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Beggars Would Ride

A Couch Is Not A Throne

Words Mike Ferrentino
Date Jul 29, 2022
Reading time

Twenty years ago almost to the month, I found myself in Fernie, nervously waiting for the gun to fire at the start for Stage 1 of the inaugural TransRockies race. John Gibson had roped me into this, saying something about how it would be a piece of cake, and how we would craft a banger of a story about the event. I didn’t share his enthusiasm, nor did I have anywhere near the legs that he did. I had been living in Downieville, and was spending the summer catching shuttles up to the high country, skinny dipping in lakes, and doing everything I could to avoid any encounters with my own anaerobic threshold. A couple years prior, I had moved to the mountains and renounced pinning numbers onto jerseys and pedaling into the pain cave. And in spite of Gibby giving me ample warning, I had done nothing at all to train for a week long mountain bike stage race. I was racing this, as we would often say when trying to shrug off implications of being woefully undertrained, off the couch.

This was patently a bad idea, and somewhere on day three during one of a seemingly infinite number of incredibly steep hikes up what were referred to as “seismic lines,” my left Achilles tendon twanged unpleasantly, and I hobbled through the remaining three days of the race in the kind of pain that is best referred to as “character building.” Fortunately the hiking lessened, the weather got worse, and Gibby had fistfuls of Ibuprofen on hand. So we survived, even had a couple brushes with going sort of fast, but I still recall being in so much pain by the finish that I broke down in tears during the final stage and Gibby had to push me along the paved sections on our way into Canmore. I can’t remember exactly what happened after the race ended or how I made it back to the US.

transwreckme

As Gibby liked to call it, "TransWreckMe"... What a beauty of an event!


And in spite of Gibby giving me ample warning, I had done nothing at all to train for a week long mountain bike stage race. I was racing this, as we would often say when trying to shrug off implications of being woefully undertrained, off the couch.

I have also conveniently forgotten much of the following year of careful rehab, but every once in a while that same Achilles tendon will swell up and remind me that I am not very smart. And that I am piss poor at finding that sweet spot where I can stay fit for any measurable time. Instead, I find myself battling cycles of inertia, riding my way into shape then falling out of shape due to work or injury or “life,” then having to drag my broken/fat/lazy ass off the sofa and start the whole damn process all over again.

Way back when, the struggle was one of showing up to races without really tempering my efforts leading up to events. I often had this slightly haunted, bags under the eyes look going, thanks to a habit of riding as hard as I could all the time, not really paying much attention to diet and hydration, and probably sucking down a whole lot more booze than would be considered prudent for anyone claiming to be an athlete. This approach to racing bikes led to generally predictable pack-fodder results, but I liked to pretend that I was hardcore. At some point I realized that diet, hydration, less booze, and rest were all pretty important, but that is also about when my desire for self-flagellation via XC racing began to subside.

Racing went away, but big epic rides remained a staple for much of the following decade. And while some of the behavioral excesses and habitual stupidities had been excised from my menu of self-defeating options, I still managed to bite off more than I could chew on a regular basis, with results just as predictable as when I was trying to take racing seriously. Ride until something inside hurts, submit to the injury, take time off the bike, rise from the warm embrace of the sofa, pedal furiously toward the next injury or burnout, slump broken back to the couch. During their great MotoGP rivalry, Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi took every opportunity to lay waste to each other, and after one particularly brazen torpedo run by Rossi at the 2011 Jerez GP that resulted in him taking out a clearly faster Stoner in a mid-apex block pass that wouldn’t have been out of place in a demolition derby, Stoner uttered this post-race assessment; “obviously your ambition outweighed your talent.” That sentence, right there, about sums up the first few decades of my relationship with mountain bikes.

I’d love to say that I’m smarter now. But I’m not. I do better with hydration, but that’s about the best of it. That and sunscreen. I still don’t eat right, and I cannot train my way into a sustained high level of fitness to save myself. The stumbling blocks nowadays are time related or entirely situational. And the patterns have become seasonal. In the winter, I ride. The passage of decades has finally, thankfully, eroded whatever mechanism inside me used to dictate pedaling as fast as I could until I barfed. But by the same token, all my wattage has also disappeared. But still, by springtime, I am usually in somewhat decent shape. Then summer comes. 100 degree heat, blown out trails, headwinds every afternoon, along with a ramp up in paycheck work. By July, right as almost every single other person I know in the northern hemisphere is hitting their prime fitness, I’m back on the metaphorical sofa.

