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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ten Years without Driving

August marks my 10 year anniversary of not driving a car. I sold my car in Seattle back in 2006 and I haven’t driven since. The thing is, I almost never even ride in a car. At this moment I can’t remember the last time I was a passenger. I took a taxi in Madrid back in December, one trip from the train station to my hotel. On the return I went in the metro. In Valencia I either walk or take the bike-share to the train station. I certainly don’t miss cars and if I never drove again I would be very pleased with that. The things I sacrifice from not driving are more than eclipsed by what I’ve gained.

For almost a century many Americans have considered the automobile to be the very symbol of personal freedom and expression. Cars took the place in American mythology once reserved for the horse so we substituted smog for horseshit without missing a beat. We were indoctrinated into a culture that not only told us that cars made us free but that cars themselves were the definition of freedom. Your car made you stand out as an individual regardless of the fact that a million other people drove the same model. We built our cities around cars, our myths and legends pounded the car into our consciousness. On the Road was more than a novel, more than a catch phrase for a generation, it defined us.

More and more people are beginning to push back against this idea of the car as the essence of individual liberty as more and more millennials are choosing not to drive. My split with the world of cars has been anything but limiting or confining. Here is a short list of things I’ve avoided this past decade: traffic, parking, parking tickets, car payments, insurance, break-downs, stressful driving situations of any and all sorts, maintenance, and any and everything to do with the Department of Motor Vehicles, by far the most Orwellian or Kafka-esque aspect of my past life as a driver.

What I have gained is the freedom from so many nuisances that most people feel are not only completely unavoidable but necessary in modern society. One thing that I can never understand is why so many people choose to drive in Valencia when I’m certain that most people could walk, ride, or take public transportation instead of driving for most of their around-town trips. I think that once people own a car they feel the need to use it as often as possible to get their money’s worth without ever considering the alternatives.

It’s sort of like the elevator in my building. For every other tenant in the building the elevator is a necessity. I live on the fourth floor and I rarely use the elevator. I opt for the stairs for about 90% of my trips up and down. It is 72 steps, just a trifle. Of my two bikes one of them fits in the lift and the other doesn’t—goddamnit!—so when I use the one that fits—my city bike—I opt for the elevator. Trips on my city bike probably represent about 95% of my elevator usage. Sometimes when I’m loaded down with shopping I’ll take the lazy way up but most of the time I choose to walk. I think that I have shamed the teenage girl who lives on the second floor into walking, at least when she sees me either going up or down. I don’t know how I’d feel about walking up and down if I lived higher up in my building. The fourth floor seems just too easy not to hike up and down but if I were living on the ninth I doubt that I would be quite as enthusiastic about this habit (and I would have never purchased a bike that didn’t fit in the damn elevator).

My physical fitness hardly needs the boost from climbing 72 stairs 2-4 times a day but I suppose that it all adds up. Even I have to admit that there are times after returning from a three hour bike ride I will groan at the thought of having to hump up four flights of stairs carrying my now-useless mode of transportation, but for the most part the walk up is something I barely consider and I put about as much thought into it as I do in opening the front door—it’s just something I have to do. I’ve lived without a lift on a couple occasions and it was no big deal, at least it wasn’t for me.

Driving around town seems about as ridiculous to me as taking the elevator up a couple of floors instead of taking the stairs. Back when I lived in Seattle I had a car but living in the downtown area made it way too much of a bother to actually drive the stupid thing other than for trips out of town. My car was more of a recreational vehicle, like a jet-ski or a snowmobile, than an essential part of my life. For most of my life I have relied more on the bicycle than the automobile to effect my day-to-day transportation needs.

In Valencia I mostly make my way around town on the bike-share bikes. The weather here is harmonious with cycling pretty much 365 days a year but you could hardly say that about Seattle and I cycled everywhere all year long. I don’t expect everyone else on earth to be such an avid cyclist but there are other ways to get around than on a bike.

Valencia has a truly wonderful public transportation system of buses and underground metro. I rarely use either of these simply because cycling is so much faster for the most part. In the time it takes me to wait 5-10 minutes for a bus I could already be at my destination drinking a beer. This brings up another aspect of not driving: not worrying about a designated driver. Biking while intoxicated is the subject for another essay. Spoiler Alert: I’m really good at it.

I’m not advocating that everyone go without a car. What you choose to do is your business and I really don’t give a shit. All that I am saying is that for me living without a car has been much healthier for my body and my state of mind, not to mention my pocketbook (do I even have a pocketbook?). Not driving a car has eliminated so much frustration, aggravation, stress, and worry from my life that the benefits are impossible to calculate. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Primal Endurance: Week 8

Views from my bike.

