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.





  1. Comment by Unknown | 10.31.2005 | 5:19 pm

    After college and playing organized sports, I became a bike addict. I found out that I love individual endurance sports and the mental games we play with ourselves. The long mental conversations about quitting and the ramifications, both pro and con, doing it for no good reason other than to see what kind of guts you have.Oh and sickeningly nice looking family you got there.

  2. Comment by Zed | 10.31.2005 | 5:37 pm

    No kidding, Fruita? I lived in Grand Junction for about four months–actual Grand Junction, not Pallisades or that other town (what was it again?). I’ve also lived in Delta and Craig for similar amounts of time. It’s a gorgeous corner of the Earth, western Colo.

  3. Comment by pete | 10.31.2005 | 5:47 pm

    Hey Fatty. I can identify 100% with the not playing sports at school angle. For me, it was a twofold thing; I’m not keen on team games which are what occupy the most time in schools and I don’t like being made to do things I’m no good at!!I think I was about 16 when I discovered that you could go out and ride 30 or 40 miles, even if you’ll never be any good at football (or soccer, as I believe you colonials refer to it.) The fact that you can be out riding in a group but, ultimately, you’re not relying on or challenging anyone but yourself is what makes it so enjoyable.

  4. Comment by Unknown | 10.31.2005 | 6:05 pm

    (Limited) athletes shouldn’t run. For all the reasons in your posting of last month, and this one. I ran in high school and a little bit afterwards. I didn’t win many races. Four, I think. The other guys were just plain faster, and there are very limited ways to make up for that in a running race. In cycling, there are so many more variables in energy conservation and expenditure, and the benefits of teamwork and strategy are so magnified over what is available in running, that I am able to cover up my physical shortcomings and win a race every once in a while, when the right guys are out of town. And workouts are actually fun to do; mostly.

  5. Comment by Unknown | 10.31.2005 | 6:33 pm

    Oh wow. That bruise not only looks real, it looks to be two-days old. It’s a Saturday night bruise and that is very Outsideresque.The twins are, unpredictably, pretty as two princesses.And Sherlock? Perfect.You have quite a family, bro.did you actually order a letterman’s jacket for your debate team letter? I bet it’d fit again.Did you know I lettered in drama and art? I threw the medals and letter away in a fit of rebelion. I don’t think anyone even mountainbiked back then. Didn’t we use the Colo. Nat’l Monument strictly for tunnel running? We could have lettered in that.

  6. Comment by tayfuryagci | 10.31.2005 | 7:01 pm

    nice hemorrhage you got there pal…

  7. Comment by Jodi | 10.31.2005 | 7:04 pm

    Junior would have been much happier with the holiday had I furnished a princess costume for him. Hang on to those, as I have the feeling he will want to borrow them in the future. Oh, and I think its way cool that The Eldest dressed up from The Outsiders. I loved that show….

  8. Comment by Unknown | 10.31.2005 | 7:24 pm

    My single speed gets me to that Zen state really fast, prolly because there’s nothing to do other than pedal, and enjoy the oxygen debt / hypoxia. Hills also seem to be a contemplative adventure on the single speed – geared for 42:20 right now. It takes big commitment to ride the hills since I’m a large guy and troubled by hills, and would be even if I wasn’t fat too. Most of the hills require me to stand, and to keep a high cadence. So it seems like I’m flying up the hills much faster than seems possible, which would make sense because 42:20 is higher than I usually climb in on my geared rig. Yet the increased commitment makes the climb seem easier. I intend to sling a cateye on the single and test it against the geared rig sometime soon.Ps. Please Fixie Phanatics, I’m not a total wuss. My single is evolving (devolving?) into a fixie this week. Really. I’m just waiting for the track hub to arrive at the LBS.

  9. Comment by Unknown | 10.31.2005 | 7:34 pm

    I was not an ‘athlete’ when I was a kid. I was always the last one chosen for the team. You know the one. Until I was 13 and the bike came along. It was a revelation to find a sport that I was good at. In high school, I had the sublime experience of being a Cat 2 bike racer at the same time that the gym-class physical-fitness test said I was a 20-percentile weakling.Oh yeah, cute kids, too.

  10. Comment by Unknown | 10.31.2005 | 8:06 pm

    brooklyned, you are like muhammed ali. he threw his olympic gold medal (he claims) into a river. although, i think he’s changed his story, and now has a "replacement."when byu fired my favorite professor for giving pro-life speeches on the utah state capital steps, i mailed my diploma to the university president. he mailed it back. and, sadly, that was the end of my little protest, and now my wife has the diploma in a scrapbook.what a pitiful, ignominious end to my grand gesture.

