This is what happens when you devote a year to chasing a famous cyclist around the world to write a book — while trying your damndest to also somewhat successfully keep your editing career and marriage intact.
Jorge showed up for the lunch ride the other day and, afterward, with his learned and unwavering analytical eye for cycling — after coming over from Puerto Rico and ripping around the U.S. for 10 years he’s settled in to become one of the most respected coaches here in the Valley — he assessed the success of my training plan: “Since you spent those three weeks in France you’ve raised your speeds at least 3 mph,” he said. “Downhill.”
It’s true. When it’s time to plunge, I’m like Il Falco (Di Concreto). I keep wondering if my newfound prowess is due to some indiscernible improvement in my pedal stroke, or a subtle and subconscious adjustment to my descending position, or because thanks to herb-roasted chicken, duck confit, venison, rabbit, rose, red wine, white wine, cheese, Haribo gummies and — only once, mind you — a double-decker hamburger in a French bowling alley, I am more than 20 pounds over my racing weight.
The smart money is on my gelatinous ass. There’s no denying that I am, as they say, working for the butcher: I’m carrying a lot of meat up the hills these days.
Though my LDL indicates otherwise, I think becoming a jiggling bulbous cyclist has been good for me. It’s made me realize how elitist I was — how I used to imagine that being fit and fast and flying over the roads was somehow more fun than relentlessly oozing along the pavement like a spandex-bursting version of the horrorshow Blob inexorably ingesting everything in its way.
Trust me: I’m having plenty of fun. Because there’s plenty of me. When you see a fat guy struggling up every hill sweating, swearing, blowing air like a sounding whale and, merely to travel at 3 mph needing to do such horrible things to his bike that it cries out a continuous dirge of creaks and squeals — and then you see me behind him coming off his wheel — you might pity us. You might think we are not enjoying the sport. You might think we are too suffocated by misery to appreciate the fine day and the ribbony roads that lie before us. You will be right.
But what you don’t know — what your starved brain trapped in your skinny little skull thinned by lack of high-impact sports (such as walking has become for me) cannot comprehend — is how satisfying it feels for a bloated human being to reach the top of a climb.
Even given that answer to our happiness, you tiny shivery fit people cannot understand the joy of the enormous. It’s not that the suffering is over. It’s not the speed. It’s not the swoopy, set-free sensation of carving a sweet road until time itself seems to disappear, nor is it the momentary existential relief of once again confirming that our universe is composed of fair and just laws (such as the one about gravity or relative inertia or whatever, and the one that a convenience store hot dog tastes the same coming up as going down).
What makes it all not just worthwhile but desirable is that we are about to make every one of you miserable stickpeople pay. In the process, we are going to whoosh past you with such complete and base vengeance that by the end of the descent it will have burned us pure from the inside out. We look out at the world like newborns (albeit elephantine ones), me and my new riding friends. We have made it all right again, everything. We have brought the fast back and the slow forward. We have restored balance. We have regrouped. We have earned that pack of watermelon Sport Beans.
In the interest of honesty, however, I need to disclose that despite the fact that I am a better person now that I’m fat, I am not up to carrying the burden of so much goodness. I’m going to stop being so enlightened by my girth as soon as I can. I just hope all of my temporarily fellow wallowers know that I’ll never forget my time among them. When I’m lean again, in a full tuck on the downhill, spun out in my 53-12, tears streaming off the side of my cheeks like raindrops on a jet window at take-off, and you rumble past me, sitting up and eating a takeout cellophane-wrapped ham-and-cheese sandwich and the crumbs flying off your XXL jersey render me blind, that shout you hear far behind you is not dismay or fear, but my honest appreciation of what it takes to ride the way you do.
Originally published in the August 14, 2009 Sitting In