Category Archives: Cycling

Favorite books, 2010

It’s time to make my list of favorite books from 2010 before we get too far into 2011. This time I will use categories rather than simply a top ten list, since my favorite books are all so different.

  • Book I enjoyed most of any genre: David Foster Wallace’s  A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. I love his essayistic style.Love it.
  • Favorite fiction: Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist. Yes, this book was on my favorites list from last year, but I liked the book so much I read it again, and the second time was in 2010. Yay! Also, Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies, Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End, Rosamund Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, May Sarton’s A Small Room, and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad.
  • Favorite mystery/crime novels: Patricia Highsmith’sThe Talented Mr. Ripley. That book is still freaking me out. Also, Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, not for the plot (at all!) but for the writing. Best funny mystery novels: Sarah Caudwell’s Thus was Adonis Murdered and David Markson’s Epitaph for a Tramp and Epitaph for a Dead Beat.
  • Biggest surprises in fiction: I didn’t expect to love Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as much as I did, but I really did love it. And Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars was good in a thoughtful way I didn’t expect.
  • Favorite classics: My reread of Emma was awesome, of course, and I really enjoyed The Perpetual Curate by Margaret Oliphant. It was great to finally read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as well.
  • Best nonfiction: For biography, Richard Holmes’s Coleridge: Darker Reflections. I missed Coleridge when I finished reading. For essays, finishing Montaigne was great, of course, and Lawrence Weschler’s Vermeer in Bosnia was wonderful. I enjoyed Emily Fox Gordon’s Book of Days: Personal Essays greatly as well. Also in nonfiction, Jenny Diski’s book The Sixties was really good.
  • Poetry: I read only two volumes of poetry this year, but they were both memorable: Faber’s 80th anniversary edition of Ted Hughes, and the poems of T’ao Ch’ien.
  • Other books I liked: Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy, I Too Am Here: Selections from the Letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle, Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room, and John Williams’s Stoner.
  • Biggest challenge: Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. A challenge indeed.
  • Biggest disappointments: I didn’t enjoy Balzac’s novel Cousin Bette at all, and I thought I would. Also, Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett’s Death Rites was a disappointment. I didn’t dislike it as much as my book group did, but still, I hoped to like it better.

I like doing my favorites this way, because I can name lots more books!

Now for a word about my year in cycling. I rode a grand total of 6,597 miles during 2010 and a total of 409 hours (more than an hour a day!). All those miles were outdoors. My mileage in 2009, which was a record at that time, was 5,097. The funny thing about this year is that I didn’t set out to ride a lot of miles. I would have been perfectly happy riding fewer than I did in 2009. I wanted to ride exactly what I felt like riding. That’s just what I did, but apparently what I wanted to do was to ride an awful, awful lot. It was training with my Ironman friend that made the difference; she needed to go on 3,4,5,6-hour rides, and I was happy to go along. She’s not training for an Ironman in the upcoming year, so I may ride less, although I do have two other friends who will be training for an Ironman, so maybe I need to do some rides with them!

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Updates

First an update on cycling, with both good and bad news. The good news is that I’ve been riding a ton and have now passed 6,000 miles since January 1st. That’s a record that smashes last year’s total of just over 5,000 miles, and it’s not even December yet. It’s getting colder here, but that just means adding more layers before I head out.

The bad news is that my thyroid has become hyperactive again, so I probably shouldn’t be riding at all, although my doctor didn’t say to back off (and I didn’t ask). The back story here is that my thyroid went bad a little over three years ago; I had a hard month or two, and since then have felt pretty much normal. About a month ago, I started feeling badly again, although nothing as extreme as when I first became sick. But it’s discouraging to be feeling badly at all, when all I want to do is to ride a lot and ride fast. So I ride, but I take it easy and go slowly. Eventually medication will get everything back in line, and then I’ll ride fast again.

As for books, well, I bought a few more the other day. I wasn’t planning on it, but I found myself in two bookstores, and what else could I do? Hobgoblin and I drove to Winchester, Virginia, to visit family for Thanksgiving, and on Friday, to entertain ourselves, we all explored the city, including the Winchester Book Gallery, where I found a copy of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book for the next Slaves of Golconda discussion. The store was small, but had a great selection for its size. After that, we found Blue Plate Books, a nice used bookstore, where I bought Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale, Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (short stories), Lauren Slater’s Lying (a memoir), and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which I wasn’t planning on buying, but I found it for $11 and thought why not?

