We had a nice ride on Sunday afternoon. A small group met at the Scholars Inn Bakehouse downtown for a Fall training ride. It seemed way colder than it was despite a 50 degree reading on my window thermometer. The Northeast wind had already stretched out the American flag at the courthouse so tight that you could count all of the stripes. I came in to town on the bike from the North and the tailwind had the same effect on me as a motorpacing behind my Suzuki 800 Intruder. But I was still cold, zipping up my winter jacket tight around my neck.
The group at the Bakehouse was fairly homogenous; about 10 of us, mostly racers, some high-level recreational riders (capable of riding with anyone in town), various uniforms represented. I knew almost everyone there. But one rider stood out. A young college kid from Bloomington in a Solar jersey had joined us. Now, I can tell you that I have gone on many, many rides where there’s a group – plus one. And usually, the ‘one’ becomes a liability before too long. But, you know what, the kid had read about the ride on Bloomington VeloNews and had taken the trouble to come on out, so let’s give him a chance. Besides, I would never suggest that someone not be included. It wouldn’t be gracious; besides, the bike is a great delineator of skill and endurance! Not that today’s ride was going to be difficult- it wasn’t. My only interest was the welfare of the young man in question. Also, he was incredulously underdressed in a short sleeved jersey and shorts.
Before we left for the ride I did a quick trip to the few other haunts in town where riders congregate to see if I could drum up any more business in the ‘misery loves company’ department. When I returned, I chatted casually to the student. His bike seemed like a late model but I noticed he didn’t have a front derailleur and his chain was on the large chainring with no option to shift! At that point I offered up a question to the young man, “Do you have a spare and a pump?” as none were evident on his person. “No,” was the reply. “Then,” says I, “Do you have a cell phone?” “Yes,” he answered. I felt only slightly better about the situation. If you know me, then you know that I also sail small boats. Sailors have a responsibility-a code actually- that they must answer a ship’s distress signal, even during a race, or regatta where it means turning back. Evolution may have skipped this trait with cyclists as almost always the opposite is true. But today was just a Fall training ride. Right?
So off we went at the designated hour and minute. We were heading North, then Easterly on Bottom Road and through Paragon. I was riding along early in the ride, chatting with Gary, when the young man in question dropped his chain as if on schedule! An inauspicious beginning. So Gary stays with the youngster while I steam to the front and tell the leaders at the time (Geraint and Dave) to settle down until they catch back on. They rejoined us within a few minutes. Okay. Were back together. Then, on our descent onto the fields of Bottom Rd. a few miles later, in a really bumpy section, his chain pops off again! Now, he’s alone back there. I slow down and then soft pedal for minutes, waiting and watching the tight group disappear ahead. I keep looking back, but it’s taking a long time, longer than it should to put a chain on. It’s just as well I thought. He had the good sense to turn around and head home. As I began to turn back toward the group, steeling myself for a heroic solo chase, I saw a small figure out of the corner of my eye bursting onto the flat section of the road and heading toward me. Here he comes! I don’t believe it! A part of me was angry, but nonetheless a small smile passed my lips as I met the kid and pulled him back to the group.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, chatty even, as we took our turns at the front, two by two, on these country roads that meander through the farms and hills into the Morgan-Monroe state forest then home. A couple of riders were turning back about three quarters of the way through the ride. I asked the young cyclist if he wanted to cut it short, knowing that we had another hour in the saddle ahead of us. “No,” he said, “I’ll finish with the group.” An admirable trait, I thought. Good for you! I may have answered in a similar way years ago as a young man. Later, we were heading home on Old 37 South with the same tailwind I mentioned earlier, barreling along in our bigger gears. We had the chance to regroup briefly on our roll up on the flats near Firehouse hill, so I asked the young man for his name. “Mike,” he said. “Hi, good to meet you.” And then, just a moment later, without warning, he stood up on the pedals and in his big chainring, dropped us on the climb! Just rode away from us! Good for you, I thought, good for you, as he disappeared up the climb.