Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Bicycle Ride

I had my first bike ride in twenty years yesterday.  Two days earlier, one of the young engineers at work encouraged me to come with them.  So I dragged my dusty bike out from the garage, brushed off the spider egg sacks, and slid it into the back of my car along with a pump to inflate the tires, which were flat.

I had tossed out all my old bike shorts years ago.  I had hopelessly out grown them anyway.  So I would have to wear regular, un-padded pants.  Luckily, I found my gloves and shoes.  (They're special shoes that grip the pedals better.)  And I chose my wife's helmet over my own, which had deteriorated.
About fifteen minutes before lunch time, I managed to inflate the tires.  They protested with a few alarming popping sounds as the bead settled into the rim.  Although they're rated at 90psi, I decided to stop at 70.  After all, I wasn't competing at the velodrome!

I mounted the bike.  The seat seemed impossibly high, and if I hadn't ridden this particular bike before, I'd've sought out a wrench to lower the seat a few inches.  In an act of faith, I pushed forward, trusting that I wouldn't topple over.  It's not the fall that hurts as much as the embarrassment.

The five of us set off out of the parking lot, and they took a sharp right turn onto the main road.  I lagged back, still unsure of my balance.  This was always a tippy bike with over responsive steering and now, ancient tires.  I didn't want to push the tires to the limit, and I didn't want to bump into anyone else.  So I rode the turn slowly and upright, as a pipe-smoking gentleman might.

They were already halfway to the next turn, a left.  They were riding with exuberance, looking over their shoulders and boldly signaling the turn with their left arms.  I was still afraid to let go of either handlebar.  And looking over one's shoulder on a road bike takes practice.  Yet even without looking, I could sense the car that was about to overtake me, so I didn't follow.  And the car didn't overtake.  I coasted.  The car held back.  A dreaded stalemate ensued, and I started to worry that I'd have to stop and dismount to encourage the car to pass.  "No that's fine," I'd cheerily say.  "I was actually planning to stop here, really!"  But no, the car took the turn I had hoped to make seemingly ten minutes earlier.

Thus I ended up far behind the others, pedaling like mad to keep up, let alone catch up.  Eventually I caught up -- they had waited for me at the stop sign.  I was already out of breath, and I told them I was going to head back.  They continued on the trail, and I took the road back to work.

The slight incline on the way back was nearly too much.  Fortunately I got the hang of the derailleur and found the low gear.  At least three times I told myself to get off and walk it.  But instead I focused on just the first three feet directly in front of me.  Eventually the pedaling gradually got easier, and I knew I was going to make it to the crest.

Finally, I got back to work, and I pulled up to the front door and dismounted, taking great care not to fall over or collapse.  I walked the bike in and parked it under the back stairwell.  I climbed the stairs with my wet noodle legs to get to my upstairs office, pulling myself up with both hands on the handrail.

I drank loads of water, but I felt too nauseous to think about eating lunch.  Eventually I gained back strength in my legs, and I took some lunch.

And I started to look forward to the next ride.

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