Josh Magill did not understand the commitment, the mindset, the strength or the pain it took to truly be a cyclist. But he wanted to know, so he responded with: “Deal. Ten hours.”
Less than a week ago, the message came. It was a Facebook message I wasn’t expecting, and at first I didn’t believe I was reading it: “Hey, man – I don’t know your schedule, but I’m thinking you might consider some longer, more desperate and miserable rides.”
I’ve had my road bike for a month and a half, maybe, and I was easing into the art of being a hardcore biker. On average, I’d been riding in four or five mile stints, but had worked my way up to once riding a 12 mile stretch along the Cherry Creek Trail near my house in Colorado. I was a bit tired, but nothing too serious that didn’t wear off after a couple hours. I had never ridden more than 22 miles in a week.
So when I got the message I was rationalizing with myself that I was doing good, that I was riding the way I should so I didn’t hurt myself as I eased into exercising my overweight body. I could eventually understand a longer ride, but why more miserable? That just didn’t fit the picture in my head, the image of me gliding down the road, smiling, as I glistened my way to good health. Wasn’t easing into it the right thing to do? I didn’t want to overdo it, right?
But then I remembered who sent the message—Mike Magnuson.
If you have ever read his memoirs, especially Lummox: The Evolution of Man or Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180, then you know that Mike Magnuson never eases into anything. He is the person I affectionately call the “mad man” because he dives into his life—good or bad—with everything he has in his soul. You read that, you feel that, in his writing, even in the Facebook message to me. I pondered the word “desperate” because it didn’t seem to fit. Why would a bike ride be desperate? But then I thought about all the things he said in Heft on Wheels—the book that inspired me to buy a road bike and start riding—and I thought about my own reasons for wanting to ride. We were both desperate, anxious to change our lives in a positive way, distressed with the idea that if we didn’t change our lives—our souls—we would regret everything we had ever done. Changing our lives meant the things we had done in our past meant something, meant we had learned along the way and were better for it, but not changing meant nothing, meant we were sorry sacks of bloated flesh waiting to die because life meant nothing.
In high school, I learned that to get your body into great shape you first had to break it down and then rebuild it. Break down your muscles by pushing them harder than they could go, tearing them, making them into something you could mold and shape. That is what I needed to do if I wanted to be in better shape and lose the extra weight I was carrying; that is what I needed to do if I wanted to change my life—not ease into it.
Mike’s message continued on: “Either that, or don’t think of the mileage at all. Think of trying to ride ten hours a week. Try to do this next week, in fact. Deal?”
I was hesitant because at my present pace, ten hours of riding in one week would put me at nearly 150 miles—nearly seven times more than I had ever ridden in a single week. He said he had once received that same advice from the great American cyclist Greg LeMond. Knowing Mike had once interviewed LeMond for a magazine article, and that LeMond had even offered to give Mike one of his bikes, it was probably the truth he had gotten this advice from Lemond—Le Monster, as he was known. In that magazine article, Mike says LeMond and his wife Kathy saved his life, and maybe through Mike, LeMond would save mine. You see, I have always been a massive fan of Greg LeMond, watching the Tour de France peloton fly through the mountains and beautiful, rolling countryside and, finally, the streets of Paris. My father and I sat before the television mesmerized, wishing we could be that good, wishing we could feel the wind against our chest as we floated past thousands of adoring fans of cycling. But unlike LeMond or Mike or my father—a former cyclist himself, that participated in century rides and triathlons when I was young—I did not understand the commitment, the mindset, the strength or the pain it took to truly be a cyclist. But now I wanted to know and because of that I responded to Mike’s Facebook message with: “Deal. Ten hours.”
I was on-board, but I was frightened. This wasn’t easing into it, this was leaning into it full-throttle. Yet, somewhere in the back of my mind, hidden behind that fear was a determination I had long misplaced or forgotten. It peaked out, smiling at me. I smiled back and got on my bike.
The first day of the week—Monday—was lost to work and traveling, which allowed that fear to once again flare up, churning my stomach a bit that I almost replied to Mike with my surrender before I had begun. “I’ll sleep on it,” I thought. And when I awoke on Tuesday, I felt better, I felt determined.
I rode for just over an hour on that Tuesday, on a stationary bike in the hotel exercise room, pedaling out 17.6 miles. I felt good, but that night my core—my stomach and back—hurt more than it had since I was a teenager in the wrestling gym. On Wednesday, I rode for an hour and a half, again on a stationary bike in the hotel, pedaling out 20.3 miles. In two days I had surpassed any weekly mileage accumulation I have ever done since … ever. I was proud of myself, and I walked taller, well, as tall as my aching core muscles would let me.
Thursday was lost again to traveling and work, hindering my ability to keep the streak going, but it was a good rest day for my body and I took it with some relief, but knowing my ability to reach ten hours was being hampered. On Friday, back home, I hopped on my Trek 1220 and pedaled until it hurt, drinking all the precious liquid in my water bottle, stopping quickly to eat a granola bar, gutting through any pain until my muscles seem to go numb—another hour and a half ride that took me 21.8 miles along the Cherry Creek Trail. I found that even when everything else goes numb your butt still hurts, even with the padded bike shorts, and I said as much on Facebook. Mike’s response: “Whine Not!” with a smiley face emoticon.
Four hours of riding and nearly 60 miles in one week; I had nearly tripled what I had been doing. Sure, I was sore and, yes, the rides were more miserable, but I felt great. My mind was more stimulated, aroused, and my body was stronger and burning calories because it was building muscle by first breaking it down. Though the rides were longer, they somehow seemed easier. My lung capacity was growing, making the hill climbs not as hard as they had been. With hand waves, head nods, “Howdys” and “On your lefts,” I’m becoming part of the biking community here. It feels good—emotionally, mentally and physically.
I have two more days left in this week, two more days to complete my deal with Mike, but I have six more hours of riding to complete. I’m not sure if I can do it, but I’ll try, and trying is all I can ask of myself. If I don’t reach ten hours of riding this week, then I will try again next week and the next, until I reach it. Once I do, then I’m sure the deal will increase somehow and I’ll be ready for that.
Next Thursday is my birthday. I will turn 38-years-old. My mother asked what I planned to do for my birthday and I said: “Probably go biking somewhere.” I’m now 220 pounds, having lost three pounds this week, getting me to 40 total pounds lost this year. My goal is to weigh 200 pounds by the end of the year and I’m going to make it if I keep pushing and don’t whine about the work it takes. It will be a good birthday, one of the best I’ve had in a long time, and I’ll know that I’m headed in the right direction.
Hey, look what time it is. Time to go biking.
Allez, allez, allez. (go, go, go)
© 2013 Josh Magill Originally published on The Magill Review
Photos: [main] BobMical / flickr, [insets] author