Go big or go home

Good intentions somehow always turn sour in my world. Ok, not always. And not right away. I was pretty good at this whole not-blogging thing for a little while (a whole MONTH!), but the real world isn’t nearly as amusing as the blogosphere. Oh, I did start 2 new (albeit attached) blogs – one for my drawings, which I’ve actually used a fair bit, and one for photography, which I seem to be neglecting. And then a few things happened, so I’m back.

First, upon returning home, I learned two things: 1) I didn’t miss my cafe nearly as much as I thought I did, and 2) I missed my bike so much, I considered bringing her inside and making a cozy little bed to protect her from the coming winter. Also I was very surprised to learn that, although I’ve lost a lot of muscle mass over the past few years of bike-free existence, it was relatively simple to regain and nurture those budding tree-trunk thigh muscles. The lost endurance, however, is another issue. Most mornings, I struggle to pedal my 10km basic route. After that basic route, if my legs & lungs & the wind are cooperating, I either push further, make a wider loop, or else repeat the basic route for a 20km ride. Sometimes the ride is easy, and it feels like a significantly shorter circuit than the 13 km route I used to take to the university once or twice a week, several years ago. Of course, back then, I was only riding in summer, when the wind was nonexistant and the mercury rose above 90. Optimal cycling weather, I always called it. Because everyone else was sane enough to avoid outdoor activity, so I had the trails and bike lanes all to myself. Why did I want it all to myself? Well, for a few reasons. First, I am not a skinny girl. I have never been a skinny girl. And I disliked the looks I got from the serious (read: skinny) cyclists on their $2,000 road bikes as I sped past on my $120 mountain bike. Second, I was constantly passing people, or riding bumper-to-bumper when I couldn’t pass due to oncoming pedestrian traffic, forcing me to slow my riding speed to a crawl. Of course, I liked that I could pass the serious (skinny) riders, but it was never really about that. Once I invested in a better bike, passing was easier, but bumper-to-bumper riding was harder, so I had to stick to the roads most of the time. So 90 degree heat became my preferred cycling weather, the perfect time to have the trails and bike lanes all to myself.

I still don’t like sharing the trails and lanes. Maybe I’m a bit of rebel. I don’t subscribe to the “rules” of road cycling: I don’t have a lightweight frame, or drop handlebars, or branded cycling clothing & clip-on cycling shoes, and I haven’t replaced the standard components on my bike for the better (more expensive) options. I bike in runners, leggings, and whatever shirt happens to suit the day’s temperature – yoga tank tops when it’s hot, long-sleeve t-shirts when it’s cool, fleece when it’s cold. My eye protection is a cheap pair of fashion sunglasses, no matter the amount of sunlight. I wear cheap old cycling gloves, spotted with blood from several past spills and crashes, and although I know the proper way to fit a bike, the proper seat height to pedal ratio, I tend to adjust my seat height daily (sometimes mid-ride) in order to work different muscles or relieve the pressure on one damaged knee. My bike is not a racing bike, by any stretch of the imagination, and it isn’t lightweight, although I know an aluminum frame would help me increase my speed. Instead, I have a nearly indestructable steel frame. Harder to push up hills and into the wind, yes, but better in the event of a crash. And I have crashed many, many times over the years. This bike was not built for speed, but I push her to her limits as often as I can, and am constantly surprised by what she can do. I have a touring bike, intended for long-distance riding, but my legs are convinced she’s a road racer, and that’s fine by me.

