My alarm went off at 5 a.m. this morning, on purpose.
That opening statement alone is unusual for me, especially on a Saturday (he says, trying to forget for the moment that, three weeks from today, departure time for the jazz band trip will make the day start even earlier). The freeways were lonely (not a bad thing here in the Metroplex), the temperatures were nicely cool, and my favorite news-talk station was running a fishing show. It's a different world before sunrise, that's for sure.
But I rose at the crack of dawn and drove to Frisco for a good reason: the start of the FedEx Kinko's MS 150 Bike Tour, a.k.a. the Red River Challenge. The MS part stands for multiple sclerosis, and this tour and its two Texas companions in Austin and San Antonio raised $12 million for the National MS Society last year.
My personal connections to this were Halfling and his mom, who are riding in the event on a team sponsored by her work (where he'll be interning this summer as well). He's posted about this on several occasions and done mulitple training rides leading up to today. I'm also a big fan of the sport of cycling; I used to ride a lot, and I end up watching the Tour de France avidly every summer.
The tour started just outside the Dr Pepper/Seven Up Ballpark, home of the Frisco RoughRiders, the AA club of the Rangers organization. (Indeed, an added bonus of the morning was getting to walk around the ballpark, which I really need to visit as a fan.) It was inside the ballpark that I met up with Halfling and his mom (which ended up being less of a "needle in a haystack" situation than I'd imagined) and visited with them for a while before they lined up with their team.
After an opening ceremony featuring the National Anthem and a military presentation of the colors, the riders were off. There were some unusual entries: A couple in a tandem bike, another couple in a tandem bike with a little helmeted kid in a trailer-type thing (that one scored way high on the "cute" meter), a guy in a recumbent bike, someone on Halfling's team whose bike's wheels were so small it looked like a toy, and a guy with a stuffed Southwest Airlines plane on top of his helmet. It was too late for this year, but seeing it all made me really want to be out there on a bike.
Since I was already in Frisco, I took advantage of the facilities at my college's campus up there--specifically, the lap pool. There's no pool at my campus (we do have access to a municipal rec center next door, but not during hours when I can use it), so I like to find excuses to go up there and swim some laps. Today, I pretty much had the pool to myself, though there was a CPR demo going on when I got there (which took a second to register with me when I walked out to the pool; I thought for a moment that there had already been a near-drowning today). My technique was horrible, I'm sure, but, thanks to working out on a regular basis, I no longer feel like I've been beat up after my lap session like I did a few years ago when I went for the first time.
I made it home by around 12:30, after a lunch stop (I'd been cravin' the panda for a while, since my messed-up teaching schedule last week didn't allow me to eat there) and felt like I'd already had a full day. Proponents of early rising say you can get a lot done in the morning, and it's true, but I was toast. A nap was required to put myself back in equilibrium, but I had a goal in mind: my own (much smaller, of course) bike ride.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As I said, I'm a big fan of cycling, and I used to really like to ride myself a while back. I think the biggest appeal for me is that it's not only good exercise, but you can get somewhere doing it; the changing scenery really appeals to me. I lost a ton of weight riding a trainer once upon a time, and I've done some fun rides with friends in the past. I'm not sure what happened; life got more complicated, and my work schedule found me home after dark almost all the time. The bike started to literally gather dust in the garage. But Halfling's interest in the sport reawakened my desire to try again (a pretty common occurrence among best friends, no doubt), so I started working towards my own return to riding, with the larger goal of perhaps joining him for this in August (it's not definite for either of us, but if he does, I want to also).
Last weekend, I finally got new pedals. I had been using the clipless variety (which, along with special cleated shoes, make you literally "one with the bike" until you un-clip yourself with a special motion). They make for very efficient pedaling, but you can also fall. A lot. Sure enough, when I used them, I fell. A lot. And even more than that. It must look scarier to passersby than it feels to the rider, because on many occasions, well-meaning soccer moms would stop to make sure I was OK. But after a while, I really grew tired of the constant falling, which contributed to my hiatus from the bike as well. So I decided that my return stint would, at least for the time being, go back to "regular" pedals.
But there was a major snag in the process: I couldn't get the old ones off. I tried a wrench--nope. Allen wrench--worked better, but uh-uh. Phillips screwdriver--still no. I realized that I would have to consult with the bike store tomorrow, but what to do now? It was getting dark. I didn't want to drag out the special shoes and clip in--not for my first ride in forever. A thought came to me: I wonder if I could just ride with regular shoes on these pedals? I tried it, and, while it wasn't ideal, it worked.
I stayed in the neighborhood, which makes for an easy ride, as mine is built in a loop of sorts: three streets that all connect back to each other. Stopping was a little weird the first few times (mostly the balance part), and I encountered a dog on my first pass (though a sideways glance showed that it was nothing but a little ankle-biter with a really loud bark), but otherwise it went off without a hitch.
And it felt great. The old feeling was back, immediately. I definitely want to do a lot of this, and we're coming upon the ideal time of year to do so. I'll have to accessorize a bit: I need one of those saddle packs that can carry things like energy bars, my cell phone and so on, and I definitely need a new helmet, because I noticed that everyone this morning, to a person, had one that was cooler than mine. I'll probably ultimately replace the cheap bike I'm on with something better, but for now, I'll get the pedal issue resolved and I'm literally good to go.
Clipping for a cause: A kid came to my door today and offered to cut my grass for two dollars. He was fundraising for his elementary school, and I'm allergic to grass, so I was down with it. I had to do a little touch-up work later, but still, it was a good deal. I wonder if I can get him to come back in a few weeks?