August 11, 2002
I Quit

miles to go: 865.44

Forty minutes into a spectacularly unpleasant Saturday morning ride -- battling toxic headwinds and treacherous industrial traffic along Doolittle Drive, just beyond Oakland International Airport -- the little voice inside my head chimes in with its weekly litany of misery and complaint.

I hate this, it dourly announces.

David and I are trying something brand-new today: we're seeing how far we can ride on our own steam, without using the car at all. Usually on Saturday mornings we toss the bikes into the trunk and drive to Contra Costa County to ride on the bucolic multi-use trails running between Walnut Creek and Pleasanton. Today we're leaving the Subaru behind, and we're riding our bikes from our front door in Alameda -- literally -- to the San Mateo Bridge and back. 

No car. No support services. No frosted blueberry scones at Noah's Bagels along the way. David has spent days planning every inch of this ride: consulting websites and maps, calculating distances, figuring mileage. He is as excited as an eight-year-old on Science Fair Day.

"This is going to be great!" he enthuses.

The little voice inside my head isn't convinced.

I hate this, it says, as we ride past the Oakland City Dump, the air redolent with the smell of rotten food and week-old Pampers. I hate riding in heavy traffic! I hate sunscreen melting in my eyes! I hate numb feet and shrieking thigh muscles and distended bladders! I hate this, I hate this, I hate this!

God knows it's not the first time I've felt this way, regardless of where we're riding. Every weekend morning when I crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. and squeeze into Spandex ... I'm hating this. Every night when I come home from work, numb with fatigue, and force myself to climb onto the bike ... I'm hating this. Every time my tire goes flat or my hands go dead or I'm run off the road by another show-offy imbecile with an Armstrong complex ...  I'm hating this. Lately, it seems I spend almost as much time hating my bike as I do loving it. 

Still, I'm getting pretty good at ignoring the little voice. Normally when it sneaks up on me like this, I'm able to ride it out until the momentary unpleasantness passes -- until the winds calm down, or the traffic subsides, or the latest killer hill is safely behind us -- and after a while the ride goes back to being fun again.

But this time is different. This time the little voice is more persistent than usual, ping-ponging around in my head like the "Facts of Life" theme song. Plus it is soon voicing a second, even more blasphemous thought.

You don't HAVE to do this, you know, it says.

It's true. Nobody is paying me to ride two thousand miles this year. It's not like I've got a gold medal or a book contract or a Wheaties box waiting for me at the finish line. Basically the only reason I'm out here punishing myself, day after day, weekend after weekend, is because this is something David and I agreed to do, together ... and because it seemed like a good idea at the time. How could I have known it would be this tough? This painful? This disgusting, occasionally?  (Was that a used tampon I just ran over? Or a severed finger?) How could I have known how seriously it would compromise everything else -- and I do mean EVERYTHING else -- that we like to do during our precious non-working hours? The answer of course is that I had no way of knowing. I've never attempted anything like this before. I'm surprised by how difficult it is, sometimes, and by how much sacrifice it requires ...

... and by how much I hate it, every once in a while.

This is the precise moment that the little voice chimes in, once again ... this time whispering that the simplest solution is also the most obvious.

Why don't you just quit? it says.

And that's when I know I'm in trouble.

Over the years, I have become something of an expert in the art of quittage.

Quitting piano lessons. Quitting Pep Club. Quitting the Columbia Record & Tape Club before I've purchased all six membership agreement selections. Quitting college. Quitting jobs ... usually before they could get around to quitting ME. Quitting diets and exercise plans and "lifestyle changes."

I once quit a sixteen-year marriage by moving to Oregon on my lunch hour.

You don't get to be my age without acquiring a fair amount of quittage along the way. Of course, not all of the quitting I've done has been of the sad/stoopid/dysfunctional variety. Some of it actually did me some good. Quitting drinking, for instance: that was definitely a lifestyle improvement. So was quitting smoking. So was quitting extra-marital affairs with "separated" chat room Testosterone Units. 

This is all the sort of quittage I probably should have done lots MORE of during my extended forty-year childhood.

Still, when I hear about somebody 'quitting' something, the connotation is generally not a positive one. It means throwing in the towel, usually before the Tame Creme Rinse has finished congealing properly. It denotes an appalling lack of sticktoitiveness. It makes you look like a great big inconsistent doofus, usually in front of people you're trying to impress.

Pep Club President: "I knew she was gonna quit."
Pep Club Vice President: "If she doesn't turn in her uniform, can we beat her up?"

Plus -- and this is where it gets especially dangerous for somebody like me -- quitting one thing invariably leads to further quittage. It's like a gateway drug. For example, if I decide to quit the whole "2,002 in 2002" idea -- if I tell David that I'm sick of getting up early and doing hideously painful things to my body and sacrificing all of my precious non-working hours, just to climb aboard a Butt-D-Luxe and rack up more mileagemileagemileage -- I know what will happen.

We'll quit.

