Into The Tunnel

Darkness sets in.

It requires a combination of factors to intersect. You need to have already spent loads of time on a bicycle. Enough so that you have an inherent sense of this odd thing with two wheels; you can make it go quickly or slowly, you can steer it around a corner with ease, you know how the introduction of a layer of moisture between the tires and the tarmac might affect the way it does these things.

There can’t be too clear a boundary between the bicycle and your body; those lines are best when blurred a bit. Hands to bars, feet to pedals, badonkadonk to saddle – these are contact points but they extend into the body to form a cohesive unit of rider and machine.

You need to know the difference between being out of shape, overweight, under-fed or hydrated, or simply being tired; these things have different implications and you must know how to manage them. You need to have met the Man with the Hammer enough times that you can feel him standing alongside you some time before his hammer hits. You need to know which actions bring him near, and you need to know which actions may stave him off.

These are all things that must be learned through many years spent in the saddle and cannot be gleaned from a book; this is a path you must walk yourself.

It also needs to be a long day out on the bike. Long enough that you’re tired with some distance yet to go; past the halfway point in the ride, but not so close to the end that you distract yourself with thoughts of finishing. There can only be the moment, nothing more. The legs need to be heavy from hours of effort but still strong. The pressure in the chest firm as the rhythm of your breathing is contant but not overly labored. The heart has to be pumping hard but not on its limit.

You have to be on the right kind of road to support a sustained, constant effort. Not too twisty, not too undulating. Not too scenic as scenery tends to be a distraction. Perhaps it is misty, humid. The air through which you ride wraps around you like a blanket.

You don’t have to be particularly strong that day, or fast, or in particularly good shape; you just need the right amounts of the right elements. As the legs start to go round, they draw you into a kind of hypnosis. The sight of the front wheel guiding you in the bottom of your periphery adds to the effect. Slowly, your senses turn inward, like falling asleep except that with every turn of the pedals, your focus grows more intense. You see everything and you see nothing. You see the road and you see obstacles, but acknowledgement of these things is reserved for critical items only. Only those things that require attention will be given it; the rest is reserved for turning the pedals.

The blanket you wrapped yourself in gets pulled up over your head, over your ears, nearly to your eyes. Darkness is everywhere except directly in front of you, the tunnel guiding you along. You hear nothing but the whirring of your tires, perhaps the changing of gear. The Man with the Hammer wanders close; you feel him. But La Volupte has graced you as well and she distracts him to stave off his hammer for a bit longer.

His killer blow will come, but not yet.

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96 Replies to “Into The Tunnel”

  1. Ah yes. Brain dead riding. We experienced that a bit Saturday didn’t we big guy? Tho you summed it up better here. Chapeau!

  2. You’ve described the ride we all strive for.  Even better rotating through with one, or two, or a half dozen comrades all in the same space.

  3. Frank, these words here describe parts of Saturday’s cogal almost perfectly:

    You have to be on the right kind of road to support a sustained, constant effort. Not too twisty, not too undulating. Not too scenic as scenery tends to be a distraction. Perhaps it is misty, humid. The air through which you ride wraps around you like a blanket.

    There was much time spent in a state almost exactly like this on Saturday. Of course, it also helped that I had something like seven other riders pulling me along at a good clip. But it was beautiful.

  4. Great post!  Sometimes I ride for a long time, and suddenly come back to earth…the last miles are a complete blank, I have no memory of riding them.I was so into breathing and riding I became unaware of my surroundings. I guess I must have been deep in the tunnel.

  5. Magnificent. The last couple of weeks, a number of rides have been conducted in this relatively unconscious state. A sign of form, but also not quite. Or good form with some underlying fatigue. A couple of weeks ago, I went for a ride, and couldn’t remember a single feature of it, in spite of some nice rolling hills and winding roads that required some technical awareness. Gone. Not of it committed to memory.

    One question, though: is a buttery badonkadonk a kind of Dutch stroopvvaffel?

