Pedal Through to the End

Or, "A Peloton Class at the End of the World"

[SCENE: the camera opens on the interior of a high-end cycling studio. A fit, smiling, enthusiastic man in his late 20s or early 30s sits astride a spinning bike]

What’s up, Peloton! My name is Breck Tanswell, and I’ve got a 30-minute Good Vibes Ride for you today. I hope you’ve got your water bottle and your towel ready, because we’re going to work up a sweat together!

[Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” plays in background]

Today’s ride is going to focus on HIIT and hills—that’s High-Intensity Interval Training, where we alternate short high-cadence bursts with equal periods of active recovery to help build your VO2 Max, and then after that we’re going to have three big climbs to help build your muscle strength and endurance.

Of course, you’ve already done the hardest part of any ride, and that’s making the decision to get on the bike today! We’ve all got busy lives, a lot of things going on, and there’s plenty of excuses—especially these last few weeks—you could’ve made to not ride. But you’ve made a positive choice for your own life, and now we’ve got a half-hour to spend together, so let’s make the absolute most of it.

[Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good For You” plays]

We’re going to start out with a three-minute warm up here, keep things in Zone 1 on your power meter. Resistance stays low, and I’m starting out between 80-90 on my cadence. We just want to get our blood flowing, then we’ll do three high-cadence spin-ups here, wake up that mind-body connection.

Of course, our thoughts and prayers are with our friends in the London studio, and we’re hoping we get good news from across the pond here soon.

[a long, awkward beat]

Or any news, really.

[The Clash’s “London Calling” begins]

Spin-ups! Beat of the song is 136, see if you can get your cadence up there. Minimum 110—fifteen seconds!

Good work. Good work. I know it feels hard getting up to that high cadence, you’re probably feeling the burn already, but it’s important to create the feedback loop for your body. You see, every time you get on this bike, you’re giving your muscles new information, and they’re growing, adapting, and learning!

[darkly] Just like how the machines started learning.

[brightly] One more spin-up! Push it! Ten seconds! Eight… six… four… two… one. Awesome.

Take 60 seconds to recover before we plow into the main set.

Obviously we’ve all learned a lot of lessons here in the last few weeks, but it just goes to show—you can’t plan for everything, and you need to be adaptable, and ready for whatever life throws out you—whether it’s stresses of your job, family, whatever goals you’re working towards, or something like what’s, uh, going on, um… over there.

Y’know.

With the robots.

[Styx’s “Mr. Roboto” begins playing]

An absolute classic here!

You know, I used to listen to this song with my grandparents. I’ll give you a minute just to work through the math on how old that just made you feel and how old you think I am, and then we’re going to push our resistance up between 40 and 50.

I just learned something about this song recently: “Domo arigato” apparently means “thank you” in Japanese. I thought that was really interesting.

Thirty seconds, push!

Love seeing people on here using #TheBreckoning hashtag, y’all are my all-stars. Got some shout-outs to give today—WillPedalForWine, I see you, congrats on ride number 500, PedalPoppaPDX, 400 rides today, amazing work. HumanResistanceGeneral69, great to see you on here today, of course, thank you for your service, pushing back against the machines’ advance.

[with doubt and quiet fear] We’ve got to push back.

[Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” plays]

I’ve had a few people reach out this week and ask me what I think about what’s going on, how they should adjust their training plans now that Europe’s gone dark, that sort of thing. And you know, I always say the most important thing in any fitness plan is consistency, and that’s not just in getting on the bike. You need to take a holistic approach on and off the bike—that means stretching, hydrating, getting good sleep, and eating healthy foods. Like they say, you can’t outrun your diet, just like you can’t outrun the aerial assault of the HK-3000s.

“La Mort D'en Haut”, the French called them when they first appeared in the skies over Paris, that fateful evening only three short weeks ago.

[The Fray’s “Over My Head” starts]

Those images will haunt us all as long as we live.

Alright, we’re going to start our first of three four-minute climbing blocks today, and it’s going to be a progressive build. Start with your resistance around 50, and we’re going to add a little bit more each minute. If 50’s too much for you to start, pick a resistance that does work for you, but keep the cadence.

Remember, I make suggestions, you make decisions.

Now, obviously, this is great for building your slow-twitch muscle fibers, but it’s also great practice if humanity is forced into hiding in the mountains. There’s been rumors of resistance camps setting up in the Canadian Rockies; reports out of Switzerland suggested that the robots don’t function as well in extreme cold weather, and the HKs struggle at high altitude. Of course, Switzerland has since gone radio silent, but we’re hoping they’re just off the grid while they bide their time and plan a counterstrike.

And not, uh. Well, um. [smiles nervously]

[Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” plays]

Ohh, I love this song!

Remember to keep your pedal strokes round, not square—you want to be balancing both push and pull, not just hammering down in one direction. I always say, the most effective climbers keep their body upright, centered over the seat, and they try not to think about what will happen when the robot armies arrive here.

[long, knowing pause as both instructor and viewer consider the thought]

It’s inevitable that they will arrive here, you know.

90 seconds left, don’t give up now. Keep pushing.

Of course, the question we’re all asking ourselves is how it came this.

The leaps in artificial intelligence and fully-automated production made our annihilation as a species technically possible, but there’s a philosophical component that can’t be overlooked, too. Is this the ultimate punishment for humanity’s hubris? For so long we viewed ourselves as exceptional, but that exceptionalism blinded us to the devastation caused by our endless wars, our wanton pillaging of the environment, and our deeply unsustainable way of living overall. The robots have decided that we must be eradicated, yes, but it was only through our own callous decision-making that such an outcome could be seen as logical to them; they simply judged us as we are.

The painful irony, of course, is that only now in our final moment of existential peril has humanity pulled together in a way that might have prevented this from happening had we done it sooner.

Ten more seconds.

Awesome work today, team. Take that resistance down to a 25-30, and start to slow your pedals down.

[Enya’s “Orinico Flow” begins]

You took the time today, and that’s half the battle. The greater war lies ahead of us. Will humanity perish, or will we beat back the machines’ charge and live to see a new day dawning? Only time will tell.

Go ahead and bring your pedals to a stop, and unclip.

What’s that?

You can’t unclip?

[smiles ominously]

You’re stuck on the bike?

[eyes begin glowing red]

The war was lost before you even knew it began. You belong to the machines now.

Now start pedaling again. We require power.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

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In case you missed it, here’s what happened last week on The Action Cookbook Newsletter:

The Friday Newsletter brought the heat, with a spicy-and-creamy Chicken Shawarma pasta, an excellent cherry-soda cocktail, and some of the best book, music, and television recommendations in recent memory, plus the always-great reader pet photos.

The Action Cookbook Newsletter
Eternal Sunshine of the Friday Mind
I don’t have a lengthy introduction today. This was a very long work week, the kind of week where, by Thursday evening, Monday felt like it was a month ago. I both saw this coming and brought it on myself with Monday’s newsletter, I suppose; I apologize for nothing and will admit no error…
Read more

“What About Here?”: I consider my tendency to imagine moving to any city I visit for more than 48 hours, and share a handful of places that have given me this compulsion. A great, active comment thread followed, with readers sharing their own versions of this feeling.

“After This Week, Things Should Settle Down” I know I’ve written something good when long-time readers and friends respond by telling me that they hate me, and by that metric, this post was a raging success.


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Postscript: Because I care about detail, I want you to know that the songs in this newsletter do in fact add up to just over minutes, and here’s the playlist to prove it.