Changed Man, Part II: It’s All In Your Head

10.31.2005 | 4:35 pm

Last Friday I talked about the obvious physical changes ten years of biking has made in me. Most of the changes I talked about — and most of the comments that came after — were about scars and other injuries.

Which brings up the question: So why do we bike?

Well, I bike because what’s happened in my head more than offsets anything that’s happened to my body.


I’ve Learned I’m an Athlete

In high school, I actually did “letter” — in debate and humor interpretation (yes, reading funny stories to audiences is actually a competitive event in the US, and I took it very seriously). But not in sports. Oh no, not in sports. In fact, I took some kind of cockeyed pride in not being a “jock.”

This is a tragedy, because I went to high school in Fruita, CO, which any mountain biker worth his salt knows is one of the best mountain biking destinations in the world.

As I got older, I rollerbladed (I can admit it without shame) to keep in shape, and played quite a bit of racquetball.

But I was never an athlete until I tried endurance mountain biking at age 30. The discovery that I have a gift for staying on my bike and turning the cranks long after most people would fall over exhausted was incredibly gratifying. It made me wonder: what else have I not discovered about myself?

And who wouldn’t want to find out, three decades into their life, that you’re an athlete — you just needed to find out what kind.


I’ve Learned I Can Suffer Well

I have ridden through the night, I have ridden in the cold, I have ridden when I am completely bonked out of my mind. I have ridden uphill for twenty miles with a jagged seatpost where my seat used to be. I have finished a race with a separated shoulder. I have ridden six hours after falling six feet right onto my chest, forearms, and face. And while part of me despairs (or even screams), I have never quit a race. Even while I am suffering, there’s a part of me that’s grimly amused at what a fool I am. That sarcastic guy has goaded me through a lot, and I now know that I can make it through circumstances that would shut a lot of people down. That’s a pretty cool thing to know about yourself.


I’ve Learned How to Be Smart

Kevin Millecam, a manager of mine back in the old days at Novell, used to give me challenging assignments — he’d tell me he wanted a database that could act as a back end to a shopping cart he wanted created using Java. And he would ask for those things knowing full well I was still just learning Java, and didn’t have database programming experience.

Then he would send me off on a mountain bike ride, during work hours, telling me to come back in three hours or so.

I’d take off, totally freaked out, knowing I was doomed. Within a half hour on the bike, though, I’d have forgotten all about what Kevin had asked for. And then, within an hour, little things would start popping into my head. By the time I got back, I’d have a working plan for how to get started.

Any time I’ve talked with a cyclist — road or mountain — I’ve heard similar stories. You get out on the bike and somehow your difficult problems get pushed into the background. Then, when they’re ready, they come popping back to the foreground…but they’re not as difficult as before.


I’ve Learned to Lose Myself

Every once in a while on a nice long ride, there will come a few miles where I go completely blank. I’m never aware of going into that state, but I’m always aware of coming out of it. And I realize, wow, I haven’t thought about anything for…well…I don’t know how long. Was it a minute? Five? How far did I go? What did I see? What was going on in my head? I never have answers to any of those questions, but I always feel great afterward.

I don’t know anything about Zen, but I’m pretty sure this blankness is a state they strive toward. I know Schopenhauer called it “the sublime,” but he went after it in all the wrong ways. Schopenhauer should have bought a bike.


I’ve Learned I Love the Outdoors

My dad is an avid hunter and fisherman. I — to his dismay — am not. I don’t have anything against either, I just couldn’t get into them as a kid (and believe me, I tried). Somehow, I got that all monkeyed up in my head and thought this meant that I didn’t like the outdoors.


Once I started mountain biking, I discovered I love the outdoors. And I have seen a lot of it. I’ve seen banana slugs as big as bananas. I’ve seen stars while out in the desert; there are a lot more of them than I had realized. I’ve seen wildflowers high up in the Uintas. I’ve seen moose and elk and mountain lions and foxes and raccoons and porcupines and skunks and rabbits and bears and deer (countless deer).


So, yeah. Biking comes with its bumps and bruises. And scars and occasional permanent debilitating injuries and death. But hey. Lots of upside, right?


Bonus Halloweenage: My eldest is going as one of the “greasers” from The Outsiders, which everyone in his class is reading right now. That stage makeup class my wife took back in college comes in mighty handy when it’s time to make a realistic-looking bruise, no? Second eldest is taking the easy way out: a cap and a pipe can be whipped out at a moment’s notice to make a Sherlock. And the twins (yes, they’re identical) are, naturally, princesses.