There are two test bikes that will not let me get away with that this year. Nevertheless, July has been a total blowout as far as riding goes. As I prepped the bikes yesterday for an upcoming two-week trip to Colorado, the sealant in the tires of both bikes had dried out completely. That’s just sad. For my part, a two-month frenzy of dawn to dusk physical labor (I am banking on the fact that pushing wheelbarrows full of dirt uphill might have some knock on effect as far as pretending I can climb hills) followed by a visit from everyone’s friend, Covid-19, has left me feeling hollowed out and incredibly weak. Two weeks getting dragged around at altitude by younger, fitter, faster riders - what could possibly go wrong? Here we go again, rising like some bedraggled phoenix from the foamy ruin of the familiar rut.

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Sign of the times, right?

This is going to hurt. No two ways about it. I don’t like to think of myself as a masochist, because I excel at pro-level relaxation, but I am actively relishing the discomfort of groveling my way out of this newborn-foal state of weakness. I am looking forward to being so crushed from some easy rides that I fall asleep mid-afternoon in my riding gear. I cannot wait to feel my arms give out somewhere near the bottom of Rainbow Trail at the end of a Monarch Crest ride. I am positively giddy about being so blown that I can barely push my bike up switchbacks that everyone else is riding at a conversational pace.

Instead of eyeing up high alpine singletrack with a gleam in my eye and some personal KOM dreams in my head, I am thinking about ride snacks and available daylight. Woefully undertrained, again, but at least I know the drill. Same old story. Off the couch, again. Just like every year. Once upon a time I used to joke about exercising my demons, instead of exorcising them; how having fit and healthy demons was an important part of a fit and healthy life. Now, whatever demons that may still be dogging my psyche are most likely to be clamoring for naps. Maybe I am a masochist after all. A very well-rested one…

alpine

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Comments

retrokona
retrokona
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+8 Martin Pete Roggeman Mike Ferrentino gubbinalia justfrogurt Lynx . capnron hairymountainbeast

You have an uncanny knack for writing what I’m thinking Mike. The number of cyclocross seasons I spent riding myself into shape/oblivion is worryingly high. I went out for a “casual” single speed ride with a buddy this week. Said buddy is nearly 30 years older than me and rode the (uphill) 15km to the woods. He pedalled happily while I hammered myself ragged. The post ride snacks were awesome though :)

Reply

gubbinalia
gubbinalia
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+4 justfrogurt Mike Ferrentino Timer Karl Fitzpatrick

Any comment that juxtaposes "casual" and "singlespeed" gets an upvote from me. Is there such a thing? Or, put differently, how many singlespeeders will even admit that the ride they're going on is anything BUT casual?!

Reply

andy-eunson
Andy Eunson
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+7 Martin Pete Roggeman Mammal Mike Ferrentino capnron OneShavedLeg Spencer Nelson

The comedians we find funny is often because we can relate to the thing they are joking about. When I look in the mirror I see you Mr Ferrentino. Cheers.

Reply

araz
araz
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+5 goose8 Mike Ferrentino capnron Pete Roggeman dhr999

This and the yolo/fomo piece have really hit home for me. They are not unrelated either -- the obligations of middle age life make for less frequent riding; the deteriorating middle age body means that each ride after a break of a week or two or three feels like I'm starting over from scratch. Part of me loves the misery though, otherwise why would I be doing this sport?

Anyway, so happy to have you writing here Mike.

Reply

kos
Kos
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+5 Mike Ferrentino capnron Pete Roggeman Spencer Nelson Mammal

Never, ever cry in Canada.

Canadians will sense your weakness, and seize the opportunity to.....

be even nicer than usual!

Happy weekend!

Reply

martin
Martin
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+4 Mike Ferrentino Pete Roggeman Velocipedestrian capnron

Thanks for the great read Mike. I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one with that life/fitness cycle! A few years ago, for  few consecutive years, I had one stupid crash at every beginning of season, putting my riding on hold for 1-2 months. Also losing wage each year because of said accidents, after 20 years of riding and passion for bikes, I decided it was enough and sold my bikes except for my commuter. (Funnily, just as I started working in a bike shop as a mechanic for a few months).

