Turn­ing the right kind of cranky

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - By James “Cranky” Ram­say

Ir­ri­ta­ble biker syn­drome

When I was in­vited to con­trib­ute a col­umn to this mag­a­zine, I was work­ing part-time in the pub­lish­ers’ of­fice. My job was to sell clas­si­fied ad­ver­tis­ing. Apart from my out­stand­ing work on the tele­phone, I dis­tin­guished my­self through my quick wit and my grouchy de­meanour. To be clear, grouchy was not my only de­meanour, but it was – and re­mains – my pri­mary re­sponse to the world around me. And most of the time, it made my col­leagues laugh. Never ones to sleep on an op­por­tu­nity, the man­age­ment re­al­ized they could mon­e­tize my sour view of life. “We want some­thing acer­bic – a col­umn that’s both cyn­i­cal and in­tel­li­gent,” I re­call them say­ing. Flat­tered by the thought that they thought me cyn­i­cal and/or in­tel­li­gent (and re­solv­ing to look up the word “acer­bic”), I hap­pily ac­cepted. The re­sult of this well-placed faith in my abil­i­ties is enough ma­te­rial to fill a leather-bound vol­ume to be trea­sured through the ages: a col­lected works of Cranky, if you will. But the chal­lenge in writ­ing this col­umn is that some­times I don’t feel cranky at all. That’s a prob­lem. Imag­ine the up­roar if I were to de­scribe my sur­round­ings with en­thu­si­asm, un­der the pen name James “Whim­si­cal” Ram­say. The ad­ver­tis­ers would shud­der in their wind­proof shoe cov­ers if they were to read such light­hearted prose.

Here’s the good news: I’ve fig­ured out how to nip hap­pi­ness in the bud. All I need to do is stop rid­ing my bike.

It re­ally is that sim­ple. The ef­fect kicks in within 48 hours. It lasts un­til the pre­cise mo­ment I swing a leg back over one of my trusty steeds. The shift from well-ad­justed to mal­ad­justed is dra­matic. Just ask my fam­ily. I go from be­ing tired, short-tem­pered, prone to com­plain­ing about aches and pains and gen­er­ally ir­ri­ta­ble to be­ing tired, short-tem­pered, prone to – wait a minute – there’s no dif­fer­ence at all, you say!

But you’re wrong. There’s a big dif­fer­ence. The dif­fer­ence is that the tired, cranky me who rides a bike is jus­ti­fi­ably tired and cranky. Af­ter all, I’ve just rid­den 160 km on two bot­tles of tepid wa­ter and half a ba­nana. I’ve earned the right to be cranky. You’d be cranky too if you ever at­tempted to do half what I’ve just done, you lazy so-and-so.

But the cranky me who hasn’t been rid­ing his bike is cranky be­cause of some­thing deeper: a feel­ing of empti­ness and en­nui that only a 160 km bike ride (or a bot­tle of Syrah and a wagyu steak) can as­suage. And since I quit drink­ing three months ago, the steak doesn’t do it on its own. So I’m left with the bike as the only way for me to get any re­lief from my­self.

The thing is, I’m re­ally not jok­ing here. There’s some­thing about leav­ing ev­ery­thing on the road on a long, hard ride that is sat­is­fy­ing in an el­e­men­tal way. There’s a feel­ing of achieve­ment that few other en­deav­ours can repli­cate. It’s both akin to, and more sat­is­fy­ing than, any other form of hard work that I’ve yet to ex­pe­ri­ence in its abil­ity to set things right in my mind. A salve for the spirit and a tonic for what ails me. By pun­ish­ing my body, I re­pair my mind.

Through­out the years, I’ve had fal­low pe­ri­ods in which I let my­self go to seed. Quite aside from the fact that my pants got too tight, the cost to my men­tal health was the greater one to bear. And so I’ve re­solved not to let that hap­pen again – and for quite some time now, I’ve held to that res­o­lu­tion.

But a few weeks ago, I came down with a bad chest cold. Mrs. Cranky mis­tak­enly di­ag­nosed this as a “man cold.” But she was wrong. As it turns out, she’s not a real doc­tor af­ter all. I’m now ques­tion­ing her de­ci­sion over Canada Day to re­move one of my kid­neys, “just be­cause.” I’m now think­ing I should ask her to put it back in again.

But I di­gress. It was no “man cold,” but rather a near-fa­tal bout of croup that had me short of breath, cough­ing, low in en­ergy and runny of nose. Most im­por­tant, it left me un­able to ride for a week. And I was mis­er­able. But out of my mis­ery, this col­umn was born. And therein lies the irony. To be cranky enough to write this col­umn about cy­cling (if that is in­deed what this is about), I needed to stop rid­ing my bike.

The good news for all con­cerned is that I’m now back to full health and there­fore back to my se­vere train­ing reg­i­men. And that means, of course, that I’m back to be­ing tired, short-tem­pered, prone to com­plain­ing about aches and pains, and gen­er­ally ir­ri­ta­ble – for all the right rea­sons.

If only my poor fam­ily could tell the dif­fer­ence.

“I’m re­ally not jok­ing here.”

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