Or at least, I thought I was thinking it. But I must have been saying it out loud, because when I finally topped that hill, about a dozen people standing at the top broke out in spontaneous applause. I caught my breath, waved and rode off, embarrassed as hell.

But I realized in that moment that I could accomplish anything I wanted on my bike, if I was just willing to work hard enough, and accept the pain that came with it.

Which is just as true for life as it is for cycling.


Just Williams recommends Cyclecraft, the U.K.’s official bible for all things cycling — and questions why it teaches cyclists to take the lane, but the country’s driver’s manuals don’t teach drivers to expect it. Good question. Town Mouse discusses her E-number, while raising her count for roadkill and arseholes encountered while cycling. Evidently, it’s not just cyclists who have to deal with arseholes, and not just in the U.K. According to Streetsblog, Metro wants to reconcile with cyclists. Will-I-Am (the other one) spots a semi heading upstream to spawn. I wonder how many lives this could save here — and how many battles could be avoided in the ongoing war between cyclists and drivers. A writer in Petaluma questions if more bike lanes are making the roads more dangerous. Finally, the Irish Times — no, not the pub on Overland — questions whether a more Continental approach would encourage more cyclists. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get on my bike and ride until my legs fall off — not literally, I hope.

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