  6. Nice one Frank!

    Although the word in the below quote should be “affect”. Cheers, PedanticOli

    and the tarmac might effect the way it does these things.

  7. Beautiful Frank!

    It often amazes me when you come out of the tunnel and drive the same road that it seems to take longer in the car.

  8. Sometimes it lasts for most of the ride, sometimes just five or ten minutes, and sometimes you never get there at all. In my head I’ve always called it the “sweet spot” of the ride, but “the tunnel” works too (as long as it’s not confused with “the pain cave”).

  9. @scaler911

    Ah yes. Brain dead riding. We experienced that a bit Saturday didn’t we big guy? Tho you summed it up better here. Chapeau!

    Totesmegotes. Obviously the inspiration for this article. Your pull up that climb killed my brain and then it was lights out on the ridge. I get the idea that there were somewhere between 17 and 24 brain cells firing amongst the group on that little bit of road.

  10. @the Engine

    Going to have this one on my brain for the morning ride…

    Hopefully you’re back now and that your brain didn’t turn off to the point that you fell off!

    @Jamie

    You’ve described the ride we all strive for.  Even better rotating through with one, or two, or a half dozen comrades all in the same space.

    If you can rotate with your brain off, its even better. I find myself just sitting there. On the front, in the middle, off the back, whatever, but just sitting there!

  11. Great piece frank.  Somehow it brought to mind the sublime narration of Ole Ritter’s TT in Stars and Watercarriers.

  12. @Doug P

    Great post!  Sometimes I ride for a long time, and suddenly come back to earth…the last miles are a complete blank, I have no memory of riding them.I was so into breathing and riding I became unaware of my surroundings. I guess I must have been deep in the tunnel.

    I do so much urban riding that I never really get this – its too dangerous and noisy to slip into it. You need the right roads, and when that happens…oh man, is it ever nice.

    Besides, its not like thinking helps you on a long ride. All thinking does is make you get ideas and then before long you’re realize that you don’t have to be riding all day alone in the cold rain and you could be chillin’ on the couch having a beer.

    Thinking: bad.

  13. @Steampunk

    One question, though: is a buttery badonkadonk a kind of Dutch stroopvvaffel?

    This.

    (braces for a series of photos to be posted which further emphasize the point.)

  14. @napolinige

    Beautiful Frank!

    It often amazes me when you come out of the tunnel and drive the same road that it seems to take longer in the car.

    Its because you’re paying attention in the car!

    @Oli

    Right you are! That’s a tricksie little word. Even sitting there with the definitions in front of me after you pointed it out, I struggled to work out which word was right.

  15. @frank

    “… I find myself just sitting there.”

    Quite.  Until suddenly there’s more wind in my face – wake up, do the obligatory pull, rotate back and once safely on, go back into the trance.

  16. @The Oracle

    Sometimes it lasts for most of the ride, sometimes just five or ten minutes, and sometimes you never get there at all. In my head I’ve always called it the “sweet spot” of the ride, but “the tunnel” works too (as long as it’s not confused with “the pain cave”).

    Its La Volupte-ish, too, in the sense that a noise will pull you out of it. As @Scaler911 already pointed out, this happened on our ride Saturday, and for me the spell was broken as we started to go downhill and I pushed the Go Button to go mo’fasta as the speed increased as a consequence. Push, nothing. Push again. Nothing. Again. Nothing. That’s weird. Downshift. Yes, shifter working. Push. Gear changes. Not stuck. Works. Push again. Nothing. Oh, I’m already in the biggest gear. By the time I worked it out, I was out of the tunnel and back with the living.

    The tunnel isn’t has effortless or harmonious as La Volupte, but its similar. Its close. She’s just off seducing the Man with the Hammer instead of you. Which is almost the same thing because at least that means he’s not smacking you.

  17. @Nate

    Great piece frank.  Somehow it brought to mind the sublime narration of Ole Ritter’s TT in Stars and Watercarriers.

    Wow, talk about high praise. Thanks mate.