I am a Changed Man (Part I)

10.28.2005 | 4:50 pm

Last night I was thinking about how little people change. By which I mean that I was thinking that people in general change very little, as opposed to thinking about whether midgets have the ability to transmogrify. Although when you think about it, that would be a pretty cool sidekick-level superpower to have: “Mini-Metamorph: Able to transform into any compact item at will!”

Wow. It didn’t take me long to get off track today, did it?

Anyway, biking has definitely changed me during the ten-plus years I’ve been riding. Both physically and mentally. Today I’m going to talk about the physical part. Monday, I’ll talk about how biking has changed me mentally.

Unless I forget or change my mind.


First Change: My Ring Finger

Back when I was first mountain biking — maybe just a year or so into it — one of my riding group’s favorite yardsticks was the Frank time trial: how fast could you do the seven mile mountain bike trail? The first time I tried doing it for time, I was as nervous as I ever have been for any race. After all, since Frank has a lot of climbing and a technical descent, your time said a lot about what kind of mountain biker you are.

I took the downhill what I like to call “aggressively,” and what my friends would call “spastically and out of control.” In a banked chute toward the end of the ride I picked a bad line and supermanned off my bike, landing with all my weight on my hands. That hurt.

I was so intent on finishing with a good time, though, that I didn’t even worry about my left hand, which I otherwise probably would have made all kinds of whiney noises about. Instead, I got back on my bike and finished the loop. I remember getting a 1:06, which was respectable for a new rider — I think the fast guys were doing it eight minutes faster.

When I got back to work, I thought about calling a doctor, because the tip of my ring finger seemed to be pointing at an odd angle: up at a 30-degree angle. Then I decided not to bother. It continues to point at that weird angle even today. I think my typing has improved because of it.


Most Bothersome, Persistently Painful Change: My Right Shoulder

Whenever my friends and I go to Moab, you can bet that one of the rides we’ll do is a Reverse Porcupine. This simply means that we ride part of the famous Porcupine Rim, but we ride up the part most people come down. This section of trail ridden in this way is full of difficult moves, and provides an excellent opportunity for technically skilled riders to show off their talents…and for technically unskilled riders to fall a lot.

Guess which category I belong in?

Maybe seven years ago, I was trying one of what I thought was the safest of these moves: do a slow-mo 120-degree left turn around a scrub oak, thread the needle between two tight rocks, and then wheelie up a ledge. I didn’t expect to make it, but I wasn’t scared of trying.

Then, at almost exactly zero miles per hour, as I pivoted around the scrub oak, I lost it. The sand kept me from getting out of my pedals in time and I fell over heavily on my right side, sending the combined force of my weight and falling momentum through my outstretched right hand and up my arm.

The screams were incredible.

I had dislocated my shoulder for the first time, and I can promise you the first time is the worst. And that is where what is now known as the “Elden Wail” was first heard.

After I was able to stop screaming — yes, screaming — I walked my bike (I couldn’t ride with a dislocated shoulder and I didn’t know how to set it back then) back to my car and drove the three hours home to go to the hospital, where the emergency room doctor put my shoulder back where it belongs.

My shoulder now pops out quite easily, thank you, and while it still hurts each time, I now know what to do. But I can’t sleep on my right side, I can’t throw, I can’t rotate my right arm in certain ways or lift it very high, and I always know when it’s going to rain.

And as an aside, I think it’s a testament of my friends’ dedication to their craft — as well as their quality as human beings — that nobody volunteered to go back with me. Hey, at least I know where I stand.



Most Visible Change: My Lip

I’ve talked about this wreck before, but essentially I wiped out on one of my favorite trails (Dry Canyon, coming down off Frank) one day for no apparent reason. I tore my lip all the way to just below my nose. I guess it says something about me that when the doctor gave me suggestions on steps I could follow to minimize the visibility of the scar — as well as a recommendation for a plastic surgeon who could essentially make it disappear — I brushed it off.

So now I have a nice, white scar that is always visible — increasingly so with every day I skip shaving. I sometimes wish my wreck would have a more interesting story behind it, but at least I got it while doing what I love best. And by "what I love best," I am referring to biking, not wrecking and sliding on my face. I just want to be clear on that point.

The only really unfortunate thing about this scar is that it totally screws up my goatee. I used to be able to grow one of the nicest goatees you had ever seen — when combined with my sinister-looking eyebrows, this beard made me look intense, as well as evil. Complete strangers would stop and comment on how evil I looked. "Hey, fat dude on a bike, you look full-on wicked evil!" they would say.

Now, however, the scar breaks up the beard and makes it look asymmetrical. Alas.


