I just posted this to cycling.lohudblogs.com.
My forefathers were likely hunter-gatherers who roamed the plains of Eastern Europe chasing herds of mastodon. A quick glance at my physique (spongy and soft when I don't work out, able to go from flab to fit instantly when I do) and you can tell that my people were from a time in man's evolution that required packing on the pounds when the weather turned cold, and taking long, long naps when the mastodon (mastodi?) weren't plentiful.
That, at least, is part of the biological rational behind Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder, the term for the lethargy and sometimes depression that would effect up to a third of the population—if we all lived somewhere cold. I tend to suffer from a rather light, yet annoying and—yawn—tiring version of SAD and many winters I can be found sprawled out on a couch recovering from workouts I skipped because I was too tired. <br> Many people treat SAD with light therapy and some new <a href="http://www.bluemaxlighting.com/scart/public/database/repository/other/Blue_light_research.pdf">research</a>(PDF) indicates that the human eye has receptors for blue light that helps to regulate circadian rhythm. The gray skies of winter, as the theory goes, causes a decrease in blue light and a decrease in the production of chemicals in the brain. The end result is a "long winter's nap."
I've been working with a Philips goLITE LED light treatment box, a small compact light source that produces the wavelength of blue that stimulates the human eye. It's been working well, well enough in fact that I'm at the gym all the time now. <br> Which brings me to the reason that I'm mentioning this in the first place, the corollary between exercise and mood. Science has acknowledged that exercise is great for your sense of well-being, but I'd previously assumed that being in a good mood made me able to go for long-distance bike rides—it feels so <em>good</em> to ride a bike that I just keep going and going and going.
In previous winters I've taken spin classes and done weight training to keep active and keep my mood up, but it's never been quite enough. Now though, I've started to purposefully combine both activities to make my total workout time longer—anywhere from an hour to two hours at a time, and I'm finding that I'm in a significantly better mood. Now I'm thinking that it's the long distance riding itself that's making me happy enough to keep riding. <br> So a few times a week when I'm not on the road for business I cart myself off to spin class (at a gym that's not near my house since I find the distance helps motivate me to stay there a while) and push it through the forty-five minute workout. Pulsing music, sweating people, barked instructions from a spin coach all really get my heart rate up and my mood elevated. But after class, instead of heading home I start a circuit of weight training. I'll take my time and try to be sure to get in really good form, but I'm finding the additional time working out is making a huge difference.
So for those of you who are get cranky, upset or sleepy as soon as the leaves are all off the trees, here's something to try. Get yourself to the gym, and don't leave. Even if you're just doing a slow mild walk on the treadmill, spend enough time to really get your endorphins going and to convince your body that you're not trying to ride out the next ice age.
It's a lot better than downing a bag of Doritos on the couch.
I ran over a squirrel today while riding my bike. He ran out in front of me, I bumped over him, he ran to the wall where he'd come from and up a tree. I watched him for a while, no obvious bleeding, nothing seemed broken. Still, that wasn't cool.
<img src="http://img.skitch.com/20080818-x5s5ydfi24cyubixhccc3xtrp.jpg" alt="Ascent"/>
Beijing has a reputation for being difficult to bike in, despite its long history as a cycle-centric city. The recent influx of cars (millions and millions) has made it nearly impossible to get around the city for most. However, the bike lanes that are a part of the entire city's infrastructure are for the most part massive, well marked and easy to navigate.
Separate from car lanes in almost all areas, the bike lanes here are massive. Sure, there are cars parking in them and pulling out from corner spots (the lanes double as parking access and local turn lanes) but they're really easy to follow.
In fact, I'd say that Beijing is one of the most bike-friendly places I've been, even to some degree topping Amsterdam, as there are fewer cyclists to clog up the arteries.
I rode down to the Forbidden City and Tienamin square today. Turns out that tourist attractions are hot and boring regardless of the country or location. I didn't spend a lot of time there. I did, however, ride around the Hutongs, the small tenement-style dwellings that date back almost as far as this city's been a city, and are narrow, winding corridors of humanity. Most are in utter disrepair, with the residents all sharing a single public bathroom. When I say these places are single room dwellings, I mean just that. They are comprised of just four walls, a bed and some items laying around. No bathroom, no kitchen, nothing.
