I stole into the road cycling crowd. By stumbling across a "Tricats" jersey in a thrift store and with the gift of a road bike for my birthday a while back, I am able to play the part better than a jack-o-lantern on Halloween. I am a runner, not a cyclist. But I try. And try I did last Saturday at the 21st annual Tour de Mesa.
For a husband, and kid, with over a hundred thousand in debt, running appeals to me for practical reasons. For about thirty-five bucks a year I can take my sport anywhere. I've taken it through downtown Boston, Pittsburgh, Paris, Masada, Ghana and the beaches of Mexico. I've even hit the pavement on a dirt track in a small farming villa in Brazil. But of all those runs my favorite is still the one I staged across the field of Gettysburg on a hot day in July. My brother-in-law and I were like kids on Christmas morning after that run, at least that's what I remember. But most of my runs are on my local roads here in Tucson, and that's just as good because when I run it feels good to be alive, no matter where I am. I'd like to say I was born to run, but someone wrote about that already.
Born to ride? I'm not so sure after Saturday. In fact, I'm not so sure anybody was born to ride. Take the comedy of horrors I witnessed during the race. Things you just never see at your local 5K run:
First: You have a bunch of adults straddling a bike with skinny wheels. To maintain balance, we whip our thighs and knees at right angles to the bike. Check out a biker trying to balance at a stoplight sometime, he may remind you of a ballerina on wheels. So there you are at the start of the race, a bunch of adults posing like ballerinas on bikes. Oh, we do our best to look good. From the sweet uniforms, shades, and helmets, we exude coolness. Runners have nothing on bikers when it comes to workout attire.
Second: The draft concept. The idea is clever. With a group of two or more riders, you race in single file. If you are drafting you try and bring your front wheel right up next to the rider in front of you. The physics of his motion will suck you right along. I expend 60% of my energy drafting where I would be using 90% riding alone. Drafting rocks.
(There is a similar technique in running, but since runners usually don't move faster than 10 or 12 miles an hour, it doesn't really help to conserve energy.)
But drafting is dangerous. Ten miles into my race last Saturday I found a good group to draft with. All four of us took turns leading and following. But at one intersection a rider slowed and the two behind him smashed right into his rear. The front rider was pummeled to the ground. I hopped off my bike and ran to where he lay in the road, his feet still clipped into the bike. He had a two inch gash above his right eye and his eye balls were shifting back and forth horizontally in saccadic fashion. In a matter of twenty seconds this Paul, if his recollection of his name is correct, had no idea where he was or what he was doing. I freed his feet from his bike and then another biker showed up saying, "I'm an ER doc, what happened." Needless to say, I was not needed much after that. So I took off. For some reason a line from Mission Impossible came to mind as I was riding away from the accident. "Man down Ethan, man down."
Third: You just can't stop to pick up a twenty you see on the ground. If you are out running and see money on the trail, you stop and pick it up. Then you spend the rest of the run wondering how many ice cream cones you will buy with it. You don't have that luxury if you spot money during a bike rice. But there it was. A big, fat twenty lying in the road. I imagine a biker was fishing in his back pocket for goo when he accidentally pulled out the twenty. He wouldn't know his post-race BBQ money was missing until that juicy burger was on a plate in front of him. Isn't there a Greek tragedy based on a similar situation? Anyway, I couldn't pick up that twenty because if I stopped I would have been mowed down by the twenty riders immediately behind me. Some lucky runner would get it though. For the rest of the race I rode over new bike tubes, expensive water bottles, unused CO2 cartridges, and more good stuff. For a retired dumpster diver, that was hard to do.
Fourth: History repeats itself in a bike race. So there I was drafting behind three other riders at the 45 mile mark. A physically fit father, his daughter, and a sixty-year-old with a yellow Alaska jersey. They were fast. They were cool too. All business and no play. Then a police officer at an intersection held up both his arms to stop oncoming traffic as we passed through. The fit father thought the cop was telling him to stop, so he did. His daughter piled right into him, followed by the Alaska man, and once again I barely missed crashing. Man down Spencer, man down. This one happened to be a little more bloody. I won't give you the details but just imagine what a chain ring can do to a man's ankle with the right velocity and angle. I was looking around for an ER doc after that one. So in one morning I saw more blood cycling than I ever have in all my time running. Talk about cool.
So there it is, ballerinas on bikes, dangerously drafting and passing up twenty's on the ground only to be on the ground minutes later in an awful crash. But gosh we look cool doing it! Happy trails...