Sunday, July 20, 2008

Group ride the lightning

A huge reason I was impelled to cycling was the independence it fosters. I was never a fan of driving nor much a fan other people so I tended to avoid cars and public transportation. Discovering a simple, practical and comprehensible form of transportation was at once liberating and empowering. After so long, solitary commuting evolved into solitary training. Shedding my hardened antisocial exterior-which took an entire upbringing submerged in suburban dystopia to form-was absolutely out of the question; and luckily for me that question never even arose. Riding became my own personal island where I had trained monkeys feeding me cocktails out of coconut shells and where I could sunbathe like a European without fear of making children cry.

Just last weekend my own personal pleasure island had been rocked by a force not unlike a category 5 hurricane: The Group Ride. Riding in groups is like taking a practice test, it simulates riding in a peloton without the emotional repercussions of being dropped, the financial blow of wasting money to be in a race, or even the the athleticism required to be in a real race. While constantly reassured this was a slower ride and hence I would be fine, the terror of being boxed in a cluster of roadies was paramount to any fears of athletic incompetence. Determined not to ride like a triathlete, I knew conquering this group ride thing was imperative to my development as a cyclist. I approached the ride like a child forced into eating spinach; I held my breath, grimaced, and focused on the ice cream I'd be eating soon enough.

The ride started out slowly, winding its way north and out of the city. Once into the suburbs, the group remained at roughly the same speed, which I assumed to be a warm-up of sorts, so I remained in the back waiting for something exciting to happen. While I maintain a healthily inflated self-concept in most areas of life, cycling is as of yet the only endeavor to systematically erode my wall of hubris into humble crumbles, and as such staying out of the way is nearly always the most appealing option. An hour and a few hills later I was convinced the ride would be starting at any second, and my death grip on the handlebars tightened in anticipation. Yet even later, a small group of us who had to work that day broke off to go home; the ride was officially over and I hadn't even known it began. Although the pace was relaxed, the perpetual anxiety I had been riding with and the tension in my arms was immensely fatiguing, but the most painful part may have been the three stings I endured after a wayward wasp wandered down my shirt.

I had mentally prepared to feel vulnerable, like a soft freshly molted salamander seeking camouflage on a carnivore's tongue, which was apparent in the way my jaw ached from grinding my teeth and from the numbness coming from my blood-starved pinkie figures. After arriving home I realized how overblown my fears and concerns were; I also realized that salty sweat pouring into an ever-swelling sting wound is shockingly awful. But like the first beer I drank as a teenager, this first group ride left me with nary a buzz, yet I'm inexplicably drawn to try it again.