I’ve been buying books like crazy lately, but have had time to read too; right now I’m immersed in Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies, a novel about a boarding school in Dublin. It’s absorbing, and I’ve been glad to have a little more time than usual to focus on it. I’ve also begun reading Virginia Woolf’s The Common Reader, or rather, re-reading it. It’s fabulous, just as I remembered. I’m about 150 pages from the end of Gravity’s Rainbow, which I’ve decided is not so fabulous. Or rather, it’s genius, brilliant, amazing, etc., but I don’t like the experience of reading it. I’m sticking with it, though, because I’m not going to let that thing beat me!

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Cycling update: Pedal for Paws

Things have been fairly quiet on the bike lately; after my epic 150-mile ride on Labor Day, I’ve slowed the pace of my riding a bit. I’ve done a few long rides since then, including a 72-mile ride and an 85-mile ride, but I haven’t ridden as often, averaging probably 2 rides a week for the last month. I like to have a stretch of at least a few weeks where I don’t ride at all, or ride minimally, in order to give my mind and body a chance to rest. I don’t want to get burnt out. Ideally, by the end of this period, I’ll be longing to start riding more once again.

So I’m thinking the next couple weeks will work well for a rest, and the timing is right because I had a great opportunity to do a challenging end-of-season ride last weekend to wrap the year up. (I’m not talking about wrapping things up for 2010 — I’ll be riding seriously again in November and December — I just mean wrapping up the racing/heavy-duty riding season.) On Saturday, Hobgoblin and I attended a charity ride organized by my friend and fellow-blogger, Debby from She Knits by the Seashore, and her husband Chris, from The Suitcase of Courage. They organized it to benefit Forgotten Felines, an animal shelter for cats and kittens, where Debby volunteers. Debby came up with the idea a year ago or so, and I’ve spent the last year in awe of her as she has gone about planning everything in a supremely organized and careful way. Let’s just say that event planning is NOT one of my strengths, so I admire those who take it on and succeed.

And everything worked out wonderfully. The turnout was twice what everyone expected, the weather was gorgeous (it was a beautiful weekend sandwiched between horrible rain storms), and all the riders were happy. Hobgoblin and I showed up a little on the late side so we could ride with Chris and another cycling friend, Aki, from Sprinter della Casa, and after waiting a bit for them to return from making sure the road signs clearly marked the route, we set off on the 50-mile loop. We were under a bit of time pressure, since we wanted to return in time to hear the band that was playing for lunch, so we set off at a brisk pace.

It was the time pressure that made us go fast, but also the fact that Hobgoblin had fresh legs and wanted to ride hard. So, as we rode along the beautiful Connecticut coastline, the three of us worked hard to stay on Hobgoblin’s wheel. I had to remind myself to look around so I wouldn’t miss the view, because otherwise, I would have spent the time staring in dismay at my heart rate monitor, which was telling me I’d better slow down if I wanted to keep riding for another couple hours. Eventually our pace moderated a little, but only a little — once you set out at a fast pace, it’s hard to pull back and slow down. And I didn’t want to slow down because I was having so much fun riding with three people who know what they are doing on a bike — how to ride in a pace line, how to ride hard while staying safe, how to communicate and keep the group together. We sprinted for town line signs, a tradition whose source I don’t know, but one we follow regularly on all our long rides. The trick for someone like me, who can’t out-sprint three male bike racers, is to catch the rest of the group by surprise by being the first to spot a sign, so I spent the ride surreptitiously looking ahead for the green signs marking a new town. I managed to take a couple of the sprints that way. Most of the ride I was right on the edge of what I’m capable of — working very hard on the short hills, recovering on the downhills, and spending as much time as I could drafting on the flats, to keep my heart rate down. By the last hour, my legs started to ache, and at the end of the ride the ache was pretty pronounced. I was ready to get off the bike, but it’s immensely satisfying to get off the bike having pushed just about as hard as I can.

It’s also satisfying to hold my own with the guys, riders who can trounce me in a bike race but with whom I’m a little more evenly-matched on a longer ride in a more relaxed setting. I hate being the slow-poke woman, the one all the guys have to wait up for (even though I don’t mind at all waiting up for other people), and nobody had to wait up for me this time.

So now it’s a couple weeks of rest, and then I start up again, gearing up for winter riding and spring races (unless, of course, I retire from bike racing, which is always a possibility!).

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Current Reading

Teaching two online courses this semester is turning into a whole lot of computer time, which makes it hard to get other computer-related things done, since I don’t like being on the computer all day if I can help it. But today is one of those days where there was no avoiding being on the computer nonstop. This, by the way, is how I find time to ride my bike so much during the week — I spend my weekends catching up on work I neglected all week long. Often weekends mean long stretches of school work punctuated by occasional bike rides, with the evenings devoted to reading or friends. It’s not a perfect system, but it works okay.

