Ride Like Your Life Depends On It: Liz and Exu

One of the most referenced posts on this blog is about naming one’s bike. I never thought much of calling my bike by anything but the name the maker gave it. Then I received this beautiful post from BikeDC’s own Liz MacGregor.

In her writing, Liz shows how a bicycle can be an intimate companion that also represents a new lease on life. And when that happens, how can you not give your bike a name?

Thank you, Liz, for sharing the story of you and your bike, Exu.

Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Will Lynn
Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Will Lynn
In the pantheon of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé, Exu is the messenger between the human and divine worlds, the opener of doors. He has special responsibility for travelers and roads, especially crossroads.

But Exu is also a trickster, a harsh teacher always ready with a lesson to humble the proud. His colors are black and red, and his salutation is “Laroyê Exu!” which means, “Protect me,” or more literally, “Save me, Exu!”

When I purchased a new commuter, a black and red Cannondale, “Exu” seemed an obvious choice to christen my bike. After all, I am a year-round commuter with a 29-mile round trip.

I go through 41 intersections, and that’s just on my way to work. To invoke divine protection for my travels – protection from the elements, trail hazards such as deer, and most of all, from motorized vehicles piloted by inattentive drivers – seemed a sensible hedge.

My suspicions that Exu would also be more than willing to play a few jokes on me were confirmed within a few days. As I perched in a wobbly trackstand, pondering which way to turn, Exu unceremoniously dumped me to the pavement in the middle of a lonely suburban intersection.

Exu at the Cherry Blossoms. Photo credit Liz MacGregor
Exu at the Cherry Blossoms. Photo credit Liz MacGregor
But I was looking to Exu for protection and salvation from more than just the assorted road hazards I expected to encounter. Six-and-a-half years ago, nearing the end of chemotherapy, I had peppered my oncologist with questions, based on exhaustive online research, about how to prevent a recurrence of cancer.

She gently interrupted me, looked directly into my eyes, and sagely intoned, “If you want to prevent a recurrence of cancer, you need to get your weight into a healthy range and get an hour of vigorous exercise every day.”

Exu in Ashland, Oregon, on a 24% grade. Photo credit Liz Macgregor
Exu in Ashland, Oregon, on a 24% grade. Photo credit Liz Macgregor
Before my diagnosis, I had been an intermittent bike commuter. It was the convenient way for a harried mother and professional to exercise, but also the first thing to be sacrificed when the schedule was too full.

The oncologist continued talking but my mind wandered off. I had not been on a bike, or done any other real physical activity, since my diagnosis seven months earlier.

I thought of the last new commuting bike, purchased two months before my diagnosis, gathering dust under the basement steps.

There is virtually nothing I can control about this nightmare, I thought. But give me one thing that’s in my control. One thing that I can do, and that I love to do. I’m going to ride as if my life depends on it. Laroyê Exu.

Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Mark Blacknell
Air Force Cycling Classic Crystal Ride. Photo credit Mark Blacknell
My return to the bicycle was accompanied by an urgency and seriousness of purpose that had not existed before. Gradually, my mixed mode commute – 12 miles round trip by bike, the rest by train – gave way to a bicycle-only commute. Two days per week became three, which led to four, and then some riding on the weekend, too.

In a gesture of defiance, I rode my bike to and back home from one of my last chemotherapy appointments. Riding became a refuge; two hours of daily solitude in a life that was hectic and sometimes sad.

Riding was a chance to get lost in thought or have no thoughts at all. Sometimes, I rode just to get lost. It was a routine or habit that became second nature. Riding made me feel healthy even as I harbored doubts about whether reality matched the brave front I put up.

I have a well-rehearsed answer when someone asks, “Is it safe?” Eight-five percent of my commute is on a protected trail or bike lane. After all these years, the urban drivers and I know each other well, and have long since made peace with our imperfect coexistence.

Danger panda. Photo credit Liz MacGregor, of course
Danger panda. Photo credit Liz MacGregor, of course
But really, I just want to reply, “How is it safe not to?” I’m a human being, a living creature. I am not meant to be passive. I am meant to be out in the world, to move, power up a hill panting, go flying down the other side as if ready to take flight.

I’m meant to feel the hot sun beating down on my back, and to gingerly brace myself against a fierce crosswind on a dark, frigid night. To overcome the tedium of thousands of pedal strokes over the same route, day after day, by making it transcendent.

To do more than exist. To live. What’s the point of being alive, if not to live? I have to do this. I ride as if my life depends on it.

Laroyê Exu!

What’s Stopping You? A Freezing Saddles Talk with Carol C.

As Washington, D.C. continues its major dig out from the weekend Snowzilla/MakeWinterGreatAgain storm (yeah, I know it’s not like this other places, believe me I know), I’m kicking off a new interview series about winter riding and the D.C.-area’s Freezing Saddles competition. I’m participating for the first time, and I wrote about that here.

My first interview is with Carol, who is also my Freezing Saddles teammate (Team 4: The Fourth Awakens!). Carol is a long-time transportation cyclist who rides year round and is participating in the Freezing Saddles competition for the third time. Thank you so much, Carol, for sharing your knowledge with us, and for starting us off. Continue reading What’s Stopping You? A Freezing Saddles Talk with Carol C.

Blizzard Weekend in Washington, D.C.

After months of unseasonably warm temperatures and thoughts that winter might pass us by, mother nature treated the D.C. area  (or punished, depending on who you ask) to record-setting snowfall.

Exactly how much snow is still somewhat in dispute, since weather officials at National Airport failed to follow the recommended snow measuring technique. Continue reading Blizzard Weekend in Washington, D.C.