Best Change: My Legs

I sometimes like to imagine the me from the present challenging the me from the past to a bike race. Even though I weigh about ten pounds more than I did when I first started riding, I am absolutely confident I could kick my own past tense self’s butt. "Who is that fast, fat guy with the scar on his lip?" the me from the past would ask.

The thing is, riding a bike for ten years or so changes your legs. Even at my fattest and most out of shape, I could — with total confidence — challenge some generally ultra-fit non-cyclist to a bike race and utterly humiliate him. Or her, I guess, except I’m married and even before I was married was not the kind of person who would casually challenge women to sports contests. Mercy, I am a rambling fool today.

Anyway, this base of leg fitness stays with you. Once or twice, I’ve stopped biking during the winter and picked it up again in the spring. Sure, you hurt at first, but it’s nothing like starting over.

I don’t know: maybe if I stopped riding for a full year, that magical leg strength would vanish, but I prefer to think instead that by biking all these years, my legs are now fundamentally and permanently different from what they were before.

And that change — to me — easily makes all the other changes worth it. Because those physical changes are the entry fee for the mental changes — which I will, as I’ve mentioned, talk about Monday, and which are not, in spite of today’s post, absentmindedness and a tendency to ramble.


We’re Not So Different, You and I

I doubt that any cyclist — especially of the mountain biking variety — has ridden for more than a year or two without getting some sort of permanent personal souvenir (which is my overwrought way of saying "injury"). But we’re all willing to live with the inevitability.

So, two questions for you: what have you got to show for your years of riding, and was it worth it?


Today’s weight: 162.2. Which I’m sure has nothing to do with all the bite-sized candy bars laying around the house, which should be Halloween candy, but which have a low probability of surviving to Halloween.


Bonus Office Entertainment: Apart from general pansiness, I had a motive for driving to work a couple days ago: I was bringing in a chinup bar, which I have installed in my office doorway. My idea is to do 3-5 chinups, several times per day, trying to improve my pathetic upper body strength. What’s fun, though, is watching other people eye the chinup bar as they go by. Some look at it briefly and dismiss it, some stop and test it, then walk away. So far, nobody has actually done a chinup on it. I am currently developing theories on why this is so.

Most. Insulting. Comments. Ever.

10.27.2005 | 9:41 pm


I’d like to say that I enjoyed reading your comments to yesterday’s post, but that would, sadly, be a lie. Not because you hurt my feelings — far from it. Rather, because the bulk of you are tepid, craven souls, transparent in your greed even as you try to muster the courage to utter an ill-conceived, trite, and usually derivative remark.

But that wasn’t what really got to me.

No. It was how obvious you are. I have laid bare my soul for months now, and the only barb most of you could find had to do with that day’s post? Really, that was all the ammo you could find? You’re as lazy as you are unimaginative.

On the rare occasion somebody made a clever remark, I noticed it was rapidly and shamelessly replicated, with only minor variety. Did you think I wouldn’t notice that? Well, did you? You sicken me.

I hereby award the bag to myself.

Just kidding.

Here are a few of my favorites from yesterday’s contest:


Most Elegant


You lowly sheath. I dignify your baseness by a mere response to your sorry whine. Stand, man, stand by God. Stand and walk as a man from your shame and sorrow. Feign bravery for a moment that we, your sad ensemble of fellow betrayed followers may have just one shred, one scintilla, of dignity. Get thee on your alloy steed and make us proud again. You fatty; sorry, lumpish, and melancholy. You soft and dull eyed fool. Ride, ride, RIDE!!!

Apologies to the bard.

— jimserotta

Fatty replies: This was very nearly the overall winner, but then he had to go and apologize to the bard. If you’re going to plagiarize, go big and bold, Jim.


Best Vocabulary

Dear FC

When this blog began you were fat. Some would say obese. But more importantly, you were indefatigable. Full of piss and vinegar. Now you have become a slightly less fat faineant snob unwilling to risk scraping your knee or slipping on a wet leaf.

”Ohh, Ohh. life is hard. Waaahh!"

Wrong. Life is easy, YOU suck!

Maybe you should be concerned more with learning bicycle handling and less with coming up with excuses for your pitiful self. Sorry to break it to FC, but you are actually just another chaffy cager.

— craig

Fatty replies: "Fainéant?" Who are you calling "fainéant?" (Looks up word) Well, whaddaya know. That’s actually a really good word for me.


Special "Stuffing the Ballot Box" Award

Scared of water. Scared of leaves. Scared of wind. Exactly how much of a sissy are you?

I know why real cyclists shave their legs. And now I know why you do too. You’re a fatty, AND A GIRLY!

