Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Meet "Monster"

My garage door rolled up at 7:30 am, when it was 24 degrees outside with hip-deep snow piled along both sides of the street, and there was Monster, plowing forward up our hill in the deep and crusty snowpack on his mountain bike.  Each time his bike broke through the crust above, it meant losing 70% of his forward momentum to the 6" of softer snow underneath.  The challenge was to stay upright when this happened. The wide tires with knobby tread at least gave him some help. Somehow, Monster was able to stay on, move forward, and chat with me all at the same time. If I was doing that well at doing all of those things at once, there's no doubt that I'd be gabbing on and on about the snow and my ability to stay riding.  Not Monster.  

"This isn't particularly fun," he told me without losing a pedal stroke, managing to turn up into my icy driveway at the very moment that he broke the laws of physics by avoiding a slip-out. As if he needed to discourage me from getting on my bike and joining him--no thanks. In typical Monster fashion, he diverted the conversation to the kids, plans for the day, the crazy weather--anything to get the topic off of himself.  As we were talking, I was thinking that his snow workout was not a whim, but a chance to test himself physically and mentally in a new way. He can't resist finding new ways to work out hard, and this resort-style snow provided a rare opportunity outside his own front door.  Snow at this depth never comes to Clackamas, and while riding in it may not be exactly "fun," it helped answer a need. Hard exercise is his way of dealing with himself, and he finds his contentment in physical challenges of this kind.  This, I think, is the quintessential Monster. Work out really hard, find variety, stay in top physical shape, and above all else, talk about something--anything--other than yourself.

Other things that help fill in a picture of Monster: he is a family man in his early forties who manages to stay in marathon-ready shape year round. He lives just across the street from me and we share yard tools.  He is kind and quiet, and highly involved father and husband, educator and coach. The two words that best describe Monster would be compassion and appreciation. There is a quiet, deep well of soulfulness that permeates his interactions with people. While physical fitness is a lifetime pursuit for him, he doesn't crave recognition or attention for this part of his life.  He would rather hold a deep conversation about faith, social justice, politics, the environment, or a funny story about the kids.  It's the same way when we are on rides together.  

When we ride together, I know that I'm holding him back.  I can't possibly keep a pace that matches the speed that's comfortable for him. Neither one of us cares about that very much--it is what it is.  The purpose of these rides is to stay connected. We learn more about each other's stories along the way.  After thirty or forty miles, we return home and I fall into a heap on my living room floor. I imagine he heads back out and keeps riding--harder--to get some real exercise.  But during the ride, there are some golden moments of sharing.  When you're rolling fast, you get to see a lot of gorgeous scenery.  Cycling gives you permission to sort of gush about the beauty that surrounds you.  

Minutes later as our little CR-V with chains fished its way through the snowy neighborhood streets, we came up beside Monster who was still on his mountain bike, still apparently not having fun while riding hard in the deep snow.  The workout went on as planned. I rolled my window down and told him, "real men would be doing that on a road bike."  As I rolled the window back up, I'm pretty sure I saw a gleam in his eye.

Addendum: There were other snow cyclists out and about. This helmetcam-donned PDX cyclist's perspective is fun to watch. Things start getting interesting at about 2:15 in the video. Enjoy!

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