My coworkers include a fair number of cyclists, some of them quite serious. Enough of them commute to work by bike that our ‘exercise room’ has been de facto converted into a ‘bike storage’ room, and the shower facilities to a men’s locker room.
It should not be surprising then, that when it came time to create a personalized piece of clothing to carry the company name and logo, the powers-that-be were convinced to make it a bike jersey. Our resident über-biker designed the jersey, and got a sizing kit from the company that was to manufacture them.
When he came around to me, I told him that he wouldn’t find a jersey that would fit me. You see, bicycle jerseys are designed for serious bikers. People with 3% body fat and washboard stomachs. People who carry the majority of their muscle mass in their thighs. They were not designed for people who are shaped like produce, those of us that are apple- and pear-shaped. I’ve been in a bunch of bike shops, and every jersey I’ve ever tried on has been laughably small, even those few that were XXLs.
Nevertheless, he assured me that he would be able to fit me, and pulled a jersey out of the sizing kit for me to try on. It was kind of snug, but I was wearing it over another shirt. “OK” I said, “You can order me one.” He read the size of the jersey I would need.
It was a 6XL. I am not making this up.
Now, at my fattest, I had to start buying 3XL shirts, and it pissed me off enough that it was part of the impetus for me to get more serious about losing weight. Right now, I am back to wearing XXLs. I looked at him. “6X?” I said. “Well, these are European sizes.” he said.
As if that made it any better. I guess word is already going around the office that someone needs a 6XL, and it won’t be hard to figure out who. Swell. But dammit, after all these years of my on-again, off-again love affair with cycling, I’d never had a real jersey. I wanted one, as impractical as it would be on a recumbent.
The plan was for people to ‘earn’ their jerseys in some way, and because September is the month of the annual “Bike-To-Work Challenge”, it presented the perfect opportunity. Although the office had done well in last year’s challenge, some of our more competitive employees were disappointed that we hadn’t won in our size bracket. They wanted to have a better showing this year, so it was decided that in order to get your jersey, you needed to bike to work at least 10 times in September. Alternatively, you could bike to work 20 times with no time limit, but participation in the Challenge was being strongly encouraged.
I’d always wanted to try riding to work, but I’ve never gotten up the guts to do it. I hate riding in traffic, and this would entail riding in high-volume traffic, going into downtown, and most daunting, getting my bike up to the second floor. We are not allowed to transport bikes on the elevators. That means carrying my 40+ lb. bike, with its 64-inch wheelbase up a stairwell.
Wednesday night I went out and bought some red LED flashing lights, one for the back of my seat bag, one for the back of my helmet. Thursday morning I got up early, and started out just as soon as the sun came up. The ride in wasn’t too bad. It took me just over 45 minutes to ride the 10 miles in to town. As I predicted, the worst part was getting my bike up the damn stairs. But I felt good. I could do this. Only 9 more trips.
Downtown Portland sits on the Willamette River, and is pretty much the lowest point around. It was a given that I would have to go uphill to get home, but I had a little discretion in exactly how I went. I could go up Barbur Boulevard, which has a gradual slope, but lots of heavy traffic and exhaust, or I could go up Terwilliger Boulevard, which climbs up into the West Hills, and zigzags through some lovely green spaces near the Oregon Health & Science University. Even though I would be climbing more hills, I decided to go up Terwilliger.
There was enough of a climb just to get to the base of Terwilliger that I was breathing hard by the time I started the main event. I began slowly cranking up the hill. Recumbents aren’t climbers under the very best of circumstances, and that’s made even more true when being piloted by a fat 40-year-old who has a desk job. I was soon gasping for breath, then gasping harder. My heart pounded in my chest like a series of small explosions. Then my face began to heat up, until it was radiating heat like a sunlamp. I felt almost sunburnt. This was a clear signal, the physiological equivalent of a red light on the dashboard, a digital alert reading “HEARTRATE EXCEEDING MAXIMUM SAFETY MARGIN–INITIATING SYSTEM SHUTDOWN”. When I got a chance, I pulled over and sucked air until my heart wasn’t slamming against my ribs quite so hard.
That was the worst part. I had a lot more hill to climb before I got to coast down the other side, though, and it went very slowly. I got used to bikes passing me on the left. Lots of them. I rationalized that they were on uprights, and therefore better climbers. Then I rationalized that they were seasoned commuters, and therefore in better shape. The final straw was when a grey-haired cyclist blew past me going uphill riding one-handed because he was carrying a bouquet of flowers. At this point all my rationalizations collapsed into a puddle composed of equal parts self-pity and self-loathing.
By the time I wobbled into my driveway, my legs were jelly. Even my hands were shaking. Round trip was about 20 miles, 45 minutes to get in to work, and an hour to come home. Although I had initially planned to ride in today as well, I decided I needed to give my legs a chance to recover first. I have the rest of the month, after all.
And by God, I’m going to get that stupid 6X jersey.