Peace, or something like it

Sometimes action produces motivation. When I wait for the reverse, I can get caught in a Mexican standoff.
Saturday I grabbed a ride from friends headed out to Rainier to get in a big climb on my bike. I had planned to do the climb to Paradise, but we ended up outside the White River entrance so I hopped out and set off for Sunrise Point instead. I knew the climb would be painful because it was my first major climb of the year, but I shut out all thoughts. Just turned off that high-maintenance part of my mind that requires a perfect confluence of stimuli and moods to leap into action and switched over to robotic autopilot. Executed a series of basic commands. Before I knew what was happening, I had paid my $5 park entrance fee and was in my 39-25 gear, headed uphill.
I stopped at the first bathroom to unload some liquid weight. The bathroom was back in the woods about 25 yards. When I hopped back on my bike, I cut into the parking lot between two parked cars. At that same moment, a huge truck came tearing into that spot. The dude driving wasn't paying attention and nearly hit me. I slammed on my brakes and hit his front bumper and fell onto my side. Ouch. Not a good start. I had a few scratches, but the real damage was that my front wheel was out of alignment. I gave it a spin with my hand and it stopped after a half revolution, catching on the front brakes.
I moved the brake pads back and forth until the tire could spin unhindered. I could true the wheel by eye by adjusting the tension of some of the spokes. Unfortunately, my Mavic wheelset requires a proprietary tool to adjust the tension of its spokes, and I don't own one. Decision time. I had three hours to kill, and my front tire was a bit wobbly. Sit around for three hours, or ascend and risk a somewhat squirrelly descent. I rode a few loops in the parking lot and decided to push on. Not being able to get in a good climb would have dampened my spirit, already a bit shaky in the face of all the Alpine climbs awaiting me in France.
Meanwhile, crazy trucker driver and his buddies had walked off, with a brief mumbled "sorry." I've cycled enough to know that danger number one on the roads is any pack of young males, especially if they're driving a large truck. They drive aggressively, and they enjoy pulling stunts like swerving towards cyclists and blasting their horns to try and cause a wipeout. But on a bike, you just have to shrug it off. You're not going to win a fight armed with an 18 pound road bike when pitted against a 3000 pound car.
I channeled my anger into the early part of the climb. It was a gorgeous day, as clear a sky as I've ever seen over Rainier. Just a mile or two into the climb, my bottle of Cytomax had heated up to the point where it tasted like tea. The anger wore off, and pain moved in. My feet were throbbing. It was by far the longest sustained climb I'd done all year. The pain in my feet became unbearable. I stopped at the side of the road by a pile of snow and pulled off my shoes. I buried my water bottle in the snow to cool it off, and I took off my socks and rested my aching pups on the snow to dull the pain and swelling.
The ten minute break did me good. When I hopped back on my bike I had a spring in my legs. Before I knew what had happened, I rounded a bend and saw the sign for Sunrise Point. I'd finished my 14 mile ride in just over an hour and a half. I wasn't going to win any races at that speed, but the ride didn't kill me, either. A woman in the passenger seat of a passing station wagon leaned out and clapped.
"You made it!" she beamed. Generally, people in station wagons are bike friendly.
I had begun the climb trying to suppress some latent distaste for cycling which had been growing over the past few weeks. I suspect it's a byproduct of the dread I feel about heading to France to climb the Alps without having logged sufficient training. But I knew this would happen as soon as I planned my sabbatical to cover most of the spring training season. So why be such a pessimist? How rough can it be to bike through the sunny countryside of France?
The ride to Sunrise transformed me. The sun, the challenge of gravity...I was smiling on the bike again. I stopped briefly at Sunrise and then pushed on up further, to the actual peak of the road. Then I turned around and headed back towards the base. Given the state of my wheel, I was unusually cautious. On a descent like that a cyclist of my weight can easily hit 45mph without touching the pedals, but I carressed my brakes on the way down and reached a peak of 38mph. Even at that speed, I kept smacking into flying bugs that would prick me with the force of pebbles on a moving windshield. I thought I'd reach the bottom looking like Jim Carrey after his motorcycle ride with Renee Zellwegger in Me, Myself, & Irene, with dead bugs all over my face, chest, and helmet.
My favorite part of descending twisty roads like those in Rainier is being able to chase down and occasionally pass cars. Pacing behind a car at near 40mph is an exhilarating feeling. If the car ahead of you stops, you'll likely die, but you can say that about many aspects of descending. Leaning back and forth in the turns, chasing a car--the happiness I felt must be what dogs feel as they chase cars down the street.
At the bottom, I waited for my ride for twenty minutes near a pack of sportbike enthusiasts, all twenty-something men, cooling off by the side of the road. It was a wolfpack of alpha males, their confidence jacked up by each other's company. I kept my distance but could hear them trading boasts and jests, talking about the women they were going to hook up with that night, cussing each other out over any show of weakness. A pack of girls in an SUV pulled over and asked to snap a photo of them on their bikes. They obliged, and as the car pulled away one of the guys hopped off his bike and thrust his hips a few times in their direction.
I remember the feeling of being in packs like that in grade school. In the company of boys wanting to be men. We must be wary of who our kids consort with, because kids socialize each other as I'm reading about in The Nurture Assumption.
The other big problm I had to solve over the weekend was my job decision. The lack of a decision was twisting me into the ground. I spent time thinking about my options on the bike climb, and I spent time at the golf driving range on Sunday, thinking about it some more. I drew notes on an old whiteboard of mine, and by dinnertime on Sunday I knew what I was going to do. The simple act of making a decision took a huge burden off of my mind.
So mentally, I'm at a place of peace right now. I'm fired up for the Tour de France and fired up for my new job. So Alpe D'Huez will kick my ass. I won't be its first victim. If I smile on the way up, no matter how much pain I'm in, I'll feel happy. Sometimes the smile produces the happiness, not the other way around.