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A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

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the dream

Champions

I have always been told I am competitive. For a while I denied it. I only wanted to be the best I possibly could. I couldn’t understand how other people had anything to do with my goals.

Then I spent the entirety of my adolescence — save for a brief nine months immediately preceding menarche — feeling utterly and completely alone.

Yesterday I realized that that loneliness was my competitiveness lacking an appropriate outlet. Or at least a great part of it was.

You see, very few people in the world know what it’s like to dedicate themselves wholly and single mindedly to a task. Many people think they know.

For example Thunder thinks he knows what it means to be truly great as a cyclist. He thinks it means abusing himself, denying himself, making every practice session gut wrenchingly difficult so that he can feel like he is doing everything he can to be great. Many Japanese men share a similar attitude. But true greatness requires attention to every detail. You cannot neglect your emotional health because you want to be an athlete any more than you can neglect your physical health because you want to be a genius.

To a certain extent, the single-minded head bashing approach to training will work. It will take the young and inexperienced well into the ranks of mediocre or slightly advanced. However, to break through to the highest echelons of human performance one must become intimate with the entirety of their existence: mind, body, heart, and environment. Every one of these must work in harmony if you want to know the true limits of your ability and not just fizzle out somewhere in the middle of the path.

After spending time with a true champion, I now understand that my inability to connect with the people around me, even the “active” and the “sporty” people is perhaps a direct result of the fact that I want to be truly great while most people are content to just be pretty good. It’s not to say that I am better than others. I still have a long way to go and there are countless unknowns on the path in front of me that could derail my plans, but I know where I want to go and that is to the edge. My loneliness it seems is because I keep surrounding myself with people who are better than me by chance — because they were lucky enough to be born male, or because they were trained from a younger age — but not people who are traveling the same path to greatness that I am traveling.

It is thanks to my dearest rival that I understand the difference between a champion and an amateur. It was she who taught me that the competition isn’t even about winning, but about discovering how you can take that next step on the path to discovering your own potential.

No wonder I have been so lonely all these years. I have confused chance and circumstance with drive and intention for almost my whole life. I am truly excited now to see what the world looks like when I can share it with people who are traveling the same path with me.

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Digging Deep and Things

Today’s practice was insanity. We rode our hill repeats loop course this morning — five loops of a ten kilometer course featuring a steep (15-17% grade) hill followed by a long, flowing, fast descent. This week I had ridden 170 kilometers leading up to practice and only forty of them were gentle. The rest were brutal hills through these beautiful mountains that I live in. I had done my best to recover, but rock climbing, trials practice and an impromptu plank competition (x2) had left me sore from top to bottom and the power necessary to climb the hill brought me well into my anaerobic zone. I was hurting.

Our theme was “each person leads one loop.” Five team mates meant five loops. The shop owner joined us this morning and watched our form and gave us all advice on posture, cadence, gears, pacing. It was real time and highly personal. I like that man more and more every time I meet him. I lead the second loop and focused hard on my breathing (exhale completely, open your chest) and my pacing. I wanted to make sure I could lead the group solidly through my entire loop even though I knew I was the weakest one on the climbs. When he came up through the ranks and rode next to me his only words were “that’s it, nice form!” I was exhilarated!

My thighs were on fire and I was sweating rivulets down my face and arms. It was dripping into my eyes and I was panting, my heart pounding as I finished the climbs of the second loop. I took a deep breath and headed into the descent quietly dreading the remaining three loops and wondering if I would even be able to complete them. The central hill is so steep that more than once I’ve gotten wobbly from exhaustion and my pace had slowed so much that I was afraid I would simply topple over. You’re pushing so hard into the pedals that even if you wanted to bail you’d be hard pressed to unweight them long enough to unclip.

We headed into the descent and this is where I seem to shine. Even though I reflexively tense up when I feel overwhelmed technically, and I find high speed descents on tight mountain passes to be very overwhelming, I have been focusing consistently on my technique. When I’m taking corners I check in with my whole body to see where I am on the bicycle: Where is my weight? Where is my focus? My hand position? Am I leaned in or upright? Do I extend my inside knee? How close does my line take me to the edge of my lane? Was I able to adjust mid turn? Could I have pedaled this corner? Braked later or lighter? In barely a month’s time I have gotten so much faster on my descents that my team mates are starting to have trouble keeping up. This is good.