Then I started riding again 2 years later and it was like I was starting over anew and I really enjoyed it. That first year I had a few stupid crashes, then the next one another one... those traumatized me a bit and I'm still trying to overcome not thinking about crashing anywhere.

I don't why I wrote this, but anyway, what I wanted to get to is that in your writing, I found a new vision or approach to riding. I realize that I am often influenced by my riding friends and their way to see riding bikes.

Some just go for the epic rides that leave me completely empty halfway (cool sometimes), some ride the gnarliest trails at full speed (used to be me, not that much anymore), some are chill and just talk the whole ride (cool sometimes). If I rode more with one of those, I would get in that mindset and mold myself to that way of riding for the whole season. Then I'd try to progress as a rider to get better in that particular discipline/approach.

Earlier this year, (I'll be paraphrasing here), you said that if one doesn't feel like riding, then so be it and don't force things. Well I listened and only rode twice this year so far haha! As summer passes by, I'm starting to feel like riding again now, and I'm glad to have found a new inspirational riding attitude : the Ferrentino way, which in my head means : it's okay if it's not always perfect, just follow your guts. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this feels more human and it is exactly the kind of inspiration that I needed to "begin" this riding season. Thanks Mike!

Reply

mikeferrentino
Mike Ferrentino
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+4 Martin Andy Eunson goose8 capnron

"it's okay if it's not always perfect."

It's almost NEVER perfect! Back when I was chasing finish lines, I would have one, maybe two, really good races a season. Those days were unpredictable and magic. I spent years trying to have more of them without really laying down any disciplined groundwork. That kept them elusive, but there was a tangible frustration the rest of the time that so many races could have been better.

It must have taken a full decade to undo that wiring, and begin to enjoy riding again at whatever pace that conditions or partners or fitness or lack of fitness dictated. Now, I very rarely have perfect rides, but I am realizing more and more that I am enjoying EVERY ride. That was not always the case. To quote a Ray Wylie Hubbard lyric that I have trotted out more than once elsewhere: "The days when I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have very good days"...

Reply

mammal
Mammal
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino Martin capnron

I did the same with Downhill racing, although I only tortured myself with that for around 6 years. I definitely rose through the initial ranks, which was satisfying at the time. But I look back and laugh at how I somehow expected to keep progressing through the elite ranks without actually having any kind of training program, analyzing/improving elements of my riding in even a semi-organized fashion, or taking care of my mind/body in the slightest way (race weekend or not).

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino Martin capnron

"I spent years trying to have more of them without really laying down any disciplined groundwork."

Funny how that works.

Reply

GiveitsomeWelly
Karl Fitzpatrick
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+4 mnihiser Martin capnron hairymountainbeast

Having scared myself away from previous past-times/passions for 'over doing' it for the sake of results, riding bike's has always been about riding what I can, when I can and always being content with consistently being almost exactly mid pack at every event I've ever entered no matter my current state of confidence, fitness or skill.

I've always been happy saying that I must be the fastest of those that don't train as opposed to the slowest of those that do.

Mediocrity is under rated.

Reply

gubbinalia
gubbinalia
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+4 BadNudes Velocipedestrian justfrogurt kcy4130

That title photo of the Falconer has me clamoring for a bike check of that sunflower-shade beauty. Gotta say, Falconer welds some of the most proportionally-pleasing, shapely frames out there.

Reply

fartymarty
fartymarty
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+3 gubbinalia justfrogurt kcy4130

I second that.

Reply

Lynx
Lynx .
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+4 Mike Ferrentino capnron Pete Roggeman Spencer Nelson

Well, not quite sure what to say, think this is something that happens to a lot of true lovers of the sport, they never forget what they could do and when they've been off for a while, still come back and try to go at the same speed/level of efort that they used to be able to do, only to be very disappointed when that hard effort up that climb didn't even come close to your worse days when fit.

Also wanted to say, really jealous of the last paragraph and can very clearly think back to my ride of the Monarch Crest Trail and ending with that beautiful Rainbow Trail, was quite done at the end, but man, what views and what a ride and  to finish of with Rainbow, how perfect - have fun Mike.

