In 1931, the year I was born, Salvador Dali finished one of his “hand painted dream photographs,” which he entitled “The Persistence of Memory.” It features four clocks in an unfamiliar landscape, warped to the forms on which they are placed. Dali explained that his purpose, in part, was “to systematize confusion and thus to help discredit completely the world of reality.”
The title of this surrealist painting comes to mind as I think about a mid-October bicycle round-trip ride from downtown Indianapolis to Morgantown, a small community 30 miles to the south. While the immediacy of this year’s expedition was the continuing focus of my attention during the day, memories of a ride over this same route some 40 years ago kept pushing into my consciousness. Past, present, and future became intermingled, and this warping of time is what made me think of Dali’s misshapen clocks.
This year I was one of twenty-five or thirty cyclists who were riding to Ellettsville, near Bloomington, so that they could enjoy the 49th year of the Hilly Hundred bicycling event. Between 1973 and 1991, I often rode the Hilly as part of my annual cycling schedule, but my move back to to Indianapolis this summer came too late in the season for me to be ready for the event this year.
This Ride to the Hilly, however, seemed exactly right. I could go part way and turn around when I was still strong enough to get back home. There would be other cyclists on the road, mature, serious, experienced, and accustomed to aggressive, open road cycling. Perhaps most important was their current knowledge of the roads through Indianapolis’ south side and the rural hinterlands, roads that my son Mike and I used to ride together.
It was my good fortune to pair off with a white-haired man younger than I by a couple of decades or more and a strong cyclist. He had bicycled from a town well to the north of our starting place and noted that his day’s ride would add up to 91 miles (compared to my 60). And he would then ride the Hilly—two days of hard cycling in the limestone hills around Bloomington.
During brief snatches of conversation, we described our respective histories as cyclists. Although the details differed, the tone of our two-wheeled stores was much the same.
All day long, however, the immediacy of this year’s ride was pushed aside by memories of a time some forty years ago when Mike and I rode this route. Our plan had been to bike to Bloomington and back in the same day, a total of 120 miles. As we rode southward on Morgantown Road, he explained the technique that his trumpet teacher at the Indiana University School of Music was instilling. “Focus on the song, not on your playing. The music will be better and your ability to keep on playing will increase.”
We discussed how this idea could be applied to our cycling: Think about the glory of the ride rather than the gearing and cadence, or the weather and the road. With a growing sense of exhilaration, we sailed along. As we worked our way over the chip-and-seal roads of Morgan County, however, we realized that something was wrong. We both were so tired that we doubted that we finish the ride we had planned. At Morgantown, we stopped for refreshments and headed back home. As we rode back north on Morgantown Road, we paid attention to gearing and cadence. Maybe the song would sing itself some other day.
Mike still plays trumpet and bicycles in ways consistent with long ago. “I remember that ride and conversation,” he wrote in response to a draft of this blog, and continues with a comment that explains why we ran out of energy on that ride so many years ago.
“One difference between cycling and trumpet playing is pacing. With trumpet playing you are at or close to max sustainable effort at all times. You also rest as much as you play, as opposed to stopping for a few minutes every hour. With cycling it is usually better to pace oneself for the planned distance, which usually puts you at a lower power output.”
Pacing keyed to what you are doing. One key to success, on Morgantown Road and everywhere else.