Category Archives: Cycling

Still Riding

I haven’t posted about cycling here in ages, but I’m still out there riding, off and on. Of course, it’s much trickier to ride now that there is a toddler in the house. Hobgoblin and I go on rides together MUCH less often than we used to. And it’s also tricky to ride when you’re getting ready to move, and then moving, and then recovering from the move, as we did last spring and early summer. I didn’t ride at all from last October until this April, and then I didn’t ride regularly until June. But in the last couple months I’ve ridden at least twice each week and in the last few weeks I’ve ridden four times a week. I’m nearing 1,000 miles for the year, which is pitiful given that my best year was nearly 6,400 miles. But still. Riding is as important to me as ever, even if I don’t do it as much; I always feel better when I’ve ridden and I love getting in shape. The few moments when I feel strong out on the road are wonderful.

About racing, though … I don’t miss racing at all, and I’m not sure if I’ll do it again next year or in whatever year I feel I’m finally in good enough shape. If I don’t like it, I shouldn’t do it, right? Yes, but. It provides great motivation and a goal to work toward, it makes me really, really strong, and my friends do it and pressure me into doing it. I can be hopeless when it comes to certain kinds of peer pressure.

But that’s not a worry for now, as I’m far, far from racing shape. Now I am just happy to be out there riding, watching the seasons change.


Filed under Cycling

Bike and baby updates

I haven’t written here about cycling in a long time, but that’s not because I haven’t been riding. I have ridden over 2,100 miles so far this year, which doesn’t strike me as bad for a year in which I gave birth! I began riding in the middle of March, and have ridden more or less steadily since then, with some breaks for travel and busyness. I’d say my fitness is decent as far as recreational riding goes, but I’m far from being ready to race. I’m not sure if I will race next year or not. I want to keep riding through the fall and winter, but I don’t know if I will have time or energy to do the kind of riding that’s necessary to prepare for racing. I will just wait and see, and in the meantime, I’m enjoying getting out on my bike in the cooler fall weather.

The hard thing, though, is that I am doing much more riding by myself than I used to. A few times during the summer Hobgoblin and I hired a babysitter so we could go riding together, but that babysitter is no longer in the area, and now that summer’s over we are busier and need babysitters for other reasons. So he and I usually take turns riding while the other watches the baby, which is fine, but sometimes without someone to ride with, I lose my motivation. I can ride with other friends occasionally, but that’s sometimes hard to arrange. So I ride by myself and think about how lucky I am to be able to get out at all, what with a new baby and a full-time job.

Cormac is doing great, although even now as I type, I’m listening to him play upstairs in his crib when he should be taking a nap. Some days he is a good napper, but many days he is not, and he will frequently take 20-30 minutes to fall asleep, then sleep for 20-30 minutes, and then be ready to play again for another couple hours. I think 20-minute naps are marvelous for myself, but would prefer that my baby would sleep a little longer.

But I won’t complain about his napping, because he is a fantastic sleeper at night. We plop him in bed between 6:30 and 7:00 in the evening, and he sleeps until 5:30 or 6:00 most mornings. That’s a long stretch of time. He is an easy baby to take care of; he is happy and cheerful and fun to play with. He is very close to crawling, at which point we will spend our days chasing him around the house. It should be fun! Here’s a recent photo:



Filed under Cycling, Life

Cycling update — with horses!

We had a beautiful weekend here in Connecticut, sunny with temperatures in the 60s and low 70s, and I was fortunate to be able to ride Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Sadly, my riding is not up to the level it was last year, and it’s not likely ever to reach that level this year, given the various interruptions I’m facing. (Although some of the interruptions are good ones — only 1 1/2 weeks until Ireland!) But still, I’m enjoying myself. I ride some on my own but often with friends, and I’ve found that riding a bike is a great context in which to have a conversation. It gives me at least an hour to talk, although often much longer, and it’s a low pressure situation: it’s not awkward if you’re not talking the entire time, because you’re busy doing something else: riding. You are free to be quiet and ride if you want. Or you can talk the entire time, and the interruptions — getting out of the way of traffic, letting a loud truck go by — don’t matter much. In fact, they offer time to think about the conversation and plan what to say next. The interruptions also make it easy to bring up a new topic without awkwardness. Conversations are also much more fun when you are pumped full of adrenaline. Everyone is wittier and laughter comes much more quickly when you’ve been working hard and are feeling both pleasantly tired and full of energy.

