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Touring and Racing
Wildflowers are blooming in the Anza-Borrego Desert and an unseasonably angry storm is whipping my tent around with gusts of 40-45 miles per hour. In the morning, I’ll start a 7-day solo exploration of this Southern California Desert region. Down in the valley, friends are ripping around on road bikes at a training camp in Palm Springs. I’ve opted for the nomadic approach this time, trading speed for scenery and aggression for adventure.
My bike and gear together weight somewhere around 70 pounds, depending on whether or not I am carrying extra water in a dromedary bag. The effect is cumbersome and lumbering, but touring is not without its own grace.
On this bike everything happens in slow motion. Every turn and maneuver is more carefully navigated. Only when the road tips down in a straight line do things get exciting. The mass of steel and gear picks up speed that feels a little dangerous. 30 miles per hour, then 40. I hold on tight and pray for good road surfaces. These are free miles and I've earned them so I don't intend to slow down.
Coming down the highway from Ranchita into San Diego County farmland at 35 mph, I hit a pothole that jars one of my panniers clean off the rack. I look back and it's hanging by just one clip, looking precarious. Instead of being grateful for avoiding near disaster, I'm annoyed that I have to stop my momentum to re-attach the bag.
While I'm balancing the bike and wrestling with the bag, I see a shiny roadie appear up the road. He's flying down the grade and, though I'm obviously in a bit of distress, he neither greets me nor offers help. Not even a wave.
Though I have no basis to do so, I dismiss his behavior as classic bad roadie bullshit. His lack of compassion and my snap judgment are both a startling reminder of the way that we divide ourselves as cyclists. "I'm one of you!!!" I want to scream after him. But I think better of it and go back to the situation at hand. When I'm on this bike, riding alone and slowly, I am not one of them.
Many racing friends can't understand my compulsion to tour like this - favoring instead to stay on ultra-lightweight bikes making familiar circles that begin at a home where a shower and a hot meal are guaranteed. I agree that riding faster has its appeal, but I grow weary of seeing the same roads over and over again. What is a bicycle if not a tool for transportation and exploration?
The dictionary provides this definition of transport: To carry from one place to another; convey. By this definition, starting and ending at the same point does not qualify as true transportation - you're meant to end up somewhere new. I want to be transported literally as well as figuratively.
The truth is that when I'm on the touring bike, I'm not so different from my racing friends - we both are compelled to court discomfort. Theirs comes in the form of friendly attacks on local climbs or county-line sprints, mine comes on an 11% grade when the laws of physics are kicking me and my overweight bicycle square in the teeth - or at night when I sleep on a pillow made of spare clothing and a bed made of hard earth.
I tour with the mentality of a competitor - with a compulsion to push the limits of everything: daylight, legs, and lungs. When I get home, this distinct kind of discomfort will translate, albeit slowly, back into the kind of suffering that propels a racer.
Last summer I discussed my August touring plans with a friend and she noted that it was, quite possibly, the worst training I could do to prepare for my 'cross season. Initially, I agreed with her, acknowledging that long, slow hours would not a 45-minute speed demon make. But the result proved me wrong.
I came home from a month of lumbering and went straight into the schedule. It took four weeks of hard intervals and weekend races, but when the snap came back into my legs it was compounded by almost 1000 miles of fresh endurance memory - and I was faster than I'd ever been.
I've worked with coaches and trained with power and slogged out through long series of calculated three-week builds. I've done the fast group rides and spent winter months in Tucson obsessing over my Training Peaks account. I don't know enough about the science to tell you the intricacies of the physiology for how or why using a month of touring to train for 'cross season worked, but I don't think it matters.
Performing well on the bike is a careful blend of science and magic and I appreciate both equally. Last year I abandoned formal training in favor of joyful nomadic wandering and returned home light and tan and full of stories. And happy.
It was the best time I’d had on the bike in years and there is something to be said for the increased efficacy of a happy bike racer.
Anza-Borrego State Park leads me to Ocotillo which leads to the Salton Sea which leads back to Borrego Springs which leads to Oak Grove and finally arrives in Anza, California. After seven days of headwinds, highways, farm roads, long climbs, free campsites, quiet nights, slow rolling and convenience store dining, I find myself back in my life, standing in the garage regarding my road bike - a whisper of a thing just over 16 pounds at race weight. When I put my leg over the top tube and start pedaling, it feels like a toy. When we hit the first climb of the day, it feels like a rocket ship.
I climb Hicks Road and smile the entire time. My legs are shiny, my shoes are white and I carry nothing aside from a small pump in my center back pocket with a few bits of identification. At the end of the day, I end up exactly where I started - at a warm house filled with short Sicilian in-laws and a table full of homemade bread and wine.
I am one of them again.
- RT @rapha_australia: The first #alpedquiz question has been asked. "FAUSTO COPPI WAS THE FIRST MAN TO DO WHAT?" Answer at http://t.co/EnOFN…
- RT @rapha_n_america: Up Close: The Rapha x Raeburn Fall-Winter Collection via @selectism :: http://t.co/O27Eo9pQGK
- What do you get the cyclist who has everything? Here's what we recommend for the dandy in your life. → http://t.co/ciPREr3fnP
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- The @rapharacing #festive500 is back. Once again we challenge riders worldwide to clock 500km between 24-31 Dec. → http://t.co/HmgDlUJTiI
- RT @RaphaCycleClub: NYC: Analog to digital conversion. #oneoftheseplease #Festive500 http://t.co/f2rQd3Lv6g
- RT @roadcc: Rapha Alpe d’Quiz starts today with prizes to be won @rapharacing #cycling | road.cc http://t.co/tTdEEWjf8k
- RT @RaphaCycleClub: LDN: great to have @DanMartin86 as guest barista in the club this afternoon. http://t.co/IeCC0HKuKr
- Part Two from @RigoZimmerman's series, ‘The Winter’ is now available to read → http://t.co/GIl5Kj9Sfy • Part One → http://t.co/8IclbHCHcc
- As teased at the weekend, Rapha is pleased to welcome the return of Alpe d’Quiz, three weeks of… http://t.co/od3pWXomm9