And it is not just the corners that I’m taking faster. I seem to have an ability to fly on the flats that even the boys in my group don’t possess. I burn out faster than they do still, and if they try to sprint and over take me then I will most surely drop behind, but I don’t let up. I push it and I hold it. My eyes become fierce, my form light and compact. The world around me hums and blurs until there is just me and the road and perhaps the wheel I am chasing. It’s an intense and dangerous place to be in, but that is where the beast lives.

With the power of the beast I dropped frumps no less than three times today. I’m feeling very smug about it.

After pracitce Kamiya-san talked with me a bit about my form and my training and where I should put my focus. The man has incredible patience with me. He is just a spring of information and he just lets it flow whenever I ask. I love it.

Coming home I met with my neighbor, a former marine and sniper. We talked about the power of the human will. Apparently in the marines they teach their cadets that the power of will is strong enough to control the body and overcome any emotion. I don’t believe in overcoming emotions, though I know it is possible. As he was talking to me what I heard him say was

The human mind and the human heart is stronger than any circumstance you can find yourself in. If you want to be the champion hard enough, no one will be able to stop you.

As an old woman, or so the journalists who cover professional cycling would want me to believe I am, I am starting this journey at a serious disadvantage to the young’uns who have been nurtured and sculpted since puberty for their sport. Sports science would have me believe that it’s too late for me, that my body’s ability to produce power is already in decline, that my timer has run out and that I’ll never make it. But I don’t believe in science. I believe in myself. All I have to hang on to is this aching, burning desire to range free over the roads, chasing down my rivals and devouring them with the pure animalistic hunger that keeps my heart beating and my legs churning.

Today I learned that even though that may be all I have, it is really all I need.

ライバル練 My Rival

ずーっと探していたものがこないだ見つかりました。ライバルです。

女子で、強くて、本気で、かわいくて、パーフェクトなライバルです。今のところはスキルもほぼ同じレベル。彼女は競技の経験が長い、10年長い、ですが、私の方が自転車の愛情を持っています。どっちが勝つんでしょう?

周りの人間は、みんなライバルの方に掛けています。少しずつわかってきましたが、誰も私のことを信じていません。もしかして楽しんでいる人、または笑っている人が勝てるわけないとかと思っているでしょう。無意識でね。痛いです。私の仲間のはずの人達が私のことを信じていません。

でも、大丈夫です。私は生まれてからずっと独りでやってきた人なんです。周りが信じていなくても私はやりたいことを自分一人でやります。しかも今はライバルができています。ライバルは私のことを信じなくても引っ張ってくれますから力となります。

そして、私たち2人が笑いながらチャンピオンになった時にみんなが私たちの笑顔を見て、「なるほど。笑っているやつでも勝てるのだ」と思います。

それで世界が変わります。

私は幸せと楽しみの代表として活動をしています。

よろしくお願いします!


English:

Continue reading “ライバル練 My Rival”

Unhinged

Recently my SLAMpig told me that my brain is unhinged in a way that enables me to accomplish things that others might not be able to. He was careful to mention that that didn’t mean I was obligated to accomplish things, just that they were accomplishable to me if I so desired.

Today I’m sitting at home in my air conditioned house looking at housing listings online. It hasn’t been a year since I moved here, to a place that I thought was paradise at the time. I told my friend that I was considering moving and she look at me incredulously.

“Again??”

Yes, again. I’m looking for something and I’m willing to take risks to find it. The problem is that what I’m looking for does not fit into the well defined categories of society. I’m seeking freedom, and my People. Those are not things that one can be sure to find if one follows the typical common sense advice.

That’s why I moved out here in the first place. I used to live a ten minute walk from my job. I was in a small apartment in a quiet-ish part of town. Lazy is a better word. It was a corner of town where people drove their cars to work and came home to their families and ate dinner watching tv. They are not my people, of course. But I thought that I might be able to find my people while living there so I stuck it out until 〇〇 called me. There was good reason that I would find my people in 〇〇, so I came here. Here, amid mountains and along a gorgeous river, I suffered through a brutal winter in a drafty house. Just as the weather started to turn pleasant, the tourists arrived, ushered in by my neighbor and his monstrosity of a “Family Lodge” which he carved out of a quiet mountain and now uses to turn peace, solitude and nature into noise, misery and pocket cash.