  11. Comment by Jodi | 10.31.2005 | 9:06 pm

    Ignominious:Marked by shame or disgrace: “It was an ignominious end … as a desperate mutiny by a handful of soldiers blossomed into full-scale revolt” (Angus Deming).Deserving disgrace or shame; despicable.Degrading; debasing: “The young people huddled with their sodden gritty towels and ignominious goosebumps inside the gray-shingled bathhouse” (John Updike).ig’no·min’i·ous·ly adv.ig’no·min’i·ous·ness n.(just a little FYI for my fellow dum dums)

  12. Comment by tayfuryagci | 10.31.2005 | 9:14 pm

    igno-what? :)

  13. Comment by Tom Stormcrowe | 10.31.2005 | 10:24 pm

    Hmmm, I have been thinking about how to word a post about hitting the zen state sometimes when I ride! BLAST YOU for reading my mind and stealing the idea, Fatty!!::GRIN:: That’s what that blank is, a zen state. You merge so far into the ride you lose your sense of self and just flow with the ride! I’m not going to say any more here though as I am still gonna post about it tonight on my blog! By tghe way, how’d an UGLY guy like you manage to turn out a couple of cute twins like those two daughters? You better carry around a club when they grow up! Better yet, an AK!::GRIN::

  14. Comment by Unknown | 10.31.2005 | 10:44 pm

    In 1986, my tennis instructor at college was late–really late for class. When he finally showed up, his leg was cut and bruised, and he was riding this strange contraption. When I inquired, he said, "it’s a mountain bike–do you want to go with me?" He had been riding around the venerable Alpine Loop near Sundance. I thought him daffy. Damn the luck. It was about ten years later that I discovered mountain biking…a Huffy, no gloves, no helmet, in jeans in the San Gabriel Mountains in So. Cal. The bike shop guy said I was lucky to be alive. I did a lot of sports in school, and mostly had great experiences. But the discovery of mountain biking for many of the reasons Fatty enumerated, and later road biking–cycling in general, has eliminated most of those formers from the regimen. Skiing excepted. A friend said it best: "It tears away all of the stress and concerns and let’s you feel alive again–when you are through there is nothing left but the endorphins."

  15. Comment by Ariane | 10.31.2005 | 10:51 pm

    Yeah, you know, now that you mention it, cycling is the only thing I’ve ever done where I can zone out like that. Though I wonder if I’ve ever almost died, as after I’m back to myself, I haven’t the least recollection anything that’s taken place. Including whether or not I’ve paid attention to traffic (sometimes rush hour), road signs, and stop lights.

  16. Comment by Sun Goddess | 10.31.2005 | 11:30 pm

    Adorable kids. Greasers eh? Very nice make-up job I say!

  17. Comment by Unknown | 10.31.2005 | 11:59 pm

    Oh, Fatty, now the truth comes out. You must have been an NFL double-ruby back in the day! (I leave it to you to explain to the doubtless inquisitive masses.) Shoulda known you were a Humorous Interp kinda guy…

  18. Comment by Unknown | 11.1.2005 | 12:00 am

    did you mean make an exeption on the way biking "changed" me or the really bad joke?

  19. Comment by Scooter's Mommy | 11.1.2005 | 2:04 am

    You went to Fruita Monument, huh? :) We lived in Fruita for about six months–I loved being able to walk to the post office, the grocery store, to the thrift shop and home. Never did stop into the bike store, and only recently have started checking into what "Fat Tire" actually is. :) Have a great day!

  20. Comment by Unknown | 11.1.2005 | 2:29 am

    Ok….spill it. How does a guy with 4 young kids and a wife work a job, maintain a first rate blog, and ride 250 miles a week? Do your kids recognize you without your helmet on?

  21. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 11.1.2005 | 5:40 am

    craig – one of the things i like about cycling is it can be as much of a group/team sport as you like, or as solitary as you like. i like it both ways; depends on the mood.caloi-rider – i lived in grand junction, too, but went to school in fruita. one of my big regrets is not getting to know the place better.the_cosh – so what you’re saying is that all us cyclists are basically people who were too uncoordinated for organized sports, but too stupid for chess club. ok, i’ll buy that.glenn – if you won any running races at all, you’re way out of my league. i can identify with the win a (cycling) race every once in a while, when the right guys are out of town." that’s pretty much my racing strategy: make sure the fast people are otherwise occupied.brooklyn – let’s make a blood pact right now that we will never videotape our children between the age of 13-17. kellene called me today and laughed and laughed and laughed, even when i told her that it’s still not funny to me. you know what’s not fair? when a person who was good-looking as a teenager marries another person who was good-looking as a teenager, and then they have kids who are all good-looking as teenagers. sometimes i wish kellene didn’t have life so easy. (sorry everyone else in the world, but you’d have to be a member of my family to get the rich irony in that last sentence.)tayfuryagci – yeah, but you should see the other guy.errorista – we keep all our dress-up clothes, and you are definitely next on the hand-me-down maviva – you are going to like that bike as a fixie. except when you don’t.stan – not only do i know the one, i was the one.dug – your gesture was as poignant as it was picante.errorista – dug was just showing off with that word, in the hopes you would tell his boss / our bro-in-law (that cracks me up every time i consider it) how smart he is. don’t fall into that trap.stormcroweprime – i’m sure your take on reaching a zen state with cycling is different than mine. i look forward to reading what you have to say.rocky – hey, how was moab last weekend (falls of chair, laughing).a. toad – i’ve often snapped out of the zone, amazed that i’m not .0005 seconds from the grille of a semi. i think that there’s part of you, though, that’s taking care of the essential chores: pedal, stay upright, stay on the right side of the road, draft properly. or maybe i’m a full-on menace. could go either way.wiselittleetc. – that makeup job looks better in real life, too. and she can do incredibly realistic wounds. once, a friend came over in ripped up bike shorts and jersey on halloween; my wife gave him ultra-realistic-looking road rash and bruises, complete with embedded gravel. since he was a serious cyclist, when he stumbled into the halloween party, everyone was convinced he had just suffered the fall of a lifetime. philly jen – ha, another speech geek. i did lincoln-douglas on day 1 events, humor interp on day 2. did better at humor interp than at lincoln-douglas.scooter’s mommy – yep, and we have more in common than that, too.kazoo – i blog very early in the morning, then lie about how much i ride. easy.