Yesterday’s group ride was an odd one, though. It was 60 very hilly miles, and I rode with four other people, including Hobgoblin. About halfway through, I was riding with a friend about a quarter mile ahead of the others, and we passed three horses and two riders coming from the other direction. I didn’t think much of it — we were in horse farm country. A couple minutes later, though, I heard a clopping noise behind me. My first thought was that someone’s bike was making some very strange noises, but then I realized that it was a horse. My second thought was that it was strange for a rider to be galloping down the left side of the road, into oncoming traffic and uncomfortably close to me. Then the horse passed me, at top speed, and I realized it had no rider. And then another horse galloped past me, also at top speed, also with no rider. My friend started to panic, and we pulled over to the side of the road as she told me horror stories about friends getting kicked by horses. We looked back, and fortunately there were no more horses galloping at us. We waited for the other riders to catch up, but they didn’t appear. Finally a woman on a horse — thankfully fully under her control — came along and told us there had been a bad accident. She rode on without giving us any more information than that.

This time I panicked along with my friend. I have heard way too often about bad accidents and cyclists, and, unfortunately, Hobgoblin tends to be accident prone. If anyone is going to have a run-in with a horse while riding a bike, it quite possibly could be him. I was having visions of horse/cyclist run-ins, ambulances, concussions, broken bones, everything you can imagine. We headed back down the road trying to keep calm, and you can understand my relief when I saw the entire group all upright, everyone’s bike in working order. It turns out the horses had gotten spooked by the cyclists behind me. One of them had thrown its rider, and it and one of the other horses took off down the road. Everyone watched as they galloped toward my friend and I, yelling at us to get out of the way, but we couldn’t hear anything. Fortunately, the horses weren’t interested in knocking us down. Unfortunately, the woman thrown from her horse was hit hard enough to crack her helmet, although she didn’t want help and seemed to be okay.

We felt concerned for the woman who had taken the fall, but the situation felt so bizarre we rode the rest of the way home laughing. I kept saying I know this is horse country, but I never expected to be chased by them! It’s really kind of funny the way strange things happen to you when you spend hours out on your bike. There’s no way of knowing what any ride will bring. I have learned, though, to steer well clear of horses out on the road, no matter how calm they seem.


Filed under Cycling

Wheels of Change

This weekend I had the pleasure of reading a book about women and cycling called Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy. It’s a wonderful book. It’s a fast read, at only 96 pages with lots of pictures and not a lot of text; it’s aimed at a young adult market, but great for anybody interested in the subject.

The pictures themselves were wonderful: pictures of cool old bicycles, of old advertisements for bikes and cycling gear, of women on their bikes, of the clothes women wore while riding. I’ve always wanted posters of women cyclists from back in the early days of cycling, although I haven’t yet collected any, and I saw tons of images in this book that would be perfect for the purpose.

The text, although short, is fascinating. It focuses on the last couple decades of the nineteenth century when the bicycle first became popular and when women began riding, often as a way to find more freedom and independence. Macy first discusses the invention of the bicycle, and then moves on to debates over the safety, propriety, and morality of women riding. Some writers applauded the new opportunities for exercise and freedom the bicycle offered women, while others worried about what women might get up to with that new freedom or whether they would bother to attend church anymore if they could be out cycling instead. Some tried to regulate and monitor women’s behavior on the bicycle, as did, for example, an article from the Omaha Daily Bee from 1895 with a list of “Don’ts for Women Wheelers.” Some “don’ts” from this list include:

  • Don’t be a fright.
  • Don’t carry a flask.
  • Don’t attempt a “century.”
  • Don’t say, “Feel my muscle.”
  • Don’t criticize people’s “legs.”
  • Don’t boast of your long rides.
  • Don’t go to church in your bicycle costume.
  • Don’t imagine everybody is looking at you.
  • Don’t ask, “What do you think of my bloomers?”
  • Don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes “to see how it feels.”

