I’ve been riding my road bike for three seasons now (March through October, with a few rides in the winter). My teacher is a super-experienced rider who is all about riding with a consistent cadence, or keeping a consistent RPM, or put one more way, keeping your legs moving at the same rate whether on flat ground or up a hill. In three years, he’s taught me how to keep a consistent pace of 16 mph on every ride. That’s not too shabby.
It’s not phenomenal either.
The guys riding the Tour de France this year are riding at a pace of about 30 mph, which is obviously almost double what I usually do, and they ride 100 miles plus every day for three weeks and are climbing mountains over half the time. So, I’m kind of not that great at riding my bike.
Today, I rode with a group of about 12-15 other riders. Most had more experience than me (most were 50 to 65 years old), and a couple had way less experience than me at riding. ALL OF THEM WERE STRONGER THAN ME. Mentally, physically, psychologically (I think that’s mentally just put another way). My friend Nick told me that these guys were going to try to keep a 20mph pace and go about 40 to 50 miles. I said, “I’ll keep up as long as I can”. Self-defeating before I even started.
As we were riding in two synchronized lines, with the leader of the pack pealing off every so often and drifting to the back of the line and so on, I said to the woman riding next to me, “I don’t usually ride like this. I like riding alone. I can’t think in this line. I just have to keep looking at the tire in front of me. If I don’t, I’m screwed.” I realized how dangerous my typical thoughts about God, work, marriage, how glad I am to be outside, would be to me on this ride. Get lost in your thoughts, get lost on the road.
And I did.
It happened when we hit some gravel as we starting ascending a hill at about 8 miles. I was getting pelted in the face with small rocks and lost my concentration. The group went on without me, and I was left behind, no one to break the wind for me, no tire to look at, just a large group of experienced riders pulling further and further ahead. I felt like the 4’11” bench-warmer on the Broadmoor Junior High basketball team in 7th grade all over again. Too small, too weak, not good enough. None of this was true, but it became true as I went the next two miles falling further behind the group.
That’s thankfully not the end of the story. Even though I was (one of) the weak links on this ride, the group waited for me (and the two others who also fell off the line). For the next 30 miles I stayed with the group, pulling at mostly 20 to 26mph the whole way, uphill or down.
It was the most difficult and humbling 43 mile ride I’ve ever been on. I’ve gone 100. I’ve ridden 56 alone. But this was harder, because everyone else WAS stronger than me. I had to fight the inner demons (the BLERTCH) that kept telling me that I was incapable of riding with these old dudes. And, for the first time in my life, I kept up. I am still that too-short junior high boy, in so many ways, but today I hung with the big boys. At 19.5mph over 43 miles.
Beaten. Not defeated.