Week 14: An Epic Ride and a Wink from the Universe [Score +10]
Before last summer, my longest bike rides were around 8-10 miles. An out-and-back venture to the library was generally as much as I did.
I didn’t love my bike, though. It wasn’t terribly comfortable, even though I had a wide, squishy grandma seat on it. So by the time that 8- or 10-mile ride was done, I was done.
I should mention that this was the same bike I’d been riding since I was 13. After twenty years of riding it, I’d say I got my [parents’] money’s worth out of it. So last June, I finally decided to buy myself a new, grown-up bike.
I took my old bike to my local bike shop to be evaluated on the off chance that I could modify it and make it better for myself, and would you believe that my friendly bike technician quickly told me that the bike was too small for me?
Why had that thought never crossed my mind before?
I bought myself a new Specialized hybrid that day, expecting that I’d increase my rides to the 12- to 15-mile range and ride more often. I started riding with a new friend, though, an experienced road cyclist, and we were soon logging 18- to 22-mile rides.
I struggled to keep up on my brand-new bike. I felt like I was working twice as hard as my cycling buddy just to keep up, and I knew it wasn’t due to a lack of fitness on my part. I was just riding beyond the design of my hybrid.
So just a few months after buying my grown-up bike, I bought myself a second grown-up bike: a road bike intended for long-distance and higher-speed rides. I’m loving it.
This year, I want to ride with larger groups of people to push myself more and make some new friends. My first group ride of the year was a special event: the B&O Bicycle Tour on June 3, a fundraising event for the organization that is turning abandoned rail lines into multi-use trails. A large event like this at which they expect 300+ people is definitely crowded, but it also includes a lot of support and perks like snacks and water refills mid-ride, planned routes, and even a free lunch afterward. This particular event offered four different routes to accommodate riders of varying interests and abilities: a 10-mile loop easier for families, plus 25-mile, 45-mile, and 62-mile routes.
I wavered between doing the 10- and 25-mile routes myself. Option 1: I’d do the 10-mile route but ride to the start/finish park and back, creating a bigger 19-mile morning for myself. Option 2: I’d do the 25-mile route but drive to the park and start my ride from there. I chose the 19-mile option.
The day dawned beautifully: perfect blue skies, a chilly start without searing temperatures later, a light but not difficult breeze. As I entered the park alongside a handful of others who’d done the same, I heard live music and joined hundreds of other riders for the day. Some were dressed in matching, professional cycling kits and were eager to be at the front of the pack heading out. Others were ready for a more leisurely ride on a cruiser bike meant for just enjoying the day.
When the starting horn blew at 8:30 a.m., I filed into the middle of the pack, and we wove our way through neighborhood streets to the paved and complete portion of the B&O Trail.
As I rode, I visualized the route in my head and knew where the turning point was that would keep me on the 10-mile course. But as that point approached, I wasn’t ready to turn around. I got caught up in the spirit of the ride. I was enjoying riding with so many other people, and my body was feeling really good.
Plus, I saw very few people turning around for the trek back on the 10-mile course. I was NOT going to be the only person heading back!
So my 19-mile morning, which would get me home relatively early for the rest of my Saturday chores and errands, quickly changed.
As the miles added up and we got farther from the starting line, the group spread out into smaller bunches. I caught up to a group of three riders, two women and one man, who were maintaining a good pace and were obviously experienced and not riding erratically, so I tucked in with them for camaraderie. The man, riding in the back, started some small talk, and I learned that it was a family of three riding together. The daughter was my age, and she and her parents ride together regularly.
Somehow small talk evolved from cycling chit chat (“Riding these backroads are nice because there isn’t much traffic”) into the story of how he’d lost his two best friends to cancer within a year of each other (“He’d been the picture of health, super active, right before he was diagnosed”).
It would have been easy for me to stick to niceties and polite three-word responses (“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry”), but part of what I’m doing this year is working to be better about talking to strangers and engaging them in more conversation. So I asked him questions, such as about how their diagnoses and deaths had changed his life and perspective. This more meaningful conversation was not only more interesting, but it made the miles fly by.
Around the 10-mile mark in our ride, I started to realize one of the downsides of not having planned to do the 25-mile loop in advance: I’d had plenty to drink before the ride and hadn’t made a final pit stop before starting.
So when we rounded a corner at mile 13 and saw the first SAG stop (stands for Support And Gear), I verbally rejoiced to see porta-potties! At that point, I could care less about the snacks and water refill, I was just glad I wasn’t going to have to find a tree or bush off the side of the road.
My friendly family of riders decided to go for the 45-mile route, so I split from them after the SAG stop and rode most all of the second half of my 25-mile loop solo.
As I approached the finish line, I was grinning from my accomplishment that truthfully wasn’t even done yet: I’d just ridden my longest ride ever, and I still had to ride the 4.5 miles home! Physically, I felt great. I’ve been amazed in the last year to learn how easily you can increase your mileage on a bike without requiring a big jump in fitness.
The one pain point: my butt was killing me. That’s near the top of my to-do list to work on addressing with some new gear and more time in the saddle.
This is not the end of this story. Allow me now to get to the part that I still can’t quite explain but love anyway.
First, some background: I got a bike computer for Christmas that attaches to my bike frame and tracks my mileage, route, and time while I ride, then syncs with an app and online account. I’ve only ridden with it a few times, so I didn’t figure out how to pause a ride and resume it until after I got to the park to start this group ride. So I saved the ride to the park as its own record knowing I’d need to add the rest of my mileage to it when I got home to see exactly how far I’d ridden that day.
Also, this ride took place the day before my birthday. So as I was approaching home at the very end of the ride, I loved the feeling of having ridden my longest-ever ride on my birthday weekend.
After stowing my gear and collapsing in a heap on the living room floor with Mylee, I added the two records together.
First, the ride from home to the park: 4.46 miles, 25:22 minutes.
Second, the full 25-mile route and ride home: 28.54 miles, 2:01:30.
That’s 33.00 miles exactly. On my 33rd birthday weekend. And I did not do a single thing to make it add up to that magical number.
A friend said to me, “The universe is winking at you on that one!” And I think she’s right.
An epic ride—11 miles farther than I’d ever ridden before—on my birthday weekend, plus a delicious lunch out and matinee of Wonder Woman on my actual birthday the next day? I count this as one of my best birthdays ever.
- Did something outside my routine: +1
- Left the house: +1
- Did something entirely new: +1
- Activity benefits my health/wellbeing: +1
- Burned real calories (so I got some exercise): +1
- Signed up for an activity without knowing anyone else involved: +2
- Had a conversation with a stranger of at least 30 seconds: +2
- Had a conversation with a stranger beyond basics (i.e., work, hometown, what’s your dog’s name): +2