Monday, May 19, 2008

The Finish Line?

I felt winter's last breath this morning as I rode along the lake.

It was a beautiful, crisp day, with a stunningly blue sky accented with cumulus clouds -- about 49 degrees with a 20-mph wind out of the west/northwest that made me have to grind.

The calendar tells me summer's warmth is closing fast, and common sense and experience tell me this front will pass and southerly winds will soon envelop us in balmy weather.

But it's funny: That's not what I felt as I watched the brisk wind whip waves against the rocks.
Rather, the cool, clear day took me back to an early-October morning on the Gulf Islands National Seashore about 18 years ago.

We were on the way back to Little Rock on last day of a vacation at Seaside, Fla., the New Urbanism utopia that then was only in its toddler stage. Every day of the vacation was sweltering and still, until that final day -- those blindingly sunny but unmistakably autumnal hours on the cusp. We donned windbreakers and had a quiet and somewhat sad picnic overlooking the whitecaps and dolphins, to say goodbye to Florida, and summer.

There's a thick melancholy to that kind of sunny but pull-on-the-jacket-for-the-first-time transition, and the waterfront -- any waterfront -- seems to amplify it by about a thousand times.

It's bittersweet, and I've felt it many times in the years since that day on the Panhandle. There was a Labor Day on Put-in Bay when a good friend's barely-ex girlfriend held my hand and we both wondered whether we should hold on to something more, but didn't. There was a long, cool drive alone, along the windswept Lake Erie shore en route to some forgotten place in Michigan, listening to an early-season Buckeyes game as the first flashes of scarlet were appearing in the trees. There was a pleasantly dull afternoon on the deck at Shooter's, watching the big, noisy boats drift in along with an undercurrent of cool air and a forlornly encroaching buzz from eight or nine Bud Lights.

Often by Labor Day weekend, I'm tired of summer, tired of hot, tired of dusty and brown, tired of cracked clay soil and incursions of weeds. I'm ready for fall's color, which I've always loved. I'm usually happy to have had a good summer, and just as happy to have some change blowing in. Close that book and move on to the next one.

It's odd that I can't recall a single transitional day like that in the springtime, in my entire life. Some of those season's-end, summer-into-autumn days are so vivid in my memory that I still relive them in my dreams, over and over. Maybe it's because those first crisp and chilled days after the hot weather are summer's goodbye, and we feel goodbyes more intensely than hellos. Hello means we get to spend some time taking beauty and goodness for granted. Goodbye means we will soon miss it.

What does this have to do with biking? Well, it doesn't really have to have anything to do with it for me to write about it here. But in fact it does.

I was supposed to do a bit of hard work on the bike this morning -- a few sets of sprints on the way to work. But once again, I just couldn't get into that frame of mind. And there's a pattern emerging. I couldn't bring myself to do lactate-threshold intervals on Saturday's 51-miler. I catch myself getting gapped -- by only a couple bike lengths, maybe -- in the A race at Westlake and even though my body might be able to close that gap, my spirit just cannot summon the will to suffer enough to do it, and it's over. Hill repeats? Haven't done any since, what? April Fool's Day?

I read other blogs, like Ray's Racing Adventures and young Robert's, where riders/writers seem to have limitless discipline and enthusiasm, some of which I've often had. And it makes me wonder whether there isn't a parallel in my bike-racing life to those transitional days -- whether I'm watching the summer of my bike-racing era fade into the autumn of my next phase of cycling life.

Or maybe it's the cycle of cycling, where renewal and rejuvenation will soon flower and I'll be eager to go out and punish myself.

All I know right now is that I'll keep swinging my leg over the saddle and going fast. Will I need to try to beat someone else as I do that? Not sure. But if not, I won't look back over my shoulder with regrets or longing. I've never been one to do that. Life rolls on.

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