It was a ride like any other ride, a typical ride on the same twenty mile loop I had been doing all month. I was pretty proud of myself, after a three month hiatus of zero rides, which followed a near twenty-year hiatus of sporadic riding on and off. In college my bike was my car, my legs – I went everywhere on two wheels, even grocery shopping and racing through winter blizzards. There was even a police chase once…but I digress. I had always attributed my ability to spar for hours without getting winded to the great cardio I had from cycling, and inversely my lack of cardio in later years to my lack of cycling.
So anyway, here I was, riding this scenic route for the sixth time this month, and I was near the tail end of the ride. It had been a good ride, or so I thought. Never mind that I hadn’t slept until 2:30 AM, or had gotten up early, all that was forgotten and in the past in the exhilaration of the road racing by beneath my tires.
I came to a four way stop, which I managed not to stop at, and another rider turned left and continued ahead in front of me. It was the same section of road, the exact same climb in which I had passed an elderly lady cyclist on a couple of rides ago. The gap between us narrowed rapidly, as I came up behind him at full speed on the incline. He had a tiny basket at the back of the seat of his road bike, with a couple of bottles in it, one was a neon yellow color and the other was water. A car was also coming up quick behind us. What, a basket? Haha, this was going to be easy.
Should I pass him before the car got to us, or wait on his wheel until it passed? I decided to wait on his wheel and I pumped my legs harder as the slope steepened. He was going to go the way of the old lady, eating my dust right after the car passed us. Or so I presumed.
The gap never closed. As I came up intent to ride in his wake to benefit from him breaking the wind for me, he happened to glance back. Casually, he leaned forward and slid his arms from his handlebars onto his aero bars. Hah! Aero bars…a triathlon bike, I mused. This was going to be so easy.
Then, he didn’t just pull away. It was as though the previous ride was juxtaposed, only this time I was the old lady. The gap just widened and widened. As he easily pulled away, I maddeningly pumped furiously trying to close the gap. It was a futile effort. I gave it everything. My legs screamed, my heart pounded, my head was ready to explode. He never even glanced back again.
Here I was so proud of myself thinking I was riding again. Getting in shape. I recalled my first and last ride several years ago with my friend, Omar Mullick. The brother who rode with actual “real” cyclists, trying to keep up with them to the point that his kidneys bled. We went on a spin starting and ending in College Park, he took it easy and for the most part held back so I could keep up with him, until we hit on particularly huge hill and he let loose briefly. At the time I told myself, it was the bike – I was on my ancient chromoly frame hybrid Bianchi while he was riding the same bike the Postal team raced on. I told myself, if we were both on road bikes, I could keep up with Omar. yes, I could match his pace no problem. I fantasized one day we would do another ride, and this time he would be the one keeping pace with me.
Today though, the hard reality hit me. Now I was on the carbon fiber machine. There were no excuses between me and the pavement. Only blatant failure to keep pace for even a short moment – to get dropped before the pursuit could even materialize. And sadly, I realized, even though this was probably my most earnest effort in my recent adult life, it wasn’t even my best time on this particular course. I will still enjoy every ride to come just as much…but maybe now my head will be a little closer to the pavement.