The Width of a Tire

Eight showed up at the Scholars Inn Bakehouse for a chilly 12 noon start today.  Gary and Emily,  Joe, Cam, Sasha, Kevin, me and Lyle were there. The ride was open to all but we didn’t wait long past noon to leave the warmth of basecamp, as curious diners commented politely about our winter attire and voracious appetites.  I downed my second cup of coffee, put on hat, helmet, gloves and liners and headed out in the 38 degree day.  The sun was out but the forecast was for an overcast day, so we dressed for that.  The wind was not a real factor, but was out of the southwest, so a tailwind would be with us on the drive for home. Our counterclockwise, pre-determined loop would take us first south across 37 through  Popcorn, then around Lake Monroe in the usual fashion to Chapel and 446.

The beauty of theses winter rides is that we pair off, develop a tempo, then talk the whole way.  We mostly stayed in the small chain ring, reminiscent of my formative years on the bike when we restricted ourselves to single  gears during the ‘off season’ or rode our fixed gear bikes.   Today, with the dry roads and clear day, we rode our race bikes or cyclocross bikes.   It was good to see a couple of riders making investments in equipment for 2012 and taking their new Madone’s on a shakedown cruise!

As designed, these winter rides take into account the fact that we are all at different levels of fitness and motivation, schedules and prior commitments.  A couple of riders indicated that this was the beginning of their initial base period.  And one had ridden an hour and a half prior to meeting at the Bakehouse.  Others rode to the start from home.  That’s the sort of dedication that wins races in June.  These  courses have ‘bailout’ points.   First, Emily and Joe turned back just before Fairfax, Lyle turned at Rockport and Kevin headed home on the east side of the course.   Four of us carried on.

I hit a rough patch in the middle where I was having trouble with the tempo, so I missed a turn while Sasha and Gary pulled for an inordinate amount of time.  But that’s what team mates do when the chips are down, even in this false economy of a winter training ride.  They don’t ask for anything in return and just soldier on, cognizant of the struggle behind.  I was doing ok physically, but my thoughts  were drifting to a tragedy that I heard about this week.  A friend that I worked with at a recent job  had died unexpectedly.  A young man really, just 50 years old, a little overweight and with some of the associated issues that come with that.  It was a high stress corporate role and he had been part of a downsizing a while ago.  We had stayed in touch in the time that intervened and often talked about his fitness program and the great strides that he was making on his bike this Fall. He wasn’t an athlete but I felt a sense of pride that I had helped him shift his thinking to fitness, not by  words but by action.  I thought about how fragile our ride is while were here.  Our lives in the balance by no more than the width of a tire.  What we choose to do with that time will be our legacy.

It’s remarkable really, this thing that we do.  This sport that we have chosen.  The discipline that we
have.  The importance that we place on tradition and performance as we mark our place in the peloton.  There’s room for us all for a short while and we share a common thread and often hang on by it.  But it begins with participation and dedication, every day.  The right to ride with this group is earned and it’s best initiated this time of year-at that crossroads where physiology and psychology intersect and the gap between elite and beginner is at its closest point.  You would benefit from these rides in ways that aren’t always apparent on the surface.

We arrived at 446 with about 15 miles to go and the tailwind that seemed insignificant a couple of hours ago now was a welcome addition and added to our motivation.  The cloud cover was also breaking up and we were warmed, if that’s possible, by the sun, our shadows casting long images on the road.  Refueled and invigorated by these small improvements, we talked about the season and the possibilities that we’ll have, the victories that we’re surely to share and the camaraderie that makes it all worthwhile.