I love the moment when you realize you’re going to do a ride you shouldn’t.
“Going easy today?” said Andrew as we were all in the locker room, pulling on undershirts, pulling up bibs, rolling down socks to oil the Achilles.
I said, “I hope so.”
Nods all around, from Brad and Matt and Peter and some others.
The day before, we’d tried out a few new hills at lunch and, intoxicated by the warmth of what should have been frigid February air, had gone on to visit a few of our favorite old climbs, too. When we’d gotten back, we’d walked wobble-legged into one of our regular weekly meetings. And for the rest of the day, those of us who’d done the ride and contested the town-line sprints and king-of-the-mountain peaks or stubbornly refused to let go of the the back of the bunch had commiserated with each other in that ecstatic misery a great ride brings on.
“My legs are buzzing.”
“I’m thinking about selling my bike.”
“Wasn’t that great?”
It had been great, and we’d paid greatly — all of us. Which meant today was going to be an easy day, no doubt. That’s why we’d all shown up: We knew no one among us would call a hard route, that we could recover, that we’d spin, that we’d feel fresher finishing the ride than we had starting it.
The way it works, calling the lunch ride, is that you can’t do it in locker room, or even in the bike room, or too soon after we all start to gather out in the parking lot. There must be some sort of quorum, though no one could say mathematically exactly what that was. We all just know when the time has come to call the route. And who among us has the option. Some days, it’s someone’s birthday, and that person gets to choose. Sometimes there are people who just haven’t picked in a while, and they decide. Someone might need to get back for a meeting, and we’ll accommodate that. If a regular hasn’t been able to show up for some stretch of time, we grant the choice of the day’s ride to that person.
Bart was there. He’d been traveling, a lot, had been injured before that, and traveling before that, and we’d missed him. He’s a foundation of the lunch ride here, the only one among us who has a route named after him.
We finished our meditative, pre-ride circles around the parking lot, those of us who did that, and we finished waiting for the people who’d had trouble with their shoe buckles or the floor pump or whatever else was going on, and for the people who didn’t work at Rodale but rolled in every day at noon knowing they could find a ride. And we all looked at Bart.
“How about Stonesthrow?” he said, “with that extra loop on Black River thrown in at the end?”
I happened to be standing directly across from Brad, and we looked at each other, and I saw on his face the same blend of sick smirking frowning grimacing smile that must have been on mine. Stonesthrow is one of our climbing routes.
“Sure,” I said.
Brad shrugged, and someone else said, “Why not?” and someone with a “yeah,” and another “okay,” and we clicked in and pedaled off to destroy our legs.
You do the ride. I don’t know where this comes from, this asinine creed, but I know it is real and important to us for some reason. If you show up, you’re as much as saying out loud that you’re going to do whatever ride is called. If you want to ride your own ride, rest or do intervals or openers or follow some other prescription that you’re worried you won’t be able to fold into the ride proper, you don’t show. Or you clip in then, as everyone is gathering for the call, you keep pedaling and give a little wave and say, “I’m going on,” and go out and do your specific ride. But if you listen to the call, you’re in.
This makes no sense at all. This must be detrimental, at times, to our fitness. There is no honor in this strange allegiance to an unspoken ideal. I can’t defend it or explain it. I guess that’s why it’s so powerful.
Stonesthrow was awful.
I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
Originally published in The Selection, February 24, 2012