  18. @frank

    @scaler911

    Ah yes. Brain dead riding. We experienced that a bit Saturday didn’t we big guy? Tho you summed it up better here. Chapeau!

    Totesmegotes. Obviously the inspiration for this article. Your pull up that climb killed my brain and then it was lights out on the ridge. I get the idea that there were somewhere between 17 and 24 brain cells firing amongst the group on that little bit or road.

    Yes. But there you (and the “others”) were. That place is a rare thing. I was aware of what I was trying to do at first, but then it just became rhythm. Not really pain, I knew y’all were behind me but didn’t think about it. It’s one of my favorite things that happens when riding.

  19. @frank

    @scaler911

    Ah yes. Brain dead riding. We experienced that a bit Saturday didn’t we big guy? Tho you summed it up better here. Chapeau!

    Totesmegotes. Obviously the inspiration for this article. Your pull up that climb killed my brain and then it was lights out on the ridge. I get the idea that there were somewhere between 17 and 24 brain cells firing amongst the group on that little bit or road.

    However, we now know you are very open to suggestions while in this state – like someone under hypnosis. I rode up, yelled all sorts crap at you regarding your lovely VMH transporting my shoes to the end-point later, and it all miraculously happened.

    Brilliant, simply brilliant… I must remember this for future rides… “FRANK! Don’t forget to give me that Cervelo frame after the ride!”

  20. @frank haha! I know what you mean…it’s misused so often to poor effect it’s almost not worth pointing it out any more, but I knew you wouldn’t mind as it wouldn’t affect the tone of the article.

  21. So v true – i often wonder if the legs we not linked ot the head if they would just go on spinning for ever ….its the hammer in your mind that causes most of the grief haha! …but every so often, the legs really do….die…..

  22. Wow. Wonderful stuff. I come here and read these things and am inspired and even awed. I lurk here, feeling I have nothing much to add, just soaking things up. Just a neophyte rider at 54, I’m finding the beauty of the road through the shared experiences here, as well as my own.

    Additionally, I love the way you guys chap each others asses…..

  23. @VeloAU

    So v true – i often wonder if the legs we not linked ot the head if they would just go on spinning for ever ….its the hammer in your mind that causes most of the grief haha! …but every so often, the legs really do….die…..

    Oh. And die they did. Not so sure my left hamstring is still connected to my ass.

  24. @moondance

    Wow. Wonderful stuff. I come here and read these things and am inspired and even awed. I lurk here, feeling I have nothing much to add, just soaking things up. Just a neophyte rider at 54, I’m finding the beauty of the road through the shared experiences here, as well as my own.

    Additionally, I love the way you guys chap each others asses…..

    Everyone has something to add. That’s what makes this site soooo much better than Velonews or other such shite. The shared experiences, from people just beginning to learn the way of the VM, to the most knowledgeable, all have something to offer.

    Example: @McSqueek, a quickly learning pedalwan, caught our esteemed leader with a rule violation on our jaunt to the start of the Seattle Summer Cogal (a pretty good one I might add). I won’t say what it was, and it did get corrected. Lurk no more sir, that’s what I’m saying.

  25. @VeloAU

    So v true – i often wonder if the legs we not linked ot the head if they would just go on spinning for ever ….its the hammer in your mind that causes most of the grief haha! …but every so often, the legs really do….die…..

    Yeah, my biggest problem is mental. I start to feel a bit shitty and shot at the end, and it’s like a domino effect of self-doubt takes hold. One of the things I’m trying to work on.

    As I told @Jamie near the end of our ride on Saturday, I’m like the “diva” on the Snickers commercial with a crappy attitude until I get a bit of food in me!

  26. @Oli

    @frank haha! I know what you mean…it’s misused so often to poor effect it’s almost not worth pointing it out any more, but I knew you wouldn’t mind as it wouldn’t affect the tone of the article.

    Your pedantry is an affectation. It is affecting my views of the effectiveness of your comments.

