I’ve been doing fasting rides on the weekend, before breakfast and maybe also before lunch, depending on how long the ride is. The longer the ride, the lower the intensity. Also the more likely I am to meet my old friend, the Man with the Hammer. I might bring an Emergency Gel, in its glass tube, but I never use it, no matter how enthusiastic his visit is.
I love the hollow feeling you get just before his visits; it sharpens your senses and brings out an awareness that is hard to achieve with a sated belly. I’ve read that mountaineers experience euphoric hallucinations when they are on the verge of collapse, high up on some Merckx-forsaken snowy mountaintop. Similarly, La Volupté seems to make her appearances just prior to our own collapse, like a siren calling our ship to the rocks where her lover lies in wait with hammer lifted high.
The impulse is strong to avoid the dreaded bonk; we feel weak and if we’re riding in a group we will be unable to hold the wheel in front of us. It is not a pleasant experience. But when we continue riding in this state, the body will eventually adjust and find a way to carry on, albeit at a lower pace. Where prior to the collapse we felt a special awareness, afterwards there is a special numbness; a cloudy haze clings to us, insulating us from external stimuli. There is only us, the bike, and the road before us.
In these moments, the body becomes an automaton; the mind still works but its connection to the legs has been severed. The hands push the shifters and pull on the brakes as needed almost without influence from the head. This is for the simple reason that thinking is the least valuable thing one can do at times like this. Thinking will only lead one to become aware of the suffering. Thinking will only lead to wondering why we are putting ourselves through this. Thinking will only lead us to consider making a phone call to be collected in a heap at the roadside.
None of those thoughts will make us a better Cyclist.
I have had my espresso this morning; I am ready to ride. I look out the window and see the rain drawing its shifting patterns on the street outside my house. My phone tells me what the temperature is, but it does not tell me how cold it is. Only the ride will tell me how cold it is.
Today, I set out to meet my old friend once again; the rain will make his visit all the more brutal. Today is a good day to ride.