Truth be told, there's really nothing much good about getting older, the steady encounters with thresholds of awareness, like when you realize alcohol is no longer the ticket to a wild, carefree romp but the willful introduction of toxins into your bloodstream in unacceptable Blood Alcohol Concentrations that your body can't possibly keep up with no matter how many curvy, tight-dressed members of the secretarial pool surround your senses with slurred shouts of encouragement laced with an overabundance of"dude" and "like." Or, when you look at yourself in the mirror, I mean REALLY look, and realize that any thread of corporeal viability evacuated your presence sometime in the past and that the rest will likely be a steady descent into irrelevance, Saturday afternoons recklessly jumping on your brother-in-law's trampoline to haplessly prove you've still got it. Resistance thereto is commensurate with middle age: the older you are; the more you resist. It's like crossing that perditious threshold of toothpicking, the kind of thing you remember your grandfather doing after a farm feast of roast beef and peeled Idaho Goldens swimming in a sea of butter and you, hairless above your lip and narcissistically emboldened, finding the whole practice oddly revolting and chalking it up to some genetic dental abnormality when it was anything but, something you realize only later...much later...when it happens to you.
There's a bona fide denial that goes on here as you valiantly search for evidence of lingering relevance. It assaults you as you sit on the edge of the bed in the dark morning hours locating some familiar sensations. Quick movement here could spell trouble. First, there's the stiffness somewhere between L4 and L5 that you got from that other career which reminds you that you stand a 50/50 shot of projecting yourself yet again out onto THAT highway of pain. In my youth I naively addressed those sensations with some vigorous stretching and heat which, of course, exerts absolutely zero on a bulging disc pressed against the narrow ganglia of EVERY nerve reaching your lower extremities. In my present condition-age-naivete yields to more lucid moments forcing me to accept yet another visit to the Doc-Of-Record who'll write yet another referral to hell (physical therapy) where I've been before and where I've learned that the only avenue of escape is to lie to the kingpins who run the joint about my "progress" and how great I'm beginning to feel.
That's the BAD kind of pain, and your brain goes into overdrive fabricating rationales to convince you that you're still up for a quick 35 before work, a ritual realized later out on the tarmac, finger-skinny tires pumped up to 120 PSI buzzing underneath, a well-oiled chain purring like a content house cat, while you hold your own against an unyielding torrent of steel monsters who think all cyclists are a bunch of baguette-munching, pasta-hounding, sweaty traffic obstructionists whose sole purpose is to darken their day with their insistence on taking advantage of state laws that drivers and cops have never even heard of. You bob and weave your way among them with unyielding kinetic continuity pedaling full circles, head down, arms bent, shoulders dropped, your legs screaming in rebellion, and you, immersed in this Zen thing, forcing them forward.
This is the GOOD kind of pain, the one that makes you feel like you're doing something worthwhile, pushing, your heart beating strong and oxygen rolling into your lungs like an advancing tide. It's incomparable, like climbing 3500 vertical feet on a 10-mile, 8% grade, the gnats buzzing around your head, sweat rolling off your forehead and chin. Or those long evenings on rollers, those god-forsaken rollers, that blur minutes into a long, sweaty sufferfest, where boredom and pain reach deep inside you, calling-begging-you to call it off just this one night, for godsakes, just this one crummy night.
Suffering like this is the calling card of any cyclist. We know how to suffer. A ride is nothing if not one uninterrupted suffer buffet. Some of us have been doing it longer. We started when the latest technology included frame pumps, down-tube shifters, toe clips and straps (yes, I fell down sometimes at intersections when that trackstand and I weren't in complete harmony and I couldn't yank my cleats out in time and, yes, people in cars did laugh at me). We are the prophets of suffer, the vanguard of crazy, the OG's of a forgotten class. We testify to the long haul, the gnawing sense of devotion it takes to subject oneself to ritualized pain nearly every day, month after month, year after year. Suffering, under these terms, is a welcome friend, something you can rely on, predictable and steady. You miss it when your bike sits lonely and you, your gourd exploding from boredom, all dressed up listening to the latest yammer about this new program or that approaching dilemma across a sea of regular faces, you itching, fidgety, wishing you were out there, pain filling your soul, the hurt in your legs.
Below are some links to helpful sites for various cycling-related things, probably most useful if you're among the passionate corps of riders out there who sacrifice peaceful mornings to get in that bit of suffereing before work.