Feeling good in my fresh Road ID kit, I venture on to the park, stopping calmly on the small road in the woods to pull the lax chin strap of my helmet tight. Past the Cathedral, past Porter, crossing Reno at the light at the bottom of the hill, crossing Connecticut and dropping down the steep hill of Tilden, taking the road by the Czech Embassy, stopping to fill a water bottle. Through the parking lot after passing along the creek, past the mill, onto Broadbranch, then turning onto the climbing S curve of Grant. It's time for some hills. The forest, the horse pasture with picnic tables, beautiful evening. Crossing Broadbranch, the great hill of Brandywine where I used to do reps, then back up into the park again, then dropping down the windy road out onto Beech Drive by the Park Ranger Station, along the stream as a treat.
I slow down carefully at the intersection, seeing a strong cyclist, a tall man come through. I turn and follow the road. On a bit, along the stream, I find myself closing on him, coming up behind. He's not intent on going as fast as he could. Maybe he's spinning the lactic acid away, or maybe, it will occur to me later, he's waiting for something. I want to push it a bit, to gain speed, but I know he is far stronger than I, and don't find an opportune point to pass him, with traffic coming the other way, so I relax at 23 or 24 mph and draft off him. There is a differential of speed, a tension of following. Something is going on.
At a curve I sense something ghostly coming up behind me, and along comes, without warning, a pace line of the serious team cyclists. Each set of legs is ripped, and there's that particular sound of a carbon fiber wheel set, the whir of a high end carbon fiber road bike, and they are doing about thirty. One, two, three pass me, and they keep coming, more riders, cranking away, and with the curves and the curb on my right it is disconcerting, really fairly scary to be enveloped by the forceful peloton coming up behind me, passing me, just to my left. No one with any personality beyond their single focus. No time for 'yo, what's up.' Silence. The road is tight, aggressive. I've not been in a pack in a long time, and it seems to be throwing off my direction at this speed. NCVC, local velo club team kits. I'm finally passed by the last of them as we come up on the Olmstead stone bridge over the creek, two tight curves. The whir of the spokes departs up ahead of me, the craziness of the slipstream's turbulence abiding in leftover focus tilting with the road. Not one shout or whoop. Complete focus.
By the time I am toward the end of Beech where it meets Broadbranch, I turn onto the shortcut sidewalk, and am back at the foot of the S curve just in time to see them above, bending forward out of the saddle as they climb, flying. I did a hill climb once with my friend Dan when he rode seriously. And I got dropped right away. I did my best. Catching them on the way back, going downhill, I got dropped again. Not my thing, riding in such tumult. That time, having survived, I went off for a fifty mile ride alone, and felt great. My attitude different from these serious guys with serious muscles competing with each other.
The peloton safely up the road, I hope, without embarrassment I lolligag my way back up the hill. I can tell the yoga is helping. I feel comfortable on the bike. The new Giordana bibs and jersey with the black, white and orange of Road ID, hey why not, Bob Roll wears one, feel good too. Ignoring the evidence of being slow, I feel good, like I'm finally filling out at age 49, the way some do at 18. Beautiful evening, one more lap, a sprint, jacking it up to 27.8 mph for a run along the stream, leaves me soon popped, and I reflect I was wise not to pass the initial serious cyclist guy who strikes me as a kill joy anyway next time I cross paths with him up by the barns. Is he the guy Dan used to ride with, who looks a bit like Mario Cippolini, a mature gentleman who'd rip your legs off, an executive of some sort, a guy who makes money. I climb back up making little switchbacks in the wide private road by the Czechs, and then finally, I'm topping the big hill of Tilden, relieved.
Muscular tension, yes, that's what we feel, in the Buddhist handbook way of looking at things. We objectify things, responding to our surroundings, somethings desirable. For the muscular guys with huge thigh and calve muscles, going fast in Rock Creek Park is desirable. Stomping on the pedals, hitting the climbs, speed, agility, not crashing, being in excellent shape, and some friendly competition to get the adrenaline flowing, bravo to these guys on their own terms. It must be fun. I've had a taste of it, and it is fun.
When you meditate, you find calm. You do see what the Buddhist is talking about, the basic suffering inherent in experience, seeking muscular relief like sex is muscular relief. It's a great ride. No wonder we find it desirable. And yet, somehow with all the worrisome stuff going on in the head, the meditation works as nothing else does.
I wake up a bit hungover again, having fallen into the soothing bottle of Chinon from the night before with the steak and rice and the television. I might have gone out, but it was One AM before I really felt like moving, and I had a whole batch of cycling laundry to care for anyway. Loneliness can be a problem. It can lead to more wine. I watch a show, My Wild Affair, after catching up the war action in Gaza, a family raising a baby black rhino named Rupert, who looks like a big strong pig. It costs too much to go out anyway, and I'm unless I'm with my friends from work, it's always unsatisfying.
It is an interesting observation, about this muscular tension we seek to relieve. I've seen it for years in the restaurants, the seeking to fill a need, a hunger, with something tasty, desirable, combined with a group of other appetites, social, sexual, for pleasure in general. And having sought relief, rather than calm itself, more or less innocently as I put back the wine to sooth the trouble of cooking and eating dinner alone, today I feel a bit down, the after effect.
The Buddha offers another way of looking at it. There is a way to back away, to gain some will power. Through meditation, through the experience of experiencing things, through waking to the dream of existence, we gain something. The violence with which we seek out the stuff of self begets violence. Some seem to like living that way.
Meditating, I return to calm, and must observe the lesson that life is, if we make it, through following through with the tension and the desire, suffering. And if more people meditated, the world might be now in a better place.
I'll never be as fast as those guys, but maybe I don't want to be. Is that lack of a competitive attitude, or the showing of some deeper wisdom, innate, but still hard to come to terms with.
Today I head out to the nearby hills beneath the Shoreham and the Finnish Embassy as dusk approaches, and I don't seem to be going very fast. I take the hills, steep ones, but on a recovery ride you just want to go slowly, and I take the mental space to think about muscular tension. I guess some of us, whether we would want it or not, are more predisposed to see this great I-want-to-say final point of Buddhist thought, that we set things up in such a way of tension and relief. I've known it myself: you work hard, and then toward the end of the night you have a glass of wine, put things away, go home. Tension presents itself in many ways, sexually, psychologically, sensory, all begging for relief. But by nature, some of us are never really keen on the competitive aspect of life, kind of like Ferdinand the particular bull. By nature, some of us have an inkling that everything, understood conventionally, means tension. And thus we are prompted to think at a deeper level about experience. Why do we experience things so, we ask ourselves, and such questions lead to ponder the nature of self and where it all fits in. Is the set-up of self equal, or in some way related, to the tension we create out of thin air? Where will that tension lead us?
Passing the huge houses, with gates and fences, a collection of small castles with an ordinary large house thrown in here and there, I see the tension, the tension that must be there to have such a big house, the house meant as the relief of such tension, the hard earned, the competition. But having been created out of tension, one wonders if that tension ever really goes away. And here I am, pedaling, out for a slow workout, taking in the available wildlife and scenery that could overgrow everything in time. In time I'll be glad to roll home to my own apartment, where I will calmly meditate after I get something to eat and do my best to live in the moment.
The main point of any life is that you can meditate. And thus are there no regrets. There is the fault of conflict, of muscular tension, the reply to which being that one must be a teacher. To say to other people, you can meditate, you can do the perfect yoga for yourself, just as you can fold a napkin. Something you can do even if you've had a glass of wine. Something to pull you back into focus. And then even all the travails of life are good, the best thing, for teaching you the need for the necessary calm that is not selfish.