we sat at the shed in erin, talking about bikes and riding them and all that other stuff that happens between the wheels and moments and our legs and memories and right and wrong answers. i mentioned poutine as a poor fueling choice. adrian and mikel ganged up on me, insisting that such behavior is the basis for insanity. i was about to counter with the fact that i am artistic (yes, it's a condition), and that madness and genius feel pretty much the same to me; it's the audience that decides. problem was, my mouth was full of italian panini at the time, so i just smiled and chewed.
just to make sure that i didn't miss anything obvious, i typed 'cogal' into dictionary.reference.com and came up with a very satisfying '0 results'. i was hoping such would be the case, as i had spent the day yesterday learning that term, memorizing it, chanting it, cursing it, and ultimately digesting it in every molecule i could still retain after 185 kilometers and 1796m of elevation gain.
a cogal is a ride.
a simple concession, to be sure, but therein lie its absolutes: beauty, truth, communion, and bare humanity. a cogal is a ride, on bicycles, among fellows committed to these two-wheeled elements, for a long, long way.
bicycle rides start out at the meeting place, or before, at the trash-talking conversation, and then at the meeting place. we watch how the others wear their caps, we note the lengths of their socks, study their angle at the urinal, and ultimately make a mental catalog of likely strengths and weaknesses, traits to be considered or discarded, who to follow when, and who to let go.
i arrived at the domestique later than planned and preferred, in keeping with my innate talent for getting lost despite every gps and printed-map auxiliary one could ask for. i was early enough to assemble my bike, find the washroom, and don my kit. i was too late to not look flustered and nervous while doing it. a girl was putting up pink balloons in honor of the last day of the giro. everyone was hoping against hope for ryder hesjedal's win. the baked goods were stacked high. the espresso was stocked. and we were set to depart exactly an hour before canada's original cycling hero, steve bauer, would enter the cafe to watch the final stage.
timing is everything.
next in the steps of the ride and the constant cataloguing of one's ridemates is the inevitable equipment appraisal. old wheels. new brake pads. dirty chains. shiny cassettes. appropriate bar tape/saddle color combinations. campy or shimano. carbon or metal. 23 or 25c. it's all there. the writing is on the wall. and one by one, we succumb to out and out classism, basing expectations on the numbers presented by the outward appearance of our possessions. there were two steel bikes, a couple of carbon bikes, and an aluminum bike or two. six of us. only two on campy. i worried that my equipment might project falsities of fitness or ability. i hoped i would live up to these.
we stood in the drizzle for a group photo, twice. i tried to relax. i hate being photographed. worse is being photographed while on a bicycle while not actually riding said bicycle. awkward hasn't enough double V's for the sentiments involved.
after brief introductions and briefer instructions, we rolled out from the cafe to begin the most epic ride of my season thus far. we took a right, almost missed the second right, then rolled far too briefly to the first climb of the day. sydenham.
my lady rides around dundas regularly, and has mentioned this hill to me, along with the side note that she climbs it in the big ring. i considered this for the first four and a half revolutions into the climb, then banished the thought as i shifted ever further up my cassette, taking no shame in the 27 tooth cog as i enjoyed the view and worked into a rhythm. the hill was over as soon as it had started, though not without repercussions: it was going to be a long day, and we were not all climbers..yet. (i am never a climber at only 3 minutes into any ride.)
much of the rest of the first few kilometers remain a blur. i kept confusing mikel and michael, as i was sure they had both introduced themselves as such but i wasn't sure that there were two of similar-sounding names. and they were both leading and trash-talking and wearing white kit. regardless, i took some photos and worried about the longevity of the new tube in my front wheel and wondered about rattlesnake, the big feature of the day.
as we cruised along the ridgeline, enjoying rollers and shouted directions, we settled into that easy, assumed conversation: we're both on bikes, so we must like each other, and as such, we must have something to talk about. among the members of the group, this was absolutely the case. there were conversations among all subjects, age groups, and depths. i remember talking about the states and the auto industry with seth; about suburban riding with will. michael fascinated me with history and psychology while adrian piped in with intermittent sound bytes. and mikel, well...we covered everything else: pink, V, and that loving feeling.
· we did rattlesnake and no one walked though several returned to get photos of the last 100m push.
· rattlesnake was not the only hill with switchbacks.
· we had some gravel and lots of chipseal but no extended grange road.
· michael successfully unloaded his jersey cargo at the shed, only to be saddled with a jersey for the return trip.
· ryder won the giro by 16 seconds, and i told everyone as we waited for a light. we stood in the middle of the road, clapping and cheering.
· we continued to revel in ryder's victory intermittently throughout the rest of the ride, somehow sharing in something so monumental that we were a part of it, whether we could even pronounce hesjedal or not.
· mikel at the hill on the terra cotta course: race ya. me: yeah right. subsequently: my ass kicked as mikel rode away.
· michael and mikel pulled all of us, most of the time.
· never let a gap open.
· have you seen my horse?
i posited long ago that a good ride must, at some point, be so hard as to make me want to quit the sport. i posited that alone, somewhere on a road, suffering by myself. such a conclusion would never occur on a cogal, surrounded by gentlemen and nature and the opportunity to bury oneself on an ascent, skirt one's fears on the descent, and take an honest pull every once and again. the cogal showed some of the best roads of the country and county, for terrain, challenge, surface quality and utter lack thereof. there is no pulling anyone up a hill. at 22% gradient, the truth is distilled and even if it burns when it goes down, it tastes good. and then at the top, everyone regrouped after their honest efforts, happy to have buried themselves and to be with others to tell the tale in a double paceline at 38 km/h to the next climb.
when i got back to the house and was recounting different parts of the ride to my lady, she asked what my favorite part was. i sat there, confused, and unable to come up with any single moment where i could really pin down any favoritism. then it hit me: mikel. besides the two of us having to be separated by michael for bad behavior and filthy humor, we had a tendency to ride off the front while conversing deeply about childbearing and rearing or movie quotes from the eighties. so, two favorite parts: unintentionally pulling away up a gravel road while recklessly recounting all the pros who crashed, sustained broken clavicles, and continued to race (sometimes for weeks); AND riding off the front, up a hill, into the golden part of the afternoon as it rested on the tops of green fields, singing You've Lost That Loving Feeling much too loudly for the crest of a hill more than 100km into a ride. a cogal is for the people. we happen to be on bikes, but what we are is so much more complicated than the circles we spin. there are stories there and manners and mannerisms, sweat drips and drink drips, clicking cleats and inappropriately long track stands. we are supersaturated, making our way through most days condensed and solid and stoic. only when heated by that hill or that effort or the sun or a hand on a back at just the right time do we spill forth all that molecular adhesion, coating the moment and remembering it with flavor.