Sunday, April 5, 2015

Voices In My Head

Last weekend I went out for my standard Winter ride from home -- through Rock Creek Park, Bethesda, and Potomac to Riley's Lock.  It is about 50 miles, and I know the route completely by heart so all I have to do is ride, pay attention to traffic, and think.  And that brought to mind a question several people have asked me over the years: What do you think about on those longer rides?  I usually laugh and say Nothing!  Which is kind of true, because the question is usually asked with the implied premise that I will be thinking over some knotty legal issue or mulling over some other deep thought.  In fact, there is a constant stream of little, flitting thoughts running through my head that really don't amount to much at the end of the day.  It is kind of like a dream state where the mind runs free and is not held accountable for its thoughts.  Honestly, it is one of the great things about cycling.

Nonetheless, I decided to ruin it and try to depict what I think about in numeric terms that gives an utterly false sense of precision.  Here, in mathematically imprecise terms, is what I think about when I ride:

Of course, the percentages and mix of topics vary with the ride.  I rarely thought about How Much Longer or Farther on my ride on Sunday when I felt good and knew the route well.  So the Voices in My Head expanded to fill that space.  Depending on the ride, my mood, my overall mental/stress state, the percentages and mix of topics will vary, but these pretty much cover the thoughts I have.  Here is a brief annotation to explain these categories a bit.

Talking with Riding Friends or The Voices in My Head.  One of the joys of riding with friends is the intermittent conversations about each others lives, cycling, the route, rest stops, and so on.  Riding with the same friends naturally adds a depth to the conversations, as with any friendship.  Riding alone, however, means that you have fill that space with your own thoughts, and that can be a scary place.  I generally find myself racing through all kinds of random thoughts, rarely able to sustain a single thread very long, and certainly not to any kind of logical solution.  I will also get snippets of songs stuck in my head, usually prompted by my mood or something I see by the road.  Like I said, it kind of a dream state.

How much longer/farther to …  I am surprised how much time I spend on longer rides trying, and failing, to do basic math to figure out how much farther will this hill last, or when will I get to the next stop.  This is a particular problem when I am not feeling good, or the weather has turned bad.  I have learned that this is a sign to stop and get something to eat right away.

Wow.  That is beautiful.  I do spend a lot of time looking at the scenery, scanning the horizon for birds, and trying to enjoy where I am.  And I am lucky to ride in scenic areas, so there is always something to look at.  Getting out into the countryside is one of the big appeals about cycling long distances.

The F word, grunts, and other expletives.  I am not proud of this, but on almost every ride I will huff and puff up some hill and gasp out some Anglo-Saxon expletive.  It is not always pretty out there.

Thoughts of Unworthiness.  A related theme, and part of the Voices in My Head, are thoughts of unworthiness.  Sometimes, particularly after sputtering out a four letter expletive, the thoughts are focused on my slow cycling and inability to get faster.  Other times, the Voices take this thread into more personal and depressing territory.  All part of the dream state, I guess.

Guilt and Regrets.  I am Jewish.

I feel AWESOME.  There are times on a ride -- sometimes long stretches, sometimes a few moments -- when I feel fantastic.  Like I could turn Pro fantastic.  It may be the weather, the scenery, the company, or all of it, but it is a time of sheer joy.

I feel like SHIT.  Other times, not so much.

FB Post about the Ride.  Oh vanity.  Yes, thinking about what I will say about the ride occupies an embarrassing percentage of my thoughts.

I want to stop.  Another thought-string in the negative thought series.  Luckily this thought rarely lasts long and usually is blotted out by the good feelings.  But I can't deny it is there.

What is that sound?  Sometimes I start hearing a mysterious click or squeak coming from the bike.  Usually it is nothing, or easily explainable, but this often becomes a focal point for worry.  This is usually a sign that I am tired or hungry, and stopping to eat usually makes the "sound" go away.

Am I lost?  On long rides where I have fallen out of the group, this is another negative thought string that crops up.  It is irrational.  I have a cue sheet, I have a GPS, I usually know the route reasonably well.  But, the thought is there anyway.

Family and Life.  It is not all about the ride, and I do think about my family and life, but not as much as I care to admit.

Thoughts I think are profound.  Sometimes I think I have great ideas and profound insights.  On further reflection, I am usually wrong.

You are OK.  Keep pedaling.  When I am going slower than I think I should, or it is just a hard day, I have to remind myself that I am fine.  I am not bleeding, cramping, hallucinating, or suffering from any actual physical ailment.  I am just working hard.  And that is ok.  Usually this works, I can relax, and soon enough I am feeling awesome.
Work.  It is always there.

If I could just get my wheels to spin as fast as my mind, I could turn pro. 

1 comment:

  1. Eric - this is spot on. Do you mind if i post on my facebook feed?