So, I’m nearing the end of Margaret Oliphant’s The Perpetual Curate. It’s an engrossing story of the sort that’s anxiety-inducing because everything goes horribly wrong for the main character all at once, and I want to keep reading to see how he’s going to straighten everything out. He’s a victim of misunderstandings and petty resentments, and, since this is a Victorian novel, his honor, pride, and sense of propriety keep him from fixing things quickly. I’ve read enough 18th and 19th century novels to understand the exquisite sense of rightness and wrongness the characters have, but sometimes it’s just sort of hard to believe.

Next up as far as novels go is Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett’s Death Rites, which is the next book for my mystery book group — my choice. I picked it because I wanted us to read something not British or American and because several bloggers I know have enjoyed it, but other than that, I know little about it and so am curious to see how it goes.

I’m also in the middle of Lawrence Weschler’s essay collection Vermeer in Bosnia, which I remember hearing about on NPR quite a few years ago. I bought the book also a number of years ago, and am only now finally getting to it. There is a wide variety of essays in the book; my favorite so far has been the title essay, which opens the collection and is part of a group of three pieces on art and war. There are also essays on three Polish Holocaust survivors, or the children of survivors, and now I’m in the middle of some more personal essays on family. They are all thoughtful and smart, and I’m enjoying Weschler’s voice and sensibility.

And, as part of my on-going, life-long, never-ending quest to read tons and tons of essays, some of them in chronological order, I’ve picked up Francis Bacon’s essays. Bacon is not going to be one of my favorite essayists, I already know, but I want to read him for the sake of understanding the genre fully. So, Bacon it is, and then Sir Thomas Browne.

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A century and a half

Hobgoblin has decided lately that he wants to ride super-long rides, as in really extra, super-duper long rides, as in training for races that are over 500 miles long. I don’t plan to be a part of any of this, but I’m up for some more reasonable distance challenges. So when Hobgoblin proposed that we get a group together to ride 150 miles on Labor Day, I agreed, albeit nervously. I rode 130 miles once, maybe seven years ago. I was in bad pain and crying by the end of that ride. In the years following, I’ve ridden 100 miles many times, usually a time or two each year, although this year I’d upped that to three times, with quite a few rides in the 70-90 range. I’m now at nearly 5,000 miles on the year. But still, 150 miles was something new.

So we got a group together and set out yesterday morning at 7:00. We left with eight people, although some were planning on cutting the ride short and doing 80-90 miles. We set out north, through the small city I live near and up into the countryside. I love riding north because the landscape there is beautiful in a way that’s different from the beauty of my area. I love the way that my area is densely wooded with little hills tightly packed together, so you feel hidden away, covered by the branches and leaves that form a canopy over the narrow roads. The landscape up north is much more open, with more farms and fields, so you can get a view of neighboring hills and low-lying mountains.

As we rode north we stopped at little villages to buy baked good, candy bars, and Gatorade to fuel us on our way. Eventually three of our group split off leaving us with five to head even further north, up into Massachusetts, to climb one of the nastiest hills you’ll ever meet. It’s one of those hills that just keeps going; you think you’ve reached the top, you go around a corner, and there is more hill waiting for you. This happens again and again. But we made it to the top and had a lovely downhill stretch to ride, and then we were heading back south again, back into Connecticut. We stopped four times total, at around mile 35, 68, 93, and 117.

And we made it back home again, after 8 hours and 14 minutes. I couldn’t believe how easy it felt — relatively speaking, of course, relative to how it could have felt. My legs started to protest during the last five miles, but I think that was at least partly psychological, as my legs knew they had a break coming very soon. My upper back and neck were sore, but the breaks we took helped; I took the opportunity to stretch and move as much as possible, and that made the pain go away, at least for a while.

It was a fast ride for me — just a touch under 18 mph. There is no way I could ride that fast on my own, but with some friends to draft on and to motivate me (and with good long sections of flat road), it was possible.

So today I’m not moving much. My legs aren’t sore, though, just tired. I don’t have plans to do the ride again right now, although I think it’s likely I’ll get talked into it before too long.

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Cycling update

Much of the story of my cycling year so far I can tell using just a few numbers:

  • Total yearly mileage 2007 (the first year I have a full record): 4,226
  • Total yearly mileage 2008: 4,339
  • Total yearly mileage 2009: 5,097
  • Total mileage so far in 2010 (as of August 17th): 4,393

So yeah, I’ve been riding a lot this year. I’m on track to crush last year’s record, and I’ve already beaten my records from the previous two years.

