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Can’t Rides

Riding in California is a funny game. Bike paths are abundant but fractured, drivers are unpredictable, and I’m never quite sure if I’m allowed to be wherever I am. In other words, it’s like every other place on the planet not designed primarily for bikes. It’s not home.

The other day I’d just popped both my eyeballs out climbing a hill for a view of the ocean, and had turned off on what appeared to be a wheelchair path towards an overlook. I hadn’t gotten ten feet down the path before a desperate housewife of the orange county pulled up in her escalade and began to screech at me.

“That is not a bike path!” She hollered, wildly gesticulating with her manicured nails.

I immediately got off and walked my bike apologetically back, calling “sorry, I didn’t know!” The trail looked like it was going to peter out anyway.

But it wasn’t enough for her, “You can’t even ride it! It’s too narrow! Too sandy!” She screamed, distraught.

I just kinda shrugged and walked away, but I was really rather steamed. It’s fine to tell me where I’m allowed to ride, but lady, don’t even try to tell me where I can ride. It’s people like her, with their rugged SUVs and indoor mindsets, who are killing our sport. Women like her who raise their daughters to think in terms of designated trails- not just the ones outside, but through society- who keep our field sizes small. Too narrow, too sandy, ha! Lady, you have no idea.

She’s the reason why, as I chased Bike’s gear guy through the Santa Ana’s a few days later, I did not stop riding even when my intestines seemed determined to abandon ship. Can’t ride? Fuck that, there’s no such thing. You can, apparently, get pretty close though. I’d done a 50 miler on the mtb the day before and my legs had obligingly turned to pasta. Not al dente either- they were overcooked, unresponsive, and mealy.  The first hard week of the season had not been kind to me, and apparently it wasn’t as over as I’d hoped.

It was the sort of ride where I promised myself an end to the suffering over and over again. I’ll just go to that next bend, or to that big rock over there… You’d think my body would eventually figure out what a good liar I am, but it’s surprisingly gullible even after all these years. Squirrel kept asking how many miles I had left, and I kept making gagging noises and saying “negative 400.” I may have gotten a little melodramatic, but finally, after lots of climbing and not enough chamois butta’, I entered that rare zone of pain where it feels like all you’ve ever done is ride, all you’ll ever do is ride, and as long as you just keep pedaling everything will be okay. Suddenly I realized how beautiful everything around me was, how incredible the existence of this trail, and how lucky I am to spend time doing what I do.

I’ve never regretted not turning around- there is always some realization, some view, some lesson I learn a little further out that I’d have missed otherwise- but on painful days that notion always seems to creep up; “Maybe I can’t.” As it turned out, and always does, I actually could. Another four hour day, and I hit the sheets that night absolutely annihilated and happy.

So then I got to thinking about can’t rides. There will always be people who think you can’t ride- whether they be crazy bimbos in SUV’s or even yourself, there’s always the possibility of “can’t.” What is it really? It does definitely exist- after all I can’t ride up a glass wall- but how solid is “can’t”? Is there a point while riding that my legs will snap off like in Monty Python and start squirting ketchup? For my friend in the escourt, the can’t line is drawn at trails that are narrower than three feet across and contain sand. My line is a little different, but maybe not by much. I wonder how far the line can be pushed? Things like the BC bike race, Trans Alps, and Breck Epic make me wonder; things that are way longer and harder that people don’t event talk about make me wonder. There are probably thousands of gristled old dudes out there riding in cutoffs with can’t lines far beyond the limits of my little brain.

And a thought about “trails”- There  are so many designated trails out there, especially for girls (the most traveled seems to lead to a rock on your left ring finger, a golden retriever, and a beige wardrobe) but it seems that the really fun rides are the ones you can’t do. The ones that are too narrow or sandy, the ones that your legs aren’t up for, the ones that are just too long- it’s these rides that show you the new stuff. It’s these rides that teach you about yourself for real. That’s why I think this sport is so worthwhile- it’s changes your entire frame of reference. You start to see the world through mud-spattered lenses.

But that’s enough of the sentimental feminism. Next post: look for a special gear review courtesy of my excellent pals at the office. Hint- I arrived this morning to hushed conversation: “uh… I think Lydia’s probably the only one here who can test that…”

1 Comment

  1. Helen Nychka says

    Gosh Lyd — what can I say to “can’t” ? I wish everyone your age…..and not your age……could have moments of introspection this rich. (I won’t even talk about being able to communicate or write about it). I think it might take being outside your body, i.e., at the edge of your bodily limits, to coax one’s mind to some of these places. The mind so happily rests in other, less challenging places. Bravo.


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