Anatomy of a Strava Segment KOM: or did anything actually happen?
Again I am having difficulty starting this blog. So you are probably asking: "Then why do it?"
I wanted to talk about an extroardinary "Non-event" that took place in my life, but I am temporarily distracted by a brief conversation with a neighbor. He is clearly struggling with life, which has been difficult for him over the past several years. I genuinely feel some empathy for him. I also offered him no advice. It seems I have none, not fool proof anyway. Hell, we've plopped ourselves down in "old people land," as if there is anywhere else-you just think there is. Oh, how quickly I took the first tangent. Life is both hard, and extremely interesting.
Look closely at the photo. Notice the hard-packed, dry, gravel/sand climb to the top, through cactus and brush, to the top, and the spacious sky above, with nary a cloud. Maybe the most important metaphor in Buddhist tradition is that of the sky, with that spaciousness, representing consciousness, ever-present no matter what cloud might try to obscure that. And before I lose your attention, just let me say that accomplishment in life is a little suspect anyway, so place the following up against the sands of time.
I am going to assume that you know why you are here. There is a Strava segment in Sun City West called "Tom Ryan Downhill." It is, I believe, the second segment I discovered after moving here, It curves left to right, drops 18 feet over .7 of a mile, and you without a doubt need a raging wind from the Northwest. It is lined by Saguaro.
I had just such a day shortly after moving into the desert. On that day, still adapting to the heat, I slotted into second 2 seconds behind Conrad (see previous blog "Adapting to the Desert: or who is Conrad Kriek.
Riding in the desert has been a crazy adaptation. I've said that I expected it to be brutally hot. I have not said that I expected it to seem sometimes brutally cold, be pretty windy and always the desert.
Yesterday was such a day. Once pedaling into a gale, I wondered if I even wanted to ride that day, it would almost stand you up. Yet, as I neared the top of the hillock that is Tom Ryan Drive, I realized I had that northwest wind, and the kind of thougts that come to me in such a moment, a moment when one realizes he is about to do something that he really shouldn't.
So what might that be? Seven-tenths of a mile, a little over half a mile, is the perfect distance for me, at least as far as Strava segments go. I can go all out for that distance, not have to "dose" my energy for a longer distance. Just go. Just go all out. Kill yourself. That's the thing. Give it all you have and worry about the consequences later.
What, you mean there might be a price to pay for getting a Strava KOM? Yes, there might. On a couple of previous occasions I have felt tired for from two days, to two weeks following such an effort. In fact, from what I know from this newest experience, you might very well tear yourself down to the ground. Maybe it's just my age, or even that at my age I am just a little more aware that there is a proportional debt to be paid.
That is what is in my mind as I turn that corner knowing that I have such a short distance to talk myself out of it-about a quarter mile because in order to take a KOM, you have to be flying when you hit the start. This happens at Veteran's Drive. For the next .3 of a mile, you try to build up as much speed as possible, while you have the wind directly at your back. This is a speed approaching-you hope to exceed, thirty miles per hour. There is no question that a young, professional rider could go much faster. But this is the interesting thing about this little segment, any segment for that matter-no one has exceeded that for long on this segment.
About half way through the segment the road takes more than a gradual turn to the right, and you lose some of the wind that was howling that day. And I suppose this is the killer. If you have managed to ride that wind an awareness will dawn that you sit right atop the pace of the best time yet. You sit upon a very thin line that divides the possible from the impossible. And you know. And then...it hits you in the form of "for those of you who are about to die," this is really going to fuck me up-to go as hard as I can, fight off a howling wind that now strikes you from the right, and essentially kill yourself to get to Gunsight Drive, the appropriately named street that is the finish.
There is a place in an effort like this where the body is just screaming: "Stop!!!!," and it is threatening to do just that. You are no longer breathing hard, in fact, you may have stopped breathing, nothing seems to be going in or out, and you seriously consider that your lungs may explode. You cross the line, and slow, and suddenly it starts to get very quiet, the rushing sound that has roared in your ears for what you hope was a minute and forty-two seconds, seems to stop. As your breath begins again, though so, so labored; you begin to fall into that place that Buddhists would call Samadhi, focused and clear awareness. And you believe that you have done it. But not by much. Then the ugly voice in the background suggests that maybe you missed it by a second.
I don't remember if I stopped that day-I usually don't. It's just easier that way. And I diidn't know my results immediately. I don't do live segments. I finished my ride, went home, and checked the data on Strava's site. It was exactly one minute and forty-two seconds, beating Conrad by one second. I admit to feeling just a little elated, limited, I am sure, by the beating I had just given myself. Sorry, my friend. It was there, and it was do able.
Yet...., as I sit in the Samadhi that lingers past the pain, I wonder. Did I take a KOM, or did anything happen at all, this being who sometimes calls himself a cyclist, having no intrinsic meaning seperate from anything around me in that minute forty-two, this being who is, in fact interdependent on every single phenomena that surrounds him on that journey into the impossible; could he even say that anything at all happened?