I think I’ve reached a certain age. Whatever that means. I seem to spend a lot of time thinking about what my life should be like and wondering if I’m squandering my time on things that aren’t important. I’m wondering about my mountain biking. In many ways, mountain biking is a great hobby. It’s a fantastic source of exercise, an opportunity for personal growth, and a focal point for community and friendships. With all that said, however, I can’t help but think that the amount of time and energy that I put in to it might be, well, a bit silly.
After all, I’m an adult, I have a job, responsibilities. I’m a father and stuff. Serious stuff. Should I really be this preoccupied with riding my two wheeler in the woods with my friends? You know, especially since I’ve reached a certain age. Whatever that means.
When I’m not riding I’m thinking about riding, or stalking other riders and riding vicariously through my Strava (social media app) feed. I keep spending money on my bike. Ok, bikes. And all the stuff that goes along with it. I spent $200 a few weeks ago renting a bike and riding at the bike park. REI had their annual sale and I spent over $300 on a new bike rack for my car. I spent an even bigger chunk of change on a new bike in December, and now I’m drooling over a new set of carbon fiber wheels that will cost as much as a new bike. Not as much as the one I just bought, of course, but enough to purchase a really nice new bike.
And biking takes up a lot of time and energy. A few weekends ago, I went for a long ride on Saturday morning and I was so tired afterwards, that I spent the rest of the afternoon on my patio couch napping and reading “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemmingway. I could have spent this precious weekend time getting my basement organized, sprucing up my “80s ain’t dead” condo, or going on online dating sites to maybe find someone to spend some of this leisure time with instead of melting into the patio couch on my balcony.
Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, one of the most famous works of literature from the twentieth century, is one of many books that many people read in school, when they are young. I, however, must have been busy with something else and instead am reading it now, at a certain age, whatever that means. I had gotten a good ride in that Saturday morning. I’m sure everyone following me on Strava was very impressed. But my pedaled out legs reminded me that I’m not a kid anymore. With the sun just far enough behind the concrete and wood structure I live in to shade the balcony of my low maintenance living space, and leaves nearby rattling in the breeze like a white noise machine, I settled in to procrastinating my adulting and made up for some lost time with Ernest Hemmingway.
I settled in to procrastinating my adulting and made up for some lost time with Ernest Hemmingway.
Santiago, the old man in “The Old Man and the Sea” is a fisherman. He sets out on what he hopes will be a slump ending voyage after 84 straight days of fishing without a single catch. He heads out into deeper waters than the other fishermen usually sail to in a “go big or go home” effort to catch a fish massive enough to make up for his streak of failed attempts.
He ends up hooking a monster fish. A marlin. And for some reason, they didn’t use fishing rods back then so he’s basically holding the fishing line by hand. Unable to pull the big prize fish in, he holds on as the marlin pulls him out to sea. For 2 days.
Finally he gets the fish to stop but it’s too big to fit in his “skiff”, which I interpret as “crappy little boat” and he has to tie it on the side. So he’s sailing along with his trophy sized Marlin strapped to the side of his boat and guess what happens next? I guess they didn’t have “Shark Week” on Discovery Channel back then. But they certainly did when I was a kid, and I spent many more hours inside during the summer watching it than you would need to in order to know that blood in the water attracts sharks. And the sharks start coming after the juicy tied up marlin.
The Old man kills one with a harpoon, but loses the harpoon in the battle. Then he ties a knife to an oar and kills a couple more sharks. Then he loses the oar knife, and the big meaty Marlin gets gobbled up by hungry sharks; baby shark, momma shark, and all. “A man can be destroyed, but never defeated,” claims Santiago, who then drags the huge fish carcass back to shore and takes a nap. That I can relate to (the nap).
I think the moral of the story is that life is about the struggle. It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up. I don’t know, I wouldn’t go fishing without a fishing pole.
I’ve been thinking about the Old Man. From what I hear, getting old sucks. I myself, am not getting any younger. So, maybe it’s time I do something bold and stupid like Santiago. Maybe I’m missing out by setting my goals too low and trying to strive for balance instead of setting out to do something really epic.
