If I had the time and the physical ability, I’d ride my bike every day. I have neither, though, so I try to make the most of the opportunities I do have.
Wednesday was one such opportunity. Two opportunities, actually: Gotshoo and BGL of BlogCycleRun invited me for a ride among the trees on the Lick Creek Trail at Lake Springfield. But after a less-than-stellar showing at Lewis Memorial Acres — the easiest set of MTB trails in town — with them the previous week, I didn’t think I’d be much good on the more challenging trails at the lake.
So I graciously declined, for the above reason and because, as a brand-new member of the Springfield Bicycle Club, I was looking to take part in one of their group rides. I’d never been on a ride with more than three or four people, so I was looking forward to trying something new. And, in the back of my mind, I wanted to see if I could hang with experienced road riders.
It turns out that I couldn’t. Looking back, I should have heeded the multitude of signs before I even got on the saddle:
- In switching my knobby MTB tires back to road tires, I ended up puncturing a tube.
- I’d planned to eat some chips-n-hummus and an apple as ride fuel on the drive from Springfield to Chatham, but in my haste to make it in time, I forgot them.
- Seconds after I realized I forgot my food, I realized I also forgot my cycle computer, which I had taken off my handlebars while changing tires.
- And as I pulled into the Wheel Fast parking lot, it became evident that I was the only one A) riding a mountain bike, and 2) with hair on my legs.
Yes, Wednesday was a 1940 NFL championship game kind of disaster, the scope of which, however, was not apparent as the ride jumped off. In fact, things actually began well.
As the group (guessing about 30 riders) headed south out of Chatham onto the country roads, I found myself able to keep up with the pack, albeit at the rear.*
*I imagine it’s less smelly at the front of the pack.
Not only was I able to hang with the road bikers, I had actually begun to creep forward in the pack. My legs felt good, and I was breathing deeper but not hard. As riders ahead of me would yell back about potholes, the pack would split up to avoid them. But not me. Even equipped with road tires, my shock-equipped mountain bike was able to plow through the rough spots in the road that the others had to skirt.
This is where the overconfidence set in.
About 6.5 miles in (map link), we crossed Illinois 4 on Hambuch Road, which then becomes Snell Road and, if memory serves, is one of the brick-paved sections of the former Route 66. Here, I found myself moving ever forward in the pack, able to roll over the bumpy brick with ease.
Here I was, an untrained, overweight recreational cyclist not only keeping up with experienced, dedicated riders but even passing some of them. This is going to be a piece of cake, I thought. Then, we turned north toward Curran.
Into the wind.
And this is where it was effectively over for me, about 7 miles in. Almost immediately, I began falling back in the pack. As we rolled farther north on Curran Road, I was having to go all out just to maintain my position as the caboose. Given the wind, my lack of leg strength and my ill-equipped bike — combined with their ample leg strength and proper bikes — this was unsustainable, and I began falling away from the pack.
Though I was panting severely and had developed the dreaded side stitches, I was at least able to keep them in sight for about 3 miles. But once they made they made the second west-to-north bend toward Curran, about 12 miles in, they had lost me for good.
It was at about this point where I had developed, of all the damned things, a Charley horse in my calf. In all my many, many hundreds of miles of biking, I had never, ever experienced such a thing. And the sonofabitch HURT, too. I was cursing at the top of my lungs in pain. At one point, I even dismounted to try to stretch it out, which didn’t work.
I was so preoccupied with ironing out this Charley horse that I missed the turn back east toward Chatham. By the time the cramp worked itself out, I was coming up to Curran.
This is where the humiliation set in.
My car was in Chatham, but I had overshot my turn by about three miles, which meant I was turning what should have been an 18-mile ride into at least 25. As I was pedaling east toward Springfield, I was completely spent, physically exhausted and mentally embarrassed.
I decided to hit the new Qik-n-EZ on Wabash to grab a Snickers and some Gatorade and mull my options. At this point I was still several miles away from my car but just 1.5 miles or so from home, so I could either:
- Ride home like a bitch and have The Mrs. drive back to my car, or
- Sack up and keep riding.
As I inhaled the Snickers and pounded the Gatorade, the embarrassment at my poor showing on my first group bike ride turned into inward anger, so I chose the latter option — both as self-flagellation and so as to not be defeated by my own stupidity.
A day later, though, I can laugh about how pointlessly upset I got. Before, I liked to say that my mountain bike was “a man’s bike.” During the first 6.5 miles yesterday, I was more sure of that than ever. Today, though, I know better.