Sunday, June 5, 2011

Joseph Karo would've been a cyclist

The Shulchan Aruch (Hebrew: שולחן ערוך‎, literally: "Set Table") is a codification, or written manual, of halacha (Jewish law), composed by Rabbi Jospeh Karo in the 16th century. It is considered by many to be the most authoritative compilation of halacha since the Talmud.

Rabbi Karo never saw a bicycle, and could not even have imagined one in his time. But if he had, he would've endorsed my Shabbat afternoon activity yesterday, and I bet he might have even joined me on my ride.
Shulchan Aruch states that young persons may engage in strenuous exercise on the Sabbath, as long as it is a source of pleasure. Remember a couple weeks back when Sweetie and I left services feeling tense, not calmer; and we went to the gym, and it helped us to get into a more restful spirit on Shabbat afternoon?

Well, it has been a very stressful time at Rancho Bikelovejones of late, and yesterday I absolutely had to get outside or I'd go crazy. So late in the afternoon, I took Stompy out for a final ride before racing on Monday night. I pulled on my cycling shoes, sunglasses and helmet; laid on some sunscreen (because we finally got above 80 degrees for the first time this year!); and set out for the singletrack just below Willamette Blvd, over near Killingsworth, about three miles from home. It's not much -- it doesn't cover a large area and the trails are skinny and pretty straightforward -- but there's enough up and down, tight corners and sizable chunks of leftover cement embedded in the dirt paths, to make it challenging on its own.

I rode down the steep gravel entrance into the area, throwing my butt as far back behind the saddle as I could an feathering my brakes and trying not to be nervous. I made several laps in and around and through the little network of singletrack trails, weeds growing waist-high on either side and making me use a little body English to get around the largest of the embedded cement chunks. I wasn't fast -- I didn't count on being so -- but to my surprise and wonder, my wiry legs were strong enough to get up the inclines on every pass (as long as I didn't stop mid-trail). Last year at this time I would be pushing my bike up almost every incline, gasping for breath.

I guess my time in the gym has paid off in some measurable way. I won't be faster -- no interval plan, after all -- but I am stronger on the bike. The realization made me glad.

I looped back and forth and around for about twenty-five minutes, enough to get my "sea" legs back and feel more ready for Monday night, before recognizing that it was time to head back. As I rode home through leafy tree-lined streets and took sips from my water bottle, I imagined the course at PIR and felt ready to give it my best shot. And I definitely felt calmer, better, relieved of some of the worst of my stress, for having taken the ride.

I'm pretty sure Rabbi Karo would've approved.

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