Sunday, June 17, 2012


i want you to have a great time tomorrow. i want you to ride hard. seriously...

she told me these things as i prepped all my things and i tried to remember everything and the last thing i wanted to think about was how hard i had to ride. but that's the way it is with a partnership, a family, a dream: you own up to it, and you don't screw around.

so i got everything ready. aired the tires, filled the bottles, set out the kit, organized the food. then i went to bed, to chew the inside of my cheek and unconsciously panic about everything that's going on these days. it's a hard june.

i got up at 5 and putzed around, waiting for my body to wake up and the espresso to creme. i ate a little and drank a lot and went to the bathroom a bunch. i put on my kit. i put on chamois cream. i put on some embro so that my calves wouldn't lock up too readily after my 12k run yesterday. i drank some more. i drank the espresso and ate a clif bar and had another drink and left.

everything was in my head and most of it was positive as i set out to the meeting place, some 26 minutes away. i rode the shit that is bloor street, abetted by the pre-dawn glow that lent everything a softer, more ponderous pose. i avoided some potholes and hit others. i spun easy, hoping to lap up every second of this warm-up pace, before i'd be hoping to hang on for dear life, or at least a satisfactory end to it.

we met at the coffee shop and it wasn't open. we left when everyone got there and names were exchanged. mikel, of velominati fame, was the one who'd invited me on this adventure, and i was hoping to not let him down. i knew he was a stronger rider and that it would really hurt if there were just the two of us, but then a whole group showed up and they seemed alright and friendly enough and only two guys were on carbon wheels. it might have been a fine morning.

we spun easy out of the city, gliding quickly through what will soon be the tail end of my new commute, chatting in a double paceline, interrupting ourselves every now and again to call out 'clear' or 'right'. it was that flow that makes bicycling cycling. as we got out into the suburbs and then the county roads, the pace picked up. i recognized some of where we were, but i kept most of my attention on holding my line, not dropping the pace, and generally trying to find a draft. problem was, i was in a group of extremely different riders, and they were riding, and racing. my draft was not mine; i would have to fight for it. and it was a crosswind, so someone would be the ticket puncher. the wind drifted across my nose at a gainly clip and i wished for a smaller cross section, a bigger rider in front of me, and a little more room to the right. but i was getting edged out by that severe racer-looking guy with the audacious swiss kit. so all i could do was hang on, and get battered.

we made it around the airport, that same road of prior infamy where i ended up getting dropped and then towed by a man more than twice my age. then we headed out further and further, and the further we headed out, the more i dreaded having to take a turn on the front. i took my turn. i took turn and then turn and then one more turn, and eventually, after one hill and a couple of traffic lights, i would take the turn of my life.

we were flying. it was upwards of 50km/hr. but i didn't have the wherewithal to look down and see that at the moment; i was trying to breathe. i was trying not to overlap wheels in the tightest paceline i'd ever ridden. i was trying to make it tighter. i was trying to stay relaxed and hammer down on the pedals and keep my eyes on the road and stop hearing the lady's words in my head 'i want you to go out there and ride hard'.

it was those words, those expectant, vulgar words, that ran seething laps through my skull as i pulled through and pulled through and then popped.

we were somewhere on an overpass that had a sign that said to take the 403 east to toronto. we were far from home. i would have a long ride back by myself. the lady would not be pleased.

the group pulled a few more through and then sat up. i worked to catch back on and ride right through to the front to tell the leaders that they should just go and i'd see them later. they insisted that i sit in. they refused to drop me that far out. i said it was fine. we pedaled on. i sat in for a good long time, and even tried to pull through a bit to show them that i was cooked, but still willing to work for them as much as i could. it was no use. as soon as we hit even the smallest hill, my legs gave out and they pedaled away. i used to use hills to pedal away like that. today was different.

one good thing about getting shelled, for the second time: i had to chase my ass off.

another good thing: i found out that i could chase. i spent most of my time on mississauga road hammering myself in the drops at 37km/hr., with the singular focus of getting the group back into view. i rode past enormous houses with driveways nicer than the street. i rode past girls learning to ride so that one day, training wheels off, they could suffer like the blithering idiot blurring past them. i rode past basketball hoops never used but weathered nevertheless. i rode myself into the pavement.

i caught up at the light at lakeshore. we spun easy back into the city. we meandered. i recovered, a little.

i got home and was met with a glorious father's day breakfast. i was met with little girls with big brown eyes and bigger sunhats and beautiful, personal, rickety, humorous gifts that couldn't possibly be purchased anywhere, with anything like currency. i was home.

i had to tell the lady. i had to admit that i'd been shelled, that i bit off more than i could chew, that she would have been the better one to go out there and hammer and represent the family. after all, she's the fast one. i told mikel it was like sending out the soigneur to race with the stars. he laughed. only i knew how true it was. bill strickland has a t-shirt: "every domestique has his day". i wasn't even a domestique today. i wasn't pack fodder. i was weight. dead, stinking, sinking weight, off the back, on my steel bike and wool jersey and glasses i only put on as the sky got darker. i had a garmin to tell me just where i popped, how much i was suffering when it happened, how far we had gone. i just don't know how far i have yet to go. there is, again, much work to be done.

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