  22. Comment by BIg Mike In Oz | 11.1.2005 | 5:58 am

    Here I was, all hyped, thinking we were gonna hear about psychological carnage to go with the debilitating physical injuries and you are talking about having blonde episodes while riding. Or maybe it’s not blonde, maybe it’s oxygen starvation.Hey you make cute babies too. Maybe you and me are twins.

  23. Comment by Carolynn | 11.1.2005 | 6:23 am

    I suppose I shouldn’t tell about your pole vaulting days? Perhaps someone will ask you. And you had an early start: great on a Big Wheel.Just about one more crack about home movies and I will post them on my own blog for the world to see.Rocky’s ma-in-law

  24. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 11.1.2005 | 7:26 am

    mom – setting me up w/ the jr. high pole vaulting team when i was in 4th grade was one of the coolest things any mom has ever done for any son. in the spirit of that coolness, please do not show the world what i looked like as a teenager. i’m begging here.

  25. Comment by David | 11.1.2005 | 12:30 pm

    Sort of a Zen type tangent here…Becoming one with your body in mostly the physical sense yet in so doing being able to understand when your body gives you feedback about how it is really feeling… even on the emotional plane (like I said, sort of Zennish)… Body Mechanics is what I think it’s called. I raced for a couple season’s down in the Smoky Mountains for a team known at the time as Carolina Fatz. We lived and trained in Asheville NC yet three out of the five guys were from Florida, then there was the one native (he was called The Weasel for some reason) and me… the Yankee. Malcolm was the team captain (Floridian) and through his attempts at making me progress from beginner with a heart, to the sport class with some decent gear to a budding expert I came to find out about how the good riders control their bodies to make the most out of what is purported to be the maximal 1/2 horse power of output which the human heart is capable. Things like keeping the back straight, head forward, shoulders square… and MOST importantly the continuance of methodical breathing because once you loose sight of that bit than everything else goes to pot.That was many years ago but I did/do apply the skills I learned about keeping the body in sync to a variety of other sports, leisure time activities and even when walking down the street. I love going for a jog and turning myself into a robot that can keep going and going and… You get so much more "natural" torque hence momentum when you keep whole your body in pretty strict conformity to the set of motions that are in accordance with achieving the task at hand in the most efficient manner. I was never a fast runner in high school or college but discovered that in fact I did have the wherewithal to blow doors off the competition during my stint in a San Francisco based ultimate league years after this discovery.And all this body centric thinking also allows you to read and/or listen to what your body is trying to tell you in as far as injury, time off for rest…

  26. Comment by Unknown | 11.1.2005 | 1:23 pm

    Geez David. Maybe we’re talking about different things. My body goes and does the work – it continues to ride at pace, steer, brake and follow the course – while my mind goes walkabout. After 10 or 20 minutes, my mind shows up, the body says, "hey, what are you doing here?" and then my mind gets back to messing with my body, making it do things it doesn’t want to do (like hills) and just generally being a pain. "Hey, legs, why aren’t you burning? Pick it up." "Hey, stomach, shut up. You’ll get food, when I say it’s time to get food." "Butt, for the millionth time, I don’t have the money for that $200 saddle right now… so shut up, and keep sitting there – and no, you aren’t getting the Assos Chamois Butt’r, either.” Is this a zen state, or something completely the opposite, like maybe just a short truce between my brain and body in their constant struggle for control?

  27. Comment by Kevin | 11.1.2005 | 6:33 pm

    *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.*Did they have mt bikes when you were in high school?

  28. Comment by Fat Cyclist | 11.1.2005 | 7:23 pm

    kevin – no, i don’t think they did. but from my perspective that’s immaterial: it wouldn’t have mattered if there were mountain bikes because i wouldn’t have ridden them if there were. the trails were there, i could have done *something* on them.

  29. Comment by Ariane | 11.2.2005 | 3:46 am

    Al– …giggle… "Assos Butt’r…." ahhh… I laugh.

  30. Comment by Unknown | 11.2.2005 | 10:13 pm

    hey rocky, nice rack.


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