If it weren’t for the rule about not going to church in your bicycle costume, I’d be tempted to break every one of these rules, just for the fun of it. But I really can’t go to church in a bicycle costume, at least not a modern-day “costume.” I’m not entirely sure what they mean by “Don’t be a fright,” either.

Macy has a chapter on clothes for cycling and how cycling influenced the movement toward more comfortable clothing for women. The was a debate about the acceptability and aesthetics of the above-mentioned bloomers, but there was such a strong backlash against them, they didn’t last long. Cycling did encourage shorter skirts and fewer layers of bulky undergarments, however.

My favorite section was the one on women racers. There were women from the 1880s and 1890s whose riding and racing puts me to shame — and they did it on heavy, clunky bikes and without spandex. Louise Armaindo, for example, rode 1,050 miles in six days, on a 1/8-mile track. Dora Reinhart rode 17,196 miles in one year, riding centuries for days in a row, including a stretch of 10 days and another of 20 when she rode a century every day. In 1894, Annie Cohen Kopchovsky rode much of the way around the world, setting off with no money and only two lessons in bicycle riding. Some women were fiercely competitive: Jane Yatman and Jane Lindsay battled to see who could ride the most miles in the least number of hours. Lindsay eventually won with an 800-mile ride done in 91 hours, 48 minutes.

It makes me hurt just to think about it. These women are an inspiration.

There’s so much that’s interesting in this book, but it only scratches the surface and I wish it were longer. But that’s my only complaint. If you’re at all interested in cycling and/or women’s history, I highly recommend it.


Filed under Books, Cycling, Nonfiction

Weekend report and book list

I had a lovely weekend chock full of bike racing, but the downside is that I didn’t have much time to read. Oh, well. Much as I’d love to have more hours in the day (or to need less sleep), that’s not the case, and sadly I can’t do everything, so now and then something has to go. Reading is never something I set aside for long, as I start to get antsy and to feel scattered if I don’t read at least a little. I’m going to try to squeeze in an hour or two tonight, if I don’t fall asleep first.

I rode in two bike races, one on Saturday and one today. The Saturday race took place in Coxsackie, New York (where do they get these names??), a two hour drive from home. The race was divided into only three fields, which means women rode with men, which means I didn’t have much hope of placing well. Some women are fast enough to keep up with the guys, but I’m not quite there yet. Or rather, I’m faster than some of the guys, but not all 75 or so of them out there yesterday. The race was seven laps, 42 miles total. I stayed with the pack for the first lap and a half, and then dropped off the back after taking a corner badly and slowing down too much. After that, I rode with a handful of other people up until the very last lap when I left one rider behind, another left me behind, and I was by myself for the last six miles. Let me tell you, those six miles were long. But I got a fabulously good workout in, with my heart rate pretty much as high as I can possibly hold it for over two hours. That’s serious work.

Today was the local race, and after the two+ hours of yesterday, 45 minutes at top speed seemed awfully short. As I wrote last week, my weakness is positioning myself close to the front of the pack, as opposed to the very back, and I did better this week staying in the right place. I was a little too far back heading into the final sprint, but I passed some people right at the very end and ended up getting 15th place. To put that in context, there were probably 35-40 riders out there. Considering that I was entirely off the back last week, that’s not too bad.

But now on to my book list. Litlove recently listed her “Top 10 Books I Absolutely Had to Have — But Still Haven’t Read.” That sounds like the perfect meme for me, especially at a time when I’m not reading as much as I’d like. After I make the list, it’s off to pick up a book and head for the couch.

