There are plenty of good reasons to hate every single thing about the pandemic. But I was able to take advantage of certain aspects of it and have one of the best bicycling summers I’ve had in a long, long time.
I’ve been an avid bicyclist nearly my whole life. At about age 8 I cobbled together my first 20-inch banana seat bike from parts from my next-older-brother’s old hand-me-down and a frame a friend of mine had lying in his back yard. I discovered “serious” cycling when I stumbled across a lone issue of Bicycling magazine in our local news shop at age 13. I soon put drop bars on my Sears 3-speed, then quickly graduated to a brand new 10-speed I’d saved up for. During college, I gave loaded touring a try (I hated it), and when I graduated I did some pretty serious road racing, followed by some less serious mountain bike racing. Then it was years and years of very heavy sport riding, both on- and off-road. (By “heavy” I mean, for example, a solid decade of participating every September in the Six Gap Century, a 100-mile road ride over six mountain passes in north Georgia.)
But kids came along, and rides got shorter and fewer. I found running to be much more efficient for my limited workout time and threw that into the mix in a big way. Even so, my fitness level very slowly ebbed, and I found myself pretty thoroughly disgusted with my weight and poor conditioning at the end of last winter. And while I still rode regularly, even doing trainer work in the off-season, greater weight, and fewer miles combined to make it not much fun anymore at all.
So because of all that, even before COVID hit, I’d already planned to get on the roads and trails a heck of a lot more this summer than I had in years. I needed to get fit again. And I needed to enjoy riding again too.
But the coronavirus made a big difference in meeting those goals. Because suddenly a lot of other demands just dropped away. In a normal summer, there would have been Scout meetings right up to the end of the school year, quickly transitioning to summer camp preparations, then the week-long summer camp itself. After all that was done, it would have left only a month of summer left to get in a quick vacation. And all that busy-ness would have provided a good excuse to be lazy, and probably would have made my bike workouts on-again, off-again, the way they’ve been for several years now. Even if I’d gone on some tougher, longer, and more frequent rides, I don’t think I’d have gotten to the fitness level I wanted. I’m sure I’d have been more fit by now than in recent years – but would I have been really fit?
What happened instead is that the pandemic did away with those distractions. I had a cycling summer the likes of which I haven’t had in at least a dozen years, and I hit the trails in a way I haven’t in a couple of decades.
A combination of every-weekend 40+-mile road rides, and re-learning how to be fast on the single track, and sticking to four-times-a-week bike workouts plus strength training has a magical way of burning off years of winter fat accumulation. And I’d forgotten how much fun all that is, even if I do have a few contusions from still not being as good as I’d like on the technical parts of the trails!
So yes, the pandemic royally sucks, no two ways about it.
But it also provided me a lesson in setting the right priorities, one that I really needed.
Now to see that I don’t forget it again…