— BIG Mike


When we finally meet, I was planning on buying you a coffee and spending a day riding and chatting, but the plan now is to give you a wedgy and walk away laughing.

Between myself, little-d-dug, rocky and the kickboxing counsellor I think we should be able to administer a wedgy that will land you about 3 stories up.

— BIG Mike


I want my PB Oreos back! I thought you earned them but you’re just a spineless charlatan. Your seemily steadfast dedication to all things manpowered and shiny was nothing but a Seigfried and Roy quality smoke and mirrors show.

Price check on check-out 12. Floaties, knee pads, elbow pads, shoulder-pads… AND A DUMMY.

You can either spit it like you did yesterday or suck on it like the coward we have all witnessed you become.

— BIG Mike


I was already good at taking the fastest talkers down a notch or two. Always in fun and never if the victims seemed unstable or suicidal. That was before the deer in the headlights who calls himself ‘The Fat Cyclist’.

You may have had gender re-alignment surgery and not noticed. You should go to the doctor and have yourself checked. Men who run squealing from inanimate objects like leaves, water, wind and stuffed toys (OK, I made the last one up) are not really men.

If you don’t grow a backbone and some cajones in double quick time you will certainly grow a callous on your butt, a gut over your belt and a John Candy chin.

— BIG Mike


You want more? I got more, sissy boy. I just don’t want to be the one that makes you kick the chair away while you’re testing the rope in your basement.

 — BIG Mike


Oh yeah, I forgot.

Who’s going to finish the other half of that sit up you started when you climbed out of bed this morning? Obviously not you. You can’t finish what you start.

I hope your nurse tells you a nice bed time story after lowering you onto the pillow and tucking you in.

— BIG Mike


And the Winner…

Oh, Fatty, where did I go wrong with you? I always tried to raise my five daughters to be strong, and I thought I had succeeded:

Kellene- takes 18 ft. falls and barely flinches. She climbs back up the cliff with her bike on her back and rides home.

Lori- has the cojones to move half-way across this country to pursue her art. Stepping out of her comfort zone to confront her fears head on, like I always taught you.

Errorista- deals with people I am afraid to be in the same county with, let alone the same room, and she remains strong. I won’t even mention the Muay Thai training.

CJ- another warrior daughter. Stands up for her convictions even if it comes with a risk to her chosen career. Oh, she is so strong.

And then there is you, my dear. Sure, I was disappointed when it became obvious you would be the ugliest of my daughters, but when I first saw you ride your little Strawberry Shortcake bike I knew you too would be another strong Nelson daughter. My co-workers would laugh at me for sticking up for my fat, boyish little girl, but I would think about all the good you were doing by inspiring other fat, boyish little girls, and fat, girlish little boys to ride.

And then you began an inspirational blog and inspired many more with your writings of adventurous rides. I would tell my co-workers that you were like the US Postal Service: through wind, rain, sleet, snow, or heat of day you would ride.

But now you have brought this travesty upon our family name, and I can no longer return to work with my head held high. I’m sorry, honey, but I must disown you out of loyalty to the family. I only wish I had had a son, and had the chance to mold him into a man. A man who did not fear wet leaves.



Your Father

(Actually, by nikared)

Fatty replies: Nice writing, Nikared. Although a part of me is just a smidgen creeped out that you know so much about my family. Email me with your address and I’ll send you that seat bag.


Today’s weight: 162.6


BONUS: New Cyclingnews article published: My story, "How to be a Bike Snob," an excerpt of which I posted here at the beginning of this week, is now online at Click here to read it now. 


10.26.2005 | 11:42 pm

My bike ride home last night was not my most favoritest ride ever. For one thing, I didn’t get away from work until it was completely dark. For another thing, it was raining. For another thing, there was a stiff, gusty wind.

I want to point out, though, that these things did not deter me. They did not frighten me. After all, I am a manly man, confident in my ability to ride a bike in whatever nature chooses to dish out.

And for a while, the ride was fun. I had a good rain jacket on, the wool socks kept my feet from getting too cold, and I had plenty of battery power for the ride home, even though this marked the first commute of the year where I had to have the lights on in both directions.

And then I hit the leaves.


No, We Are Not Having Fun Yet.

The wind had pretty much denuded the trees along E. Lake Sammamish Pkwy, and that is a road with a lot of trees. Cars had then effectively moved the leaves and pine needles onto the shoulders of the road, making an ultra-slick, six-inch-deep, five-mile-long, pile of wet leaves and pine needles.

I have a convenient and rather clever way of telling when I’m not having fun. When I start thinking about how I’m about to die and that the timing of my death is really poor because I’ve got cute kids and a good wife and a new job I actually like and — yes, I can admit it — a blog that is about as rewarding to write as anything I’ve ever written, well, that’s a pretty good indicator that I’m not having very much fun.