  1. What comes to mind immediately is essay collections, especially Zadie Smith’s Changing my Mind. I got this last fall and thought I would dive in immediately. Yeah, still waiting.
  2. I’m also collecting essays about essays, or books that discuss the essay from a theoretical standpoint. Collecting, not reading. They include The Made-Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay by Carl Klaus, Reading Essays: An Invitation by Douglas Atkins, and Truth in Nonfiction by David Lazar.
  3. The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 2. I read the first volume several years ago, and thought it made great before-bed reading. I could read only a page or two and still feel as though I’d gotten something out of it. But I haven’t gotten any farther.
  4. George Grossmith’s Diary of a Nobody. Remember a while back when somebody described bloggers as “Pooterish” (main character in the novel) and some bloggers claimed the title proudly? I said I wanted to read the source, so I got the book.
  5. Colette, Cheri and The Last of Cheri. I’ve needed to read Colette forever! And maybe I will this year, since she’s on the the official TBR list for 2011 (on the right).
  6. I have a whole collection of Romantic biographies I had to have but have yet to read. I have gotten to Richard Holmes’s very long biography of Coleridge, but I still need to read Stanley Plumly’s Posthumous Keats, The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth by Francis Wilson, Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes, The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge by Adam Sisman, and Being Shelley: The Poet’s Search for Himself, by Ann Wroe. Oh, and I really want Daisy Hay’s Young Romantics.
  7. Another whole collection, this time of David Foster Wallace books, including Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Oblivion: Stories, Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity, and Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will. Not to mention David Lipsky’s book on Wallace, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself.
  8. Rebecca West novels, including The Birds Fall Down, Cousin Rosamund, and This Real Night. I also really want The Return of the Solder, but perhaps I should resist for now?
  9. Lorrie Moore’s Anagrams. Somehow I became convinced a while back that I would like her and had to have one of her books.
  10. Letter collections including the letters of Jane Austen, Charles Lamb, and John Keats.

Some day I will read all of these, I swear!


Filed under Books, Cycling

Bike Racing!

This year has been all over the place as far as riding is concerned. I rode steadily for the first few weeks of the year, and then really awful weather hit, and I stopped riding entirely for almost four weeks. Then I started, then I stopped, and now I’ve started again. And today was my first race! No, I was not really prepared for it. I’m in the worst shape for March that I’ve been in in a long time. But the race went okay anyway. It was 20 laps long, and the pack stayed together most of the way. I stayed with the rest of the riders until lap 18, and then I dropped back a bit climbing the short hill on the course, and I couldn’t catch back on. I finished, but I did the last two laps on my own.

I know I could have done better if I had ridden smarter. Bike racing is just as much about tactics and positioning as it is about fitness, and I’m not good at all at tactics and positioning. So when my fitness is just so-so, I’m kind of screwed. I spent most of the race at or near the back of the pack, which puts me in danger of getting dropped, especially on the hill, where lack of fitness really shows. If I had been closer to the front of the pack, slowing down on the hill wouldn’t have mattered as much because I would still have been with the rest of the riders and wouldn’t have had to catch up. It’s having to catch up that’s a problem.

The thing is, I dislike racing enough that I’m not motivated to work on tactics and positioning. I had three teammates to ride with today, and one other woman who is sort of an honorary teammate, plus a bunch of other women from other teams that I am acquaintances with, and all that is fun. The social aspect is the real reason to race, I think — that, along with gaining fitness. I don’t do it because I’m driven to win. So … I stay at the back of the pack. Whatever.

I am excited about getting strong again, though. The real, real reason to race is to get strong so that I can do fast group rides. For me, that’s where the fun lies: riding the cupcake loop, the Lake Waramaug loop, the ridiculous 150-mile Massachusetts loop, and doing these rides with friends. There’s little that’s more fun than riding fast with a bunch of friends, full of adrenaline, laughing and joking, enjoying the Connecticut countryside. I’m hoping for a lot of rides like that this year.