Soon after my mid morning couch session with “The Old Man and the Sea,” the opportunity presented itself right there in my facebook feed, which I was reading from a different couch. The Quiet Corner Chapter of NEMBA (New England Mountain Biking Association) was holding their annual Goodwin Natchaug Epic Fun Ride. I’m not sure when “Epic” and “Fun” started to be used to describe the same thing. I think of Epic in terms of the Odyssey, or the fishing trip in Old Man and the Sea, where the adventure involves going to Hades and back or setting out on a 2 day fishing trip without a fishing pole, but maybe that’s because I’ve of a certain age, whatever that means.
I did this ride a few years ago. I remember not really knowing what I was getting myself into and I kind of just had nothing better to do and decided to check it out. I remember it being really well marked and the routes easy to flow. I ended up riding with a few other people and I remember some point where we decided to go the full loop, which at the time was about 20 miles and I remember I felt like I was going to die for the last 5 miles. Maybe more. This year I’m feeling much more fit and wanted to go back and try to redeem myself a bit and tackle a big ride. This year there were 3 ride options. A 6 miler; an intermediate ride of 15 miles, and a 25+ Epic ride that only one person was able to complete last year.
The cosmos seemed to be speaking to me through my Facebook feed and it was saying “Go big or go home”. A few days later I was in my car on the way to Goodwin State Forest for the Epic Fun Ride.
I got a bit of a late start and about ¾ way through my hour drive to the event I got a phone call from a friend to see where I was . We had spoken the night before so I knew he was going and Facebook seemed to think a few other people I know were going also.
I arrived less then than 10 minutes later than I had planned but still had plenty of time to register and get ready. I met up with a few guys who I ride with regularly and two of them had brought their girlfriends and we set out as a group of six.
The first leg of the intermediate and advanced rides both followed a similar route which lead to a Tiki Bar, and was advertised as a 3 mile segment. At the Tiki Bar, we regrouped and deliberated on what to do next. Someone mentioned that their GPS had tracked 4.9 miles, so the advertised distances seemed suspect. One option for the next leg was a five mile loop leading away from and back to the Tiki Bar. That we could do and stay on track to finish a total of 15 miles, including a different route from the Tiki bar back to the starting area. Another option was to hit the longer loop and ride closer to the epic total which was billed at 25+, but, based on the mileage discrepancy of the first part, well, who knew.
The group split up and 4 of us headed out on the 5 miler. It quickly became apparent that the five miles ahead weren’t going to be easy. The trails were riddled with rock gardens. Baby head rocks which piled next to and on top of each other made line choice arbitrary if not futile. There wasn’t a whole lot of climbing in terms of elevation gain, but the uphills though short, were punchy and rocks prevented you from getting momentum into them. Each steep push uphill red lined your heart rate as you pushed over the hump to the next tight turn or rock pile. Some day’s 7-8 miles is solid ride for me. 7-8 miles of this type of terrain certainly would be. The trail finally dumped us back out to the Tiki Bar and when we checked the GPS it confirmed total distance for the 5 mile loop was 9 miles. So, we were now about 14 miles into a 15 mile ride with the last leg, which the folks at the Tiki Bar thought would be another 5-6 miles, left to go.
I was pretty gassed at that point. Maybe I’m too old for this. Or, maybe not since only one of the other guys I was trying really hard to keep up with was younger than me. I started to fall behind pretty soon into the last leg. I maintained a pace adequate to just keep close enough that most of the time I could see the other guys and the rest of the time I could at least hear them ahead of me. Again, the trails were really well marked so I wasn’t worried about getting lost, and just kept riding at my own pace. The last leg did end up around 6 miles long as advertised,making a total of 20 miles, which for me at least qualifies as an epic ride.
Back at the starting point, there was a potluck barbecue and we met up with a bunch of other riders for some food.The exact menu of what which specific configurations of processed meat, bread, condiments, and maybe a few vegetables I stuffed my face with is a bit of a blur. I do remember that while the stream of barbecue was flowing into my gut I noticed a couple other familiar faces roll in. They had taken on the longer route, which GPS confirmed to be 26 miles (advertised at 25+). That’s six more miles than the not so epic route that pushed me pretty close to my limit, and it had 1000 more feet of climbing. And the riders that finished it were of a certain age too, which probably wasn’t any younger than mine.
So maybe the Old Man, Santiago, had more guts and determination than I do, but I’m still not going fishing without a fishing pole. And maybe next year I’ll be able to do the full epic loop. Maybe I should spend more time mountain biking and less time thinking about what I’m supposed to be doing with my life and maybe then I’ll be stronger next year, when I’ve reached that certain age, whatever that means.