August 14, 2019 § 10 Comments
I learned a proverb from my Chinese teacher yesterday, “In youth, use health to get money and in old age, use money to get health.”
Like a lot of proverbs and received wisdom, this one gets it totally wrong. Everyone I know who used their health to get money is now a broken-down, worn-out old shoe. You can’t buy health. All you can buy are remedies for the shit that is broke, and most of the remedies are half-assed patches at best.
Of course it’s possible to wake up at age 65, discover cycling, and ride your way into much better health than you would have had if you’d just stayed on the couch. Likewise, money lets you extend life, get better treatment, blah blah blah.
But the idea that the purpose of youth is to accrue wealth so that you can purchase health later is b.s.
For one, if you spend your youth building health, you don’t wind up broke down and wore out in your 60’s. To the contrary, rather than shuttling from doctor appointment to doctor appointment, from hair plug treatment to liposuction, you get to go about your business with a minimum of aches, pains, and health issues. That’s the benefit of using youth not to get rich but to maintain and grow the only capital you’ll ever have: Your body and your mind.
Which takes me up to yesterday morning. It was five o’clock and I’d already been at it for the better part of an hour, with a whole stack of shit staring at me from my inbox, my task list, and my endless pile of paperwork.
“No way I can ride this morning,” I thought. “No way I can justify it.”
That thought kept popping up for the next two hours. “I can’t justify going out for a ride. Not today.”
By 7:00, though, I sat back. “If I can’t justify doing it now,” I thought, “when can I justify it? Isn’t the whole point behind going out and riding the fact that you do it precisely when things are most stressful and harried? What part of my life is going to go down in flames if I go ride? No part. That’s what.”
I thought about how the incremental choices to forego riding for work are what kill the habit of riding. It’s foregoing even the short, life-and-mind saving quickies that leads to foregoing the longer stuff, until you’re only a weekend rider, then a once-a-month rider, then my-bike-lives-in-the-garage-unridden rider.
So I shucked the guilty conscience and pedaled for a couple of hours. I finished and wound up with a day that was far more productive than it would have been had I simply kept grinding away.
Moral: The only ride you can’t justify is the one you don’t do.
June 25, 2019 § 5 Comments
Perhaps the biggest news in all of professional sports broke a couple of weeks ago when it was revealed that several riders accused team manager Patrick Van Gansen of inappropriate behavior. CitSB sat down with “Boxers” Van Gansen to get his side of the story.
CitSB: So it’s all out there. Sexual harassment. Fat shaming. Asking women riders to clean and cook. What do you say?
“Boxers” Van Gansen: This is all so what, no? But when they say I walk around the house in my underwear, I draw the line. I will make the strong defense.
CitSB: You’re denying that you walk around in a house full of young women in your tighty whities?
BVG: First of all, I do not wear the jockeys but the boxers. Second of all we had two rules in the house. 1) I never walk around in my underwear. 2) Unless the girls ask me to.
CitSB: And did they?
BVG: All the time.
CitSB: You’ve also been accused of fat shaming.
BVG: What is this?
CitSB: Humiliating a person because of their weight.
BVG: You are kidding, no?
BVG: I never do such a thing, only to the fat ones. And they are usually the ones asking me to walk around in underwear, by the way.
CitSB: Your accusers have also said that they weren’t paid.
BVG: This is true.
CitSB: Why is that?
BVG: As you know, they refused to cook and do the house clean.
CitSB: How has this controversy affected you?
BVG: As I have said in the interview with the CyclingNews, and I will quote, “Every day I receive messages from all over the world, telling me what a fat bag, dirty butt, bastard and so much more I am not.”
CitSB: Wow. A dirty butt bastard. People actually called you that?
BVG: Yes, it is true, they say such things but I am not dirty butt or bastard or fat bag.
CitSB: You say that your accusers were problem riders?
BVG: Yes, of course. They don’t like to ride in a little Belgian sprinkle. ‘It is too wet,’ they say. But I say ‘Get your fat ass out on cobbles and pedal, bitches.’ And for this they become angry and call me dirty butt bastard?
CitSB: Well, it is kind of strong language.
BVG: This you call strong language? Pfffft. It is little love whisper, my friend.
CitSB: How has your title sponsor, Health Mate, reacted?
BVG: They understand me completely, perfectly. They stand by me like big horse.
CitSB: Any concern that they may pull their sponsorship?
BVG: No, this good publicity for them. Excellent press coverage. Now whole world knows Health Mate is company that encourage women not to be fat.
