Sweetness and Light: Bike Build

I let myself forget that being away from the discipline of consistent riding would mean having to start over again. But did I say that it only really feels bad starting over for the first ten miles and then I remember that within all that effort is a reliable strength in my body that hasn’t been tested too badly over the winter? I remember that winter is an easy thing from which one recovers. And on those winter days when I wasn’t riding…sure, I missed my bike, but I have no complaints about the time spent with my dog on the couch.

This being out of shape is old news though.  There is an off season to dancing and, just like cyclists, there is a fair amount of stealth training going on then.  Injuries sometimes have to get healed, surgeries happen. The body of a dancer is constantly being built up, refined, and re-tooled, off season or not.  A class heavy on turns prepares a dancer for one ballet, a class heavy on big jumps for another.  It really is an incredible machine, the dancer’s body; not just sleek-looking in terms of athleticism, but created and truly tuned for the purpose of movement of any and every kind.  Then further refined for each particular show.

If the bike is an extension of body, a way to get that much more strength and speed out of it through the benefits of real mechanics, then there is familiarity to be found in building and tuning it.  There is familiarity to be found in putting one together, at least once.  It is possible that it is not so much speed or racing that I am in love with on the bike but the mechanics that I know nothing or very little about, just as when I was dancing I could not tell you one tendon in my hip from the next.  I knew broken, sore, and strained.  I knew flexible, strong, and loose.  But intuitively, or more precisely intuitiveness achieved through years of ballet training, I knew how to build my body and had people around me, coaches and teachers, always helping me refine it and I liked that the machine worked smoothly and predictably, almost one hundred percent of the time.  I enjoy the larger mechanics of my bike with a much greater vagueness.

So the newness of putting a two wheeled machine together, knowing the kind of rides that I am putting that bike together for and how it will be built with specific purposes, lines, and details in mind hits an irresistible intersection.   Repetitive as seasons can seem, my spring has this much anticipated first in it, the first bike I will somewhat put together, somewhat in that there will be a great deal of help of course, and I think mainly I will have the bike components in my hands for a moment or two, then someone else will do the cabling and bolting together. The various parts are arriving in boxes.  The frame, a really wonderful one, will arrive around my birthday in May, just in time for summer. And there is an old tandem bike that has come to me and I am thinking about refurbishing that, as well. Those are my new hill climbs. Unfamiliar, yet exceptionally inviting.

There will be an added kinship with the new bike; not quite handmade by me, not quite the shaping of the body that is dancing, but a building and putting together by hand that is mechanical and function-driven on the surface of it, but at heart, complete sweetness and light.  Emily Gresh

Love Belated: What Is It About Cycling?

IMG_2085Did you know that ballet technique is one of constant tension?  It is a vocabulary of seeming effortlessness born of pushing into the floor while pulling up out of one’s entire body.  Is this one side against the other or an ideal and sustainable harmony?  Both, either, many formulations of each possibility at different times.  We have all read the “this is war” accounts of bike races. Similar can be written about ballet and here is likely where, for me, my love of cycling began; this line where struggle and perfection meet.

In a recent photo essay on New York City Ballet, there was a reference to covering the backstage life of ballet as being similar to covering war (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/12/30/arts/dance/20121230_NYCB.html?ref=dance).  How this is so is confounding at first but makes sense as more a reference to how similarly the scenes unfold in the covering of them than actual war–the comaraderie, the daily travails and the constant vigilant focus.

I wonder what it is that makes us watch these battles?  Cycling shows us crashes and injuries.  It shows us the dilemmas of training and competing at all costs.  Ballet shows us athletic prowess but only under the face of gracefulness, a less visible battle.  For me, dancing is far less interesting on stage than backstage.  In the backstage version, the “I am covering war now” we do see all sides of the battle.  The best side being laughter among a very close knit and unusually focused group of people.  The worst, wrecked up bodies waiting to heal and emotional fraying over endlessly high standards of performance.  There are no damaged bikes along side dancers though to give us a true visual of the toughness of ballet and the extremes of what is accomplished there.

