Balancing Work and Play

I advocate balancing work and play. However, I have never been very good about it. Most academics are terrible at striking the balance. This mostly has to do with the fact that we are our own small businesses, we overcommit and we infrequently find extended blocks of time in which we can think hard about our research. When we do have such time (weekends or short holidays) we tend to devote it to work. I know that I often do this.

When I stepped down as Editor of AJPS I decided I would do something to force me to play. I was certainly burned out. The journal was a full time job and I continued to teach and try to carry out my own research. I needed to clear my mind. What better way than to take a long bike ride?

I may be trying to recapture my youth. 16 years ago I rode my bike across the US and I had a ball. It was an amazing trip and was a fabulous way to see the country. I went with a very large group as part of a fundraiser for the American Lung Association. It seemed like a deluxe trip. A truck carried my gear from llace to place. Meals were prepared along the way. All I had to do was ride, pitch my tent, sleep and repeat.

This time I’m scaling back. Five of us are riding together from Florence, Oregon to Missoula, Montana. We thought about a cross country trip, but the logistics got complicated. We’ll do the cross country trip next year (at least I will). This scaled back ride will take 11 days and will take us through some lovely scenery. It has been a very long time since I have taken this much time off. I won’t be thinking about work. I will be letting my head clear. Perhaps I’ll feel recharged (or more likely worn out).

The point is to strike some balance. I am not advocating that everyone go out and jump on a bike and ride 90 miles a day. Instead I hope that the message is to take some time off from your work. Do something you enjoy that is unrelated to your work. You are likely to come back to your work refreshed. We’ll see what it does for me.

I am going to add to this post each day to chronicle the ride. It won’t be terribly academic, but it will mean I can spend some time each day writing. It won’t be work – just fun.

Day 1

The ride was from Florence to Eugene, Oregon – approximately 80 miles. The group included Therese, my wife, who volunteered to drive the “sag” wagon. Her job was the most important. She set up regular stops where the riders would have food and water. Robert, Therese’s brother is part of the riding group. His sons, Bradon and Joe, also are riding. The last of the group is Gigi, Robert’s partner. None of the others have ever ridden long distance before. I’ve done a number of long rides, including across the US. However, I used to be a lot younger. image

Florence is on the Pacific coast and if this was a cross country ride I suppose I would have dipped my wheel in the Pacific. There was no need on this ride and we were all anxious to get started. It started raining the previous day and looked threatening as we left. The first 10 miles were on a busy highway with large shoulders. The shoulders made riding easy even with the traffic. The route followed a river and was lined with hills filled with large firs.

We turned off the main highway onto a much smaller and less traveled road. The shoulders were minimal, but so was the traffic. I love riding back roads. Here the scenery was spectacular. Being from Houston I’m used to trees. But here the trees were huge and covered in moss. Of course the rain dampened things a bit. However, the rain was light and not constant. Riding and rain when it is cold is my nightmare. This wasn’t so bad.

A most amazing part of the ride was on a bike path coming into Eugene. The path cuts through a wildlife area that supports a ton of birds. No surprise that Eugene, the Austin of Oregon, is supporting both biking and wildlife. The path seems to be used a lot by both the feathered and the legged. Of course, on the bike path Gigi got the first flat of the ride. Up to this point we all had been fortunate.

The end of the day finished with beers. Of course there are an amazing number of local beers. I tried as many as I could.

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Day 2.

Off to a late start this morning. But we had a light day – only 60 miles. It was a good idea because tomorrow we have a very difficult ride. I hate riding in strange cities. Eugene is hardly a big city. Nonetheless, getting out of town was a lot more difficult thna getting into it. I have a great mapset for biking that I bought from TransAmerica. Even so, it was a pain.

Once out of town the scenery was again great and the route that we took is widely used by a lot of the area cyclists. Consequently there were plenty of bikes on the road and few cars. It was a great time for quiet – just the spin of tires on the road.

Again it was overcast, but at least there was no rain. Lunch was where the first water break was going to be. We were off to a late start, which was fine given that we only had 60 miles to cover. Robert and Gigi arrived fairly late. Robert had the second flat of the trip and it turned out that his pump didn’t work. He had to wait for another cyclist to bail him out.