So I’m off to look again for another place to live. This time, like before, my goal is the same: I want to find a place to live that will put me in touch with my People. This time I have a much better idea of what to look for than before. In short, I know I need green and I know I need quiet. I also know I need a space where I can maintain my bikes. Moreover, this time I think I know who my People are, and where they are, and this time I’m going to pick a spot that I know for sure will make them easier to play with.

These are where I will find my People:

N’~ will be my People. Her friend Komachi will be my People, too.
SiZu-san will be my People. He kind of already is my people, but he’s far from me so it feels like he isn’t my People.
Sempai will be my People. He said he wants to be my people, and who am I to turn that down?

I found a spot that will make all of these people closer to me. It will also make my current workplace closer while keeping me at the foothills of my favorite ride: Iriyama Toge. And it will put me in closer touch with the people who I desperately want to adopt me: Team You Can, Hachioji.

Most people would think this is an awful lot of work to go through just to live closer to some people who aren’t my family. Most people would wonder why I would go through the trouble to still have an hour commute from my job. But I am not most people. I am unhinged and to me, this makes perfect sense. I live a Spartan life as I am told. I have few possessions and at least half of what I own is either a bicycle or a bicycle accessory. Moving for me is actually a simple thing outside of the adjustment period. Sure, I would like to have comfy furniture and Nice Things, but not if they prevent me from finding my Happiness and my People.

I suppose that part of what unhinges me is that I do not value what others value. I do not value comforts in the typical sense. I do not value fancy clothes or expensive electronics. Even as I type this I wonder to myself if there are people who do value those things still; that’s how far removed they are from my life. I do not value a respectable job as I know that a job is something given to me by an organization, not a human, and an organization cannot care for my well being. I do not value money because money cannot buy me People. I do not value convenience because convenience makes people dependent on the civilization around them. I do not value civilization because it separates us from our Humanity.

To me, my decisions are perfectly reasonable and hardly troublesome. I lose nothing of value and I gain adventure by picking up and moving to a new place. I gain the ability to hope for something better, the chance to try something new, the chance to succeed where I have failed in the past. Perhaps the greatest thing I gain is the ability to prove to myself that, I could if I wanted to.

I think Freedom is a skill that one must practice or it will perish. One must practice being free by breaking out of their box, tearing down their boundaries and frightening themselves with the possibility of tremendous change. Most people are not free. Most people are afraid to be free. I am not afraid to be free. I am unhinged.

Connections

Why is it so difficult to make connections with other people?

I have fought with this problem for many years. The last time I can remember having people with whom I really felt comfortable — truly, self conciouslessly comfortable — was when I was twelve years old.

I was in sixth grade and I wore baggy shorts and oversized band T-shirts. I sat on walls, hacked computers and bantered with the smartass boys in school. I was a dancer, but I wasn’t friends with the dancers. They were always too popular for me, spending their time wearing makeup and having boyfriends. I had a best friend then, too.

My best friend was much, much richer than I was. She collected San Rio stationary and we would practice trying to draw our own versions that were as cute as the original characters. I got somewhat decent at a Pochako. In science class we would massage each other’s palms to pass the time and stay awake. I think for me it went extremely far in keeping me out of fights with the teacher. He was dimwitted and boring. Taught out of a textbook, but did it so poorly that we couldn’t cover half of the material in one year. Instead of frogs, we dissected raw chicken wings in class. He wouldn’t let me participate because I had forgotten to get a note from my mom saying it was ok. So I sat in the corner and ate the friend chicken wings I had brought for lunch, making sure to pull apart each muscle group and lay it out on the table before eating. I thought he was a moron.

When middle school ended I went to high school. Some of my friends went with me to the special arts school I got admitted to, but my mom pulled me out soon after that because the school’s curriculum was so intense that it was destroying my health. I went to two more high schools after that and in my junior and senior year, I had gone from having something around two dozen humans that I was moderately to extremely comfortable with, down to knowing no one. Of course I tried to make friends, but I remember very distinctly that I spent the majority of my high school years watching other people having friends, studying how they interacted, learning about their relationships like a scientist watching insects through a magnifying glass.

