22 September 2013
As the All-Paces ride was organizing itself this morning, I was trying to figure out which group to ride with. I hadn't slept well at all. Too much coffee, probably. Although I'd made it to the park without feeling draggy, I didn't know how long that would last.
Almost all of the time I choose the group where most of my friends are, regardless of pace. I arrived early enough that the lineups weren't clear. Like me, others were trying to figure out where they fit in.
I found the honest B first, then coasted over to the faster B. Of those gathered, there was only one rider whom I could trust to keep an eye out for me were I to fall off the back. The others I either didn't recognize or knew to be far faster than I am. I asked the leader how fast he'd be going. I could tell he was hedging to the lower end, and even that was more than my legs had in me this morning. "You can handle that pace," he said.
"Yeah, no," I said, and went back where I belonged, with a mass of B people, some of whom I hadn't seen on the road all year. I didn't want to "handle" a pace today. Jim was milling about, trying to decide where he'd belong. "I'm not riding with them," I said, referring to the faster group. "I have nothing to prove." When he decided a few minutes later to stick with us, I expressed my relief. "Now I won't have to feel bad when I read about some crazy-ass 20 mile-an-hour pace he did today." People laughed, but I regretted having said it right away. There was still a part of me that thought I should go faster, that I should push myself with a group of strangers.
I got talking with someone who recognized my name from the book. She's been reading this blog (hi, Phyllis!). She recognized me from pictures on Jim's blog. "Gah. I hate seeing pictures of myself. The first thing I do is look at my stomach."
"Me, too." For the record, her stomach is flat. Mine is not. (Now don't go scurrying off to Jim's blog to look at my body fat.)
I don't remember how we got to the subject of speed and racing, but I said, "I wade through other people's piss five days a week. The last thing I need is to be wading through it out here." She wholeheartedly agreed.
I'm glad I picked the group I did. First, I got to talk to a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while. Second, I met three new people. And third, we had a strong headwind on our way back.
As is usual for big rides in the flatlands, the group shattered before we even got to the rest stop. Some people had cue sheets. I was behind Chris, in a front splinter group. We were getting up in miles and close to Allentown, and we made a turn that made the most sense to get us into town. It turns out the half dozen of us were wrong and had shaved off a couple of miles, but we all met up outside of Woody's and Bruno's (a few doors away from each other) anyway.
On the way back to the park, the group fell apart again. It was a straight shot up Old York Road to Gordon, standard fare and the most direct route. I found myself pushing to catch up to the only people I could see. There were three people in front of me. I caught them just in time for the middle rider to nearly knock Phyllis off the road as he swerved out and slowed down without reason or warning. She let out a mighty scream, which probably saved her. I got mad and called out,"Watch it! You're in a pace line! You can't do crazy shit!" She pulled off the rear and thanked me. We spent the last few miles on our own, talking.
We arrived just as the picnic was gearing up. Other riders from our group trickled in, two or three at a time.
I found Cheryl. She chided me for beating her up yesterday. She said we were too fast. I had trouble parsing that; we'd all stayed together.
Then I got talking to a couple who had ridden with me long ago, back when I was still going around the big hills instead of over them. He's a racer. She's a wisp of a thing that held her own in today's headwind. She said she's trying to get a group of women together to do the Event century next year. Another woman, whom I'd met for the first time today, thought it would be a good idea. Again I had trouble parsing. "I don't think about it as men and women," I said. "Sometimes I'll be ten, fifteen miles into a ride before I realize I'm the only woman. There aren't many women riding at our level. They're either racing or breeding."
She said she wanted to get stronger and faster. That's fine, but I had to say what I always say when this comes up: "Being a faster rider doesn't make you a better person. It does increase your potential to be an asshole." It really gets on my nerves when people try to convince me that if I'm not trying to get faster then I'm not applying myself. There are other ways to be in a world of hurt at the end of a ride. I choose steeper hills and longer distances.
I never think of myself as a woman first and a rider second. I think of myself as Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds, a well-padded tank who climbs worse than she hammers, who stops to take pictures; a cynical, sarcastic, decidedly unfeminine ride leader who spends more than half her time on a 16-year-old steel bike.
Out loud, I said, "I don't think of the people I ride with as men or women," I said. "I think of them as friends." Somebody, maybe Jack H, said, "You ride with people your own pace, men or women." We were doing our best to convince her that, as I undelicately put it, "whether or not I have boobs" doesn't matter. I don't know if we convinced her, but by the end of the conversation I had recruited two new Hill Slugs. Jim passed by at this point; I drew him in and let him take over the recruiting.