  27. @All – it happened to me with about 8 kays to go …..the 2 x small hearts attached to my lower legs …the small cows….seized and wanted to drag me to the tarmac ….but u just grit fangs and try to punch forward and upward …..nothing motivates more than staying alive as u spin the rubber over the white line on a one-laner with passing traffic tickling your elbows surrounding follicles ….have to admit, once i got to the summit i did have to dismount and give them a good stretchin! probably needed to drink a lot more than i did in the preceding 42 kays ……idiot ….

  28. For some reason I was reminded of the Fun Boy Three song “Tunnel of Love” when I saw the title of this article and started reading the rest (which may not mean anything to anyone that didn’t grow up in the 70/80’s and enjoyed The Specials who morphed into FB3). These lyrics –

    Consequences, altered cases
    Broken noses, altered faces
    My ego altered, altered egos
    Wherever I go so does me go

    reminded me of that “tunnel”. The feeling of losing the sense of ones surroundings and only focusing on the “critical items” as frank so well put it, happens alot on those longer rides I find. It doesn’t last the entire length but once you enter the tunnel, it’s not known where the light at the end is. A slightly altered state of mind in that wherever the bike goes, so does me go….willingly.

  29. @il ciclista medio

    For some reason I was reminded of the Fun Boy Three song “Tunnel of Love” when I saw the title of this article and started reading the rest (which may not mean anything to anyone that didn’t grow up in the 70/80″²s and enjoyed The Specials who morphed into FB3). These lyrics –

    Consequences, altered cases
    Broken noses, altered faces
    My ego altered, altered egos
    Wherever I go so does me go

    reminded me of that “tunnel”. The feeling of losing the sense of ones surroundings and only focusing on the “critical items” as frank so well put it, happens alot on those longer rides I find. It doesn’t last the entire length but once you enter the tunnel, it’s not known where the light at the end is. A slightly altered state of mind in that wherever the bike goes, so does me go….willingly.

    You’ve wrecked the effect of the article for me now. Too bad for me and you.

  30. @versio

    @il ciclista medio

    For some reason I was reminded of the Fun Boy Three song “Tunnel of Love” when I saw the title of this article and started reading the rest (which may not mean anything to anyone that didn’t grow up in the 70/80″²s and enjoyed The Specials who morphed into FB3). These lyrics –

    Consequences, altered cases
    Broken noses, altered faces
    My ego altered, altered egos
    Wherever I go so does me go

    reminded me of that “tunnel”. The feeling of losing the sense of ones surroundings and only focusing on the “critical items” as frank so well put it, happens alot on those longer rides I find. It doesn’t last the entire length but once you enter the tunnel, it’s not known where the light at the end is. A slightly altered state of mind in that wherever the bike goes, so does me go….willingly.

    You’ve wrecked the effect of the article for me now. Too bad for me and you.

    @versio

    “Shut up and ride.” That’s straight from Shakespeare.

    I’m curious as to WTF you’re talking about?

  31. @Marcus

    I was trying to come up with something similarly witty, but you beat me to it and likely did a better job of it. The trouble with these affectations is that they are effectively infectious. Ah feck!

  32. Somewhat prescient article given the ride I had this morning…up climbing through the local hills well before sunrise & then up in the fog and it’s definitely the first time in my 3 weeks or so back on the bike where I’ve actually felt like a cyclist again.

    La Volupte it was not as there was no semblance of smoothness but finally the legs felt like they had the strength to drive me up & over the hills. The fact that it was first pitch black & then fog not dissimilar to the main picture no doubt helped enhance the ‘tunnel’ effect.

  33. Ahhh great. One of my fav posts/vignettes/articles so far.

    So good, in fact, that by the end I completely forgot that I had the word ‘badonkadonk’ forced upon me only a short moment earlier.

  34. @scaler911

    @VeloAU

    So v true – i often wonder if the legs we not linked ot the head if they would just go on spinning for ever ….its the hammer in your mind that causes most of the grief haha! …but every so often, the legs really do….die…..

    Oh. And die they did. Not so sure my left hamstring is still connected to my ass.