College was a similar story as high school. I transferred into Yale University as a sophomore. I immediately went in search of my people, who I thought would be hanging out at the campus Christian clubs, but they weren’t there. A devout Christian my whole life, only intensifying when I passed through puberty and into young adulthood, I fully expected to be loved and accepted if not because that’s what Christians are supposed to do, but at least because the other people who were there would be like me. What I realized, however, was that the people who were there weren’t so much like me as they were busy being Christians. That meant that they were busy praying, busy quoting the Bible, busy seeing His Work all around, busying having faith and busy being reborn and stuff. What they weren’t doing was loving, experiencing the moment in which their whole lives were occurring, or seeing me for the whole, complete, raw and vulnerable human that I was.

I remember the moment I quit organized Christianity. I was sitting with the campus Christian group one evening. It had been a rough day for me mostly because I was still adjusting to all the newness that college life, specifically college life at an elite Ivy League university which was isolated from the outside world and far away from home. I remember I said the word “shit” in a sentence expressing my frustration over something. Actually, it wasn’t even frustration. It wasn’t even that important. I just like using cuss words. And this one girl, a black girl with an evangelical streak, looks me in the eye and says, “how can you call yourself a Christian when you use language like that?” It was then that I realized that Christians, whether or not their beliefs were aligned with any kind of universal Truth, were not my People. The strangest part of the entire scene was that I didn’t get angry at her. I simply got up and left. I didn’t make a scene, I didn’t argue, and frankly I didn’t even feel compelled to. It was like a switch had turned and a window had opened and I could see it clearly as the bright morning sun: These are not my people.

I’ve been searching for my people ever since. They are not the dancers. They are not the Christians. They are not the type A studious over achievers. They are not the academics. They are not the rock climbers (though there was a time when I was sure they were). They are not the hippies, (though there was a time when I was pretty sure they were, too).

When I came to Japan I left everything I had behind me. The only things of value I brought were my weasels and my bikes. Everything else that came with me was purely out of utility: having it would be easier than having to buy it all fresh when I got here. I brought no friends, no family, no lover, and I had none waiting for me. I thought to myself that in order to be Free, I couldn’t let the fact that these things were not here prevent me from taking a chance, going on an adventure and perhaps finding the People that I had lost twenty years ago. I determined that I would find my people no matter what, and if I couldn’t find them, I would make them.

I found some people when I got here. They were fellow mountain bikers and at first I was sure they would be my People. I poured my heart into loving them. I made myself available for any chance there was to hang out, to help them, or to have them play with me. I went so far as to rearrange my work schedule to coordinate our days off in the vain hope that that would mean we might get to spend time together as friends. When they upset me, even though it was against my habits, I made sure to tell them because if you never fight it only means that you don’t love each other enough to want to fight. No one gets along all the time.

But in the end I realized that these people, too, were not my People. I think in the beginning I believed they were my people because the times when we couldn’t hang out, when they couldn’t pay me attention, or I otherwise didn’t feel wholly comfortable around them, I had an excuse to explain it away. In the beginning it was language. Then my language got better, but my relationships didn’t. Then I thought that it was the work schedules. They were busy overworked Japanese and so I moved my commitments around so that the time was available, should they want it, but no invitations to dinner or to ride ever came in. I wondered to myself if maybe the distance was propriety: a customer cannot have a close relationship with staff. I asked for a job (for no pay) in the hopes that becoming staff would both ease their schedules and make me part of the group that was allowed to have close relationships, but I was turned down with no explanation. Out of ideas and out of explanations, I finally had to conclude that I had been pouring my heart into a receptacle that simply drained it out again onto the dusty dry ground underneath.

Why is it so hard to build connections with other people? My ex husband used to say that if everyone around you seems to have a problem, the most likely explanation is that the problem is you. I tried believing that for a while. No doubt that kind of thinking is what led me to drain myself so thoroughly trying to establish a meaningful connection with people who do not love me. Other people like to say that if you have to work so hard at a relationship, it’s not a relationship worth having, or that the other person doesn’t deserve you. I don’t like to talk about what people do and do not deserve. None of us asked to be on this earth, so since we’re here, why should we not all deserve to be loved? I don’t think desert is a very useful concept for understanding people. No, the people who I wanted desperately to be mine did not fail to deserve me, they simply do not love me.

