Sunday, September 30, 2007

Down the shore

Yesterday was a first for me: a forty-five mile bike ride. I was rather dreading it, but of course really the thing is that I failed to conceptualize it as a ride rather than a race: it was if anything much too slow and easy, it would have been more enjoyable to go considerably faster and more freely!

It was my lovely sister-in-law's idea that a group of us should do this City to Shore bike ride together to raise money for multiple sclerosis. (Here's the link if you find yourself inclined to donate.)

I meant to do some serious bike-related training for it but various life-related things (book manuscripts, teaching, swimming, running, yoga, weights, bicycle-related trepidation) got in the way and I was completely underprepared! However in the event it was fine, and a great confidence-builder.Team Davidson

Bicycle-related thoughts:

1. Turns out New Jersey Transit is extremely bicycle-friendly; good to know. Taking the bike on the subway was not as awful as I expected, though I feel that I am carrying this bicycle under false pretenses--it makes me look as though I'm a better cyclist than I actually am! I should worry less and trust more that it is possible to breeze through life with the world coming into alignment with the needs of the moment! Esp. re: bicycles...

2. At the last minute I flaked out on the clipless pedals. I put the cycling shoes on in the parking lot as we got ready to go and wore them for the first five minutes--but it was a crowd of thousands, we were packed together, terribly stop and start at the beginning, and I suddenly just thought, "You know, if I just ride in my regular sneakers, I will feel super-calm and confident and have no worries other than mild brake-related anxiety, whereas if I'm clipped in I will (a) be on the edge of my seat with anxiety and (b) actually risk toppling over at one of these stops and bringing others with me. Fear and the greater good are both saying switch shoes, just swallow your pride and wear the other ones!" It was a pity not to get the practice, but I am sure it was the right decision. I dismounted and did a quick switch back to my sneakers, I was back on the bike even before we got going again...

3. Takes a lot of concentration to ride in a big group like this. All back roads (from Hammonton, NJ to Ocean City), some of them closed off but some of them just with a very narrow shoulder and at least in theory all of us (thousands!) riding single file. A lot of people are not thinking about the needs of riding in a group--I was glad of my friend R.'s lessons on bicycle safety...

4. I think I like riding a bike! (I also think I like my bike very much, it is better than I currently deserve but I will endeavor to earn the right to ride it...)

5. The only really bad moment: two bridges a couple miles away from the end of the ride. I am pretty much afraid of heights, when I have to run over a significant bridge I just do it as fast as possible, resist the urge to throw myself to the ground and crawl along on my stomach & also hope that I will not actually be sick from nerves. So the course marshal stopped us all at a light and very sternly warned us that these two very windy and steep bridges were coming up and that we should walk over them if we were worried about our riding ability. Going up and over was fine, I'm pretty strong so I had no worries whatsoever and I just didn't look over the side and concentrated on feeling like I had good control over the bike. But I think I was literally saying out loud to myself on the downhills (as I clutched the brakes with total Death Grip) "Oh, god, make this be over, make this be over soon..." Hmmm, bridges not so appealing...

6. I think I can make some minor accommodations and find myself much more courageous about bicycle-related training. I can walk my bike over to Central Park if I need, or ride over in sneakers and switch into cleats over there. I can ride my bike with cleats along the West Side greenway without having to ride on the road at all, or with only riding the twenty blocks down Riverside to get into the park proper. This is all slightly cowardly but it is not inherently insane to think of being cautious before making the move to using clipless pedals in city traffic. Really as my brother pointed out they are designed for the kind of long ride where you don't really need to stop and start much at all, and even quite experienced cyclists may find it troublesome to be clipping in and out at traffic lights. Patience....

Hmmm, really it is too soon to say, but if I found a good half-iron distance triathlon for next summer, I think I could do enough bike training to have a decent race. I'm good already on the running and swimming, assuming some more bricks and open-water practice. And if I do it by early August, I can switch over to marathon training without schedule conflict re: long runs...

Further thoughts on charitable endeavors:

Oh, I am such a terrible cynic about all things to do with organized charity, and really this time round I am absolutely ashamed of myself, because this has been a really wonderful experience! And it all must be chalked up to the excellence of my lovely sister-in-law Jessica Zenquis Davidson. We would never have done it without her. It was her idea, she persuaded the rest of us to join her and she raised rather more money than any of us did--but she deserves the credit even for a wider round of philanthropy than these numbers suggest. My mom did some fund-raising on our behalf at the school she teaches at, and a number of teachers decided as a result to get together as another team of riders, and in short Jessi can be considered directly responsible for several thousands of dollars' worth of fundraising for this very worthwhile cause. I am so proud of her and grateful to her for including me!

Most of all, I was touched by several comments left on my original blog post concerning this ride. As a person slightly inclined to skepticism about group enterprises of a charitable nature, I forget that these things are really meaningful apart from the money, and I will close by pasting in the really moving words of an MS sufferer named Mark who wrote to thank us for doing the ride:
I am a trained musician who was diagnosed with Secondary Progressive MS last year. I still can't listen to Jaqueline Du Pres (or any performance of the Elgar 'Cello concerto) without bursting into tears. However, life goes on and you smile through it.

I particularly want to say how good my local MS Society group has been in coming to terms with my condition and how understanding my employer has been considering I had been with them only 6 months when I had a major MS attack and was correctly diagnosed (I had an incorrect dignosis of CFS 3 years before and was subsequently made redundant on the back of that diagnosis) I'm a very lucky man to have such friends and employers; both + beta inteferon give me hope and strength.

I've since found out the complications from the condition (you can't catch it, it just happens) killed my Great Uncle 50 years ago, so thank goodness there are people in this world like you who do give a damn and want to help.

I experience prejudice against me almost every day as an obviously disabled person so people like yourself that give me hope and strength make a huge difference in my life.

Thank you so much.

The thanks, though, should go not to me but to Jessi and to all of the volunteers in New Jersey who made the ride such an enjoyable and rewarding experience.The finish line

(There were a lot of spectators lining the last mile or so of the ride, with a real finish-chute feel and lots of cheering and even some cowbell--I thought about how I am going to feel as I finish my first Iron-distance triathlon three years from now!)


  1. Brilliant! I'm glad it was fun and worthwhile -- it's lovely when events can be both.

  2. Yay! Nice job. I had a feeling that once you spent some more time on the bike, it would get a lot easier and a lot less frightening. I hear you, too, about the clipless pedals; I imagine that if I were to ride down the streets of Manhattan, I probably wouldn't clip in at all (unless I were riding up a hill and needed to), but would let my foot rest on top of the pedal, so I'd be ready for anything. That stop and start business at the beginning of a crowded ride is difficult.

  3. Man, that was a thrill ride. Reading about it, I mean.

  4. i am so totally amazed at what you manage to do & accomplish. such a bionic woman. you did all this while i watched 12+ hours of sports on TV.