To stay with the group, Bobby and I had already crossed five or six fault lines just before they split wide open, one or the other of us each time sensing something in the clicking gears, and changing cadences, and shouts, and hushes, and comportments of the pack mysterious but real to us.
The two of us have a complicated history, shouldn’t be friendly, but in this season we find ourselves about the same speed, and we fill space and block wind for each other so often that there is no way around the fact that we have become riding allies.
He surged with a smooth pop of power to the pedals that has something to do with force more than spin, a trick I do not possess. I can answer only by pitching forward, low and off my saddle, as if I had tried to leap onto the back of the rider in front of me but had been unable to break free of my bike. We were moving faster than the people on either side of us when the gap started to open ahead, and we rode right across it, and everyone who’d been with us or behind us was gone. We sat for a few seconds, the pack maybe 30 now, and going about that speed, too, then heeding no impression I could clearly identify, I abandoned the comfort of the draft we were in and swung out to the left and accelerated as I went sideways. As soon as my handlebar passed that of the guy who just a few seconds ago had been two riders directly in front of me, I squeezed over into him and with my bar ahead of his he yielded and slid back and I took his spot. Bobby appeared beside me, and just as I noticed him, there came that eerie, backward-tearing feeling of the end of the group ripping away, and sure enough when I looked back the guys whose drafts we’d abandoned had dropped.
When the pace eased, I laid my hands palm down over the hoods and lowered my chest toward the stem, stretching out along as much of the length of my bike as I could manage, resting. I enjoyed some breaths.
Bobby had raced pro for a time, and, as with just about anyone who has done so or, really, as with anyone who’s made of cycling a full and long passion, the particulars of his riding remain inscrutable to me. I can sometimes compensate for things he does, like responding to his glide forward with my own ungainly bound, but I could never do something like materialize in a pack beside him, out of nowhere, the way he’d just done. I cut a look over at him, to see if he was resting, how he was resting, what I might learn in either case.
That was when two of the three guys in front of us, the riders we were drafting, dove out of the pack, seesawing one side of their handlebars down toward the road then the other, and I heard the ratchet of gears, and as I thought, “there they go,” there they went, past some rift they had anticipated and we had not.
We’d been dropped, along with a few other guys who’d been even farther ahead. We all chased for awhile, because you do. Somewhere in there, once we were sitting up and rolling it in, I said to Bobby, “I thought, ‘There it goes.'”
He said, “Yeah. Me, too. If you’re thinking it, you’re already too late, you know?”
We went on down the road, and I said, “Why’d we miss it? We made the others.”
Bobby said, “Sometimes you just don’t ride it right.” He shrugged.
I feel great on a bike these days. I’m the lightest I’ve been in seven years. There’s an ease in my stroke I’d been missing for so long I barely knew to miss it. But I’m just not riding it right lately. I’d watched that gap open. On a lunch ride, I chose the wrong gear for the big sprint to the peak of Corning. I dropped a bottle the other day. Wheeling my bike through the house last week, I smudged a wall with the tire.
We rode along, and I shrugged but it was not right, either, was nothing like his, was just one more imitation of the inscrutable real thing.
IX In the Fog XI You Ride Like You
Originally published in Bicycling magazine, June 2012