As an economist I am trained to look at systems. Most specifically, I am trained to look at the systems built by people that form the environment in which we operate. I look around me and I see people doing similar things and being in the same places, even wanting the same things, but it is as if each and every one of us lives our life inside a sphere of isolation. We pass each other on the street and perhaps we give a nod to the other’s existence, but do we really see that person? Could we start a conversation with them if we wanted to, and what would we say? We each do our jobs and then we go home to our cages where our entire world shrinks to the size of the house we live in. Those of us who are lucky enough to have found a family by the time they reach adulthood can go home to theirs. The rest of us? We have to build a reason to see anyone, talk to anyone, touch anyone. And the reasons, so many of them are impolite, inappropriate or shameful.

I want to be touched. I want you to touch me. Please, just touch me.

I want to see you, just you. I don’t really mind what we are doing, I just want you to be around.

Please, let me show you my heart. Let me show you my fears and my desires. I want you to help me carry them.

I want to show you my joy. I want you to smile and celebrate what I have. Please, be happy for me.

I want to swim in your glory. I want to know you down to the synapses of your nerves. I promise I will be kind. Won’t you share yourself with me?

Humans were never intended to live alone, be independent, or survive without touch. The evidence is written all over our bodies and even our brains. Yet, the world that we live in, it builds walls between us. Glass walls. Touch screen walls. Walls through which you can see but never touch. Our world makes it incredibly difficult to build connections with people.

I often wonder to myself, am I the only one who suffers the pain of this isolation? Do the others around me, shuffling glassy-eyed down the street, do they not desire to touch another human? I think they do. What baffles me is that if we all crave the same thing, and it is such a simple thing, why is it that we all live our lives starved for it?

Why in my own life do I feel like I will suffocate from loneliness?

Recovery Sucks

Sunday when I went to team practice, after being unsolicitedly advised for five hours by frump lady, I received instructions from my latest cycling crush. I don’t have a nickname for him yet but it’s probably going to be something like Kafka or MTB guy. His name is Murakami and he’s a Japanese national champion on mountain bike (I think) and road. He asked me how the ride was and I told him honestly that I was a piece of crap riding wet noodle legs. I dropped my mileage by over 100km and tried really hard to only ride the necessary miles and I still had noodles for legs. He looks at me with a straight face and says, “And that’s weird, right? That even riding less miles doesn’t give you enough recovery? So lay off the bike already.”

I had an instant girl-boner. I love when guys are rough with me!

First of all, I was honored that he took me seriously enough to even offer me advice. Our relationship is new, but I like how it’s developing. I confessed to him that I want to go pro. He cocked an eyebrow at me as he fiddled with my bike. “If I wasn’t aiming for pro, I wouldn’t need to quit the shop I love to come here and hang out with you, dropping five grand on a new set of wheels in the process.”

“Ah,” he nods at me silently.

He took me seriously and now I will take him seriously. I have ridden twenty kilometers in two days. The twenty I rode today were all errands that would have taken double the time on public transport, so I consider them necessary. And I rode them on Chamerion to save my legs the inevitable climbing that my neighborhood entails. Tomorrow is a work day but I will take the train for the second time this week. So that will make it twenty kilometers in three days. I haven’t ridden this little since March.

In order to take the edge off of my lack of forward momentum, I decided to head up to 瀬音の湯 (se’oto no yu) for a bath. The salty thick water ought to do my tired legs and saddle sores some good. This time I went prepared with a body scrubbing towel, foot pumice and razor. Lately I only shave my legs when I think about riding fast. There’s not much other reason to shave. I figured since I was going to luxuriate, I’d go ahead and girly-up my arm pits, too. There was a time when I was self conscious about arm pit hair. Now, like so many other things in my life, I’m too old to care.

