Lately, I’ve been completely enamored with toys. Naturally, I mean of the grown-up variety (which is something altogether different than “adult” toys.) We’re talking bikes, skis, ice tools, fly-rods, and various types of performance footwear and clothing. I’m lingering in stores, surfing the web, pawing through catalogs, calling in favors and trades, all in search of the latest, greatest, fastest, best, and – oh yes – more.

It’s really gotten out of hand. I don’t have money to be shopping like this, and I certainly don’t have time to do half of what I’m imagining I’ll have time to do in the coming months. I have both a budget and significant time-constraints. I do – after all – have young kids. So why do I have visions that suddenly and soon I’ll have a lot of time for backcountry skiing? You would think that I could go every single day with the amount of attention I’m giving to backcountry skis (and boots, skins, bindings), lately. I live in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. This isn’t exactly a backcountry skiing mecca. What is going on in my brain?

Obviously, I’m not playing enough. This has to be it. Like a lot of folks, when I can’t play, I shop. This is the reason why there are often more skis sold per capita in Michigan than there are in Colorado. Here in the midwest, we purchase gear to keep our head in our game, whatever that game may be. By contrast, in areas where outdoor games are more readily available, they more often go with what gear they’ve got.

The other night, I sat on the kitchen floor with my young boy. He’s two, so his idea of fun is launching toy cars across the room, and fetching them. It’s such a simple thing, and he certainly doesn’t need new cars to have fun chasing them. He gets smile-cramps as it is, and a new car would just push him over the top. The boy just plays the way we all should, or would if we had the time.

I play too, in my way. Even as I assert this, I’m reminded of last spring when Pete asked me to go for a run. I’m an endurance athlete (a very slow one, but I plug along), so running is a prescribed activity. I said: “No thanks, I can’t: I’ve got to run [X] distance at [such a percentage] heart-rate today, and I really can’t do this and run with a partner, especially somebody as fast as you.”

Pete said,”You spend all this time TRAINING! Don’t you ever just run for fun?”

Running is a really satisfying and somewhat necessary activity for me, but “fun” is not a word I would use to describe it. For me, everything to do with running involves metrics such as time, distance, speed, and heart-rate. Generally – sadly – I won’t even run if I don’t have my heart-rate monitor, because it just wouldn’t count. That said, I miss it when I don’t do it, but not because it’s “fun.” So, no, I don’t just run for fun.

This seems to be my problem. I don’t do much for fun, lately. I rarely just play.

Pete’s enthusiasm for play is infectious, though. You’ve probably caught his posts here about cyclocross racing. He’s had a CX bike for over a year now, and he’s been steadily working on the rest of us to join him out in the mud and cold. This is a secret, so don’t share it with anybody, but I’m a small man with stubby little legs. There are two things I have trouble buying off the rack: Pants, and CX bikes. But Pete’s been diligently forwarding me leads on both new and used CX bikes. The other day, he sent me a link to a used bike that was on the market, right here in Madison. It was a unique size for a grown-up’s bike (small, with small wheels) and it had more than decent components. I went out to look at it the other night, and it was perfect. So, of course, I bought it.

Hey, at least I can do this right outside of my door, year-round, in any weather. No snow or terrain is required.

Yesterday, I took my new prize out for its maiden voyage. I’ve not ridden in awhile, and I could sure feel it. I felt sick to my stomach and out of breath, dizzy, and a little unsteady. Honestly, I thought that my heart was going to explode out of my chest. After that first painful block, I felt a little better so I kept going. I’m a grown-up, so even this ride needed to have a grown-up reason: Ostensibly, I was out running errands. Even so, I took the long way, across lawns, through puddles, and along the fringes of dirt lots. The best part about the ride was the whirring sound that the wheels made on the pavement. It sounded like the wicked strings that accompany Uma Thurman as she makes her gleeful rounds in “Kill Bill,” so I had my own soundtrack.

I left my heart-rate monitor at home, and didn’t even take a watch. There’s hope for me, yet.

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