By Vernon Felton
There's this guy that I hate. He's a complete tool. I guess my dislike for him is sort of ironic because we have a lot in common. We're from the same town. We ride the same trails. We wear the same general-issue, bike-dork uniform, except his fits better. Bastard.
I see him most often during the winter months, when it's dumping outside and the deadlines are knocking on my door, robbing me of my attention, ride time and fitness. It's when I drag my sorry ass off the couch and really embark on something punishing—that's when he shows up. I catch him out of the corner of my eye, ripping up a climb that I'm just merely wallowing up. He blows by with nary a nod. He's probably too busy looking at his Garmin or calculating his Strava splits. Like I said, total wanker.
That happened last week, in fact. It was during one of those storms that has ducks scrambling for their GoreTex. Winter, however, is really just starting to get into its miserable groove up here and if you stop riding until the weather gets nice, you'll be waiting till July. There was nothing to do but suck it up, don the wool and get rolling. The ride begins with a good climb, the kind that quickly gets you reacquainted with your granny gear.
I'm about 40 minutes into the climb when I look at my watch and realize—Aw crap, I'm going to have to cut this ride short.
The day's getting away from me; there's traffic to beat, kids to pick up from school and all that jazz. No worries, I'll just stop halfway up the climb, take a side trail to the ridge top and enjoy the fruits of my labor with some wet, rocky descending.
As I near the halfway point, I see him. Eyes focused on the climb ahead, legs pumping away. Just full of piss and vinegar. I can practically hear what he's thinking. He's thinking, "Are. You. Fucking. Serious? Halfway up? You're stopping now and taking the shortcut? Really? Did you forget to bring your testicles today? Maybe you left your pride somewhere back at the house? Halfway up? That's my warm up ride. I'm not even in the groove yet, forchrissakes…"
Of course, he never says a word. He doesn't have to. Because I'm saying it to myself. I am the other guy. I am that tool. Well, half of the year I am, anyway.
During any given year, I am two different riders. From October to April, I'm pretty much a wreck of creaky bones, belly fat and bile. Between May and October, I'm in a more respectable shape. Not fit or fast by competitive standards, but well, a whole lot fitter and faster than the winter me. By May I am blazing up the fireroad on a daily basis. The halfway mark always seems to pop up so quickly and then I'm zooming past it towards the summit, catching the paler, chubbier version of me out of the corner of my eye and wondering how could I have ever been that guy. How could I have ever cut the ride short and taken the easy way out? How could I have ever been that slow?
I am, in short, a man with a serious multiple-personality riding disorder. I wasn't always this way. When I was younger and had no obligations beyond staying out of jail and completing my nightly shift behind a mop, I devoted almost every daylight hour to pedaling. Sure, I had peaks and valleys in any given season, but I was always basically…me. The same rider.
As I got older, the relationships and responsibilities stacked up. The hours of my day became segmented and precious. I stopped naming my bikes. I struggled to put in the same kind of saddle time. I've never actually straight-up stopped riding at any point during the past 28 years, but I eventually became more of a binge rider—three great months here followed by two crappy, couch-bound months there, followed by an absolutely stellar four or five months in the saddle and then a couple months of unsatisfying off-and-on again riding. Over and over and over again.
The rider I became during the on-the-wagon months was a very different rider than the binge-rider—so much stronger, so much more dedicated. Maybe that guy even logs into his Strava account from time to time.
This past year has been a serious binge fest for me and it's been, well, weird. I vacillate between scorn for my sluggardly self and envy at my better-riding self. It's like that Star Trek episode (this would be "The Enemy Within", Season One, Episode 5…Hey, don't look at me like that. I'm a journalist, I'm supposed to know these things) where Scotty is beaming up Kirk from planet Alfa 177 and somehow two Captain Kirks wind up aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. The "Good Kirk” is honorable and kind, but can't make a decision to save his life, whereas the "Evil Kirk” is a full-blown, alpha dog that gets shit done but is also bound for some mandatory sexual harassment training and a stern talking to whenever Human Resources gets back from lunch.
At the risk of pushing this whole Star Trek analogy too far, the episode concludes with the crew realizing that neither Good nor Evil Kirk can survive without the other. They must combine both of the Kirks, a task they accomplish with their transporter ray, some LED lights and a bunch of crummy Bloop and Bleep sound effects.
I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but I do have a goal this year. Balance—in a unified Captain Kirk sort of way. Sadly, I lack a transporter machine so achieving this unity is going to take some effort. I'm just going to have to figure out a way to level out the riding time and stop binging. We'll see. I gotta do something. I get sick of being caught on the climbs by Racer Me and I can't stand watching Fat Bastard Me gimp his way up the mountain.
I'm tired of the other guy.