The bath was surprisingly crowded for a Tuesday afternoon, but I was surprisingly indifferent to it all. I had my purpose and it was recovery. I showered, soaked, then got up to shave. Soaked some more then got up to stretch my poor abused quads. I paid special attention to my hip flexors, particularly the right one which I tore so many years ago and never healed properly from. I worked my shoulders a bit, too, and went back into the hot slippery water. Then I headed for the cold bath. It was 22ºC, so not actually cold enough for my taste (in winter it drops down to about 15º-18º and I soak in it until the air in my lungs starts to sting with the cold), but it felt good. Two laps of hot-cold and then I got out. I towel rotated the shit out of my shoulders. It made me sweat somewhat, so I gave it a good rinse in the shower one last time before heading out to the veranda to nap in the shadow of my mountains.

I slipped into a deep meditative sleep lying out on the lawn chair. I treasure these moments. My mind, initially noisy and hung up on my stunted relationship with Thunder, slowly began to drift. As it always happens when I meditate, I didn’t realize how much I had released my habitual grasp on my attention until I started to climb back out of the depths to the world where my body lay. I think it is something about human minds that they always want to cling to something. On the way down it wants to cling to the memories of unreachable happiness, on the way up it wants to dive back down into the depths. I believe with practice I will become smoother at letting go. Right now I simply focus on being grateful for each successful dive.

Heavy and reluctant, I wake my body from my toes up, wiggling each muscle gently to remind it that it can still move. When I stand, the exhaustion in my legs is twice what it was before I took my bath. The ride home was hard. I’m home now and my legs just want to curl up in bed and check out for the day. I don’t even have the motivation to pick my laundry up off the floor. Thank goodness I had leftovers in the fridge because the idea of walking more than five steps right now is just so exhausting to think about that I think I need another nap already.

Part of me is happy. I’ve never been able to destroy my body to this degree before. I’ve always broken somewhere critical, usually my hamstring insertion, but my ankles and knees have gone out on me, too. To have accumulated this much fatigue that two days of complete rest with the addition of a natural mineral bath and self massage is still not enough to re-energize me means that my body accepts the abuse. I am apparently designed to cycle.

The rest of me, of course, is miserable. I can’t ride. Riding calms me and focuses me. I need to ride to feed my spirit. I’m doing my best to stay distracted, but when you are trying to distract yourself from one thing, you are apt to distract yourself from much more. I can’t think about work at all because if I do I get stressed, and if I get stressed I need to bike it out. So no work. Just going to have to wing it again tomorrow. I also can’t really think about my dreams because they make me want to take action. I need to focus on not taking action right now because any action I take will inevitably give me an excuse to get back on that bike!

Heh. Recovery sucks. I know it’s part of training. I know I have to do it in the right amounts or else my body will force me to do it, like it kind of is now, but it sucks. Let none of us be confused that recovery sucks.

Riding With People

So, today was my first go at riding with the You Can team. Last week I rode, but it was just me and the staff since, apparently, the possibility of afternoon rain is scary enough that no one wants to come out for morning practice. Lame-os.

I was really looking forward to riding today. It was my cookie for an entire week of reduced mileage. I knew I had trashed my legs for too many weeks in a row and that I really, really, needed to give them some rest when even a single flight of stairs was winding me. I tried really hard and by Friday I had only ridden one half of my typical mileage. I was really proud of myself. In the end, it turned out to still not be enough rest, but at least I was better.

Pikuro's New Headlight
At least Pikuro got a new addition of Pink today.

I showed up for the ride all raring to go (with the noodley excuse for a pair of legs that I had) and I was really excited to see that I would be riding with two other women and two other guys. The one guy was on a fancy-ass time trial bike, too, so I figured he was either experienced, or wanted to be. I figured I was in good company. The woman who was in charge of our group wasn’t wearing a team jersey. She had on a pale blue jersey with riding capris so well worn that you could see the moon through them. She was also incredibly soft in the middle. I underestimated her because of her look. She has twenty years of bike experience under her, admittedly large, belt. She was a steady lead and a confident descender…

and she was fucking annoying. We start riding with me in fourth position. Every single stop light I have to slam my brakes and then sprint to catch the fuck up. By the time the people in front of me signaled that they were going to stop, I was already slowing down because you could see the red light halfway up the road. Do you still have to signal when it’s bloody fucking obvious? And then when the light would turn yellow and they still weren’t signaling I was like, “are we taking this light? Shit!” ::slams brakes:: I’ve never ridden with a group less smooth.

