Pack. We’re called a cycling pack. I’ve written before, probably more than once, how I love that description.

I wanted to have a big week of riding, so the other day I got up at 4:50 a.m. and, with my buttcheeks still planted on the side of the bed, started pulling on the bibshorts I’d laid right there on the floor the night before. I was trying to be quiet, but I woke up Beth, and she sighed an obscenity at me and rolled over. I put my undershirt on.

Socks, a jacket, tube-and-air, and a twenty-dollar bill in a sandwich bag were out on the kitchen island. My filled bottles were on the counter by the door to the utility room, through which were my winter boots, heavy gloves, and a wool cap. Through another door was my bike, tires primed the night before, and already on the floor pointed toward the outside door. When my nephew had been over the night before for dinner, and I’d set up everything and told him that it was important to point the bike toward the door, he’d laughed at me.

It was not cold but frigid. It was 21 degrees, and there was a fifteen-or-so-mile-per-hour headwind, and I started my ride downhill, and it was pitch, deathly, deep-hole-you-got-buried-alive-in dark. My entire body squinched together, as if I were a puppet and someone were pulling all my strings up out of my head.

I panted against the iciness of the air, and cursed myself, and felt sorry for myself and mad at myself. I had been riding maybe five minutes. I told myself if I rode 15 minutes out I could turn around and I’d have a half-hour ride finished. After fifteen minutes, my fingers were just about numb, so I told myself if I could make it another five minutes out, my fingers would stop feeling anything, stop hurting, and I could ride on another 30 before I had to turn back. When my fingers went dead, I told myself I’d gone so far I might as well ride on out all the way to Kutztown, to the Frying Dutchman, where I could reward myself with a doughnut. I neglected to tell myself that the place was closed on Mondays, and I don’t think that was an accident.

The sun came up, eventually, and I turned out of the headwind, and I had a great ride because they always are. But that awful bleak freezing part of the morning stayed with me, and when I got to work I was talking about it and I said to someone, Brad, I think, “You know—how when it’s colder because it’s so dark and darker because it’s so cold and all you want is for it to end anyway it can.”

“Oh, yeah,” Brad said. “That.”

Later, I mentioned that I’d pointed my bike toward the door, and the couple people I was talking to didn’t laugh.  They nodded.

And as the day went on from there and we all told each about the riding we’d done, out that morning or on a trainer or in a gym or on the lunch ride, or right before a meeting because noon had been impossible, or later that day racing the sunset home, I noticed that every time something absolutely insane was being described, most of the rest of us would nod our heads in recognition, or say, “Oh, yeah, like that,” or share some related experience.

My whole life, I never belonged to anything, not really, no Boy Scouts, no community group, no choir, no scholastic club or sports team, no alumni association, never felt part of my family growing up, lost track of friends all the time.

I was out on another ride, I was trying to explain to someone what it meant to me to belong to such a thing, this pack, but I was doing a poor job of it—was embarrassed, actually, and stumbling all over with the words.

Guy I was riding with said, “Oh yeah. That.”

Originally published in The Selection, March 2, 2012