by James “Cranky” Ramsay

When I was first invited to contribute a column to Canadian Cycling 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.

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