Biking around the Writer’s Block

For the last six weeks, everything I’ve tried to write for this biking blog has gone straight to dirt. There’s so much to say … about what this pandemic has done to our lives and to our sport … but I just haven’t had the will to ride down those paths.

OK. No problem, Wendt. Maybe that’s for the best. Steer clear of the rubble and give folks a dang break. Try talking about something awesomer.

For instance, I got a lovely new bike just before the shutdown. (Maybe not the wisest purchase heading into a depression—but the deal was all winter in the making, and I didn’t see this pandemic coming.) In happier times, I’d have already told you all about this new machine in ways that merrily scratch that techy, N+1 itch of ours.

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The mighty 2020 RLT 9 RDO (Photo, ninerbikes.com)

I started to write that story. But once my employer was forced to lay off a few of my colleagues and furlough 50 more, I lost any stomach to describe my new-bike glee.

The bike worked great, but the cogs of my cognition slid a little cockeyed. Pedal-strokes came easy; keystrokes came hard.

No worries, Wendt. Skip the bike review. You know what folks really want in uncertain times? Advice, dammit. You’re great at deciding what other people ought to do.

So I gave that a whirl. Maybe: Tips for safe group riding in a pandemic.

But what in this fresh hell makes me an expert in that? How should I know just how far back is back far enough?

And even if X meters is deemed safe, wouldn’t it stand to reason that 2X or 3X or 400X would be safer? Could it be that every race we’ve ever lost was truly just our savvy positioning at a safe distance behind the viral leaders? (Nice thoughts, but my essay was pseudoscientific dung.)

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In motion, the recommended six-foot COVID sphere of separation grows a comet’s tail of debatable length. (Image, medium.com)

Every “expert” essay I tried to write stooped with the osteoporosis of postured certainty. They also entered me into debates I didn’t want.

Delete. Rip-crumple-toss.

All my wincing false starts came to carry the same timidity and frustration of a nagging sports injury. (Is my knee ready to go yet? Let’s see … Jesus God! Not yet! Not yet!)

Right now, this sense of ourselves as recovering from injury is more than a metaphor. We’ve all been hurt by this pandemic. And more pain seems like a safe promise.

You don’t need to be a physical therapist to know our recoveries will be as varied as we are. We’re each finding our ways back. And wayfinding can be the trickiest part of gravel racing.

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Even in places with few roads, it’s surprisingly easy to get lost. (Photo, midwestind.com)

Somehow or another, we all wound up here, with our race seasons erased. And I’m learning there’s an overlap between feeling loss and feeling lost.

I’m still training, but I’m not always clear on why. More than speed and strength, I guess I’m seeking sanity, health and that feeling of groundedness we strangely find rolling over loose gravel.

For me anyway, the injury brings with it a new carefulness. I won’t bury myself to the point where my diplomatic immune system might feel tempted to compromise.

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I read my immune system Winston Churchill quotes every night before bed. Never give in, lymph nodes. Never, never, never give in! (Photo, bbcamerica.com)

So those multi-hour intense efforts—those character-building vision quests—are on pause for now.

I’m happy to report this softer approach hasn’t hurt my fitness as much as I’d have guessed. On those shorter occasions when I’ve pushed it, I’ve actually felt pretty good.

Maybe it’s the extra rest. Maybe it’s the new gratitude I feel now that every trip outside the castle walls has the flavor of a quixotic adventure. Or maybe it’s the new bike.

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The original quixotic gravel adventurers: Sancho Panza and Don Quixote

Whatever the case, I’m willing to let finding my way start to feel good again.

I hope you’re OK. I hope you’re riding well.


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