Ten or 11 years ago, when I first became a cycling junkie, I wanted, desperately, to compete. To own a racing bike and compete in local (or national) bike races. But that never happened. I could never afford the racing bike, or the racer’s body. I will never be a stick figure. Even now, sometimes when I’m passing those serious riders on the trails or the road, I am struck by the realization that I will never have that body. I don’t mean that in the sense that I will never be skinny, not that that’s a goal, but that my legs will never shrink down to that tiny size. How do you race with those thighs?, I want to know. They’re tiny. The muscles are hiding. My own thighs are enormous. The quads, those lines of muscle stretching down the outside front of my thighs, are as solid as wooden boards, even if they aren’t as defined as they are on Olympic cycle sprinters. They’re still pretty well-defined. The muscles on the backside of my thighs are even more pronounced, a phenomenon that disturbed me last winter when I donned my leggings and a short skirt and did a once-over in the mirror. Holy crap! What’s that bulge of fat back there? What’s that bulge of SOLID fat doing there? The leggings went away promptly, and those thighs were covered at all costs. Until I moved back home and rekindled my love affair with my bike. Now those muscles are even more defined, and look like someone shoved a big Lego block under the skin of each thigh. Ah, cycling, how I’ve missed what you do to my legs… I’m not ashamed of this, not since I’ve figured out where those Legos came from. I used to be mortified by these thighs – thunder thighs, impossible to clothe in anything other than spandex yoga gear. Now I embrace those thighs. Look at my power, they say. Look at that muscle. Don’t mess with me – I can kick your balls so far into your core that you’ll choke on them.

Cycling is about more than thighs, though. No, I don’t have the standard-issue tapered waist, but I’ve got everything else. The Godzilla legs with appropriate muscle definition, the lower back muscles and core of steel (however insulated), and more upper-body strength than most speed riders because of the type of bike I ride and the terrain I ride on. Yes, it is incredibly difficult to buy clothing. This used to annoy me. Skinny jeans will never look good on me. Leggings will never be pants for anything other than cycling. I have my moments of wanting to dress feminine, but from the waist down, I tend to look like a football player in drag when I wear a skirt. I’ve learned to embrace that look. I love my thighs, and I’ve worked long and hard to get them up to true tree trunk status.

I did have a point at the beginning of this post, and it wasn’t about my beautiful thighs. So back to what I was originally going to talk about: my mother. Or I guess not so much my mother as her activities. In the spring, my mother decided to do a fun run/obstacle course challenge with my aunt. They had fun, and got all muddy, and enjoyed the experience. Then my mother decided to do another challenge: a 5 km colour run. Then she signed up for a zombie run and another obstacle course challenge for this month, and decided to train for them. She’s been jogging most mornings for the past couple of months, and completed the zombie run on Saturday. I went along with her and played photographer – my legs, as beautiful as they are, are not built for running. Those well-defined cycle-specific muscles would only get in my way. So I crouched on the sidelines and photographed the runners and the zombies, and a butterfly that flew into my field of vision. And then this morning, my mother showed me a photo someone had posted on the zombie run Facebook page:

mini photographer

That’s me. Crouched on a hidden trail, with my little Canon, photographing the passing runners and zombies. And then something occurred to me… Something a photographer once told me in Calgary: that I shouldn’t feel embarrassed taking that little camera out in public, surrounded by the bigger, flashier cameras of professional photographers. It’s not the size of the equipment that matters, it’s your ability and your desire that are important. I guess someone else agreed, since s/he took a picture of me taking pictures with my little camera. And then I thought, if that applies to photography and cameras, maybe I can apply it to cycling and bikes, too. I’ve been cycling 6 days a week for the past month with no real goal in mind, other than movement and muscle building. And yes, daily 10-20 km rides have increased my energy level and alleviated the last remaining bits of insomnia that were left over from grad school, but that wasn’t really the goal. I think I’ll take a page from my mother’s book and do a charity ride. I remember a few years back, there was a 2- or 3-day charity ride through the county, which interested me. But I was too ashamed of the fact that I didn’t have the “right” bike, or the right gear, or the right (skinny) body. It wasn’t a matter of endurance – I knew I could ride that distance – it was a matter of self- consciousness. But maybe… Maybe if I keep up these daily rides, I’ll sign on for a long-distance charity ride next summer. I certainly have the legs for it, even if my equipment isn’t standard-issue.

In the meantime, I’m going to admire my thighs a bit more.

PS: Here’s a thing about cyclists’ quads that made me laugh, because it describes my issue with pants so well: “Success on a Bike Lies in the Quads.”

soul mate


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