For most of my adult life, the only thing I had asked of my physiology was to keep me alive long enough to get to the store for one more carton of cigarettes. As the clock ticked toward my 55th birthday I felt the need to get out of the chair, fight through the haze, and do something really athletic. I determined that I would give up the filthy habit and become a jock. Bicycling seemed to be the logical first sport for me. I was pretty sure I remembered how to do it, and I knew there was at least some coasting involved. My first ride was with two women who had been active in the sport for twenty years. One of the women, Connie was a friend, but I had never met the other.
When I saw women coming toward me from the trail, I recognized Connie. I was pretty sure the other one was Pearl Izumi herself. This woman was so buff she made those roller derby girls look like Edith Bunker. Both of them wore skin-tight biking pants and shirts. I was wearing the biking pants alright, but they were almost completely hidden underneath a size XXL top from Target that hung way down to hide my Abs of Jell-o.
To make matters worse, I had managed to let all the air out of my back tire trying to use my really cool Joe Blow pump. As a result, I had to stand there looking very not-buff, while Connie refilled my tire. She offered to check the front tire, but I had not messed with it and was sure it was fine. We took off down the trail.
Well, actually, they took off. At the speed of light. I was peddling frantically trying to get a gear, any gear, to kick in. Finally, I began to make some forward progress and caught up. My companions were visiting about kids and apartments and so forth. They were very nice and were riding with their heads swiveled almost completely around in order to include me in the conversation. What they didn’t know was that I am able to either: 1) peddle; or 2) talk. I cannot do both. I tried for a while to make short statements that no one could disagree with or question me further on - things like: “Absolutely!” and “You bet!” and “Word!”
I think Pearl decided I was either very unfriendly or really boring and she started to turn back less and less frequently. This was a relief as it left me free to put all of my energy into keeping up. The thing was, Connie and Pearl seemed to be able to go fast, slow, uphill and down all in the same gear. I, meanwhile, was going through my gears like crap through a goose. By the time we had gone about half a mile, it became clear to all of us that I was going to lag behind the entire time. I cheerfully encouraged them to keep their own pace and assured them that I couldn’t get lost on a city biking trail for heaven’s sake! I tried to memorize all the landmarks just in case.
Soon I was aware that my front tire was dangerously low on air. This was a mixed blessing. While it made me look like even more of a nimrod, it gave me a great excuse to slow down to a pace that wouldn’t necessarily result in my thigh muscles spontaneously combusting. I notified Connie and Pearl of my situation and my intention to stop at the convenient mart just ahead to fill the tire. They agreed that that would be the best plan and we forged ahead.
As we approached the store, I could see the two small dots on the horizon, which I had come to recognize as their helmets, sailing past the designated stopping point. I summoned all my strength, clicked madly to get out of granny gear, and got within an acre or so of my ride leaders. I yelled mightily, but they soon disappeared around a curve, blissfully unaware that I was not behind them. I saw immediately the opportunity to rest. I would stay put and in a minute or so they would notice my absence and turn around to retrieve me. By that time, I would have re-energized enough to get back to the gas station and assess the seriousness of my situation.
I had a long drink of water and waited … and waited… and waited. I began to realize that it was going to be some time before my scintillating contributions to the conversation were missed, and I decided that the only thing to do was head for the air pump and hope for the best.
My companions must have finally noticed that I wasn’t there, because as soon as I started to fill my tire, they appeared, having somehow ridden back in a straight diagonal. They had apparently ignored the trail and had flown through parking lots and over surface streets. I think I even saw one of them soar over the local furniture store like the boy in “E.T.”. They apologized profusely as I assured them that all was well, but that now that I had air, I really needed to get to work. I mumbled something about having to do some very important executive level junk (really, it was the annual mandatory-clean-the-storage-room-day). I promised them that I would be fine and, that if the truth were known, I would probably make a better time without them. After a round of cheery adieu’s they headed off to go even further away from their point of origin and I began the 150-mile trek back to my car.
By now it was close to midday. The temperature had soared to almost 82 degrees and the humidity was 78 percent, resulting in a heat index of 132 degrees. I was soon dangerously dehydrated, but afraid to stop and have a drink for the fear night would fall and an unexpected blizzard might blow up. High noon, as any experienced biker knows, is the time when the bugs get crazy. I felt as if I were riding during the Seven Year Plague through herds of grasshoppers and crickets the size of Mothra. I had to breathe entirely through my nose so that no insects would fly into my esophagus and strangle me (which I have always been pretty sure is the way I will die).
As if the bugs weren’t enough, on the path ahead, a gigantic furry beast scurried in front of my bike. It looked like one of those R.E.O.S.’s (Rodents of Unusual Size) featured in the movie, “The Princess Bride”. I was horrified and tried frantically to remember the wilderness animal encounter rules. I decided that for R.E.O.S.’s, one should try to look large and intimidating so I stood up on my pedals and roared. The sudden extra stress on my leg muscles was way too much and I immediately fell over sideways. Now I was eye-level with the monster. I rolled into a ball, protecting my vital organs and covering my jugular vein with my hands. The woodchuck shot me a puzzled look and waddled happily into the Big Papio Creek.
I recovered my composure and raced for the car at the speed of the Pope. I knew that when I got there I would have to lift my bike into the back end of my newly acquired, really cool SUV. I began to pray that a really ripped, muscular type (maybe Pearl) would be there when I arrived and would offer to help. I made promises – I would start to cook dinner for my husband again; I would, once and for all, stop cursing in front of the children. Of course, no one appeared, another fortunate twist of fate that allowed me complete freedom to cuss like a sailor as I hefted the bike into the car with the last ounce of strength I had.
In spite of everything, I decided I like biking and looked forward to another outing with Connie and Pearl. After two years, I am still looking forward to it! I guess they lost my phone number.