I don’t do epic rides.
I don’t have legs of steel.
I don’t have a stomach of anger.
I like to do fun rides, with people I enjoy. Sometimes, I hammer. Sometimes, I descend well and manage to keep my hands off the brakes. Sometimes, I chat along with other riders and am sociable. Sometimes, I get dropped like a rock on climbs — though I think those instances are fewer and further between than they were a year ago; than they were in April or May, even.
I like to see new places, or just find new ways around familiar places.
I like to learn from my rides: because I still have a lot to learn about cycling, and about myself as a cyclist.
I like to challenge myself, and I try not to get hung up on the fact that what I consider “challenging” is too easy for many of my cycling friends, and too hard for some of my friends. I seem to exist in this perpetual ‘between’ phase: on the verge of dropping one pace group, but not fast or strong enough to keep up with the next-fastest group.
On Sunday, I rode the middle distance on the Lake Nockamixon Century. I almost signed up for the full century and hoo boy, was I glad I stuck to the 67-mile route. The turnout was relatively light, so I spent a lot of time alone on pretty, lightly-traveled roads around Lake Nockamixon. I learned something important about myself during the first third of the ride: if left to my own devices, I dawdle. I look around. I daydream. I soft pedal, taking it all in. I don’t push myself.
(I also learned [again] that I’m not smart or attentive enough to use a sportswatch that doesn’t have an auto-pause feature; I lost almost four miles from the record of my ride, including a challenging climb, simply because I paused the watch and forgot to tell it to resume.)
At some point near the first rest stop, a couple of guys caught up to and passed me. Suddenly, I had something to chase: I had a carrot. I decided that I was going to keep those guys in sight for as long as I could after the rest stop. I had to push to do that; sometimes, I caught up to them — and then they would drop me on the next climb. I’d catch them after cresting, and then they’d drop me again. Catch and release, catch and release, catch and release. Until we spent a few miles on the wide shoulder of the relatively-flat route 563, and I found my hammers. One of the guys rolled into the rest stop shortly after me and said, “You set a nice pace out there,” and my day was made.
Last night, I decided to try out a club ride I haven’t done before. From the description listed on our club’s Meetup page, it didn’t seem to have too much climbing; in fact, looking at my history on Strava, it had less total climbing than my typical Monday night ride. But, oh, the climbing we did! It seemed like it was all concentrated in a few steep, long hills. Between the hills, the group sped down a mix of deserted country roads, farm lanes, park drives and even a partially-gravel (or just really poorly maintained) lane. To keep up with their pace, I had to work harder on the flats than I do with my other rides, and take better advantage of downhills.
In case this hasn’t come across well so far: I am not the strongest climber. I got schooled. I suffered. On one hill, my legs were screaming and I was so very, very tempted to put a foot down, tempted to walk the last part of the hill, but damnit, no one else was and you better believe I wasn’t going to be be the only one who couldn’t crest this [allthebadwords] hill. And my legs are still screaming and I’m panting for breath but, hey, I just realized that I don’t feel like my heart is going to explode out of my chest, I don’t feel my heartbeat reverberating all the way through my head, so maybe my legs are just being a pair of little crybabies and I should ignore them.
But: holy shit, I want to be done climbing this hill.
But: the only way to be done climbing is to finish the climb. So my legs curse me and I tell myself the hill just leveled out a little bit, so I can spin a little faster in this-here-granny-gear and I can recover a tiny bit, I tell myself that whether there’s a discernible change in the grade or not, and I mentally flog myself to the top of the hill.
And at the end of the ride, I have an endorphin high and a grin so wide it’s practically unhinged.
I learned I need to step out of my comfort zone at least once in a while, and ride with people who challenge me, on roads I don’t know.
Onward and upward.