CitSB: What about the formal complaints lodged with the UCI?
BVG: It is nothing. Trust me.
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May 14, 2019 § 14 Comments
Every six or seven years my right ear goes out, which is a problem because I rely on my hearing when I ride, unlike the countless idiots who cycle with earphones.
When my right ear goes out I wait as long as I can, usually a couple of weeks, and then I go to the doctor and they “irrigate” it with a “lavage.” It is pretty gnarly.
This time I went to Kaiser. I enrolled in January and haven’t had any reason to go there until now. They did a bunch of tests and were very skeptical about my low heart rate and blood pressure, you know, in hospitals they don’t like it when healthy people show up because there’s nothing to fix.
Plus, they spend the entire day dealing with sick people, so they have a hard time relating, i.e. not making you feel like a freak.
The nurse looked in my ear with the ear-o-scope. “Yes,” she said, “you have a lot of wax build-up.”
“I know,” I said. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get that right out.” She was pretty confident as she put a bunch of towels around my shoulder and neck, but she was plainly unfamiliar with the tenacious nature of Wanky wax. “If it hurts or you feel any sharp pains, let me know.”
With those reassuring words she put this small fire hose into the side of my head and started blasting away. This went on for a while and then she turned the nozzle to warm, which felt better. After another while she turned off the hose and then got out the ear-o-scope.
“Hmmm,” she said, like a mechanic who just torqued the shit out of a bolt only to find out that he hadn’t torqued it quite enough. “I don’t think we got it.”
“I know you didn’t,” I said. “I’m still deaf as a post.”
She stuck the thing into my skull again and really blasted it, this time for twice as long. She pulled it out and looked at me, satisfied. “I bet that got it.”
I didn’t say anything because I couldn’t hear her. She stuck in the ear-o-scope and grimaced. “Well, that is persistent. It looks like there is a deep wall of wax that has hardened and is very thick. You’ll have to use ear drops for a week or so to loosen it, then come back so we can wash it out.”
That sounded good to me. “Since most of my head is wet now, can you also throw in a shampoo and a rinse?”
She didn’t laugh. My head hurt and I knew she hadn’t made much of a dent in the wax hockey puck inside my head; if she had there would have been wax shavings spewed everywhere, like some crazy topping at a Cambodian restaurant.
“Let’s give it one more shot,” she snapped. She was personally affronted by the wax and was going to blast it out of my head or kill me in the process. I submitted as she nozzled me again, but at the end it was Hockey Puck 1, Kaiser Multibillion Dollar Healthcare System, 0.
She sent me home with instructions to buy some earwax softener at the store, and told me to come back in a week. “Will I get that shampoo if I do?” I asked.
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March 13, 2019 § 4 Comments
I read this story a couple of times about Kelly Catlin’s suicide. It was a disturbing story on many levels and one worth thinking about.
Kelly was an over-achiever. She graduated with a degree in math and Chinese, enrolled in Stanford’s graduate school, and won a silver medal at the Rio Olympics … all by the age of 22.
She was a classical violinist, a heavy-metal aficionado, a skilled gamer, and a community volunteer.
At 23 she was also dead.
Poring over the news story for clues, they were all there, in her own words and the words of her family:
Talented at literally everything she did. She just felt like she couldn’t say no to everything that was asked of her …
Disciplined, strong, and endlessly hard working … There wasn’t anything Kelly couldn’t do …
She was strong and cold, austere and terrifying.
Kelly always had a nihilistic and occasionally morbid sense of humor.
It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be
Of course Kelly herself had a tall order explaining how one person could do so much and be so superlative at all of it. In a statement that sounds like it was crafted straight out of a PR department, she described her reasons for pursuing such an amazing array of interests at such a high level thus: “Through a synthesis of these interests, I aim for a well-balanced life and the opportunity to touch people’s lives.”
Yet candor about the obvious impossibility of being the best at everything you attempt came out in this VeloNews interview: “But the truth is that most of the time, I don’t make everything work. It’s like juggling with knives, but I really am dropping a lot of them. It’s just that most of them hit the floor and not me.” Most.
In a sentence that looks prophetic, like all post-hoc attempts to piece together self-inflicted death, she adds, “You cannot plan for the unplannable, and — to go back to the juggling analogy — sometimes those knives will hit you.”
A factor in Kelly’s suicide may well have been that in addition to an impossible lifestyle in which everything teetered on a knife’s edge, she suffered a horrific concussion several months before her death. Whether she received psychiatric counseling for its after-effects is unknown, but her family talked about how after the concussion she seemed to be suffering in a variety of ways that affected her mental state.
