Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bad Luck or Bad Karma?

(I listened to Mur Lafferty's "I Should Be Writing." She went through a few weeks of very little writing because of 'stuff happening' - something I can relate to from recent experience. But she received an email from a fan saying that if we don't write through the low spots, allowing 'stuff' to get in the way, we'll never write. And that's certainly true. I've let the 'toos' get in the way: Too tired, too busy, too involved in other projects, etc. My drafts folder is bulging with too may incomplete posts.)

(This post began as a column for the Red Dirt Pedaler's newsletter "Wheel Issues." Susan Walker is their editor. She normally wants me to limit the column to 500 words, so I took a chainsaw to it, tightening it up considerably and - in my opinion - making it funnier in the process. It's important to realize just what can be thrown out. The shorter version is about 650 words. Sometimes I'm too close to a piece and I'm happy with the way an idea came out. Or I'm too proud of a turn of phrase or just the right sentence. I hate to chop them. That's one reason I like working with Susan. As editor, she's not emotionally attached to what I've written, and she can edit ruthlessly when necessary. She makes me look better.)

(Maybe the newsletter deadline is the kind of goad I need to keep writing. Paraphrasing Dr. Johnson, there's nothing like a deadline to wonderfully concentrate the mind. One of the writing blogs recommended that we set similar goals for ourselves. It also recommended stream-of-consciousness writing as a means of producing new ideas. It's much like throwing strands of spaghetti at the wall to see which ones stick. Actually, I've adopted some of the ideas, including one recommending that we write in a simple text editor so that spelling correction and formatting are kept to a minimum, allowing greater concentration on the written words.)

(That's enough introspection for the moment. Here's the full length Bad Karma piece. After Susan publishes, I'll post the edited piece here.)

I rode to work on Tuesday morning for the first time this year. It's been almost 2 months since I last commuted by bicycle and I missed it. The original plan was to ride on Monday, but after getting all my stuff together I couldn't find my helmet - even after searching the house for an hour. It may have been mixed in with some trash we discarded or it may be lost in all that Christmas stuff in storage. Who knows. Regardless, it was at the end of its serviceable life, so losing it was not a big concern.

I bought a new helmet at 360 Sports in Owasso. This one is a Louis Garneau Equinox and it seems to be constructed mostly of holes. I had 2 requirements. First, it had to be big enough for my oversized head (containing an oversized brain and equally large ego) and it had to be a light color. This one is white. Since I ride to work before dawn, having a light colored helmet helps to present a human silouette to overtaking motorists. The helmet's tail is black styrofoam, so I applied a couple pieces of reflective tape.

Mary gave me a new cycling jacket as a Christmas present. Wade gave me one too! So I have two high tech jackets, one that fits better over a bulky sweater or my windblocker fleece jacket. It'll be the choice for genuinely cold weather. The other fits more tightly and doubles as a vest. It'll be better for cool weather in spring and fall.

I added the new helmet and jacket to my normal winter kit - thermal shirt, jersey, shorts, tights, leg warmers, various sweaters, a balaclava, and ski gloves. The leg warmers are the cycling type, not the ones used by dancers that inevitably bring back visions of Flashdance and that infernal music in my head. "She's a maaaaaniac!" It's one of those diabolic tunes that sticks in my head, driving me sligtly crazy. (Oh dear God no! It's started up again!. Please shoot me now.)

Back in the fall, I purchased a new light from Tom's Bicycles, a Cygolite that puts out the equivalent to 10 or 15 watts in a halogen unit. I'll write something more detailed on the light soon.

But all of the above is merely a preface, setting the stage for the real thrust of this post.

I'm just a little bit superstitious.

I know, I know, it's utterly senseless. My rational mind says that there's no point indulging in certain rituals before a ride, but I can't help myself. Some behaviors could be rationalized as mere habits, but that would only be a comfortable way to avoid confronting their almost obsessive nature. There's nothing major, just some small behaviours that I can only describe as rituals.

For instance, I always put my shoes on starting with the right foot. Bad things happen if I start with the other one. And before I put them on, I have to stare at them for a moment or two. OK, that may be simple procrastination, because I know that once I've put on shoes, I'm committed to go to work. Some mornings I delay as long as possible.

The shoes, however, are a minor thing. What really bothers me is adding new equipment because I don't know what kind of karma it brings. Yes, this is really stupid. I didn't claim it was rational. I haven't crashed or even had a fl@t t1re for a long time, so whenever I get something new, I wonder if it carries bad luck. The problem is compounded when I receive a bunch of new items, like I did at Christmas, so my irrational fears are even more exaggerated.

I think this traces back to my Giant CFR2 that I rode to work 3 times before some foolish teenager showing off for his girlfriend drove under me from behind. I'd had that bike for only a few weeks. It was worth more than his car and it was totally destroyed. My left leg was broken, helmet smashed, and I spent the night in the hospital after having a seizure. Did the Carbon Fiber Gods frown and turn their thumbs down or did the CFR2 arrive with massively bad karma?

Ok, that covers the basics. Tuesday's ride was blessed. I had a light tailwind going both ways. Sure, it was cold by Oklahoma standards - about 20F both mornings - and I am out of shape from inactivity, so I planned to stay in a small gear and spin easily.

The Headwind Gods sneered at the Tailwind Gods, smacked them upside the head with an open palm, and sent them off wailing for their mommas. Then they turned their attention on me.

When I unlocked the bike Wednesday afternoon, the temperature hovered in the low 40s, but the wind howled by at over 20 mph. It gusted higher and came from due north. I'd have it in my face most of the way home, with only a brief 'respite' of crosswind for a mile. The Bianchi is a stable bike, but a strong crosswind works the pannier like a weather vane, and the effect is worse at low speed. The first 4 miles were directly into the wind. I managed to get up to almost 12 mph pedaling downhill and into the wind, but most of the ride was at 9-10 mph. The wheel flop resulting from low speed coupled with occassional wind buffets made getting a drink a problem. I did not want to remove my hands from the handlebars, preferring to stay in control rather than risk a fall.

Even in a small gear, it was like riding uphill constantly. I was breathing hard most of the way and I was beginning to feel more than a little wobbly toward the end. The final hill up to the house looked almost like an alp. I switched down to the granny gear and kept grinding along. Jordan waited in the driveway, anxious for my arrival - and the arrival of my all-important car keys. It was very good that he was there. I was afraid to try to get off the bike without assistance. He supported me for one attempt, but I almost fell, so he went inside to get Mary. With their assistance, I was able to throw a leg over the bike of the bike and dismount. They walked me into the house as I nearly fell a few more times. Jordan unceremoniously dumped me on the couch, took the keys, and jetted off to work.

"This is a switch," I said to Mary. "Usually, it's me helping you!" She grinned.

Under my windbreaker, my clothing was damp with sweat. I was very badly dehydrated in addition to being out of shape for a hard slog into the wind. After a cup of coffee and a bottle of water, I felt better, but Mary hovered and wouldn't let me do much that evening.

In all honesty, the wobbly legs were frightening. It was much like the feeling after a hard sprint, when energy and oxygen are spent and it's impossible to get off the bike safely. I do not want to repeat the experience.

But I was thinking, too, that maybe an atrocious headwind ride restored my karmic balance. I've paid the price for all that new equipment and now I can relax. But I'll still put my right shoe on first.




Post a Comment

<< Home