I’d been through a stretch where I didn’t really like any of my Sitting Ins, then this one came out nowhere. I still wonder if I should have put that “could” at the end in italics or not.

I was second-to-last up the backside of Second Street the other day. The one rider behind me, Stephanie, just started riding with us. Just started riding. I made sure not to look back over my shoulder for her. I sat most of the way, getting back on the saddle and pushing at the pedals and some part of me happy for the feeling of my lowest gear rolling over on me like a boulder.

A few days later we did Vera Cruz, just trying to fit the lunch ride in between storm clouds, and I took my pull on the false flat with Kim and, maybe because she is so smooth, I felt wobbly. Kim and I popped over the little rise at the railroad tracks and went all the way to the top of the hill that from the front side is nothing and from the back is one of our weekly miseries, then we swung off and as I drifted backward I asked some of the people who’d been behind me and they said I wasn’t wobbly but that didn’t change the truth that I’d felt wobbly; even if I rode okay I was having to do more to ride okay, and that is one of the cruel glories of cycling, that when your form is bad and you have less energy than ever you end up having to burn more of it.

Stephanie wasn’t on the ride, but Jeremy was, who’s basically checked out on us this season and looks lumpy again, and I said to him, “Don’t drop me today,” and he thought I was kidding.

The air was cool against us though the day was hot, and the rain hung over us but wouldn’t fall, and there I was in the pack not being wobbly and not getting dropped and trying like hell not to look like I was trying like hell. We shooshed through the slack curves of the best part of whatever the road is that winds east from Vera Cruz — it changes names three or four times along its length — all of us knowing the route so well we rode its twists and bumps and holes and cambers with an ease somewhere beyond anticipation or trust or even, really, knowledge. It is beautiful to be a cyclist among cyclists who can ride the road unknowing.

We streamed down Lanark and got the green light and curved right onto Hopewell which, whether it is halfway or not feels like the turn of the Vera Cruz ride — of such oddities are the personalities of each of our rides born — and Yozell and someone else I cannot remember were in front. I was behind Yozell and the wind was in his face and he was riding easy so when the stupid, stupid sprint for the stop sign came I let a gap open and accelerated into it and sheered left just before I’d have rammed his rear wheel and dropped the chain down the cog and, just like on Second Street the other day, never looked back.

This sprint, I have to tell you, the Spring Street Sprint, is abysmal in many ways. The finish line for it is a four-way stop. Which is in front of an elementary school. Which has recess at the time our ride generally passes. I once so badly wanted to beat a guy visiting us from Jamis that I passed a stopped school bus to take the win. There is no offsetting good to counter this sprint’s wrongness, or any argument to be made for its continuation, which is maybe why we keep doing it. Worse, the winner gets to decide the pack’s fate: Go straight for the flatter route home, or turn left and climb Spring. So when you are tired, paradoxically, you must sprint as hard as you can to ensure you get to do an easy ride.

Yozell had laughed when I went past him, so I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to chase me. No one else back there who would bother to chase me knew how to jump. I did the thing where you sit up a little and click up the cog and spin a little more and I could hear wheels whirling furiously against pavement behind me but I’d done this sprint so many times I knew I had it. I hadn’t even had to kill myself. I coasted across.

And without knowing I was going to do it, I stuck my left arm out. We were climbing Spring.

“Oh, come on,” someone behind me said. Someone else groaned and someone said something like, “What’s the frigging point of this today?” In the confusion and complaining of the turn, Jeff, who would later claim he had to get back for a meeting — though by the time everyone’s in the parking lot, doing Spring with the group can be just as fast as riding back alone — slipped away onto the flat route.

I was last.

For awhile Jeremy rode beside me, then just ahead of me overlapping his back wheel with my front, trying to talk me up the hill but I think he got bored and just finally rode ahead, or maybe he couldn’t take it seeing me like that after all those years I’d paced him up hills, or maybe he just wanted to drop me because he’s a cyclist.

When I was alone, I turned my head and took a long, long look behind me. There was nobody to catch me. A few times I’d done Spring when nobody could catch me. I wondered if I’d done the sprint just to remember this. Then I no longer wondered anything at all.


Originally published in the June 15, 2009 Sitting In