This was the year I was going to forget about mileage goals and just ride as much as I wanted to. And that’s exactly what I’ve done. But instead of riding less than last year, I’ve ridden much more. I’m still not riding with any kind of mileage goal in mind (or any goal at all, of whatever sort), but it turns out that when I decide to ride just as much as I want to and no more, I end up riding a ton.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m spending much of my training time riding with my cycling BFF, who completed one Ironman triathlon in July and is doing another one in October. That means a lot of miles. A lot. I suppose if I have one goal this year, it’s to keep enough fitness so that I can keep up with her. These days that means I’m working pretty hard, but it’s so much fun, it’s exactly what I want to do.

As for races, I haven’t done one in quite a while. I did the six training races in March and April that I usually do, I did three road races, and then I did a few summer training races and that’s it. And I’ve liked the way it’s worked out. I haven’t given up racing entirely, but I’ve slowed down the pace a lot, focused on just a handful of races, and spent the rest of the time just riding. I may follow a similar method next year.

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Updates

I’ve been a bad blogger lately, and I’m this close to saying I’m going to take a blogging break so I can stop thinking about it for a while, but then I think, oh, I can manage to write something short, an updating kind of post, and maybe that will keep me going until I get some time and motivation back? Perhaps. We’ll see.

So, updates. I went on a lovely, 90-mile ride today with Hobgoblin, my cycling BFF, and two other guys, both good riders. Actually, it’s amazing anybody showed up for the ride at all, because this is how Hobgoblin advertised it in an email to our cycling club:

Terrible, ugly ride.  Five hours of pain, misery, and horror.  Expect bad attitudes, elitist snobbery, and open mockery of your bike-handling abilities.  Lots of climbing, bad roads filled with potholes, and strict pacelines.  We’re heading north to Lake Waramaug and Kent, so no sniveling about the route.   If you want to put yourself through this torture, be ready to roll from the shop at 8:30 on Sunday, May 2.

Would you show up for that ride? I certainly wouldn’t, if I weren’t married to the writer. Even knowing the tone was joking, I’d be afraid. But the “terrible” ride was really great, and we weren’t mean to each other at all. There was, as it turns out, lots of climbing, tons of potholes, and we did ride in a paceline, but our attitudes stayed upbeat. Any mockery aimed at each other was of the affectionate sort.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about giving up bike racing, haven’t I? Yeah, I have. But … it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, I recently applied for and got an upgrade to Category 3 (racers start in Category 4 for women and Category 5 for men, and work their way up the categories as they do well in races). This upgrade is both exciting and frightening — exciting because it’s an acknowledgment that I’ve done well as a racer, and frightening because my races will now be faster and longer. For example, next weekend’s race has the Women Cat 4 riders racing 24 miles, while all other women (Cat 1-3 and pro riders) race 48 miles. So not only will I be racing with Cat 3 riders, but also with 1s, 2s, and pros, and I’ll be racing twice as long. Let’s just say I’ll probably be hanging on to the pack for dear life.

I have no idea what will happen in the race, but I do know I’m riding farther and faster this year than I ever have before. So far this year I’ve ridden 2,165 miles, probably 500-600 more miles than usual, and in April alone I rode 640 miles. I didn’t plan on riding this much; it just sort of happened. And it’s fun.

As for reading, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and if I get my act together this week, I’d like to post on it. My mystery book group met yesterday and had a great discussion, as usual. Right now I’m eagerly awaiting hearing what our next book will be.

This past week I’ve been working my way through Jane Austen’s Emma. I got inspired to pick it up after watching the new BBC miniseries and enjoying it greatly. What happened is that while I liked the liveliness of the interaction between Emma and Mr. Knightley in the film, I wasn’t sure it was an accurate adaptation of the text, so I decided to reread the book and see (I’ve read the book multiple times — so many times I’ve lost count). It turns out the film is pretty accurate, and I’m beginning to think that my idea of Mr. Knightley has always been too serious and solemn. He is definitely fatherly in a way that seems a little odd in a romantic hero, but he’s also very sociable, witty, and amusing.

I’m not sure about the film’s portrayal of the flirtation between Emma and Frank Churchill, but I’ll withhold judgment until I get to that part in the book.

And that’s about it. You can see why I’m not blogging much, as it’s often a matter of deciding between reading and blogging, and I desperately need to read.

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