Of New Beginnings & Possibilities

This past Saturday kicked off my official training season on the bike. This winter, unlike in most recent years, I have maintained some level of cycling throughout the off-season—15-20 miles on weekend days, when weather and circumstances allowed. Now it is time to start building endurance and speed intentionally and strategically.

The first bike ride of the season is always exciting to me (A lot of the rest of them are, too!) because of the promise and mystery the beginning of the season holds. Each ride is a bit of a microcosm of that first ride, because, on a smaller scale, every ride holds promise and mystery, too.

This is my chance to make the season what I will. I am not in total control, but my efforts and discipline will determine much of my experience for the season, and that is empowering. To a large extent, my choices will determine how well I ride, how much my fitness increases and how much fun I have.

As my mileage increases, each ride into territory yet untraversed this season will be a process of discovery. Many of the roads are so familiar because I have ridden them for years that it feels like a bit of a homecoming each time I ride them for the first time in a season. I will reconnect with some characters who are part of the scene of my cycling seasons—like the owner of a gas station in a small town about 12 miles from my home. Years ago, when I first moved to this area and started riding through his town, he seemed unhappy. I made it my mission to win him over—and I did. He greets me with a big smile, and we catch up when I see him for the first time in a season. In a couple weeks, I will ride through his town and ask how his wife, who has been waiting several years for a heart transplant, is doing.

When I venture farther and in a different direction, I may see my octogenarian friend in Sedgwick. He greets me with hugs and shows me his knee replacement scar, as his wife good-naturedly rolls her eyes. He still calls me “the lady with the baby,” even though my baby is 11 years old because he remembers when I was riding pregnant. He met my son the next year, when my husband drove to Sedgwick to meet me at the gas station—where Lyle hangs out—so that Logan could nurse before I continued my ride. Lyle tells me that he looks to see if it is me every time he sees a cyclist.

I have a tendency to make friends with old men all over the state. One in Mt. Hope hopped off his motorized scooter several years ago and flagged me down to tell me jokes and give me his “business card.” Another, surely well into his eighties, tried to help in Buhler many years ago when my shifter cable broke. He tried to apply his mechanical skills to my bike, but finally said, “Well, I guess I had better stop monkeying around with this before I make things worse.”

Another in Goodland—whom we met while Biking Across Kansas—appears in our wedding photo montage because he invited himself to sit down at our table in the local café and strike up a conversation. He was clearly the self-appointed town ambassador.

So, the people I will meet and the reunions I will have are part of the excitement of a new season. I’ll also notice new things, often things that I would miss in a car. What has changed since my last ride through an area? Sometimes it is a new house being built or a pothole that developed over the winter. Other times, it is a new, chasing dog that has moved in where I never had to worry in the past.

Each ride—and season—offers the promise of adventure. Just this past Sunday morning, I thought I was going to ride in some light sprinkles. I ended up thoroughly soaked, with water pooling in my shoes, gloves and shorts. That is not the type of adventure I would choose, but I am still glad I rode. Last year turned out to be the “Year of the Bathroom at Cheney Lake.” I waited out rain—including a severe thunderstorm that I thought might kill me before I got there—three times in that bathroom.

The possibilities are endless. They are exciting, yet it takes courage to expose myself to them. I ride safely and do my best to remain aware of my surroundings and make good choices on the bike. Still, I can’t control everything—weather, other people, motorists, road conditions. There are potential risks with any adventure and with any new beginning.

Steve Jobs talked about how being fired from Apple, the company he founded, freed him to be more creative with “the lightness of being a beginner again.” While starting a new cycling season is different than being fired from a job and forced/given the opportunity to start fresh, Jobs’ description of “the lightness of being a beginner” resonates with me because it implies possibility, hope and freedom to create.

That is what I now have at the beginning of my 2016 cycling training season. I rode 144 days, for a total of 3,889 miles, between the first weekend of daylight savings time 2015 and the last weekend of standard time 2016. In my ideal world, there would be more days on the bike, but many new possibilities exist in 144 bike rides, and that feels like burgeoning hope. Nourishing fuel for my body, self-discipline, effort and good judgment will all help me maximize the season. I am often at my most grateful on my bike—for freedom to ride, good health, drive and determination, safe roads and, sometimes, good weather. On the cusp of many new possibilities, I welcome the adventure.