Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Moving Back Outside (not about the bike, part 1)

This is the story of reconnecting with the outside by reconnecting with The Bike. Perhaps you've had this experience? Do you spend time moving out doors? i mean, outside a gym set up? And not a walking, running, biking commute, where the goal is transportation, a to b.
I mean - moving outside for the sake of? because it's OUTSIDE. in the elements.

Ya, i haven't much.
Beyond occasional/seasonal  pick up frisbee games (they're too unskilled to call them "ultimate" - more like "initial"). Once upon a time in grad school, i ran x-country. Prior to coming to the UK, i also rode a bike in Canada all the time everywhere as a commuter. Thinking about it, that's been a lifetime practice, from high school to real world work. Oh Canada.

The Rational Rationale of Making a Bug a Feature

And then i moved to the UK, and what passed for the roads freaked me out. I went from messenger cyclist rider crazy - where my goal was to get as far away from traffic as safely as possible, and as quickly as possible (love to pass other cars, cyclists, anything moving - terrible, eh?) -  to kinda terrified of the perceived lack of anywhere to ride. Where are the shoulders and sidewalks?  Hell, cars seemed to go both ways at once in one lane. It didn't help really when one of my first colleagues showed up rather wrecked from a failed encounter with a bus.

recent london cyclist die-in 
It was around this time that my partner suggested exploring the finer points of turbo trainers. Bike on blocks. I kept cycling, but it was all happening indoors. It became "cardio" instead of commuting and certainly not cycling.

In the intervening years, i've focused on working with weights; working on movement, learning more about same. My outdoor movement is that i walk or run to work. A kind of commuting. Not nothing, but not a Thing in Itself. You know? Going outside and moving across space for the sheer heck of it, that had rather been suspended.

And then the summer happened. I had a summer gig in a bike friendly UK town - i did not bring my bike because it was only supposed to be a month's stay, in and out, and work was another quicky run at about only 1.5 miles each way. Not worth a bike ride. Kettlebells, yes, brought a few of these. Natch. Bike. Nah.

Then 1 month turned into four. The summer was lovely. For the UK this means not pouring more than three days in a row. Bikes were everywhere. Like everywhere. When not in motion, many were parked on streets with signs on them beckoning to associated shops.

I recalled in grad school a guy in res being into cycling talking about fixed gear training in the winter. This was not the winter, but the training idea sounded good to me: i hadn't been on a bike on a real road in a long time; not worrying about gears, just focusing on getting better at this practice again seemed worth considering. And i kept hearing about fixed gear bikes. There seemed a lot of web pages and places that built these things. There was a fixed gear bike shop a stone's throw from the flat. The bikes were on sale.

Reader: i got one. These can be i've learned super expensive; but they can also be very reasonable. They are perhaps the quintessential bike. Two wheels on a frame with pedals. The bike moves when you move. There is no spinning of freewheel. Very Yoda. There is no spin; either pedal or do not pedal. Goodness. Very simple. Very Steel. Which, i was told, like my road bike back home, was real.

Pedal or Pedal Not: there is no Spin
And amazingly, to complement this reintroduction to the simplicity of movement over/through space, the area was flat, too. Prairie flat. Given to much flatness. In other words, if you're gonna have one gear and your goal is to roll rather than suffer at odd intervals with hills in re-introducing yourself to an ancient practice, it seems i'd hit the sweet spot.

And what's even more - this was not only a cycling kinda town (bikes v.much everywhere - many of them ridden by "people on bikes" - not "cyclists" - the ones who give cyclists a bad name for effectively mowing down pedestrians...i blame town planners, really, but that's an aside) - the UK it turns out has an incredible network of roads designated as cycling routes - this seems to mean they are perceived to be slightly less life threatening than the main drags. This routing may be utterly useless for most commuters,  as getting from a to b is not it seems the point, but if one has the inclination simply to cycle, there are routes that will accommodate this in various guises.

One of my routes happened to be a tow path, with a good chunk being pretty narrow track. I raise this point as again, for someone trying to get back into road riding with as little conflict with other moving bodies as possible during a period of acclimatisation, this route felt like a gift from - well from something.  And with kevlar in the tires, the bike handled these chalky, bumpy gravelly, thorny very solo paths with verve.
frighteningly bucolic and flat. Singlespeed/fixed gear, tough tire joy
I was cycling for the first time. again.  Benefits galore.

"Go blow the stink off you."

In terms of getting outside again, and moving in the real world, across space, there have been many rewards from this chance extended stay in a bike-opportunistic space.

bicycle...bicycle...bicycle races
i love to ride my bicycle 
it's just really nice to reconnect with biking again. That first test drive with this one gear bike was "oh yeah, this is it! this feels great...i think i can still do this."For whatever reason, i enjoy this strange way of being in space, rolled over and in the drops going up and down. I also enjoy the pedalling or not. Not sure why yet, but it's a kind of skill/awareness thing.

traffic - you ain't all that - sorta
To be in an environ with so many other cyclists that when i ventured out onto the roads for short commutes, i was not ever the sole cyclist was very helpful as threat inoculation to get my on a real road legs back.