In cycling, I fell in love when I heard a phrase on a Rapha video that is similar to the one in the recent photo essay on City Ballet, “It’s war all day long.”  The Rapha video is black and white, a mini-homage to the Paris-Roubais (http://www.rapha.cc/roubaix-recce-into-the-fight).  And in it, there is the idea of struggle made very visible, struggle that is less about winning an actual race and more about simply going for it.  It ends, like the ballet photo essay, with a close knit group of determined and focused people laughing.  I could watch it all day long, this pushing and pulling of technique that is cycling, that is making oneself press onwards, for the love of it. It’s possible, that the three minutes or so of that video made me fall in love with cycling.  Everything there is to love about the battles in cycling–the peace of winning one’s own private races, of finishing a ride, of mind over body, of body over mind–is all well captured there.  It is a backstage view, more interior, and maybe more telling then the wreckage of bikes and crashes.  Emily Gresh

The Essentials

Post-ride espresso
Post-ride espresso

There are always two directions when thinking about  making time for cycling in the winter–why I am too busy to do it and why I cannot afford to miss my one bike ride of the week at the moment.  In the past, for me there was the discipline of daily ballet class.  Every day.  Maybe not seven days a week, but often six days a week, and definitely no less than five days a week of daily class.  And not your daughter’s ballet class, one of cute tikes in pink leotards.  Think ferocious athletes, about 45 of them all in one mirrored room, all going for it in combinations of steps that are as familiar to them as breathing and sleeping.  And always playing with that fire of how much to push beyond reasonable limits and how much to hold back to avoid injury and or exhaustion.  Sure, some days I would really hold back for whatever reasons, to conserve energy or repair my body.  But even holding back then was hardly a holding back of much.

So one bike ride a week during the deep winter is not asking much of myself.  But like everyone in New England during this time of year, some weeks it is a pinch just getting in the one ride.  I did say winter riding would be beautiful, didn’t I?  That was back in the fall or early winter before the snow and real cold hit, wasn’t it?  Yes, the romanticized side of winter riding.  Warmth.  Chatter.  Two sentence conversations that provide a week’s aftermath of laughter.  Post-ride espresso.  The smooth gearing of my bike.  The fantastic mechanics of the body and many bodies working together getting through a ride.  Beautiful riding gear.  Sweet winter.  As good as ballet class.  But ballet class was always hard and demanding.  Winter riding requires greater discipline, too.  You have to demand more than just a little from yourself.  Not a simple hop on the bike.

Salty roads, mud being kicked up by the tires in front of me, cold, dampness.  Dark. It is a chase through all that lately.  There is a just getting through it, but the riding is still essential.  The weekly ritual as necessary as the daily class.  There are all the essential reasons for daily class within the reasons now for the weekly ride.  Like breathing and sleeping.  Familiar and necessary.  Just not as easy.  Emily Gresh

Tour de Pink California 2012

Here are a few images from the Tour de Pink California–an incredible ride for many, many reasons.  Thanks to the Young Survival Coalition and Giant Bicycles for this ride which supports young women facing breast cancer.  It was a pleasure to ride my Inspire bike for 200 plus miles, but mainly it was pervaded by an intense feeling of being surrounded by survivors kicking ass on bikes.  As I was inspired by seeing other young women survivors out there riding during my own diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, I hope others continue to be inspired.  It looks sunny and beautiful here but the journey is a long one for us all.  Emily Gresh

TdeP Cali, Beach EGTdeP Cali, Palm Trees EG TdeP Cali, Hill EG

A Certain Exhilaration

It is somehow far into November, Thanksgiving already, when I’m still thinking West Coast Tour de Pink which was a month ago now.  A long overdue ride report:

Riding two hundred plus miles in California is just as you would imagine it: sunny and warm, miles passing without even realizing it. Cycling often holds metaphors for life so perhaps it’s true that living in California, with the means to really enjoy it, as one enjoys a really nice bike, is a little work but mainly play.  As I was instructed heading out on the first day’s leg of the Cali Tour: “The bad news is today’s ride is hilly; the good news is it’s all downhill.”   Imagine getting born and this is the prophecy handed to you: a sloping, downhill ride, under perfect skies…along the Pacific Coast Highway in California.

But the pleasures of my East Coast life are here for me.  I came home from palm trees and Pacific waters to the cathedral-like beauty of autumn in New England, arches of trees and warm colors constructed leaf by leaf.  When hit by certain angles of light, this could bring nearly anyone to their knees in the private little forum that is one’s mind, regardless of elevation gained or lost.  If you know what it is to ride through the sunlight of autumn as it comes streaming through changing leaves, you know that its effect is that of exhilaration…that in effect, it’s a racing downhill ride.  Hands off the brakes, fingers ready to slow the rush but staying open to speed.  Coasting, concentrating, and letting go, all at the same time.

The textured and etched greys of late November are up next, snow close behind.  Uphill, downhill.  Beautiful either and every way.  Emily Gresh