"A Bicyclist Speaks to Father Time"
So I spoke to Father Time today, using a secure line of course, and complained about some changes that have been happening to my body lately. Sure, in lots of ways I’m fitter in my 60s than I was when completely healthy in my 30s. But I can see the writing on the wall … and it bothers me.
You have to understand that some of us bicyclists use this informal but very precise rating system for measuring rides. Really fast rides (18mph average or more for the whole of the ride) are rated A, 15 or so to 18 is B or B+, 15 down to 14 or 13 is usually a B-, a C ride is in the 10-12mph average range … you get the idea. (It’s like we willingly conspired with a schoolteacher with a mildly sadistic sense of humor.) Recently, despite lots of summer riding averaging well over 100 miles a week, I’ve been noticing that the power and stamina I used to have is often no longer there. I see myself edging down from B+ to B or lower pace on some rides; the ones where B+ feels really just like a strong “tempo” ride (hard but not painful) are getting rarer. Various injuries and the blood thinners I have to be on may be some of what’s causing this slide. But I have a hunch, I told Mr. Time, that he had something to do with those changes too.
He gave me a long look, never blinking once, and then slowly said … “So?”
Well, it was hard to know what to say after that. Father Time has smoke-grey eyes and his gaze certainly grabs and holds you. So does his skepticism about you and your complaints. I mentioned a little nervously that I still have plenty of fun on rides—good company, great scenery, and (when I do solo jaunts) the chance to get into a zone where my mind empties and then suddenly I can think through stuff and solve problems that I haven’t been able to solve before. That’s all true. But then I too paused and came out with the wish that, if I have to climb down our Bicyclist’s Ride Ratings Ladder, I’d prefer to do it just one rung at a time, and slowly.
“I can’t promise you anything,” he said, stroking his long and very un-Santa Claus-like white beard. “You might even be able to pause or reverse my effects a little by putting into your mix some of those Sufferfest rides you bikers so like to boast about. But yep, the arc of life, son, bends downward, a little like this scythe of mine. In the long run you lose strength in a very predictable and gradual curve. Or, to go back to your own little metaphor, it’s a ladder. A ladder has to have a bottom as well as a top. Otherwise it couldn’t be a ladder. Of course, now that we’re speaking of it, people don’t always go down ladders slowly.” He paused and looked away. “Sometimes there’s a sudden drop.”
“Gee thanks for making me feel better, Mr. Time,” I said.
Another pause. Father Time seems to like pauses. After a few beats he finally brought his eyes back to me and smiling coolly said, “Yes, it always goes down better if you’ve got a sense of humor.”
“Look, I really don’t make promises,” he continued. “I’m not allowed. All I’ll say is that I’ve a hunch I won’t be sharpening my blade for you just yet. Get back on that saddle and enjoy yourself. Be careful. And stop worrying about those numbers and letters so damn much. Just be glad you’re up, out, and about and that you have the wind in your helmet. Do more rides where you can talk some of the time to your friends rather than just hammering cross-eyed and trying not to get dropped. I never was a biker much myself; the robes I have to wear kept getting caught in the chain. And it’s hard to ride and carry this dang thing” (he gestured at his scythe). “But biking sure looks like a heck of a good way for you to spend some of your Time. Now get out of here.”
His eye gleamed and his scythe shone and he pulled up the huge heavy hoodie on his robe. Off he slogged in one direction. I clipped in and rode off in another.