In one of the just-slightly-more-upkept areas I came across a row of vendors and a terrific looking noodle shop where the chef was slicing bits of dough from a large block of it into a pot of boiling water to create a noodle dish that was amazing looking. All the tables were full, I was getting stared at by the locals (orange bike jersey, helmet, folding bike will do that) and normally I'd be too shy to butt in, but in I went and waited for a steaming bowl of noodles. The woman sharing the table with me insisted on showing me how to add vinegar, and then sort of chided me for not mixing it in, taking my chopsticks and stirring it for me. That got a bit of a laugh from the group.
A man sat across from me and spoke a bit of English with me. He said his name was Tony (I think perhaps that was translated) and asked what I was doing in China. I told him I was working at the Olympics, he translated for the group. Then I raised my hands up in the "showing off my muscles" pose and told him to tell them I was an Olympic weight lifter. That also got a laugh.
Tonight is another stint at the Media Center, hopefully it'll be more active tonight than yesterday, we had maybe five people to talk to in the course of four or five hours, and the shift went very slowly. I like getting to talk to people much more than saying "do you need help?" to people who only speak German.
In order to beat the impending rain on my way back from the Pedro's festival today, (which I hit on my road bike so I could get a part fixed, and the manufacturer wasn't in the expo area) I did a time trial back to the hotel. 17.1 miles at 20.5 average, which was up to 21.1 until my legs got out of food.
Felt great, until I paused a second and now I'm feeling yucky.
Many of my friends know that I had planned a few days away in Utah for some reflection time, and those who follow my tweets know that god hath smote Newark airport with lightning, hail and frogs (frogs not included) preventing me from getting across the coast, but still allowing my luggage to travel there. (I'm still not exactly sure where it is.)
So instead I decided to pick out a book on my bookshelf of driveable places to bike ride, and just go there. I found a book on the Berkshires and picked out the town with the longest rides possible. Looked it up on Google, found a Holiday Inn, and off I went.
I picked up a new TomTom GPS, which has filled my heart with such love for electronics devices it's hard to express. There was a "minor" quirk with it, as it first planned me a 5.5 hour route to travel the 3.5 hours to the town in the Berkshires. Being a tech savvy kind of guy, I pulled into a rest stop on the Thruway, hopped on the WiFi and updated the firmware and the maps. Bingo, 2.6 hour route. It's got everything I wanted the Garmin to have, including a status display that tells you duration of trip and arrival time, 3D display of exits (where available) and much better route planning features. It even saved me when I ran into a bridge out, it allows you to pick a road block ahead by distance, 100 yards ahead, 600 yards, 1 mile, etc. Awesome.
Got to the Holiday Inn, got unpacked and finished off some work I had to do for PDN, which kept me up until about 3am. Decided to sleep in and got up about 11am, did more work then off to explore scenic North Adams, Ma.
Turns out I'm in the center of the artistic world of the Berkshires, about 20 feet from Mass MoCA and right near several art schools. I spent the morning at a lovely coffee shop, did some thinking while eating nice food. At the counter I asked for a latte, and the woman working there said "we only have one size, large."
"If you only have one size then it's just 'size'" I said, "as you need a small to compare a large to." She laughed, and gave me the latte. I should have said "I wanted a small." Damn.
Bike riding got underway around 2:30pm, and included a brief stop for a snack. I have not eaten enough recently and shortly after the snack I realized that not only didn't I get enough to eat, but that I would likely not run into food for some time. As I was starting to shake from a bit of a blood sugar drop and from withdrawl of some medicine that's on its way to Utah, I spied an apple orchard. Now, I gotta tell you, I was fully aware that it was not my apple orchard when I took and ate one of the sour apples from a low hanging branch, but I sat there pouring sweat off my face, thanking god for the appley goodness.
Which is when a car pulled up with a teen and his grandfather, who proceeded to chastise me for taking the apple that didn't belong to me, leading off with "I saw you take that apple!" Now, my head is not really in the space to be admonished for stealing an apple, regardless of biblical undertones, and what I wanted to say was "thanks for being a good Christian for stopping to call a hungry man a thief" but instead I offered them a nickel for the apple, and they told me it wasn't their farm.