Riding through this was not fun.

The gusting crosswind coming off the lake that wanted to knock me into the car lane was also contributing to the not-fun-ness of yesterday’s ride home.

I decided that bikes are stupid and that I was going to drive to work the next day, if I happened to survive.



So this morning, I drove to work. As soon as I got onto the first arterial road, though, I could tell it was a mistake. The rain had eased to a drizzle. The leaves had mysteriously vanished from the road’s shoulder. And traffic was backed up for the entirety of the five mile stretch of E. Lake Sammamish Pkwy. I idled along, listening to NPR Morning Edition (note to Miers, Rove, Frist, Libby, Miller, and Delay: please try to speed things up; I’m losing interest here), never going faster than parking lot speeds.

Within the first mile, two bikes cruised by me, the riders talking with each other and enjoying the ride. I’ve never been so envious in my life. What was I doing in a car?

Another cyclist passed me. I checked out his bike. Junk. Then I realize: I’m a bike snob in a car, judging a bike on the road. I beat my head against the steering wheel to underscore my frustration.

Outside today, the just-rained smell is combined with the clean evergreen smell that comes with the good airing out of the entire state of Washington we had last night. It smells, in short, like heaven. If I had been on my bike, I would have enjoyed that smell the whole way to work today.

But I drove. And in a couple hours, I’ll drive home…nice and slow, I’m sure.

Not tomorrow, though. Tomorrow, I ride. No matter what.


Insult Fatty, Get Free Stuff

Here’s how you can win a cool Banjo Brothers seat bag in the inaugural "Free Stuff Wednesday" (which is today, just in case you can’t tell). Post a comment telling me what a dork I am for not biking to work today. I will, completely subjectively, pick my favorite comment and send that person a cool bag. Entries will be judged on whether I like them or not. Entries that use anything like foul language or vulgar implications will not only not win, but will be deleted without comment or explanation. In other words, show me how smart and mean you can be, not that you know a bunch of bad words. I’ll pick the winner tomorrow about this time and will announce the winner in my blog.

C’mon, show me what you got. And then go visit Banjo Brothers. They’ve got seriously cool gear to help you carry stuff on your bike — which means you can ride your car less. Which means you can envy other cyclists less, and be envied by car drivers more.

There, I brought it around full circle.


Today’s weight: I forgot to check. It’s been a day of massive discombobulation.

Are You a Bike Snob?

10.25.2005 | 2:21 pm

If you are a cyclist, the following moment either has happened, or will happen someday soon: You are on your bike, riding along, when a car passes you, with one or more bikes on its rack. After doing a quick assessment, you think a single word: “Junk.”

Or it might be an equivalent word, probably with the same number of letters.

That, my friend, is the moment you became (or will become) a bike snob.


Gauge Your Bike Snobbery

So, the question is not whether you are a bike snob. Rather, it’s, "How much of a bike snob are you?" Answer these questions to find out.


1. Finish the following statement: “My bike is worth…”

a. More than I admit, even to close personal friends. And it’s worth much, much more than I admit to my significant other.

b. Its weight in gold.

c. Really, just gold? Well, I guess that’s how much mine was worth before I upgraded the wheelset.


2. You are riding along the pavement when a recumbent bicycle with a bright orange flag approaches from the other direction. What do you do?

a. Smile and wave. Hey, it’s great that we’re both on bikes, no matter what kind!

b. Nod nearly imperceptibly, so that others on real bikes will not notice.

c. Ignore this Philistine, and avoid eye contact at all costs. Cross to the other side of the street if necessary.


3. When was the last time you cried?

a. When someone stole my bike.

b. When someone scratched my bike.

c. When I was in the local bike shop and a pudgy guy with baggy MTB shorts and a BMX helmet came in with a Bianchi S9 Matta Ti/Carbon Record, asking the mechanic to put slime in the tires so it wouldn’t get flats so often.


4. How many bikes do you own?

a. 2

b. 3-5

c. Are you counting complete, rideable bikes? Or do I have to count all the frames? Also, do I have to count the vintage bikes I keep in case I ever decide to open a bike museum? How about the one that Eddy Merckx once touched?


How to score yourself
Oh, be serious. You know how bad you are.


Today’s weight: 162.2

PS: This has been a sneak-peek excerpt from "How to be a Bike Snob," written for Be sure to watch for the whole article, including many valuable tips and techniques on how you can be the snobbiest cyclist possible. Coming soon! I think.

« Previous Entries     Next Page »