On Friday night a week ago, I was sitting around a table with my cycling friends. We were enjoying a pasta carbo load of linguini Alfredo, wine, and salad. Saturday morning we were to ride the Tour de Pig. The Pig Tour seemed to be an appropriate first organized ride for a man like me – a man who had recently moved from pigdom — a hoggish 274 to 240. I was not the overstuffed bratwurst I had been before. The Tour is not a tour of a pig or pigs for that matter but is rather a metric century ride kicking off the Lexington Barbecue festival – which as everyone knows ‘round here, barbecue is pork, ergo Tour de Pig.
I’m in heaven sitting around this table. There is John, his wife Cheryl, Greg, our host and his wife Tami, Scott, and myself both sans notre epouses. We’re talking trash, telling stories of past rides, planning future rides, etc…. The camaraderie is deep, and I feel effusive. Men coming together against a common foe and the gratitude which wells up that you are not in it alone but are in it with people who want to be there makes for good friendships. We were all feeling it. Or at least I was feeling it. To have been back on my bike for almost two months and to be holding my own was more than I dared hope when I started out on this.
The next morning Scott picked me up at 6:20 am – a little earlier than our pre-arranged pick-up. We were nervous. Hell, this wasn’t a race, but try an tell the other 350 riders. We picked John up and headed south to Lexington. It was the coldest day I had been out on a bike so far: 60 degrees. As we rolled across the starting line there were no delusions about our chances of staying in front. John and I took it easy. Scott’s a much stronger rider – we didn’t see him until the end. Greg, by far the most in shape of us all, was never seen by us, but he was at the front, got tangled up in a wheel and went over on his side breaking the radial head of his elbow — he finished the ride though. What a stud.
As we rolled north through Davidson County, the pack thinned out, and we found ourselves in an echelon snaking our way over the pavement. This was the first large group ride I had ridden with since before Jennifer’s grandparents were murdered. It felt like redemption and gratitude and fear and hope. John had never ridden with this many riders before. I enjoyed his awe, and was awed as well. The sound of wheels rolling and chains moving through derailleurs, “Car up!” “Car back!” “Stopping!” Wow.
John is competitive. I am too. Rolling up Lexington Avenue at what felt like a comfortable 22 miles an hour, John leaned over and asked, “Are you racing?” We’re always talking about taking it easy. Small chain ring only. 16 mph average. It never is that way. One of us feels good, cheeky, frisky and off we go. I read a top ten list someone posted on the internet. “Top Ten Things New Century Riders Should Know About Riding Centuries”. Number 10 was “99% of all organized century rides are challenges not races; coincidentally, 99% of all challenge century rides end up being races.” “Yes, John, it’s always a race.”
It felt good not to be weakest rider. It felt good to pass riders on hills. It took John and I about 20 miles to warm up, settle down, get into a rhythm, and hook up with some riders we could work well with. We were off. 42 miles into the ride, we were averaging around 19 mph. Damn impressive for 240 pounder who’d only been riding two months.
We stopped at food station at 42 miles, ate, and got back on our bikes. Not too far into it John was suffering on the hills. He’d lost his legs, couldn’t recover after the hills, struggled to keep up. Maybe it was too much food too late. I stayed with John, as did another rider that we pickup up ‘cause “Saki says, ‘Ride together.’”
We picked up a rider in a Team CSC kit. I’ll call him Tyler Hamilton. Tyler was strong early on, got dropped by a group he was riding with and was content to hang with us. As we approached the last ten miles, Tyler called us to go straight when the route turned left. We ended up doing an extra six miles. After pulling waiting, and coaxing John for the last 24 miles and after magnanimously forgiving ‘Wrongway’ Tyler, John and Tyler, in a acceleration burst 25 yards from the finish, blew past me at the finish line. Bastards. It was fun and trash talking and testosterone. Being alive is living. Turns out John hadn’t really bonked. When we stopped at 42 miles, he set his bike over and his brake pad had been rubbing the rim for the last 24 miles. Brake pad rubbing — serves him right, the bastard.
“John, are you racing?”
“Yes Randy, it’s the ride of your life.”