Last Thursday’s Dirty Thirty ran long. I did 46 miles, probably the longest ride I’ve done in a year. Sometime after the halfway point my back knotted up. On the final hills, every pedal stroke brought with it a corresponding iliac twinge. At home, walking to the house from the garage was a challenge. Getting through Friday took big doses of ibuprofen and viciously rubbing the monster knot in my lower back. By Sunday I was upright enough to go mountain biking, which seemed to loosen me up.
I didn’t blame the bike. Obviously, riding had been part of the equation, but how could a bike whose set-up I haven’t touched since dialing it in three years ago be at fault? I blamed the length of the ride – Since I took up mountain biking, I just don’t do long road rides anymore.
Tuesday night I had a meeting at town hall, five miles from home. My wife was on her way to her sister’s in Pennsylvania with our only car, and she dropped me and my bike off. I rode home, but by the time I got there, my back was starting to tweak.
I remembered how other rides on that bike in the past months had tweaked my back. There was a pattern, but nothing about the bike set-up had changed.
Or had it?
Something looked off.
I threw a level on my saddle.
Well, shit. That wasn’t right. The saddle pointed up like Evil Knievel’s Snake River ramp. What the fuck? My best guess is that I tweaked its position in a hard crash on Skiff Mountain last fall, and just hadn’t been paid attention. I think that the saddle position was tilting my pelvis upward, which in turn would have exaggerated the bend I have to make to put my hands on the bars. The extra stress on my back would essentially be the same as if I had lowered my bars.
The saddle is level now. I wonder though, whether this small change, dropping the saddle nose by maybe three quarters of an inch, will be as magical as I hope. It felt okay when I spun the bike around the driveway. Still, I didn’t ride this week’s Dirty Thirty out of, I was going to say trepidation, but fuck it, I’ll go all Anglo-Saxon and say fear. And it’s not so much fear of pain. Like a lot of cyclists, I’m practically a masochist. The real fear is that it’s not the saddle position. It’s fear that, to paraphrase an old and now dead friend, my middle-aged body is betraying me and there is no fix.
There is however, nothing else for it but to ride the bike and see. In a sense, every ride is an existential test. Where do I, do any of us, stand on life’s bell curve? There will come a day when the decline can’t be denied.
I don’t think that’s here yet though, and if it is, I’m not admitting it.
I’m thinking of riding Sunday.