The old lessons

September 28, 2022 Comments Off on The old lessons

These are the ones you are constantly having to re-learn, which calls into question whether in fact you ever learned them. One of my favorites is Lemond’s line, “It doesn’t get easier, you just go faster.”

I love this because it’s untrue and thus must be committed irrevocably to memory. It does get easier, and you don’t necessarily go faster. In fact, you typically go slower, until you give up cycling altogether in a process known as “death.”

But it does get easier, really, it does. And it gets easier in two ways. First is relatively easier. The second half of the 12-mile dirt climb up Old State Road is the sandiest, switch-backiest, and hardest. Many times in the last couple of miles I’ve seen human footprints, usually with a dog’s, marking out a pleasant 4-mile walk for someone who lives up in Alta Sierra.

But I’ve never seen the person, or any person, ever riding, running, or even walking on the road.

Two days ago I had climbed the 155 and was taking the dirt descent on OSR when I saw the tracks again sans dog. They were fresh. “Oh,” I thought, “the guy is out for a walk.”

I descended for about three miles, still seeing the tracks, until I actually came upon the guy. He was mostly bald, chubby, and mid-40’s old. But here’s the thing. It was already a 6-mile run for him, eight if he’d begun back in Alta Sierra, and it is a damned hard section to run up or down. He waved, and to make matters worse he was running fast, by which I mean faster than I’ve ever run, which sets the bar low.

Still … the longest run I’ve ever done was twelve miles but it was on the bottom section of OSR, yes, in the dirt and uphill, but I turned around about a mile into the really steep and sandy section. Just the fact that this guy was out there running was impressive, let alone his pace, which was humbling. So I started following his footprints in earnest, almost crashing numerous times as I did, disbelieving, as they continued on and on and on.

Finally, when it would have been about a 20-mile run, the tracks ended. I forgot to mention that it was already hot. This guy’s run made my ride relatively easier because it reminded me that running is way harder than riding and that I’d had to screw myself up for an 8-mile climb whereas he’d had to screw himself up for a near-marathon. My ride got relatively easier just thinking about it.

I took the next day off, tired from the crazy climb up the 155, and this morning shouldered a pack that I’d loaded down with about ten pounds of water, and rode up the 155 again. It was so much easier than two days ago, and yes, I went faster, fifteen or twenty minutes faster. This is the second way it gets easier: Although Lemond is right about trained athletes trying to improve their times, he’s wrong about old doofuses trying to dislodge themselves from the clutching embrace of the recliner.

The first time in a long time that I’d climbed the 155 it was bitter hell with a dash of gall and wormwood thrown in. There is a huge difference between something so hard that you barely have the strength to turn your legs over, and having the fitness to ride the same route where the discomfort is pace rather than the sheer effort of not toppling over. It really was easier because strength fatigue is different from fitness fatigue.

Which brings us to the old lesson.

Whether it gets easier and whether you go faster isn’t the point. The old lesson is that you have to get out and do it, period. I thought about that guy pounding out twenty miles on the hardest road I know of. I’ve no idea if he was going faster or if it was getting easier, but it didn’t matter. He knew the old lesson; he’d laced up and done the run.

If I ever see him again I’ll stop and thank him for the reminder.


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