My older brother visited over Labor Day Weekend. He's the guy who got me into cycling (beyond normal "kid cycling") in the mid 1970s. His pursuit of varied interests has had him in and out of cycling ever since. So he knows what he's missing when he's missing it, but he's not always in peak form to pursue an opportunity when he gets it.
He showed up with his thrift store Raleigh road bike. I made a few modifications to it at his request a couple of years ago. It's a nice lugged frame road bike from the mid 1980s: simple, reliable and sporty. Unfortunately, his busy work schedule has had a bad effect on his power to weight ratio.
For our first ride we did a 15-mile loop in the late afternoon on Monday. We'd been thinking we'd go out earlier, but the night before he'd pulled a sweet little ukulele out of his sleeve. Not only did we stay up stupidly late plinking and dinking on the uke' and my mandolin, I also promoted the idea that he grab a quick lesson with expert ukulelist Shana Aisenberg, who lives nearby. Aisenberg literally wrote the book on ukulele -- co-wrote A book, anyway.
My brother is into all sorts of musical esoterica, and Shana earns her living at it. They hit it off, so the lesson went way overtime. Even though I could have taken him out for back-to-back days of long tongue-draggers over hilly but beautiful rural roads, he had a great time at Shana's and got some good stuff to work on in the coming months.
So there we were, heading out into the golden glory that precedes a September sunset.
Ordinarily I can cruise the Loon Lake Loop in under an hour. I'm not obsessed with average speed, but we weren't riding our bikes with full lighting, so sunset mattered. We did beat it, but I kept dropping him. I even COAST faster. What's up with that? He's got about 40 pounds on me. I don't have some kind of miracle bearings in my hubs.
The next day we got out earlier on a longer route around Effingham, to deliver some concert flyers for the cellist's gig in September. She's doing a program with a violinist and a pianist as part of a fundraising concert series to support the preservation of a local historic building. The building is the Lord's Hill Meeting House. Our route took us up Lord's Hill. It's only moderate by local standards, but pretty stiff for a guy from the Washington, D.C., area especially when he hasn't been riding much. And on the way we did a lot of smaller climbs, which gave me plenty of time to compare the experience of riding painlessly slowly as opposed to my typical more assertive pace.
Launching off one dropoff into a steep descent I know well, I reflected on how often this same brother had seen me get squeegeed up when things didn't go well on a hurtling descent, starting when I was eight years old. Perhaps the fact that I continued to ride after that indicated that I did suffer brain damage.
It can't have been that bad. I never lost my sense of self preservaton. Sporty fast is one thing. Crazy fast is another.
"Remember, kids! Brain damage causes downhill mountain biking!"
Twenty-one miles took us almost two hours. This was beyond LSD. I felt antsy, but I also felt how nice it was to meander. To amble. To take in the sights.
Too often I feel pressed by my fellow road users to keep up the pace. Also, in commuter time trials or squeezing a ride into a full day's schedule I speed up to a half-fast pace neither full race nor relaxing. When I trained with a bit of knowledgeable guidance, my mentor warned against exactly that. He explained the value and the difference between hard days and easy days, and the various kinds of interval workout. But when one is not training, to be tested by fellow trainers at competitive events, it's easy to fall into slightly breathless haste most of the time.
No one hassled us riding slowly. Maybe we were fortunate in our route and the motorists who happened to pass. Different paces attract different types of criticism. Some occupants of motor vehicles may feel extroverted contempt when they see someone doodling along at a casual pace. Others may find a faster cyclist much more irritating because the motorist has to speed up so much more to complete the pass. Heavier motor traffic on more of a main road will breed more impatience.
I seldom ride slowly unless I'm with someone who forces me to do so. But any change of pace can be instructive. Maybe when I was 20 years younger I would have felt just as well rested doing the route at 18 mph instead of 11. But left to pick my pace I would have pushed for 20 back then.
I did notice years ago the difference between riding a pushy pace and an easy one. But my easy one seemed to attract more bullies than my faster one. I didn't have time to slow down even more to see if I could find a peaceful zone down there. I would invariably speed up to gain whatever respect I could. But I wondered at the time what my riding would be like when I could no longer speed up enough to get into the faster groove. On some roads it doesn't matter much. On others you really see the difference.
Going into the commuting week I resumed my normal pace. I don't ride impressively fast, it's just that the rides with my brother had been impressively slow. I'll be thinking about them for a long time.