That's when I reached into the car grabbed the teen's head and bashed it against the dashboard until the airbag deployed.
The were "nice" enough to tell me where I could go buy food when I told them how very hungry I was, and it was a farm stand down the road. Tired and feeling grumbly about the encounter I sat on a bench forcing myself to eat when the world's sweetest farm cat came up and sat with me on the bench, rolling over so I could pet him, which sort of reset the universe.
I started to pick up speed and strength from the forced calories and headed up a climb and then over to the town of Hanover, where I ran smack into the fucking Pedro's New England Mountain Bike Festival (now the Kenda festival, but I went to the very first Pedro's and so shall call it that). I'm not entirely sure how I managed to pick the town next to the biggest mtb festival on the east coast, one of my favorite bike events, and even managed to bring my bike, but I'm seeing some sort of divine intervention here. I shall go tomorrow.
While I sat on the side of the road to make a phone call before a contact at Calumet left for the weekend, a car stopped to ask if I was okay. That was terribly nice, and after having my faith in cats restored, it restored my faith in humanity. (Who the fuck stops a car to tell someone not to eat an apple? Fuck man.)
My bike's been making a creaking noise I haven't been able to diagnose, but I got closer today and narrowed it own to probably being my rear hub. I stopped at a local bike store to ask if I could try one of their wheels to eliminate , and the guy told me that he knew what my problem was, it's a loose floating ring that holds the seal in. Awesome! Someone knows that it's a factory defect!
Then the guy (Paul) told me to come by the Mavic tent at the festival the next day, and he'd see if they had the fix kit there, as he would be working at the booth. How awesome is that? I'm not a customer, he's never seen me before, he offers to help me out via a free fix from the company instead of having to send it back. Faith restoreder.
Lots of thinking while riding tonight, and I actually spent a good few miles talking to myself out loud, (which I hope looks like I'm singing) and that often helps me frame issues mentally. Or maybe I'm just nuts, I'm not sure.
I'll post some pictures shortly, my card reader is actually in Utah right now, getting some time to get its head together.
When the UCI (Union Cycliste International—the governing body of the sport of cycling) began to mandate helmet use in the pro races, cyclists were up in arms. Many of the pros argued that as professionals they should be able to choose if they wanted to risk their lives for the sport. The organizers argued that having a cyclist die during an event is bad for the sport, and it's bad in general.
The organizers also argued that having pros wear helmets would make it more likely that non-pros would wear them as well. The racers cried bullshit, saying that nothing they did could influence the populace to wear helmets.
Well, that's just wrong.
Today on a nice 20-mile long bike ride in Amsterdam, Abby and I passed several thousand cyclists, and the majority of them, as is the custom here, were not wearing helmets. In fact I think it's fair to say that nearly 100-percent of the casual cyclists were sans casque. If you're wearing denim or a skirt (or a denim skirt) and riding a bike, no helmet.
But, and this is what I think is interesting, of the few dozen of cyclists on high-end road bikes who went by wearing lycra and sporting team garb, a full 80-percent were wearing helmets. This is in sharp contrast to my visit here five years ago when there were no helmets in pro cycling—there were no helmets on the people riding high-end bikes.
Clearly, the peleton's wearing of helmets has translated to that category of rider who wants to look like a pro. They're buying the gear, down to the helmet. It's certainly not a speed issue-many of these riders were going no faster than the grandmother on her trike, but they were mostly helmed.
Not sure if that will ever trickle down to any other parts of the population here, but it's an interesting observation none-the-less.
As an aside, I think it's safe to say that the average Dutch teen has more cycling acumen and skills than the more advanced rider in the U.S., and is also riding in an environment of slower speeds, vastly superior and more alert drivers and lower risk than the states, and as a result helmet use among the general population is likely less necessary—from a statistical accident point of view—than in the U.S.
In other words, people who ride bikes here do so slower, with slower traffic that obeys the laws and gives cyclists the right of way. There's a lot less to go wrong.