Off to London to Visit the Queen (that's SW1, right?)
- thanks to cyclestreets.net
spatial map building Being on a bike - just to ride - is helping me develop a new cognitive practice. In order to find places that will let me cover x miles at a time, i have to figure out where i'm going: i need to get a sense of the space. THis is no small thing for me. I am what i could be considered directionally impaired. Zero sense of direction.

That said, in just about any other area of life, it seems most awarenesses are skills-based, or are skills accessible. Perhaps navigation and spatial awareness can be developed? Even Rats can learn dead reckoning. There are i'm learning payoffs for being a spatial map builder (rather than a landmark user). Apparently people who do spatial map building have more hippocampus activity when engaging in way-finding. Hippocampus activity is a good thing. More on this anon. Pragmatically, better coordination in space would be, personally, a very good thing.

bikes go nice with kettelbells. Biking can be very interval-ish. Endurance is an important part of strength. Working at 85% HRMax for most of a 60-90min ride or more can be very interesting.

It was delightful to have bike rides at a reasonable HR complement the strength workouts. Leaner, stronger, faster. Dialing in cycling to support strength or vice versa. Up to you. Oh ya, and it's wicked fun. Which leads to the next point.

Goodness, this makes me, er, happy. Fourth, but perhaps first: what my partner and i realised quickly is that i came back from rides in a better space than when i left. This effect lead to me being encouraged to ride more frequently This had not been the experience so much after a workout. I'm always glad to have done a workout, but that feeling of euphoria - no that's too intense - but just pleasure - dealing with a variety of threats to get to pleasure/joy - is just kinda exhilarating.


Threat, what's the threat of getting on a bike and going, some may say?

Well, there's death. 
No one who's been following any of the reports in London about five deaths in a row in city cycling traffic and the various die-ins there can can be so naive as to take travelling on city or even country roads as not on some level taking one's life in one's hands.

Then there's the cost of missing something in the road. There's a reason that there are helmets in pro racing. It's not about the cars.  Check out on wikipedia when and why helmets started at the tour de france for instance. A helmet won't save me from a car for pete's sake - but it may help me from my self.

Also there's getting lost.
Some people are fine with this. Men, for instance.
I'm not great with that. I am a frequent visitor to "where am i"? I am guaranteed when in doubt to turn in the wrong direction. I'm not kidding. So for me there's a sense of risk that if i go out i might not get back - with things like phones with maps, i'm learning to calm down a lot on that one, but it's a stressor, ok?

 And there's machine failure far away from aid
Having some basic bike skilz and a spare inner tube and pump, in an area that i knew, and a working phone tracking my ride, i felt pretty safe. The very worst case was a few mile drag to somewhere to get a taxi. Nothing was unpopulated.

Uncommon Common Cow En-cow-ter?
In other words, dealing with these experiences - taking the risk; achieving the reward of experiencing things like cows in the path (some commons in the UK are still used as commons) or dealing with Swans on the path (they can be so fierce) - or being in bucolic spaces - the outside! even though the highways sounds were never too remote - it's wonderful. I don't know why - it's just a different wonderful from pressing heavy bells overhead. Variety is good.

oh sure they look lovely now...

Moving - out of the sagittal plane?

One of my constant quests with movement is to ensure that i'm not getting stuck in the sagittal plane that is the most common path in the gym. up and down, up and down. Very little side to side. Likewise, challenging peripheral awareness and responsiveness to others. Sport, five a side football, that kind of thing where one has to strategies with one's own team while out manoeuvring another team seems the ideal combination of strengths.

And then there's the bike. Really, a road bike is pretty durn sagittal, isn't it? My current consolation is that it is very demanding of peripheral awareness and of balance, and when riding with others, awareness of them too. It's also a machine; an intervention. And while it's hugely efficient as a machine for people, it's just not natural to be in that position for hours is it?

And yes, i like it. Rather a lot.

What enables a Beginning: Making Skill Building Possible

This part of the story is about the circumstances that enabled what in zhealth is called threat reduction: making the space safe to explore and threat inoculation: building up skills so that one progressively can up the demand on the system and still perform at the same level.

Later i'd like to share some stuff about getting to the next level:

  • getting off the tow path and onto the roads again
  • the inestimable value of a path breaking buddy who is sufficiently confident in their own skills, self, and opportunities to workout at their pace/level that they're there for you, enjoying themselves, not making you feel like they're coming down to your level.

next time: randoneur buddy spirit

Best wishes for the New Year
Here's to your excellent health, strength and joyful practice - inside and out.


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