David won't be happy about it. He'll do everything he can to try and talk me out of it. He'll remind me that basically this was *my* idea in the first place. (He came up with the original two thousand mile goal, but I'm the one who added the extra two miles to make it 2,002 in 2002.) He'll appeal to my vanity:"Think of the photo opps when you cross that finish line!"  He'll try to bribe me with expensive bike shoes and cheap Chinese food. But eventually he'll realize that I'm serious -- that I'm digging in my toe clips and calling it quits, right here right now -- and he'll acquiesce uncomplainingly. 

We'll pull the mileage charts off the refrigerator. I'll remove all of the logos and counters from my website. We'll go back to aimless, unadventurous rides around the abandoned Navy Base, every couple of weekends or so.

Life will go back to normal.

But that won't be the end of it.  Once I've quit the 2,002 in 2002, it will be as though I'm granting myself permission to quit all of the other stuff that isn't working out as well/as fast/as predictably as *I* would like it to. 

The "eating plan," for instance. Why the hell am I still eating soy protein cereal and nonfat milk for breakfast, when there is an entire world of Eggs Benedict and Cocoa Puffs out there?? 

Or the new meds: if they haven't made me feel noticeably better after one whole month, why am I still taking them? 

Why am I still slathering glycolic acid on my face every night (at approximately $3,456.99 per fluid ounce) when it actually seems to be making my skin look worse? Why am I freaking out if I get less than eight hours of sleep each night? Why am I wasting perfectly good *anxiety molecules* over a website I don't always have time/energy/ambition enough to update? Why am I typing field instrument calibration logs for eight fudking hours every day, forcryingoutloud?

The next thing I know, I will have quit myself out of a lot of the sweat and hard work and unpleasantness in my life.

But I will have also quit myself out of a lot of the joy.

One hour and forty minutes into one of the most exhilarating bike-rides I've ever been on in my life -- a long, bumpy rollercoaster ride through pickleweed and salt grass, past tidal pools and crashing waves along the Hayward Regional Shoreline -- the little voice is uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

Holy shidt, it says finally. This is amazing!

"Pretty cool, isn't it?" says David happily ... and he snaps another picture of the bright orange salt marshes, spreading out before us in all directions like some weird alien landscape. We're standing on the deck of the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center, next to the San Mateo Bridge. It's low-tide, and the mudflats are teeming with wildlife: terns, egrets, marsh hawks, dragonflies. We haven't seen another human being in over an hour, and the silence is like psychic balm on our work-frazzled nerves. Doolittle Drive feels a bazillion miles away at the moment.

"It's beautiful," I reply.

This is the reward for me. This is the gold medal/the book contract/the Wheaties box, right here.

Plus we did it: we managed to get to this point 100% Subaru-free. It wasn't easy. The Bay Trail website said that this portion of the Bay Trail is paved already, but trust me when I tell you that it isn't. It's mostly something called "hard-packed double-track." (Translated, this means "Bet you wish you had a MOUNTAIN BIKE, dontchoo?")  Fortunately, my sturdy Trek hybrid did remarkably well on everything except the loosest gravel and the muddiest mud. As a matter of fact, I think I'm finally beginning to understand the appeal of mountain biking. There aren't a lot of *Good Morning People* in the middle of mudflat country.

See? says this new, happier little voice. This isn't so bad, is it?

And the voice is right, of course. This isn't bad at all. As a matter of fact this is all pretty wonderful, and I love it, and I'm glad I'm here.

There is still a teeny-tiny part of me, deep down inside, that wishes we could finish the 2,002 in 2002 RIGHT NOW and be done with it. I miss sleeping late. I miss writing *FootNotes.* I miss pancakes and bookstores and Saturday morning errands and all of the other stuff we used to do on the weekends. But I'm not going to quit. I know how good I'll feel about myself if we finish.  (Or at least if we come as close to the finish line as possible before crapping out.)  I know how much this whole thing means to David. Plus I know that finishing the 2,002 will make better journal copy than quitting halfway there. (How interesting would Sagging have been, after all, if I'd climbed aboard that relief wagon?)  Besides: next year -- when all of this frantic mileagemileagemileage stuff is over with, once and for all -- this is precisely what I'm looking forward to. Riding new places. Looking at interesting stuff. Taking pictures. Taking picnic breaks.

Taking our time.

In the meantime, though, we've still got 800+ miles left to go ... beginning with the ride home. It's almost 10 a.m., and even here along the shoreline the sun is starting to burn through the marine layer. It's going to be a long, hot, icky ride back to Alameda, through the exact same industrial hell we rode through earlier.

You're going to be out of water pretty soon, says the cranky little voice of misery. And you ate your last Power Bar an hour ago. Do you even know where a bathroom is? What if ...

But the new, non-cranky voice interrupts the litany of misery in mid-complaint.

Shut up and ride, it says. And after that ... there are no little voices at all for a while.

That's when I know I'm probably going to be OK.

what a difference an hour makes

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... don't you think?