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Bill  On The Road

 by: Bill Oetinger  9/1/2019

Time Spent Outdoors

I have been off on a series of bike tours over the past few months, riding everywhere from the red rock hills west of Denver to the rocky beaches of Oregon; from the wild rivers of Northern California to the Columbia River Gorge. Each day of biking has been supplemented with at least one other day of off-the-bike activities, from hiking in the woods to zinging frisbees on the beach.

It has been a good few months. But all that activity, outdoors and often a long way from TV or the internet, has meant I’ve not been able to watch, in any sort of everyday, real-time way, the big bike races going on over in Europe. By this time in most years, I would have devoted a couple of these columns to reviews of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. I did catch up with each of those big events when I was home between vacations, but I always seemed to be out in the boonies, climbing some mountain of my own, when it came time for what would have been my customary post-race observations.

I had thought to do an end-of-Summer racing wrap-up this month. But now, with the Vuelta a España going strong, I’ve decided to wait one more month and then do one big dumpster dive into all of the big races when this last one is over.

Meanwhile, I want to head off in another direction and introduce you to my old biking buddy Dan. He lives a few blocks from me in Sebastopol. Our wives are friends too, so we see them socially. Nice folks..really nice folks. Way back in the day—in this case the late ‘80s and early ‘90s—Dan and I were regular riding companions. We were each other’s default settings when it came to hooking up with someone for a ride. Lots of miles and smiles together.

But somewhere around 1994 we started drifting apart when it came to our bike lives. I was hit with a fairly intense dose of “hammer” fever and started wanting to go faster and harder and longer, down the path of centuries and double-centuries. Not quite racing but feeling a little bit like it: keeping score and counting coup. Dan went down a different road. Got a fixie, for one thing, and also got into slow, fully-loaded touring. Two very serious heart surgeries along the way changed his whole life view and priorities as well. 

We stayed in touch because we’re still part of the same social circle and our wives are still pals. So we see one another fairly often and usually end up talking about biking. (That would be one topic among many: we are by no means bonded only around biking.) We’re both at an age now where tapering off a little bit seems to be the order of the day for our cycling. Recently, while sharing our tales of tapering, I mentioned I had stopped keeping a bike log a couple of years ago. 

(I had been a long-time hardcore logbook keeper: over 30 years of recording the numbers for every ride I did. When I stopped, I kind of backed into it accidentally, which seems to be the way a lot of my life plays out. I sat down one day to enter my most recent ride in my never-ending log and was stunned to see I had simply forgotten to enter the numbers for the previous three weeks of rides. WTF? I sat there debating what to do. Could I beat on my brain hard enough to remember all the details of those assorted rides? (No.) Okay then, maybe I could just fabricate some numbers that seemed about right? (No!) That I even considered filling the log with fabricated data was all I really needed to know about the issue. It was time to stop. Time for my biking life to roll on without any documentation. For about a year, I didn’t have a cyclometer of any sort on my bike. I have lately picked up an inexpensive, really basic unit that cranks out just a few numbers. I am aware of them at the time but then almost immediately forget them.)

Anyway…I mentioned this to Dan, the ending of the long affair with my logbook. He laughed and said he’d stopped keeping a log years ago. However, he says he still keeps a log of sorts. It might more accurately be called a journal but he puts real numbers in there along with the narrative copy. He calls it his TSO Log. Time Spent Outdoors.

This would of course include cycling…all the hours and days spent rolling down the road, including everything from an afternoon noodle from home to a multi-day tour in a far off locale, such as the Netherlands-Belgium tour he and his wife are doing in a month or all the tasty tours I’ve done over the past few months. But it includes a lot more than cycling. 

I won’t presume to guess how much time you spend outdoors. I spend a lot of my life out there. But I also know I spend a lot of time right here in this chair, indoors, in front of this monitor, surfing the web or rattling off e-mails to my friends or banging out bike copy like this column. Cooking, eating, sleeping, reading, watching TV, snuggling with my honey, puttering in my workshop…a lot of time indoors. Now, I will not try to argue that much of that indoor time is not quality time. It is. And I’ll add this: we just bought a really nice ping pong table and the wife and I have been loving it…playing at least an hour every day. It’s fun and builds hand-eye quickness and is a really nice workout. Not a brutal grinder of a workout but enough to get into a bit of a lather, with a shower starting to look like a good next move. It’s so frisky it almost feels like time spent outdoors. So indoor time can be good.

That said, I like Dan’s basic premise: that time spent outdoors is usually going to be more active and more attuned to the cadence of nature: the changing seasons; the smells of trees and flowers and mulch; the kiss of a breeze and the dance of the clouds. Even a sedentary outdoor hour spent cozied up in a hammock is quality time: letting the cares of the world go while lying there looking up into the tree canopy.

I’m not sure I would want to record it all in a logbook. Do I count the two minutes it took to run out to the garden and bring in a colander full of tomatoes and peppers? Do I count the time I spent with the webster, sweeping out the spiderwebs under the house eaves? In our happily moderate climate in Sonoma County, we live an indoor-outdoor life for more than half the year. The doors are almost always open and our decks and gardens function as additional “rooms” in our house. So there’s all that outdoorsy stuff right off the back porch. But then there are the dedicated outdoor activities: the 9-mile hike we did along Tomales Bay last Sunday. A long weekend camping in Pinnacles National Monument, watching the condors. The evening walks around town. Dancing on the lawn in the city park while a good band rips it up onstage. Flying kites. Playing softball or disc golf. Building sand castles on the beach with the grandkids. Kayaking. Whole days spent in the garden…planting, digging, weeding, mowing, sawing, chipping, pruning... Building fences or bean trellises. Tending to our bees. Stargazing. Whale watching. Bird watching. Washing the cars (or cleaning the bike). Stopping what we’re doing long enough to watch the sunset. Or being up early enough to watch the sunrise. it’s all good. It’s all out there under the big sky.

But even if I don’t keep a TSO Log, I like the idea of it…the metaphor of it: what it suggests about a life well lived. I can say now—after beavering away at it for 30+ years—that keeping a cycling logbook only documents a part of the whole picture. It may be a very important part of the picture for you. It certainly was for me for most of those years…until it wasn’t. Now, although I still love my cycling, I am looking up from that little cyclometer at the wider, wilder world around me. I am remembering—for the umpteenth time—that a well-rounded cycling life is about more than making the wheels go ‘round. Cycling is bleeping, effing brilliant for sport and exploration and exercise and transport…still the best human-powered value out there. But the best cycling includes some not-cycling: all the other activities that contribute to the complex texture of our days. With or without an actual logbook or journal, we can still be mindful of that larger picture, cherishing and appreciating all the time spend outdoors, on two wheels or two feet, or even suspended between the two hooks holding up the hammock.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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