A few Saturdays ago, back before the holidays, I had a rough day. I wasn’t going to tell you about it.
That day, my schedule from my coach said I needed to bike 50 miles. My third or fourth time that week that I was doing 50 or more miles in a day.
Biking that much each day alone is well, lonely.
So I decided to bike with the local bike shop group that rides on Saturday mornings. They were going to ride 30 miles. I thought I would ride with them, then come home and drag my guy for the other 20 miles.
I know the bike shop riders are fast. But it was the Santa pancake breakfast ride and I’ll go anywhere for pancakes.
Nervous, I was ready early. I was the first person to show up. Slowly, a cross section of men and women rode or drove up and started preparing to go. Racking water bottles, adjusting layers for the chill, checking tire pressures, they were mostly men, aged from thirty something to a couple of gentlemen in their sixties.
One man reminded me that we had met when we were both casually riding one day on the reservation. I forgot every name before we even started.
As I stand there, I’m looking at the men, the few women. They all seem to know each other. The woman standing next to me mentioned that one of the other women only rides with men —because she is so fast. More worry seeped into my belly. I think I bike more than 95% of the women in the country, I’m probably faster than that 95% too. But that other 5%, they show up for these group rides, smoking fast and making it look easy. I'm not sure I will ever fit in with this group.
Off we went. I was nervous, my heart rate was up. My breathing was constricted. I looked down at my bike computer screen. I was only going twelve or thirteen miles an hour and my body felt like I was pushing. After five miles, I pulled out of the group and got dropped. An unceremonious feeling where you watch a pack of riders two by two slide off into the distance. They slid off quickly.
I keep searching for my tribe. My tribe is my husband. He rides at least one 50 mile ride with me a week and the first hour a few days. He sends text messages on my long days, days when I go 70-85 miles, “you got this,” “I’m so proud of you.” But I keep feeling like there should be a bigger tribe. A group of other riders who ride like me. Women, or men for that matter, who might like to chat about life, kids, grandkids, love. I'd like a group that I might learn from and suffer and laugh alongside. I'd settle for talking about books, movies and good restaurants.
A few minutes after they slid away, a strong rider Alex, came back and rode with me for a while. He said, “this is a no drop ride”. He was lovely. I encouraged him to go back up to the group. I told him, I know my way, I ride this route a couple of times a month alone. Ok, I brushed him off. He caught them in a few minutes. I couldn’t have caught them.
Then my eyes leaked and my nose ran. I wasn’t crying exactly. Well, at least, not chest-heaving crying. I was desolate. My brain flashed - I’m not good enough. Even thinking it now brings tears to my eyes. I’m not good enough to keep up. Not fast enough. Not strong enough to bike across the country. Fear bubbled for the next ten miles.
I kept going. The headwind pushing at me so I was slower than normal. I kept thinking there was something wrong with me, something wrong with my bike.
And then they passed me going back the other way, flying on their way to the pancake breakfast. They were nothing but nice to me. Voices shouted out, encouraging me to turn around and ride with them. But I needed the miles, and even with sunglasses I thought they might see the tear stains streaking my cheeks. So I waved and shouted back, “Thanks, I have to do the miles.”
I got to the end of the road. Going back, the tailwind pushed me a bit. I pedaled. It got easier. I passed Santa. I passed pancakes.
I will bike across the country. I am strong, stubborn and persistent. I biked on.