    Its funny how that works. You do really learn to shut the legs off. You know when you’re indulging in the exhaustion you’re feeling. I did that in the last 10-15k of the ride…I was done and wanted to be done. But then G’rilla and a few others went up the road on the way up to the brewery and I let them go. Then decided to chase.

    The legs were back. Out of the saddle, sprinting, the gap was coming down like crazy. 10 meters to go and I’ve got them; I’ll fly by like they’re standing still and take the honors. Then, nothing. Cramp. Full-on, agonizing cramp. 10m from glory and there was no discussion, no pushing, no fighting, no Rule #5. Just, cramp and two sets of perfectly good legs, unable to turn.

    I  coasted the rest of the way.

  35. @scaler911 “Thinking too precisely about the moment…” from Shakespeare. Means, in this case, simply “Shut up and ride.”

    Try to understand that meaning. It may not be the one you are wanting to hear.

  36. @scaler911

    @moondance

    Wow. Wonderful stuff. I come here and read these things and am inspired and even awed. I lurk here, feeling I have nothing much to add, just soaking things up. Just a neophyte rider at 54, I’m finding the beauty of the road through the shared experiences here, as well as my own.

    Additionally, I love the way you guys chap each others asses…..

    Everyone has something to add. That’s what makes this site soooo much better than Velonews or other such shite. The shared experiences, from people just beginning to learn the way of the VM, to the most knowledgeable, all have something to offer.

    Example: @McSqueek, a quickly learning Pedalwan, caught our esteemed leader with a rule violation on our jaunt to the start of the Seattle Summer Cogal (a pretty good one I might add). I won’t say what it was, and it did get corrected. Lurk no more sir, that’s what I’m saying.

    A-PLUS-FUCKING-ONE. Badge goes to you for that, matey.

    @moondance

    The more people I meet from the site, the more tell me how intimidated they were before their first posting. (Even @Scaler911 has told me this, who’s first post might have been the ones stating that a cyclist in the sex other than the one he’s attracted to turned him on. I won’t say what sex that was because the orientation is irrelevant. I’m also very happy to have brought this up again.)

    Anyway, it’s bullshit. We’re all full of shit, and we all want to hear how full of shit you are. Every opinion adds to the story. If we disagree, we’ll argue. If we agree we’ll (hopefully) let you know – though we do have a tendency to not take the time to acknowledge agreement over disagreement. Not to worry – take no response as affirmation because the pedantic twats around here will surely let you know when you’re wrong.

    *Wipes proud tear from his eye*

    Welcome to the fold, mate.

  37. @Marcus

    @Oli

    @frank haha! I know what you mean…it’s misused so often to poor effect it’s almost not worth pointing it out any more, but I knew you wouldn’t mind as it wouldn’t affect the tone of the article.

    Your pedantry is an affectation. It is affecting my views of the effectiveness of your comments.

    You’ve lost me, completely. I have only a tentative grasp on reality. Kind of like you and beastiality.

    Careful, the taged ones are already taken.

  38. @versio

    @scaler911 “Thinking too precisely about the moment…” from Shakespeare. Means, in this case, simply “Shut up and ride.”

    Try to understand that meaning. It may not be the one you are wanting to hear.

    Thanks for the philosophy lesson.

  39. @metalface

    Ahhh great. One of my fav posts/vignettes/articles so far.

    So good, in fact, that by the end I completely forgot that I had the word ‘badonkadonk’ forced upon me only a short moment earlier.

    I was going to say “ass”, but I wanted to leave the door open for the #SeattleSummerCogal attendees to rip me apart, but I have to assume they decided to hold fire until the report next week.

  40. at the risk of shit-stinking the limelight of moondance, above input (input being a ‘progressive’ word…although i’ll leave the judgement to the reader) is/was my first foray into the V crowd too ….i was apprehensive ..hovering over the Enter key ….too long have i lurked in the shadows!! :) i do enjoy the rantings and sage-like wisdom of the V-Crowd ….and I remember Rule 5 always …..when u r in the tunnel, u remind yourself of it on repeat

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