I'm finishing my 8th week of the Primal Endurance (PE) program. I am highly, highly skeptical by nature so I’m not the kind of person who tends to jump to conclusions based on little evidence or extrapolate exaggerated deductions from scant information. With that said I have to say that I have found a new and improved way to ride a bike after riding seriously since I was 15 years old. I have learned that slowing WAY down has been wildly beneficial to my overall level of fitness and health while increasing my energy level. Let me begin with this point of slowing down.

PE emphasizes the need to train at your aerobic maximum rate which is calculated at 180 heart beats per minute minus your age (180HPM – Age = Aerobic Max). At first this seemed ridiculously slow and completely counter-intuitive to aerobic fitness training. Before I started I had almost nothing in the way of a plan so I basically went out every day and treated my ride like a race as I tried to pass every other cyclist on the trail. I did manage to pass most cyclists and thought this was how everyone trained. Training at my new aerobic max seemed way too slow to be doing me any good but I stuck with it. As I mentioned in other posts, the hardest part was allowing other cyclists to blow by me.

I swallowed my pride and stuck to the program and very shortly I noticed that I was quickly riding faster and faster without elevating my heart rate above my target. I also noticed my recovery rate was ridiculously quick. For example, say I slightly exceeded my max on a short climb. Just backing off for a few seconds on the pedals allowed my heart to drop 10 beats a minute or more. At the end of these 8 weeks I now ride my old course in the same time at this drastically lowered heart rate level as I did before when I was riding all out for the entire course of 40 kilometers. I don’t get passed much these days.

Granted, I have worked extremely diligently these past 8 weeks, perhaps harder than I have ever trained in the last 30 years so I don’t want to give all of the credit to PE techniques. However, because of PE training I now have the desire and energy to train every day. I have hardly taken a single day off just because I don’t feel tired, not ever, not even right after a two hour ride. I don’t feel exhausted like I did before when I was riding balls-to-the-wall every time out.

I have lost weight but not a lot, not as much as you would think for someone training two hours almost every day, at least two hours. It's not like I need to lose a lot of weight. I drank a hell of a lot of beer at the beginning eight weeks ago because of the Euro2016 football matches and it’s really hard to lose weight when you drink 5-6 beers every night. I have backed way off on beer this past week and my weight is dropping slowly, very slowly. I don’t believe in miracles but I do believe in being patient.

I am a bit skeptical about the PE claim of me becoming a “fat burning beast” but I haven’t ruled it out yet. One thing I can say with authority is that my appetite has changed radically since training at this lower heart rate. I no longer crave carbohydrates and I have learned to eat a lot less. I haven’t eaten bread or pasta in eight weeks and I don’t miss either. I have always been able to lose weight by eating fewer carbs but the problem was sticking to this diet. This time around I just don’t feel like I am missing anything by not eating processed carbohydrates.

Another tenet of the program is rest. Once again I can say without a shred of skepticism that I have been sleeping better than I have in many, many years. I have always napped almost every day for a long time, usually for anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, at rare times an hour. Now my naps are from 45 minutes to an hour and at times two hours! Yikes! When I wake up instead of feeling groggy and out of it I feel like the day I was born.

I discovered this program at precisely the right moment of the year when I have time to train two or more hours a day as well as nap pretty much as long as I can. With that said this new method has given me an incredible amount of energy and I NEVER feel tired like I would before after a long, hard ride followed by eating too much (with a lot of processed carbs at times). 8 weeks is a pretty short time window, especially put in the time frame of how long it took me to put on the extra pounds I was carrying. I started to make a concerted effort to lose weight in January of 2015 and I had some success and have kept my weight down since the initial 15 pounds or more that I lost in the first five months.

Now I need to drop from my current 195 to 185 which is proving to be considerably more difficult than those first 15 pounds. The difference is that this time I will be going from my current weight of 195 which isn’t a bad weight for me and I look pretty good, if I do say so myself, to 185 which will be my absolute optimal weight. At 185 I will look like freaking Tarzan so getting to that point will take some doing and perhaps at least another 8 week cycle, this time with less beer (at least a little less). 

RE: The Video 

There are a couple of places around town where I will stop to do pull-ups. In all of these places there are lots of young punks with zero body fat showing off. While many of them put me to shame in the physique department, I’ve only seen a few who can do appreciably more pull-ups than I can crank out on a given day. Pull-ups are just hard to do.