Group ride. I woke up at 7:30am. The sun had begun its process of illumination, but had not yet begun to warm the earth. I pushed my pile of blankets behind me. Up and over, as I move to a sitting position. I turned over on all fours, and craftily maneuvered my tri-fold mattress into its stacked daytime position. I slipped on my shoes in case of glass or fire ants, slid open the side door of Hotel Sienna, and breathed in the fresh Texas air on a spectacular clear morning.
The goal today was to join a group of cyclists on a ride to a small town to the south. I found the ride on the Bike Austin site, gauged by the description that I could keep the pace, and set my alarm to see. Mornings don't come naturally to me, but as I seek improvements to my life, I would like to consider them more. I broke two eggs into last night's quinoa and lentils, and by the time it was cooked I was fully awake. After breakfast, I unlocked my bicycle. I rode to the path along the Colorado River, stopping at a jobsite porta-john, because I live in a van.
I arrived twenty minutes early, because I can't stand running late to anything, and sitting on the ground bothers me not at all. As I sat outside a large bicycle shop on the sidewalk, I had ample time to watch the dumbness of leaf blowers pushing dust and people waiting in idling cars on a clear day with wonderful weather. I wondered which of these people with an idling Lexus was going to be on the ride. I felt actually relieved that it was none. As the departure time grew near, I saw two people on the opposite side of the parking lot with a clipboard, so I approached. I put on a mask of friendly confidence, and introduced myself with a smile. It was one guy with a road bicycle, and the ride leader was on a recumbent. And then... my bicycle. It looks a lot like a homeless guy bike. If you aren't a bicycle mechanic - and nobody ever is - you cannot detect that there is a rationale to the madness of my machine. It looks like a 40 pound behemoth from a sporting goods store circa the late 90's, with a milk crate not exactly adding credibility. (It is exactly that, but much more.)
"Have you been on a Bike Austin ride before?"
I had been on a different ride the week before, but that ride hadn't been much of a challenge.
"We require everybody to wear a helmet on our rides."
I pointed to the helmet in my crate.
"You have to wear it on your head."
I mimed placing a helmet on my head with one hand. "It's that easy" I said. "I got it."
The guy talking was on a good and reliable but not-flashy Trek road bicycle that was about ten years old. The leader of the ride was on a recumbent. I estimated that although we had never ridden together, and thus they likely assumed that I was going to either hold them up, or fail to hold on, I was probably on the correct ride pace-wise, and a recumbent usually signals that nobody is taking themselves too seriously. A fourth bicycle arrived, and it was clearly much more expensive, and the rider was closer to my age, within five years or so. We had the requisite safety talk, and we were off.
The route began with a long moderate climb. I had ridden the same section of road the day before, and many times last year. It gets a little bit steep, but nothing outrageous, and you can spin right up. The recumbent was going very slow, because... well, it is a recumbent, and the ride leader already foreshadowed that this was in the works. I didn't want to pass and fly ahead in the first mile of the ride, so I was relieved when the guy on the Trek passed and went ahead. I did not want to go off the front at all for the first half of the ride, because I didn't want anyone to think that I thought I was some hotshot, and pulling ahead early would trigger a necessary process of assassination all the way to Buda. On the other hand, I don't like to pretend that I can't climb hills at a faster pace, because doing so takes more energy, and it is also boring. The Trek guy picked a good pace, so I pulled up beside, and we introduced ourselves more properly as we spun up the hill toward south Austin.
On the handful of group rides I participated in while I was in Austin, I never mentioned that I was a bicycle mechanic, and I never mentioned that I had ridden this same exact bicycle coast to coast in 2011. I didn't mention any bicycle touring, or give any smug credentials. I didn't want my new acquaintances to think that I thought I was cool (even though I am), so I decided that I would only bring up those topics if specifically asked, which I never was, because people don't care what you are up to, they only want to talk about themselves. That's ok. Me too. Thus, I blog.
The ride was great. Buda was about 16 miles away, and we rode at a swift pace that made me work to keep up. I sweated and spun in the highest gear to stay with the road bicycles. They pulled ahead on flats, but never gained much distance. I was always able to close the gap whenever the road pointed up. Nobody proved to be the overall fastest, and the recumbent caught up whenever we stopped. On a long hill, I was passed by the expensive bicycle, but it was sapping his strength to do it, so I kept my pace the same. We went over some steep rollers closer to Buda. The road bicycles had gained some distance, so I stood on the pedals and flew up behind the expensive bicycle as he was suffering his way up a climb. I didn't pass, I just geared down and sat there, pretending to be casual as my heart rate shot up. That's what we do. We get our bicycles in a group, and we test each other's limits against our own. On a good ride, we are well matched, and everybody burns some energy and has fun. This was a good ride, and I got some sun.
We got to the rest point in Buda for convenience store refreshments, and the others voiced that they were impressed that I kept up. You're damn right, I thought. Everybody was in high spirits. We all felt good about the workout, and the wind direction was favoring an easy return.
Another thing that's great about my bicycle? If I keep up with the group, I am an absolute beast. If I don't, then I have an excuse.
The ride back to Austin maintained a fast pace for the entire distance. We'd all properly met each other now, so the return leg was that much more fun. For the first part of a ride you tend to keep some power in reserve, but as the destination comes into view, there is no longer a reason to hold back.
Riding bicycles is fun. Group riding can inspire you to push your limits. No need to be macho - there are always faster cyclists than you. The key is to find an enjoyable pace, and share the benefits of cycling with peers. Bicycles can unite you with community. From the point where you don't know which end of the helmet goes forward, to the point where you are standing on the pedals with sweat pouring off your chin - there are others at your pace who want to ride bikes. I recommend finding them. My group went out for tacos after the ride. I felt satisfied on at least a few levels.