Virtual Douchebag

Recently I spent a couple days playing a video game. Unlike most video games, where all feats of strength are accomplished with a certain combination of buttons pressed at the same time, this one required actual physical effort. I sweated.
 
I was playing Zwift, an online cycling video game. After years of watching the same DVDs in rotation over and over again, I decided to mix things up and start living in the current decade. Streaming videos. Virtual reality. That sort of stuff.
 
I've spent the last couple days trying to come up with a way to describe the experience. Despite the glowing recommendations from people who would rather ride inside than risk the chance of breathing actual air or falling on actual pavement, Zwift isn't an earth-shattering development in sports science. Riding the trainer still sucks.
 
It is interesting, though.
 
I've done workout machines of all types with virtual "rabbits", and noted their impact on performance. You work harder with that stimulus.
 
What Zwift does is make the rabbit an actual human, with all of the unpredictability that entails. You're actually competing with other people. You're climbing with them. You're sprinting against them to see who can be the biggest virtual douchebag. You're spilling your guts all over the top tube for useless crap, except in this case it's virtual useless crap that will eventually end up in a virtual dump somewhere.
 
In the couple workouts I've done, I found myself drawn into the game. I found myself steering into turns, ducking into an aero tuck on descents to catch another rider, and grabbing a fistful of brakes when another rider suddenly appeared ahead of me. When you have a simple, easily-influenced mind like mine, eliciting these responses isn't hard.
 
At least during the two workouts I've done so far, the time seemed to pass quicker. That will likely change. When it does, I'll join up with one of the virtual group rides or virtual races. I'll explore the various features I've so far ignored. I'm sure the developers will add new twists here and there once we actually start paying for their services (Zwift is still in beta). I'll get around to those at my own pace, to distract myself from the obvious truth than no amount of clever virtualization can overcome-
 
The trainer still sucks.

Unlike the Zwift faithful, I would rather be dodging F-350s. They live for riding on a stationary trainer in front of a 110" flat screen TV in their luxuriously-appointed (if ironically named) "pain cave", complete with $1,500 Saeco Philips Intellia Cappuccino Fully Automatic Espresso Machines and climate-zone HVAC systems. They'll mix bottle after bottle of Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration Mix and filter it through their bodies until it ultimately pools on the custom-made trainer platform that houses the Blaupunkt surround sound subwoofers to enhance the virtual experience. Yes, Virginia, there are actually people like this in the world. God bless their pointy little heads.
 
Eventually, just like every other year, I'll be forced off the roads by the ice and snow. I'll retire to my trainer dungeon. It's cold, it's dark, it's dirty, and it smells. There are stray tissues that missed the garbage can during one of last season's colds. The salvaged Pergo flooring that I laid down on the concrete is scratched, chipped, and covered with streaks of an unidentifiable sticky residue that is starting to show signs of sentience. I have yet to clean it up, to avoid potential conflicts with right-to-life groups. The heavy, gray acoustical curtains I installed to muffle the jet engine roar of the LeMond trainer manage to suck up whatever feeble light the flickering fluorescents manage to put out. Even my high wattage "happy light" gets depressed in there. 
 
There are some clean things in the dungeon. I wiped the spittle and sweat residue off of my little TV, so I can almost make out words on the screen- providing they occupy half the viewable space or more. The new Alienware Alpha hasn't been there long enough to collect filth, and I wiped down the shelves to delay the inevitable somewhat. My collection of DVDs is clean only because they are rotated so frequently. The LeMond trainer was doused in gasoline and lit on fire to burn off the funk from last year. Despite the lingering essence of Eau de Exxon, it's more or less spiffy.
 
Even though it may sound like the happiest place in the world, I'm in no hurry to go there. There's a lot of fun to be had on the road. There's cold raindrops to be soaked up, traffic to dodge, flats to fix, headwinds to fight... it's all engaging in a way that a sterile virtual environment can never be. I'll go there, begrudgingly, when it's time.
 
It's not time yet.

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