Moved at 41 m.p.h. – and Not By Asphalt

As I tightened my grip, I stuck out my left knee while my right leg remained straight, opening my thigh to the road in front of me. Left oblique tightened, I drove my shoulder firmly forward, likely all of a quarter inch. The subtle degree of tension was crucial. This was body control. I’d been working on descending the sweeping roads that cut through the topography of California for some time now. The hills of southwest Ohio, while a fine venue to learn cycling, could not have prepared me for either side of this mountain. Thanks to watching my experienced riding buddies I was able to learn the clean lines and body positions of proper descent technique (when you can’t descend as fast as someone, the learning opportunities come by definition).

28 MPH…
33 MPH…
37 MPH…
39 MPH…
38 MPH…

(tuck, compress)

41 MPH…

The first time you see that number on your cycling computer, instinct kicks in as you responsibly think of all of the things that could go wrong. They come one after another, snowballing until your sweaty fingers give in and squeeze the break levers, sending the number downward toward a more manageable set of consequences. But on that day, I relished that number. Experience had replaced fear with confidence – not cockiness, mind you – that I could control, if not excel in, the current situation. Each line was carefully plotted out, each spot – checkpoint if you will – identified and hit, like a slalom skier clicking off blue gates in a downhill event. I gritted my teeth as a smile peeled off the right side of my mouth.

Why am I telling you this?

“Good for you, man I cycle too. This happens at least once a weekend.”

“Good for you, man. I don’t cycle. In fact, I think you’re nuts and you’ll probably die.”

All fair, all fair.

I’m telling you this because while I was contorting my obliques, hawking my next spot on the double yellow line, willing my bicycle for one more mile-per-hour of potentially rib shattering speed…I was holding back tears (I’d love to redeem my man-card right now and tell you these were wind induced tears due to forgotten sunglasses, but I’d be lying – still sticking with “holding back” though). In front of me, one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever witnessed was revealing itself. As each turn was made, a layer of ocean or cliffside or green grass was unpeeled from behind the section of asphalt consumed by my two wheels. The cloudless sky lent its vibrancy as the constant backdrop against which I worked to fill with the unknowns of this scene, anxious to see what nature had in store next. I was descending down the west side of Conzelman Road in the Marin Headlands of the San Francisco Bay. The perfect cocktail of intrigue and adrenaline had taken a hold of me to produce a moment of clarity, of appreciation, of ecstasy.

When trying to wrap one’s head around the mind of an endurance athlete, it can be tough to know where to start. The miles, the hours, the food, the sleep, the gear, the obsession with the gear, the food, the gear… A myriad of valid questions can best be summed up with one: Why? For as many questions, there are as many answers. But in one man’s honest, humble opinion – sometimes you take yourself to a place that can not otherwise be reached, neither externally and internally. In this case, that “place” could have been reached by car, but it couldn’t have been reached in the same way that it was that day. And once you know that place, nothing that happens at a desk, couch or barstool can reproduce the feeling; it’s grabbed you, locked on, and knows you’ll be back soon. Sometimes we do the things we do because it’s the only way to reach a certain place. And sometimes that place is really friggin’ beautiful.

One thought on “Moved at 41 m.p.h. – and Not By Asphalt

  1. After a while, you don’t even notice the mph. You notice how quickly things come up and go by. There really is no time to think about much besides making sure you keep clean lines and control into and out of the turns. The descent from Pantoll is one of the best descents in the Bay area (at least north side of bridge). The road just pulls you down, faster and faster. When you get home and download the garmin/android/iphone, your suspicions are confirmed – 44, 50, whatever. No matter the speed, the adrenaline in and during the moment will tell you more than any man-made device. That, my friend, is what draws you back week after week, year after year.

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