I had to go back an re-read last week’s Hellride report, first because it was well written and I sat down at my computer with an irritating episode of writer’s block; and second, because I now have a different perspective from which to read it.
A Tuesday evening at Spring Meadow Lake. It’s warm, warm enough the beaches are moderately filled with swimmers, sunbathers, paddlers, the odd fisherman, and a plethora of effervescent, screaming/giggling, sand-throwing kids – summer at it’s best. I arrived a little early – I certainly didn’t wish to be late for my first ever Hellride – and as six o’clock neared and I was the only bicyclist in sight, I was starting to think I was the only one who hadn’t answered the piper’s call of pizza, adult beverages and Tour de France. Still, all things considered, it would have made for an interesting Ride Report, with alternating placement of Me, Myself, and I as the finishers for each of the stages. Fortunately I was saved from a potentially narcissistic bender – or perhaps the onset of a split-personality episode – with the arrival of three stalwart adventurers who came to join the fun, the sun, the asphalt: Jane O., Mark B., and Byron. Hellride was on! A few minutes pause to hit the loo, and see if anyone else felt moved to ride, but 6:00 arrived and the word was given. Snooze you lose, we’re outta here.
It would prove to be – as I had anticipated – an educational evening. Beyond riding the Helena Century and a dozen-or-so Thursday night rides last year with some of the HBC crew, my cycling experience is limited to triathlons and solo rides, all within the last 13 months. I’ve actually watched just one stage of the TDF. The last time I was on a bike for any duration was while I was growing up, and there’s still a part of me that expects to feel the ponderous, pendulous weight of a hundred-or-so newspapers suspended in the bag draped from the handlebars. Funny what you get used to…but I digress.
A steady, easy pace as we left the lake, and my three compatriots endeavored to give me a Cliff’s Notes version of how to do a Hell Ride: pace lines, basic course layout, the basic objectives, some pace line etiquette. The first stage start/finish markers were described, and I started to prepare myself for what awaited after the second set of tracks. Which begs the question: how the H-E-double toothpicks are you supposed to prepare for something you’ve never done? Easy- just DO it! besides, you’ve watched a stage of the Tour de France, you watched how the riders did what they do, how hard can it be? I mean come on – a bike ride, by any other name, is still a bike ride, right?
Lesson Number 1: A bike RIDE and a bike RACE are two entirely different animals. Any similarity ends at the bike. That happy-go-lucky, give-’em-a-chuck-on-the shoulder, give-you-the-shirt-off-his-back buddy you rode with on Saturday does a Jekyll and Hyde at the Start Line, and you know, without a doubt, he or she will smoke you on the course if they can – no guilt, no remorse, no mercy. It’s an A-game world now, and you best’ve brought yours. It’s the essence of competition: you against the yourself, you against the course, and you against everyone else. It’s a place where you can truly feel ALIVE.
A steady warm up, getting a feel for the other members of the pace line, the mind fast-forwarding through all the little stuff – are you going too fast, are you going too slow, stay on their wheel, watch the road for hazards when you’re pulling, are your knees tucked in, or are you still riding bow-legged, did you hydrate enough – and BAM! – you’re over the second set of tracks and the race is on. Mark, Byron and Jane make quick work of the hill, and I’m keeping up, but I got caught flat-footed when the breakaway happened. Holy cow, but things happen fast! Over the hill, and into the stage, and at the next little hill, I make my move, and into the lead I go. Drive it, push it, make ’em eat your dust! Dude, you’re in the LEAD!
Lesson Number 2: Know – exactly – how long the stage is. Whereinthehellis that fire station anyway? I STILL can’t see it. I didn’t think it was THAT far. And then we must be getting close, because Mark does a breakaway, and leaves me like I’m standing still. We’re still a couple of miles out, but Mark and the rest were resting in the draft zone, while I was pulling in the “Woohoo! I’m in the lead!” zone. A mile or so from the finish Byron pulls away, and I’m talking to my calves telling them the absolutely cannot cramp until AFTER the fire station, because I just KNOW Jane is right behind me. I don’t dare look back, I can just FEEL it.
Stage 1: Mark, Byron, Steve, Jane
Stage two, I decide to try and learn something from the first. I let someone else do most of the pulling so I have something left when I need it. And I get suckered by newbie mistake number two, and try to jump when everyone else does. To the rear with you New Guy. One last big hill before the longer more gradual grade to the finish, and I take advantage of the downhill to close the gap and pass everyone else but Mark (who seems to defy gravity at times) only to have Byron pass me on the upgrade. Legs on fire, calves threatening to cramp, I somehow manage to stay fairly close up the hill, grunting and growling like an animal (I dunno, it’s something I picked up in the Corps, but it seems to work) and catch and hold third to the finish.
Stage 2: Mark, Byron, Steve, Jane
The third and final stage. We take it a little easy on a very pleasant stretch of road, with Byron giving me an insight into the finer aspects of Road Racing 101. I entered this evening’s activities knowing enough to know I knew squat, but at least now I can begin to put things into perspective. You can read about it, you can watch it, and those are helpful, but it’s something else entirely to get out and DO it. We’re closing in on the final hill, and Byron gives me a game plan on how to attack it. I launch my breakaway, but instead of going all-out I hesitate – and lose the advantage. It’s a close push to the top, but the hesitation costs.
Stage 3: Mark, Jane, Byron, Steve
Now for the ride back to town, and a return of the riding buddies you started with. The miles melt away as we visit back and forth, recapping the evening, sharing stories, drinking in the magic that is bicycling, and basking in the warmth of competition and esprit de corps. This is what life is supposed to be. It’s physical, it’s mental, and it’s spiritual. It’s looking back on your past and seeing who you used to be get smaller and smaller in the distance, until the image fades into the haze and becomes indistinct. It’s noting the ache in your muscles, and the scratchiness at the back of your throat and feeling LIFE coursing through your veins. It’s flipping the bird at Father Time and telling him “catch me if you can, you Cheeto-scarfing, sofa-loafing couch potato son of a [expletive deleted]!” And best of all, it’s the anticipation and satisfaction of knowing that you get to come back out and do it again next week. New group, new challenges, new lessons. Hellride. Hell yeah!
My advice to anyone who’s thought about it, but held back from joining in: STOP! Next Tuesday, get on your bike, strap on your helmet, and come out and Hellride! You have no idea what you’re missing, and you’re gonna kick yourself down the road when you finally figure out how much freakin’ FUN it is! Quit worrying about how fast you ride, or that you’ll hold up the group, or your shoes don’t match your jersey, or whatever excuse you’re hanging on to. Step out of your comfort zone and give it a TRY. The only thing you have to lose it whatever it is that’s holding you back. The life you change may be your own.
I dare ya.