Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The role of the project ride, and the next big project

Those of you who follow me on strava, or anyone who has clicked through to my Karori Caper ride report and its ever-growing appendix, will occasionally see my suburban masterpieces pop up..., e.g.:

A few weekends ago, all the roads in Crofton Downs, Ngaio and Khandallah - dead-ends included...

Dave Sharpe and I rode Karori together back in 2014, and since, I've done the Western Hutt Hills, Wellington City as far north as Khandallah, and Carterton, Greytown and Featherston in the Wairarapa.

I haven't started a craze, that's for sure.

I do recall Clive Bennett clearing the map of a MTB area in Auckland years ago, and a friend in Hawai'i riding his local area, but Matt Dewes' ride on the Miramar Peninsula has been the only direct replication that I've seen.

I get why - they're fiddly bloody rides, and you very rarely get a chance to cruise.  While Dave and I found Karori surprisingly safe (and enjoyable) to do together, you'd need to be good mind-readers to attempt something like this with a larger group.  Getting through a suburb without losing someone, or hitting the deck after a miscommunication about whether the next turn was right or left, would be a miracle.

Oh. And, they're plain weird.

Despite appearances, there are actually some advantages to rides like these.  Some of my favourite aspects:
  • You don't actually go very far, as the crow flies, so you're unlikely to get caught by bad weather at a far extreme of the ride (unlike a 150km loop in the countryside, say).  
  • They're incredibly hard on the legs, which, depending on your perspective may be a good or a bad thing.  You spend so much of the ride bringing the bike back up to speed, it starts to feel like the mother of all interval sessions.  That hard work gets in - like liquid into the chalk.
  • You generally pass shops, and many houses have taps out front from which water can be liberated.  
  • They're mentally engaging - trying not to miss streets, and trying not to add too many unnecessary repeats is a constant challenge.
  • They force you to see everything - kind of like a sampler box of biscuits, but with every variety of biscuit ever made...

Having done quite a few suburbs now, barely an hour has gone by when I haven't said "Wow" whether on account of a view of the city, a spectacular or surprising bit of architecture, a startling gradient, or some of nature's finest.  

Despite having lived in Wellington all my life, I'm constantly amazed at how little of it I have actually seen.  At a rough guess, I'd ridden maybe 10-20% of the streets before this - and in some suburbs it is much lower than that.

Pretty much every street in the lightest blue has been ridden only because of the project

There's another reason for these crazy rides, and its actually the main one.

* * *

I've got a good memory - not one of the greatest of all time, like Trump's - but good nonetheless.

I've just finished teaching my favourite course, and lectures largely consist of me solving relatively complicated mathematical problems despite 12 months passing since I'd last done it.  I don't forget how to do them.

I give other lectures five times a year, and pretty much do those off the cuff, too.

I never forget to put salt in my porridge, nor to brush my teeth before going to bed.

If there's one thing I've literally done and enjoyed more than any other, it is turning the pedals.  My natural cadence is about 90 pedal strokes per minute.  Strava reckons I've logged about 400 hours so far in 2017, so that's over 2 million (confirmed) strokes per foot.  Throw in another 1000 hours for 2015 and 2016, and that's a cool 7 million per side.  For the vast majority of those I was enjoying myself immensely.

Despite all those happy repeats, my brain chemistry is constantly trying to trick me into not riding.

When I was first diagnosed with depression, it was because I couldn't ride home without coming to a virtual standstill on hills I'd ridden thousands of times.  My GP sent me for x-rays to rule out cancer.  I still find those physical symptoms absolutely astonishing, and a remarkable reminder that the brain is in charge of everything.  

My psychiatrist, Charles, used to often say that depression fights to keep control.  Thankfully, my mood is mostly in check these days (a remarkable run of good form, at least since the Remission post), and adult life is mostly manageable.  But, I experience an almost constant sense of fatigue, which when I ignore it, usually proves to be an illusion.

Often-times, it affects my choice of which way to go home at the end of the day.  I can sit in my office for up to half an hour trying to muster the energy to get changed, yet find myself smacking it through the Makara Loop an hour later, almost home, if brave enough to head out despite feeling physically incapable.

And, not just outdoors.   Here's a curious set of messages sent to coach, Joel Healy, during a session of 3-minute intervals in the garage:
  • 18:51  I'm suffering
  • 18:57-19:07  [expletive-laden grizzles, groans and moans] 
  • 19:13  Just stopped pedalling in the middle of that one.  Swore loudly then got back into it.  Legs seemed fine with the right instructions
  • 19:29  The loud FUCK really helped.  Finished now.  Last 2.5 at full gas.  
And, the power metre confirmed the last two intervals were the best of the season.  Yet, I almost didn't start, and came closer again to not finishing.

Throughout those sessions I was constantly arguing with myself as to whether or not I had the energy to continue, and more than once I got power PBs despite wondering if it was worth even trying to start the session given how tired I felt. 

In the face of all that, I need feasible strategies.

The single most reliable one is having no choice.  Not long ago I was in Carterton, and Sarah had the car since I'd planned to ride home.  I was too tired to do so... until she left, and I had no choice.  A few hours later, I was not only home in Karori, but had thrown in the Makara Loop on the way, adding the best part of an hour and bringing the ride up to 110km.

I don't often ride with others.  Brendan and Sarah have been the notable exceptions in recent times, and when our schedules mesh, my inclinations be damned, and I'm usually heard to comment that "I really didn't think I had the energy for this..."

Joel's role as coach is another strategy, and that works reasonably (the second half of the 2016/17 season aside) but he'd get pretty damn tired of "coaching" me through life.

And that's where the "project rides" come-in.  I've discovered that I'm highly motivated to do them, and for whatever reason, the anticipation of seeing or doing something new, is generally more than enough to cut through the apparent physical fatigue that would otherwise keep me home.  The quirkier, the better, and there's good material all over the place: suburbs, coastline, mountains, you name it, there's a project there waiting to happen.

Le Cycle-Tour de France was the grandest one of all, and what an adventure that was.  The planning and anticipation kept me going for months, and the ride was everything it promised to be.

Col du Glandon, July 2013
The silly suburban larks hit the spot too, but without the hefty price tag.  "Painting the town red" is close to completion, but I've got something lined up to fill the gap.

I'm proud to say that I'm joining a small group of like-minded New Zealanders to ride the 2018 Tour de France route as a fundraiser for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.  The first "team" gathering is in Cambridge in early December, where we'll meet not only each other, but Hayden Roulston, one of NZ's most accomplished cyclists, who's lending his expertise to ensure we're all in suitable shape by the time we get to France.

We each have fundraising targets, and I'll be thinking about what that looks like for me over the next few months.  I've also been discussing opportunities at work to shine the light on depression, and mental illness more generally.  I've been talking about it with y'all long enough, and this out-of-left-field opportunity has given me a good nudge towards sharing my experience within the university community.

The 2018 Tour de France route

In the meantime, I'm going to keep riding my bike, even if I don't feel like it.  I rarely regret saddling up, despite regularly overlooking that fact.