“You’ve really been pouring it on, huh?” Jeremy said, when we met up at RSC a few weeks ago.
It was the week I did my first RSC group ride, which was followed up mid-week with another lesson in how to close [gaps] with Geoff and Dave N. The next day, we were back in Lexington for a 60-ish mile ride out to Harvard. Easy pace, Jeremy had promised, so I - apparently too trusting for my own good - had agreed.
Maybe it was the coffee cupping we did before taking off [a Stumptown blend via a french press and as a pourover], but we started out at Geoff and Dave’s usual [easy] pace of 19mph. “I think we got outvoted on the pace,” Jeremy said to me as I alternated between scrambling in my little ring and struggling in the big one. We weren’t even 30 minutes into the ride and my legs were not cooperating. “But Geoff has to turn off at some point, then we can take over,” Jeremy added, providing some hope of relief. That didn’t, however, keep me from feeling like the fat kid in gym class.
Ah, the memories of junior high. In reality, though I’ve never been obese, I’ve always been the awkward, invisible one. In gym class, I consistently got picked next-to-last in dodgeball [adding insult to injury by simultaneously depriving me of “last pick” status]. I was never a completely useless teammate, but one that obviously was not going to last long in the game.
My classmates weren’t wrong to think so: I couldn’t run fast or far, couldn’t throw or catch a ball to save my life, and generally had little interest in physical exertion. I was never an athlete, had never possessed the agility and strength to claim to be one, and ditched gym class for art class as soon as I was permitted to do so. And as if to compensate for my lack of endurance, I picked up smoking in college. “Me? Run?,” I’d say, as a cigarette dangled from my lips. I’d take a big drag then; the thought of running and/or the three minute walk to my destination having winded me, necessitating another cigarette. I survived a part of college on carcinogens and caffeine as muscles atrophied. The former, ironcially, eventually showing me that I had more lung capacity than I had previously thought.
I never tired of coating my lungs in tar, but called it quits when I started to get serious about cycling. Breathing [oxygen] having become a priority, it dawned on me that my lungs might not feel like exploding if I wasn’t sucking on a cigarette at the end of every ride. I shared this revelation with my sister soon after a doctor diagnosed her with asthma. “Yeah, that’s good, I should quit. I’m having trouble breathing, too,” she said, exhaling smoke on the other end of the phone line.
The theory panned out for both of us, but still lacking athleticism, I knew I had a lot to learn on the bike and a lot of bad habits to shed. The “But I’m Not An Athlete” excuse worked for a while, buying me time to build some legs before joining group rides, but like any excuse, it started to get lame. Which is why I fell victim so easily to Dave N.’s happy cajoling into a RSC ride, and to Jeremy’s plan to ride to Harvard that day. No better way to pour on the miles than with people who can make me ride so hard my eyes bug out of their sockets.
Which is exactly what happened until Geoff peeled off. The pace eased up, then, but we had about 50 more miles to go and two decent hills to climb. We swapped jokes and took turns complaining until the climbs got to our legs and all we could do was spin [as Jeremy and I watched Dave N. become a small black and white speck up ahead of us]. Between climbs we shared a Coke and shoved some food down before attempting the longest climb I’ve ever done. I remember only two things from that climb and they happened at the same time: I ran out of gears and Jeremy and I mutually fell silent.
But at the end was the infamous Harvard General Store. We had a makeshift lunch, filled our water bottles, and just to make it a day, did the extra Fruitlands loop. It tacked on more climbing that I expected, and gasping for air, I wished I hadn't smoked so much back in college [and, okay, law school]. But then we got to the top. The landscape spread out before us in the bright, warm sun and the air felt that much cleaner. Most of the 2500+ feet of climbing done, I felt a little pro. Epic, even. And yeah, if a pack of cigarettes would have survived in my jersey pocket, I might have pulled one out, Cipo style.
But epic rides require that at least 30% of it consist of gravel. So Dave N. led the way through some sandy dirt and gravel, the soft surface sinking a little under my skittish tire. I slowed down, dropping a few dozen feet behind Jeremy, unfamiliar with anything that isn't somewhat smooth asphalt. Dave N. and Jeremy smoothly skipped through the uneven path, the sun shimmering through the trees on both sides of us. And it occurred to me that sometimes, when it's not dodgeball, maybe, it’s kind of fun to be [next-to-] last in line.
We stopped on something smoother for a while, before that turned again to gravel, then into a small climb, and an uncertain descent. And as if to replace those mid/post-ride cigarettes I used to suck on, we even stopped for raspberry lime rickeys in Concord before taking the flat way home.
And because we
all have that inner fat kid in us are so pro, we poured it on when we got back to RSC. Except this time, it wasn’t miles on legs, but Stumptown’s Hair Bender espresso on Rancatore’s vanilla ice cream. Affogatos for the weary legged, even if not of the athletic variety. A shot of delicious for the ride home.
...And yeah, it was better than any post-whatever cigarette.