I chalked the start up to weary legs. I figured the stops were whatever and the starts were because my tired legs just weren’t accelerating right. I did my best until we got to the first climb near Sagami lake. I had ridden this particular route before with Thunder so I knew what I was in for. I still got dropped pretty quickly, but this I’m used to. What I wasn’t used to was an old man on my tail saying “You can do it. Nearly halfway. Don’t worry, it doesn’t get any steeper. Two more turns until we crest…” SHUT UP ALREADY! I KNOW! I’VE RIDDEN IT! I’M NOT AN IDIOT, I’M RIDING ON TRASHED LEGS!

The rest of the ride was just a constant barrage of people (mostly the frumpy lady) telling me what to do intermixed with the old man telling me the climb ahead is almost over.

“Don’t brake in the curves” I know this, bitch, there was a fucking car headed right for me on the wrong side of the road. You want me to ride into it?

“Use your hamstrings to pedal. It’s more efficient.” You think I bought these fucking clipless pedals so I could enjoy falling over at stoplights?

“Stop at the intersection or else you will get lost!” Yeah, I know. What I don’t know is why you’re braking at the top of the goddamn hill. Isn’t bike practice about getting faster?

Why the fuck doesn’t anyone want to ride fast?!?!!!

Seriously, I felt like I spent five hours riding with a bunch of washed out putzes.

When we got back to the shop their super fast and really chill mountain biker turned road racer was there. He asked how I did. I told him it was rough and that my legs weren’t healed. The frumpy lady told him I did well on the flats, burned out on the hills, and on the descents made everyone pump their pedals the whole way lest I overtake them. That last bit made me proud. I’m not a good descender and I still panick and tense up, particularly if the road is new or busy, but it made me happy to know I could put a rider with twenty years experience on guard. They discussed my bike and my gears and decided it wasn’t my fault but the fault of riding a cyclocross bike at a road practice. I would like to say that no fault can be found with Pikuro and she is a perfect bicycle just the way she is (love her!), but after I saw the weights on some of the new frames available at the shop (did you know an entire fucking frame can weigh in at under 800g now?), I concurred that Pikuro’s weight could be keeping me down. She’s just a tad over 10, maybe even 11 kilograms. A new carbon bike with good quality components can come in at under 8 easy. Two to three kilograms of weight would be a great savings to me on a hill.

So would stronger legs.

Then they discussed my group riding manners. She wasn’t pleased with me. I wasn’t pleased with her. Mountain-bike-turned-road-racer dude was very kind. He suggested that perhaps I was just inexperienced and still not able to anticipate the movements of the group fully. Thank you, Mr. Mountainbiker Man!

All in all it was an exhausting day. In contrast to the usual serenity that cycling alone brings me, riding with this group not only muzzled my beast, but stole my attention and sucked all of my energy. Between the choppy pacing of the other riders, the streets busy with traffic, and the frumpy lady with all her unwelcome advice on how to ride, my brain was ready to short circuit.

Frazzled brain, trashed legs, loss of my dream for finding like minded people to ride with.

It was a hard day.

Fire

I am full of fire. Full of fear. Full of life.

I am a beacon of hope and light to all those around me. I fight the fight against death. I fight to live and to breathe. I fight for beauty and for joy.

I am alive with beauty. I am alive with passion. I walk. From my skin emanates a fire that can not be put out. Burn with me.

To see me is to burn. To touch me is to burn. You cannot touch me without my fire spreading to your skin and setting you alight.

See me. Touch me. Feel me burn.

I am alive with passion.

I will not be crushed by the cold metal of civilization. I will not be bound by rules or propriety. I will not be tame.

You cannot tame me.

I am alive with fire. I burn with the passion of all that is living.

My heart screams, piercing like the call of the eagle. It pierces through my chest. It cuts through the thick, layer upon layer of insulation that protects me from the cold outside. It tears through me and it opens me

And from the wound bursts forth my fire.

I am alive. You cannot conquer me. I know no fear of death. There is nothing that is impossible to me.

Give me one life. Give me two lives. Give me a thousand lives for all the mistakes I will make. Still I charge ahead. Freedom is what stands before me. Far in the distance, I can see it on the horizon.

I am a beast of fire and I lead the stampede.

Run with me. Run with me and burn for fire is the only defense against death.