The remainder of the afternoon began on a very busy stretch of road. At least the shoulder was wide. Eventually the traffic thinned a bit. As it did the trees along the road seemed to grow in height.

Who knew that Oregon has an abundance of covered bridges. These were mainly built in the 1930s and they were all along the route. I found that I kept stopping to play sightseer. The last stop of the day was McKenzie Bridge. It is nothing more than a general store. Lots of people biking were stopped there, enjoying a beer. Since it was the end of the day, I was happy to join them.

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By the end of the day everyone was worn out. Part of this had to do with the difficult ride the day before.

Day 3.

We were down to two riders today – me and Bradon. The morning was given over to a 22 mile, 4000 foot climb over McKenzie Pass. The road is closed all winter and is very narrow. When the snow is cleared, the road is open to bicycles. It was out lucky day. Tomorrow, June 16, the road will be opened to cars. Today we had the road to ourselves.

What a great climb! Very difficult betwen miles 5 and 18. However, riding switchbacks through giant firs is not bad. The rain held off and there were a lot of cyclists on the road. My favorite was the guy with his two-year-old son being towed in a trailer. Dad said it was his father’s day gift – a chance to spend time with his son. He looked like he was having fun on his way down.

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I had plenty of layers of clothes and was glad I brought them. It was very cold on top the summit and really windy. I didn’t dally up top. Of course the best part is having a 15 mile downhill ride. The rest of the group met us about 6 miles down the side of the mountain where the snowgate remained closed to autos. Lunch and plenty of water, then back downhill.

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The rest of the group headed off to run errands and I pushed on another 35 miles. Once down out of the mountains I road along a fairly level road, with a very strong tailwind. The area was much dryer and more agriculutral. I bailed on riding the remaining 10 miles as my achilles tendon was starting to bother me. I found a great brewpub and settled in with a Cyclops One Eye P A. Delicious!

Day 4.

Ouch. My achillies tendon is a problem. Right from the start of the ride it was painful. Therese, the ever faithful sag wagon driver, grabbed an ankle bandage and that helped. I managed the first 20 miles which wound up into the mountains. We were back into large firs and I couldn’t resist the scenery. However, the tendon was hurting enough by mile 20 that I rode for a while. Sadly I rode to the top of a pass and got out to pedal the downhill. What a whimp.

The first downhill was great, but I had not earned it. It was a 10 mile downhill with about a 1500 foot descent. A lot of fun, but very windy and so I only hit around 42 mph. We stopped for lunch in a delightful little town, Mitchell, and chatted with a number of very talkative locals. They get a lot of bicyclists through and we were made veey welcome. I kept riding, deciding I had better earn my next downhill. This was a slog – 6 miles of steady uphill. I don’t mind riding uphill. What I do mind is constantly seeing the steady grade miles ahead of you. On this side of the mountains it is more like high desert with few trees. There is nothing to block your vision, especially as the highway stretches on seemingly for miles and miles.

Climbs are almost always rewarded with downhills. I continued for another 20 miles, downhill, in about 50 minutes. I had a strong tailwind to push me along. This area was gorgeous in a high desert way. Not much traffic and very few dwellings. But, I had to call it quits. I didn’t want to do any damage to my tendon and my knee was starting to hurt. This new problem was probably due to compensating for my tendon. Sheesh. It is tough to get old.

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I wish I had finished the ride for the day. It continued downhill for many more miles and ended up coming through a very narrow gorge near part of the John Day fossil beds. The geology in this area is striking.

Day 5.

Ughhh. I’m not riding today. My knee was feeling horrible last night, but better today. My achillies tendon is not much better. We all decided on a short day today and Robert, Gigi and Bradon are riding. It is overcast and cold with rain off and on. I would rather be riding, but I think it is smart to hold off.

It has been smart. I’m feeling better and I’ll be able to ride tomorrow. It helped that I had a Barley Brown WFO IPA. Wonderful beer brewed in Baker City.

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One thought on “Balancing Work and Play

  1. Pingback: Work and Play, III | RKWRICE

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