One of the things I love about riding my bike and walking in the woods and going backpacking is that I just don’t know what is going to happen to me. I’m not much of a risk-taker, but I do like putting myself outside just to see what happens. Sometimes it’s breathtaking, sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s dangerous. Always it’s worthwhile.
Anyway, Tuesday evening, my race night, the Hobgoblin and I rode out to the race course under threatening clouds, and before we’d arrived, we started to feel raindrops. Soon, it was a downpour, with thunder and lightning all around us. The two of us and a dozen or so other cyclists tried to take shelter under a little tent where race registration was held, but it didn’t work: the rain, slanting sideways, soaked me anyway. We had fun though, huddling under the little tent, half frightened, half thrilled by the lightning, and in about 15 minutes the rain passed. We got back on our bikes and continued warming up, although with wet uniforms and on wet pavement.
And I had a great race. It was my longest yet, at just under an hour, and I stayed with the pack the whole time, right up to the finish line. I even finished ahead of quite a few of the guys. The hardest part of the course is a hill, not that long, but just long enough to cause me to struggle, and since the course is just under a mile, during that hour, I rode up it again and again – 30 times in fact. Sometimes I found myself falling back a bit on that hill, but always I was able to catch up and stay with the main group.
Before the race began, the guy in charge gave us a little lecture about bike etiquette, how we should be “ambassadors” for cycling, to give cycling a good name. We might say hello to people mowing their lawns as we pass them, and we should make sure we greet other riders. And, of course, we should always obey the traffic rules. The implication of this lecture is that cyclists can be rude – otherwise there would be no reason to lecture us – but the feeling I got from it and from the response is that most cyclists really want to promote their sport, get other people involved in it, make sure it has a good reputation. This is one of the benefits of being involved in a sport that’s fairly small – the people are often very welcoming and friendly. Cyclists want to have other people involved, to create a healthy level of competition. This is certainly true for female cyclists: there sometimes aren’t enough women to have a decent-sized pack for a race, so the more women involved the better. Yes, those other women are competitors, but without competitors, a rider doesn’t improve. Other riders aren’t merely your competitors: they are the people you need to make yourself better.
During the race, there was a rider who kept helping me out; he should have been in the “A” race – the fast race, but for some reason, he was riding with the “B” riders, including me. He came up beside me at one point and said that it’s easier to ride up front in the pack, which I acknowledged to be true – riders at the front tend to ride more smoothly and at a consistent pace, while at the back, people keep “yo-yo-ing,” or speeding up and slowing down and speeding up and slowing down, over and over. But if you’re a beginning racer like me, it’s very hard to stay up at the front. So this guy offered to pull me up to the front; he motioned for me to jump on his wheel – to ride right behind it and draft him – and then he rode around the pack, leading me up to the front. Then he motioned at another rider’s wheel I was supposed to draft on. Unfortunately, I kept falling back, so a couple times more he led me up to the front. He seemed to have a lot of fun doing this. At one point at the bottom of the hill when I started to fall behind the pack, I felt a hand on my back, which I’m positive belonged to the same guy, giving me a push up the hill, helping me to keep up. Later, again at the bottom of the hill, he said, “now don’t make me push you up the hill again!” and so I pushed hard and kept up with the pack.
I looked around for him afterward, but couldn’t find him to thank him. Maybe next week. If I were a stronger, more experienced rider, I wouldn’t want such help, but as it is, I’m pleased. I can’t help but like it that there are people out there taking an interest in how I do, wanting to help me, and obviously getting some fun out of doing it.
I know that there are cyclists who are jerks, who are hyper-competitive, who only care about winning and don’t care what they do to win, but I’ve haven’t been meeting those people. Instead, I’ve been meeting people who love the sport and want others to love it too, who love just being out on the race course and a part of the pack, and who want to help out new riders.