New Chain

Today marked my third attempt at maintaining my own bike, specifically against the wishes of my former bike shop*.

Picked up a Shimano 10s Ultegra chain at the shop yesterday. It put me out around ¥3000, but was only ¥300 more than the Tiagra chain, so it seemed like a rare case of a good deal in bike parts. I learned that the reason chains have to match the number of speeds on your bike isn’t because of the length, which is usually designed to be shortened to fit your bike, but actually because of the width. Ten speed chains are narrower than nine speed, but fatter than eleven.

I was suspicious that my chain was stretched beyond what was safe for my sprocket and chain rings because even though I’ve quadrupled my efforts at cleaning and maintaining my bike (almost once a week at this point), three days in any weather and my chain would start to click and rattle over the cogs. I don’t have a chain measuring tool so I used the rule of 12″: I measured from the center of one rivet to the center of the rivet closest to 12″ away. Its dead center fell at about 3/16″ beyond the 12″ mark so it was clearly time for a new chain. I inspected my rings and while there is evidence (so very unfortunately) of asymmetric wear on my outer chain ring (the barely a year old Ultegra compact ring that I shelled out more than a few hundred for), it is ever so slight and I’m hoping I caught it in time.

I would like to say I’m really upset with the Giant store for not checking my chain for me when I went in to have the cables redone last month. I mean, sure, I didn’t ask them to look at the chain, but at the same time, whenever I ask them to teach me what I need to know to care for my bike, they brush me off as being too much trouble. This is one of the reasons I’m taking a break from them.

As with my brake replacement, I used the information from the Park Tools blog as my guide for the mechanical work and key points. Most of their information matched my situation, but I had a little trouble understanding some terms like “lead the plate into the rings”, which the Shimano replacement rivet apparently must do. I wonder if this means that the rivet that connects the two ends of the chain together must face a particular direction, but I was never able to find out for sure. I hope I did it right. It also is the case that my replacement rivet wasn’t shaped like the one they had pictured, but it was close enough that it seemed to work the same.

My (oddly phallic shapped) pin had extra wrinkles at the tip.
My (oddly phallic shapped) pin had extra wrinkles at the tip.

I took off the old chain and cleaned the sprocket and rings as best I could. Trying hard not to let the new chain touch anything, I held it up against the old chain to measure the length. This is what my MTB 先輩 taught me when he and I replaced my chain two years ago. With the new chain having the same number of links as the old, I went ahead and strung it through the rings.

The ultegra is a one-sided chain in that it has little slits on the outer plates on the side of the chain that faces the wheels. I think this is both for weight saving as well as for ease of shifting. My chain ring has little wedges on the inside that I believe help catch the chain and lift it over the edge of the ring when I shift into the outer gear. It’s nice. It’s also really sticky! This coating is supposedly good for something, but I don’t know what.

Anyway, after two fails at pushing the rivet (pin) out just enough so that the chain breaks but the pin doesn’t fall out, I managed on the third try to get it right. I lined up the replacement rivet and drove it in as evenly as I could. Park tools says that both sides of the rivet should stick out the same amount as the adjacent rivets or else the plates could slip off and the chain could break, but when I snapped off the excess piece of the rivet, it was still slightly longer than the adjacent ones. I decided to align the smooth end and allow the broken end to protrude beyond the other rivets. I feel like this is sensible. The only other option would be to perfectly center the rivet, but since they have a “peen,” which is a lip designed to keep them from slipping out, I figured lining up the lip was more important than being center.

Installed Shimano Connector Rivet
Lined up with my thumb is the connector link with the replacement rivet. You can just barely see the inside edge of the pin sticking out.

I’ll have my new shop look at it tomorrow.

In any case, I now have one more maintenance skill to add to my list of things I can do:

  1. Align a rear derailleur
  2. Align a front derailleur (heheh, snuck that one in without telling you)
  3. Chain brake pads
  4. Align brakes
  5. Replace chain

I’m getting there. Slowly, but undeniably. I wish I had help, but I want this hard and I will do it whether or not I have help. I hope that one day I will get my break and soar, but in the meantime I’m enjoying each little step I can take alone.


*I don’t say former lightly. I loved that shop. We’re just taking a break.

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