No one to talk to
What is clear, at least from the news reports, is that Kelly had no one in whom she could confide. The closest she came to talking about the unbearable pressure of her life was in an interview with a stranger in a bike magazine.
It’s easy to chalk up her death to the extraordinary stress of an extraordinary life, but people kill themselves all the time under much less over-achieving conditions than these. What suicide has in common is that the victim feels unable to talk to the people closest to her, a kind of estrangement from intimacy that becomes its own self-perpetuating wall of eternal isolation. Where did that come from?
I think John-Paul Sartre wrote a play about being locked in the cage. No Exit.
February 24, 2019 § 1 Comment
A few years ago I bought two maps, one was a detailed street atlas of Vienna, and the other was a big, fold-out map of Lower Austria. The street atlas I have used every visit. The fold-out map? Never.
But still, I have always brought it with me.
I think the museum would be happy
Since visiting the mini-storage museum exhibit a couple of days ago, I have had one of the displays on continuous loop. It’s the one where the guy without a home says that “Ownership is an outdated concept,” and follows it up with something like “What matters is use, not ownership.”
This was the iron law I laid down in 2012 when we downsized. If a thing had not been used in the past six months, it was thrown away, wherever “away” is.
But this idea that possession is an outdated concept is pretty interesting, especially since we live amidst such a surfeit of things. Do you need to own anything? And if you do, once you pair it with the concept of actual use, how tiny is that universe of possessions going to ultimately be?
The mark of a wonderful museum exhibit is that it leaves you with unfermented ideas bouncing around in your head for days, soaking up juices in the boiling, roiling kneading-trough of thought.
In my own mind, the lightness of my travels is legendary. Ten days in Europe with one tiny backpack. And I don’t even smell bad yet, much.
But one of my travel companions is that map of Lower Austria, and when I think about leaving it here in the flat for someone who might actually use it, it makes me happysad. Happy because I’ll be going home with one less thing, wherever home is. Sad because while I was here I acquired a book, and back home I have about fifty or maybe sixty unread books, and this will make 51. Or 61.
The solution is to go home and get rid of all the unread books. Most of them have been on the coffee table for 2-3 years. It physically hurts to think of donating away an unread book that I actually plan to read, kind of like tossing a pair of arm warmers that I know I may need for that one day when, after ten cold days in a row and no time to do laundry, I actually need that one pair.
Which leads to another problem, the problem of bicycle clothing and bicycle things.
I have one drawer with all my arm warmers, leg warmers, and similar items. Few of them would ever survive the six-month rule.
And then of course the rhino in the room, my tool bag. Of all the people who don’t use tools, I am he, with ten thumbs and blind.
Oh, and there is the closet shelf with the nine unread Japanese books in the series Sangoku-Shi. And the t-shirt drawer and the extra safety razor.
And the …
February 5, 2019 § 9 Comments
Sciencey people tell us that all we have to do in order to live to be a thousand is to engage in 20 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week. Nonetheless, it is very hard to go for a bike ride when you have less than a 2-3 hour window of ride time.
First of all we’re not really convinced that short rides are worth doing. We even have a phrase, “junk miles,” to describe bike time that isn’t “any good.” This is ridiculous from a health vantage point. Five or ten junk miles are scientifically-esque proven to help you reach 1,000, much more so than a hundred miles of couch intervals watching the teevee.
But the biggest reason not to do short jaunts is that when you are a cyclist, as opposed to a normal person who simply rides a bike, getting ready for the ride takes a lot of time. In order to put on your kit, find the matching arm warmer, air up your tires, make sure you have your computer, clip on your lights, put on your shoes and clatter out the door it takes at least fifteen minutes.
If your water bottle is empty, or you have to set Strava on your phone, or you forgot your driver license, or you need some food, basically, anything, then it takes twenty minutes. If you have to ride in weather, it’s half an hour.
There is something psychological that won’t let you spend thirty minutes getting ready for a twenty-minute ride. It seems completely useless, especially when it takes another fifteen minutes back home to undress and stow things away.
I didn’t have time for a long ride today but I had time for twenty minutes. I kitted up and went out, and then because I was already on my bike, sneaked in another twenty. That gave me forty minutes of exercise. I worked up a sweat, climbed some hills, and although it didn’t feel like a “real ride,” in fact it was.
Couple more rides like that and I will be right up there with Methuselah, or maybe even Tim Gillibrand.