Reply

Larrabee
Larrabee
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+4 mnihiser capnron Pete Roggeman justfrogurt

Thanks Mike, again, for your self-deprecating and illuminating writing. 

To highlight my hypothesis that one of the best things about mountain biking is reading a concise, cinematic description of an event that I’ve also experienced, I submit this:

“I am positively giddy about being so blown that I can barely push my bike up switchbacks that everyone else is riding at a conversational pace.”

There’s something about having life intermittently stripped down to its bare essentials that makes it worth living. 

I second the motion: a compendium of your writing in book form would tickle me pink enough to fork over lots of green. 

What a delight to read your work this morning.  Keep on hammering out your stories. We love ‘em.

Reply

justfrogurt
justfrogurt
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+3 Mike Ferrentino capnron Pete Roggeman

I feel like relative effort is a dial that gains more clicks as you get older, I too remember only having two options, full gas or sitting still. For better or worse I got two injuries (ruptured spleen and torn ACL, both snowboarding) in my late teens that sat me down and said "Hey, you could be dead or immobilized. Think about that."

Recent discoverer of your work Mike and as a writer, I'll say you can off the couch an essay that's pretty damn compelling and relatable so you still got that going for you, hah!

Reply

syncro
Mark
2 weeks, 4 days ago
+3 capnron OneShavedLeg Karl Fitzpatrick

I think want fumbles up a lot of people when it comes to exercise/training is the belief that they have to put in significant efforts or choosing to do it tomorrow instead because they don't feel great today. Consistency is the number one factor to consider and unless one is looking to excel at their chosen activity or participate in high level events (Ironman, Transrockies, BCBR, etc) the duration + effort of your activity sessions is not nearly as important as you might think. As people get older and start adulting it for sure can be challenging to find the 2-4hrs needed to get out for a big ride on the bike multiple times per week, but people don't need to put in big training hours to reap rewards.

Short intense or moderate sessions (15-20min) will work wonders for helping to maintain the fitness you build up on the bigger rides and they can especially be useful to boost your anaerobic threshold (suffer threshold) which will help your performance dramatically. Not only that, but finding a way to commit to those two 15-20 minutes sessions per week will provide benefits in all other areas of your life as well such as helping to regulate mood which makes it it easier to get out for those training rides you might not overly fond of.

Reply

Jeff_Carter
Jeff Carter
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino Lynx .

Hmm Rainbow trail, would love to ride that again.

Reply

velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino capnron

"I am piss poor at finding that sweet spot where I can stay fit for any measurable time. Instead, I find myself battling cycles of inertia, riding my way into shape then falling out of shape due to work or injury or “life,” then having to drag my broken/fat/lazy ass off the sofa and start the whole damn process all over again "

Amen! I joked to someone today that what used to be six weeks of physio has become six months for each injury. Then tonight I sat cross legged on the couch and realised I haven't done that since January.

Reply

Busy_Bee
Busy_Bee
2 weeks, 6 days ago
+2 capnron Kos

Hi Mike, The next time you're on the sofa... please consider compiling your incredibly entertaining essays and making the collection available in analog form. It would make a great road trip companion.

Reply

kos
Kos
2 weeks, 4 days ago
0

+1. I'd especially kill to have a copy of the Incredible Gift of Shit or whatever it was called.

Basically: If your friends have stopped giving you shit, you've screwed up somewhere!

Reply

Couch_Surfer
Couch_Surfer
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino capnron

oh man that last picture makes me want to go on a road trip.

Reply

Dogl0rd
Dogl0rd
2 weeks, 5 days ago
+2 Mike Ferrentino gubbinalia

This is the MTB equivalent of the character in Infinite Jest who drops off the earth to get unfathomably fearsomely high on marijuana for weeks at a time, windows and doors blocked, job quit, girlfriend dumped - then swears the stuff off entirely - only to do the whole thing again.

Okay maybe not quite the same, but gave me a similar vibe. Good read!

Reply

lacykemp
Lacy Kemp
2 weeks, 2 days ago
+1 Mike Ferrentino

Remember that ride I told you about from Williams Lake to Bellingham next fall??? Off the coucher!

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