Here’s a picture of my teammates and I at the start line shortly before the race started. I’m second from the right.


Filed under Cycling

Random thoughts for a Friday

Is it Friday? I have to double-check because I’ve completely lost track of the days lately. My teaching schedule this semester is Monday-Wednesday (and then Thursday-Sunday are for grading and teaching my online class), but this week my classes on Tuesday and Wednesday got canceled because of bad weather. Last week my Wednesday classes were canceled. So I’m in the middle of the semester now, with a remarkable amount of time on my hands. Things will change next week — unless we get more snow days, of course — but for now I’m enjoying my peace and quiet.

I’m enjoying it except for the fact that I can’t ride my bike, or I choose not to ride in the only way that feels safe right now: indoors. I hate riding indoors. Sadly, all the snow and ice we’ve gotten lately has utterly destroyed the roads for riding; even now when we have some sun to dry the roads out, I don’t feel comfortable riding because the snow drifts have encroached on the roads so much they are extremely narrow, after already being quite narrow to begin with. So I’ve gone almost two weeks now without getting on my bike, which is not good at all, since bike races begin in March. But … whatever. I don’t take the races all that seriously, and I’ll train again when I can. I have the whole year ahead of me in which to ride some crazy miles, and I’ll get back to it when I can.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the chance to be a little lazy and to do more reading (and shoveling — my arms ache from the effort of trying to get ice off the driveway yesterday). I have two books I hope to write about soon, Janet Malcolm’s book about Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, Two Lives, and Kevin Brockmeier’s new novel The Illumination. I’ve also continued with my reread of the Anne of Green Gables series, and I’m enjoying Anne’s House of Dreams very much. I also recently started a collection of nature essays by Edward Hoagland, Sex and the River Styx, and soon I’ll begin Carlos Fuentes’s new novel Destiny and Desire. I’m not fond of that overly dramatic title, but we’ll see about the book itself.

And now I’m thinking about Litlove’s question about which books I would most like to reread. I think I’d put the following on my list:

  • All of Austen’s novels. These are ones I’ve reread already, except for Northanger Abbey, so perhaps that one should be next. I’ve had a hankering lately to read Persuasion, though.
  • George Eliot’s novels, especially Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. Actually, those are two I’ve already reread, so I should start with some others, perhaps The Mill on the Floss. I suppose when it comes to rereading, I’m most drawn to long Victorian novels. Also,
  • Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, especially Anna Karenina (I used to do a lot more rereading than I do now — I’ve read this one twice) and Crime and Punishment.
  • Obviously the Anne of Green Gables books and also as far as YA books go, Phillip Pullman and the Little House books. Also Betsy/Tacy books.
  • For something more contemporary, Infinite Jest. I don’t know that I’ll do it soon, but I’ve been hankering to reread it. I’ve loaned my copy out to a friend, so I won’t be able to read it for a while, but perhaps this summer? I’d happily reread Wallace’s essays as well.
  • Virginia Woolf. I’m slowly reading and rereading my way through her books.
  • Other Victorian novels: The Moonstone, any of Thomas Hardy’s books, anything by the Brontes.
  • I’ve been thinking about rereading Nicholson Baker’s book U&I. I read it quite a long time ago and remember being amazed by it, and I want that experience again.
  • I’ve hardly read any Dorothy Sayers at all, but I’d happily reread what I’ve read, and I plan to read more.
  • Nabokov. I’ve read Lolita and Pale Fire, and will happily reread both. In fact, I’ve read Pale Fire twice already.
  • I could happily reread anything by E.M. Forster, and I’ve read quite a lot of his books by now.

I’m sure there are others, but that’s what comes to mind for now. I actually do more rereading than I thought, even these days when I’m doing less than I used to. With my new ereader and all those free classics, I might do even more.


Filed under Books, Cycling, Life