A big part of the fun of riding is the experience of meeting others, and chasing the ones that you didn't meet.
I'm lucky enough to live within a mile of a popular Monday evening bike ride, and with the temps JUST right and homework already done with the kiddos – it was a good day to give it a shot. I suited up – even pulling out the terrifically rancid retro jersey for the first time since probably '06 – and made my way up the road to the ride start.
I met a couple of nice folks that were out for the first time that year and one gal that was on her first group ride EVER. That was cool to see. In attendance were some ole faves – the usual suspects like DK and Nan and Foster, Gene, and a bunch-a others that I recognized but didn't have names for… one, though, stood out: Jamie, I think, from east of town--- at least, back in the day he'd show at the Grandview rides, and more memories popped up of the Tour de Shawnee "long course" days of '02 and '03; a strong, *strong* rider. It was a BIG group… which isn't saying much since I usually ride alone, and generally consider 12-15 people to be a "big group". I need to get out more.
I love the energy at the start of a ride – even a casual one like this one. Laid back, but still with excellent ride guidelines laid out by the leader for the new riders, and even introductions around the group…including the introduction of another "Keith" in the group, riding a really nice looking Panasonic. You simply don't see too many of those anymore. It must be the name… something deep in the fates that leads people of our name to steel and lugs, and classic geometries. Ok, it's probably just a terrific coincidence, like November 5th, 1955 being the space-time center of the universe.
I started out with low expectations of myself. After finally figuring out the last few tweaks of my personal fit and being able to ride pain free for a couple weeks now, I've been carefully spinning and looking for opportunities to begin ramping up intensity and mileage again. Wouldn't necessarily happen tonight, with such a short course – but, hey, it's "butt time".
The ride start was slightly staggered, with the fast bunch rolling out about a minute ahead of the rest of the riders. Another thing I like about the group ride…. The "bike show" of it: a parade of really cool equipment that I sell and service, but can't personally afford yet. I may walk that line of knuckle-dragger, lugged-steel, crotchet-back gloves and tan sidewalls… but, SRAM Red and Zipp 404s on a Tarmac SL3 still give me the same goose-bumps that a Ferrari 599 does, or the new Caddy CTS-V, or a Porsche GT3-RS. Sure, sure… it's not about the bike. In the same way that I'd climb just as fast on an SL3 as I do on the Kogs, I'd probably put that Ferrari in the shrubs just as fast as I'd stuff the van in a hot corner… but, OH… for the chance. Something about the wicked headwind that awaited us at the turnaround made the prospect of 404's, no fenders, and an aero helmet kinda "necessary".
I went out with the slow group – but quickly found myself out front for the first pull of the evening… which was kinda cheating since we had a wicked tailwind on the outbound. A couple random riders popped out of residential, perfectly timed with our groups passing – so even with the large number of riders we had at the parking lot, we were gathering riders along the way, too. As we worked south, I jockeyed a little with a few riders, dove into the first roundabout, and found myself at Ridgeview. A few hills later, and I found a target on the road: a bright yellow vest, maybe ¾ mile distant.
If nothing else, it was time to test the body a little – just to see if the trials of the last month were finally to rest. First sign of a twinge, back off. So, I shifted once, and settled into a maintainable rhythm on the gentle rollers of Ridgeview road. So far, so good… a hint of freewheel from behind me, and I completely forget it's a casual ride. Those old, quiet embers that have been lying in the bottom of the fire pit for months and months… there is a hint of heat. It's almost automatic.
Playing on the analogy, fire is good… but it can get out of control. I've learned this all too often. Open up the dampers too far, and you'll be out of wood in a heartbeat. I've got to ramp back up slowly, no matter how much I want to swing open the taps and see where the edge is. Lots of year left… make sure the legs are there.
Cows. Train horns to the west. The golden sunshine. Birds. What a NICE evening! Tempering the fire, I remind myself that this is just a casual ride. The fast group… gone. But, for some reason that yellow flash that I was catching up the road, every once in a while, was taunting me. The taps open a little farther… feels good.
I'm passed from behind on a flat… but a hill comes, and I answer back. The climb opens up and steadies towards 199th street, past the high school. Still feeling good… almost "strong". Not even a glimmer of discord… tendons, ligaments, joints, muscles… all seeming to line up and fire without protest. I can almost forget and just PUSH. 199th comes, and the yellow vest in the distance is a touch closer.
This is normally the turn east… but I take the longer course, and south head towards 207th (not realizing that the actual long course heads west to Woodland Road first). 207th Street… Looking south over the finally-green fields and big dream-houses east of Spring Hill, I feel a little tightness in my right leg, below the knee on the outside of the shin….but that's it… a ½ mile, and it fades – even feels like it releases – and my shadow on the road ahead of me is an image of pistonic spinning action… no hip rocking, good posture… feels right… looks right…. Push harder… I reach Renner, and I am half-tempted to head straight onto the gravel and make my own route back… but the personal test of reeling in that yellow vest calls again. Rising the next hill, he's a tiny bit closer still. Push….
That turn north reminds me how I got south so quickly… blam, headwind. Personal goal now: keep it up. No numbers… no idea what my outbound average is, don't care… just "keep it up". The echo of that tailing freewheel was there again at 199th, and at 207th…. Try to hold it off. Don't turn around…. Don't think… push. For the first time in forever I wasn't preoccupied with cleats, or knees, or anything… that felt nice.
After transitioning from Renner to 199th and then Lackman, the target was close enough to touch… but my small goal of reeling him in before 191st was just out of reach. Ended up being Gene, which was cool – we talked for a bit, and rolled right up on the second group of riders just as they were pulling out of the fire station. That fire simply wouldn't go out, though… for some reason I was very motivated to keep up the tempo into the wind and see if the legs would scream. One rider broke off and up the road towards the big downhill on Lackman, and I gave chase – sitting on his wheel for a little bit on the last part of the climb, right as four riders from the fast group caught us up. Downhill fever, even into the wind it was a rush.
Loosely organized, the pack really didn't' get together by the time we reached 183rd street – but, I wasn't really looking for a pack anyways. Reluctantly, but still focused on testing myself, I pushed a bit harder and started up the road on my own. I checked myself… if I saw shadows on my six, I'd take my turn and pull off. If not, it's on me – more test for the "new" legs. I mashed into the wind, uphill, towards 175th street, crossed, and made my way to 167th – and upon turning, there was nobody behind me. Confident they'd turned at 175th, I had a bit of an invisible challenge on my hands to try and beat them to the re-joining roundabout at Mur-Len – but the effort was taking its toll. I came up short by maybe ¼ mile… as I approached the intersection, I watched as they rolled through. And, somehow, my tempo increased.
I reeled up one rider, but the other four were working together seamlessly. The fire was re-stoked… but I just didn't have enough saddle time to pull it off, and the red traffic light at 159th clinched it. While the immediate and tangible victory of latching back on to that group was out of reach, I was still smiling. No matter where the motivation was coming from, the body – finally – was in agreement.
Part of the magic of the group ride is the huge variance in ride experience.
Those faster riders… it was just another fast ride (at least from my vantage point), or maybe even a cool down from weekend racing. For that gal that was riding her first group ride ever, the experience was of personal bests, a new mileage frontier shattered, and beating the sunset. For others, it was something different. Each riders internal dialogue, their firsts, the new beginnings, last ride before "x", seeing good friends, or even just justifying the burger and beer afterwards… cycling is something different for everyone. Everyone there last night has a different story - some spoken, some held.
No, it's not 100 miles at that pace... not yet.
...but, somehow, I feel like I'm "back".