New Year, New Me: Freezing Saddles

At the encouragement of my randonneur and real life spouse, I signed up for a D.C.-area winter cycling challenge called Freezing Saddles. Now in its fourth or fifth year, Freezing Saddles has woven itself into the fabric of the local cycling community, such that it feels like it has always been here.

The challenge began on January 1 and runs until the first day of spring on March 20– one of my favorite days! All participants are divided into teams of around 10 or so people. The full set of rules is here, and a shorter summary follows below: Continue reading New Year, New Me: Freezing Saddles

Will Ride (or Run) for Kudos. Joining Strava

The virtual world of Strava always struck me as a dangerous place. A place where people competed for the fastest times on arbitrary segments of road, sometimes at their own peril– or worse, by risking the safety of others.

Strava was a world for spirited, competitive roadies. Transportation and touring cyclists like me need not join. That suited me fine. My private Excel spreadsheet was all I needed. Continue reading Will Ride (or Run) for Kudos. Joining Strava

The Right Tool for the Job: Bike Friday Tikit Commutes

Over our many years together, the relationship between my Bike Friday Tikit and me has been nothing if not tumultuous.  Continue reading The Right Tool for the Job: Bike Friday Tikit Commutes

Forward: Run Goals Unlocked

Normally around this time of year, I find myself in a state of contemplation, reflecting on the year behind me. I thought I’d post a summary or two about 2015 running and cycling, but when I sat down to write, it didn’t work.

This year I devoted a lot of time to “big thoughts,” sad thoughts, fears. I reflected on how I can do things now that I may not be able to do in the future. I thought about how good health is a gift that can only be maintained and managed to a certain point, and then an event will happen to remind us that nothing is a fountain of youth. Continue reading Forward: Run Goals Unlocked

Coffeeneuring Challenge 2015: Finishers and Honorable Mentions

‘Twas the night before Coffeeneurmas, and all through the house… As we all know, coffeeneuring is a season, not a day, and what a great season it’s been. This year, 247 people rode their bikes to the finishers circle, and 8 achieved Honorable Mention.

Finally, the time to announce the Finishers and Honorable Mentions for the 2015 Coffeeneuring Challenge has arrived. Thanks to everyone for their patience as I organized the submissions. Continue reading Coffeeneuring Challenge 2015: Finishers and Honorable Mentions

Last Ditch Efforts

Annual mileage goals– I never set them, preferring to focus on the events or plans I make in any given year.

And yet, when the twilight of any given year is upon me I find myself inventing, and then fervently striving, for an arbitrary finish line.

My accumulated miles for 2015 are not really remarkable, but I’ll share them anyway.

Bicycle miles: 5,975

6,000 miles is just around the corner.

Danger panda

Running miles: 916

Tantalizingly close to 1,000. But 1,000? Feels overly lofty.
So how about 950? Better. Likely, even.

This matters why? I’ll let you know if I come up with an answer.

But I have done the math and roughly mapped out plans from now until midnight on December 31. They’re in perpetual draft, but they do exist.

I admit it’s a bit silly. Does anybody else do this?

No matter. A little sport in December helps keep end-of-year activities interesting.

Wish me luck!

Coffeeneurmas Gift List

Holiday time is here, jingaling, a time where many of us rack our brains to think of gifts for those dear to us. To help, I’ve put together a little Coffeeneurmas Gift List for the coffeeneur in your life. Continue reading Coffeeneurmas Gift List

Coffeeneuring 2015: Almost There! Still Time to Submit, and Honorable Mention, Too!

It’s the Coffeeneuring Challenge’s biggest year yet, with more people participating than ever before! After weeks of compiling, most results have been entered into the official Coffeeneuring Challenge database. It’s taken the judges and the coffeeneuring administrative staff longer this year due to (insert excuses here).

Even if you missed the deadline, there is still a window to submit. And, if you were unable to complete all seven rides but did at least half of them, then how about sending in your entries for Honorable Mention? Continue reading Coffeeneuring 2015: Almost There! Still Time to Submit, and Honorable Mention, Too!

12 Months By the Potomac River

Ever since I moved near the D.C. waterfront, the Potomac River has silently shaped my movement. I sidle along it to leave the city and head into Maryland. I must cross it by way of one of two or three bridges to reach Virginia. Continue reading 12 Months By the Potomac River

Friends Don’t Let Friends Sit on the Couch: Horsing Around Sugarloaf 200K

Lately I’ve had the uncomfortable sensation that my life is on top of me, its everyday demands pushing me into the cushions, reducing me to a sedentary state. It hasn’t felt good. Continue reading Friends Don’t Let Friends Sit on the Couch: Horsing Around Sugarloaf 200K

Giving Thanks for Long Rides: Jerry’s 2015 Coast to Coast Bike Tour

As we head into Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share a recent conversation with our buddy Jerry, who rode his bike coast to coast this year, beginning in Alaska, passing through Canada, and back into the United States until finally reaching his Washington, DC., home over nine weeks of riding. Continue reading Giving Thanks for Long Rides: Jerry’s 2015 Coast to Coast Bike Tour

Coffeeneuring Challenge Submissions Homework and Housekeeping

Welcome to Monday and Thanksgiving week! I am a bit behind on my Coffeeneuring Challenge submissions so if you submitted something to me over the weekend, you may not yet have received any reply from me. Continue reading Coffeeneuring Challenge Submissions Homework and Housekeeping

on 2 wheels (or feet) in washington, d.c.

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