Trail(s): All roads
Distance: 65 miles
Weather: Sunny but perfect temperatures in the 70s
Company: Eight other Fellow Climate Riders! (to start with, at least)
My second ride with Climate Riders last Saturday was both much more ambitious and more comfortable than the first one.
On my first ride with other participants, I felt outclassed. Up until that point, nearly all of my training had been indoors, and it was clear most of the other folks were committed bike commuters. Even though the other riders said they were fine with the speed, I felt as if I was holding everyone else back. When we faced hills, I wilted physically and mentally, while they smoked me.
This ride was different. We planned on meeting in Dupont Circle, then riding out to Poolesville, a similar version of the route I did the week before on my own. Having ridden a very similar route, complete with the Hills of Death, I knew I was capable, if slow. But pedaling into Dupont, I still felt awkward. I was late, the only one without a road bike, and the only one not using either clipless shoes or cages.
But as we took off, I fell into the rhythm right away. I was consistently near the front, and the pace even felt a little slow. This was probably for the best, as I tend to go out like a shot and then later wonder why I feel like crud. On our way up the first major hill, I kept behind one woman who warned me, “I’m steady, but slow,” a philosophy I thoroughly agree with. I reassured her that she wasn’t holding me back. Unfortunately, as we rounded the hill, we had our first loss. Alex, one of the pack leaders, passed us going the other direction! On the way down, he yelled something about his knee, which we found out later on that he had hurt quite a bit.
When we reached the entrance to Great Falls, part of the C&O National Park, we discovered that Alex wasn’t the only loss. Lill had called one of the other women to let her know that her husband, Tim, had gotten sick and was going home. The final male in our group, Blake, said that he needed to go somewhere else, so he moved on. That left us with the 6 ladies, including myself. As we waited for Lill, we were joined by a sub-group of a racing team, decked out in their matching spandex. Some of them even had matching bikes! When they asked us where we were going, we answered but looked at them rather blankly for thinking we would be keeping up.
Once our group reformed, we pedaled onwards and upwards. One thing that was different from my previous ride was the amount of time we spent on the road, even when parallel paths were available. For example, when we were on McArthur Blvd. coming out of D.C., we were on the narrow-shouldered side. The traffic was a bit unnerving, but much less so than if I was by myself. In a group, at least someone will notice if a car hits you. By myself, I have visions of being featured in a nightmare story recounted when advocacy groups are trying to pass safety laws.
Our next stop, a Starbucks in a Potomac strip mall, was only a few miles further. As we approached, I heard the strains of “Hey, hey, mama said the way you move,” blasting from a speaker. I realized that it was live after a second and quickly pushed my bike into the square to see who was playing. I nearly squealed at what I saw – little kids, playing Led Zeppelin! They couldn’t have been older than 12 or 13. And the lead singer actually sounded like Robert Plant! It was the cutest rock-and-roll thing I’ve ever seen. Later, they started playing Rush, which was even more impressive.
From there, we made our way up the “Oh Shit” hill and beyond. After stopping at a wide, grassy spot outside of a golf course, we headed to the small town of Poolesville. I led the pack up an area with far too much grooved pavement, bumping our way along. At some point as I cycled through the town, I realized I had lost the rest of the group. Simultaneously, I realized I was riding right out of town. After a few minutes of waiting, I turned around to figure out what the heck had happened. As I made my way back, a car drove past me with one of the other women in it. She yelled out the window that I was now going the right way, which was both reassuring and confusing. Before I had a chance to process this odd site, the car had moved on. As it turned out, one of our fellow Climate Riders did a different ride that day leaving from Poolesville and had just happened to run into our group! Our group shanghaied him and his car to come look for me. Eventually making my way to our meeting spot, I pointed out to the other riders that this is why I should never, ever be the lead. Following geographic directions – not my strong suit.
Although our stopping point had a good Italian restaurant (mmm….eggplant parm), it didn’t have any picnic space. We ended up eating and stretching on a small patch of grass between the parking lot and a daycare’s playground. Nonetheless, it was a good rest, where I got to learn a bit more about some of the other riders.
On the way back, we stopped a few more times, including the Starbucks. Thank you Starbucks, for having free restrooms and cyclist-friendly snacks. We also took an alternate route that bypassed most of the grooved pavement, much to our posteriors’ relief.
The most out-of-the-ordinary thing happened just as we were riding into Georgetown. Rather than taking Reservoir Road, as the cue sheet suggested, we took more direct McArthur Blvd. Unfortunately, although most of McArthur is blessedly quiet, the part just before Georgetown merges into what is practically a highway. A bit unnerved by this prospect, we decided we would all band together and take the lane collectively. That way, people would be forced to go around us, but we wouldn’t be spread out. We got through it in one piece, and it was pretty empowering. Although I don’t know if it’s a particularly convincing tactic, I recognize why people enjoy participating in Critical Mass rides. Having a sense of equality with cars is truly refreshing.
Overall, it was an excellent day. We took a few more stops than I would have on my own, but it was good to have people around to remind me that it isn’t a race. It was also great to have that context – to know that I’m not really as slow as I sometimes feel. I actually had two different comments saying, “You really move pretty fast on that hybrid bike!” I’m glad that my training was clearly paying off, both to my fellow riders and myself. Because in the end, I’m going to be the only one determining how well I do.