Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Blogging the Bike: Or, Why My Ass is Sore

I can now officially say I have ridden a bike further than I have run. I rode 35 miles yesterday and man on man does my ass hurt. And I am sunburned. But I had a blast! I was scared shitless the WHOLE FUCKING time but I had blast.

Let me first give props to the cyclists. They are by far the nicest and most social people EVER. Maybe it is the numbness in their genitals, the pain in their asses or the freedom they feel on a bike wearing all that spandex in public-- I don't know but every single person I met was up beat, helpful and considerate. Just, genuinely nice. And, generally speaking, I get apprehensive when I am in a crowd stocked full of that sort of kindness and support. I am immediately suspicious about the agenda but other than to promote cycling there was no agenda. And I am thinking, ass pain aside, that this is one cult I could join. (--unlike the Cult of Cosmetics, which I attended Monday night. That is a whole other blog entry though. I am still trying to process that one.)

As I mentioned before this Ride to the Capitol was Lala's idea. She even bought us matching outfits: black padded biking shorts, grey t-shirts and flashy pink satin jackets--Barbies on a Bike or Team Slut--whichever.

Before I get too far into my story I want to delve a bit into my background with bikes.Learning to ride a bike was scary for me. I am sure there was a training wheel stage but I don't remember it. I only remember my Dad shoving the back of that bannana seat and me weaving around a parking lot and crashing into parked cars. I was always falling off my bike either from not paying attention or from going too fast and losing control. The mantra of my childhood friend Catherine was: "Are you okay? You want me to take your bike home for you and get your Mom?" The P.E. coach, Mr. Wood, would feel sorry for me the next day when I would show-up at school with band-aids all over my face and let me be first at everything. Sadly, even as I got older my cycling coordination did not improve. The summer I worked in Yellowstone I crashed in the middle of the Old Faithful village. It must have looked funny because everyone around me was laughing until I stood up and they saw the blood on my face and shoulders. It got pretty quiet then.

Obviously, with good reason, I try to stay away from bikes. The only time I ride anymore is on one of my parent's mountain bikes when we are at the beach or in a spin class at the gym. I certainly would NEVER ride on the road with cars.

When Lala asked me to do this ride she asked which bike I wanted. My choices were: her Trek mountain bike--the Beast, her fancy new Trek street bike with toe cages she calls Lance or one of my Dad's old Trek racing bikes with string thin tires and toe clips. I picked the Beast since it had the fattest tires and my dad had removed the toe cages. I figured I'd be most stable on that and no way was I going to risk the added obstacle of toe cages or worse, having my feet physically tethered to a bike with toe clips.

What I learned on this bike excursion is that a mountain bike is not the most ideal choice, nor is going without toe cages, for a long hilly ride on the street. Most ideal, I figured out, are the skinny, lightweight racing bikes where your feet are clipped to the pedals-- my worst nightmare. I will say many of the other cyclists gave me kudos for keeping up while riding the Beast. I pretty much only got these comments when I would catch up to the peloton on the up hill as EVERYONE whizzed past me on the down hill. I don't know if that was because of my fat tires slowing me down or, more likely, my braking because of my fear of reliving my wipe-out at age 8 coming down the big hill in front of my house where I crashed head first into the mailbox.

In addition to my almost nil cycling experience I have even less knowledge on how the gears work. On the Beast there is a set of gears on the right handlebar that has numbers 1-8. I found out that 1 had the least resistance and 8 the most. For the most part I was able to work this except on a few occasions when going up a hill I would switch the gears the wrong way and almost lock the pedals. On the left handlebar there was another set of gears with the numbers 1 2 3. I have no idea what those do as I was afraid to touch them so I left them as I found them set on 1. There were times on the down hills where I could have used some more resistance and thought about trying out 2 or 3 but was just too scared to risk it so I coasted until the resistance was such that I could pedal again.

Despite my lack of bike knowledge and cycling experience I was up for this challenge. And even though it was her idea and she has way more cycling experience Lala proved NOT up for the challenge. And, in her defense, I really should have been more prepared for her bailing. She called the night before whining, "My neck hurts! I don't think I can do it!" Take a Celebrex and get some rest I told her: Degenerative arthritis, smarthritis, I say! Next she called me at 7 am the morning of to say "It is too cold! We can't do it!" I said put some tights on and shut up. Then, of course, she was not ready when I picked her up and complained the whole time about her neck, the cold, how bad of shape of she was in and on and on. She continued to complain even when we were racing up the hill to join the peloton. I was optimistic though as she whizzed past me on the first down hill. I finally caught up to her after we crossed the river and then I passed her. For miles I thought she was right behind me. I stopped at Abernathy because there is a Starbucks there and I knew she wanted to stop for coffee. I waited on the side of the road as cyclist after cyclist passed me; each asking if I needed help or if I was okay. I called Lala: no answer. I began to wonder if this was like the half marathon I ran with my sister and I stopped to wait for her too and she somehow passed me without me seeing her and finished 2 minutes ahead of me. As the last of the peloton passed me I finally got her on the phone. "I quit," she said, "Dad is coming to get me. Go on. I'll find you later."

So BY MYSELF-- meaning no police escort, meaning no blocked off lanes, no sag wagon, no peloton, no nothing but me and the cars-- I headed down Roswell Road to the Capitol. I should mention that I had absolutely NO idea what the actual course was since my plan was to just follow the crowd. Getting separated from the crowd was not part of the plan. As I pedaled ahead, forming a new plan, I assumed that once I got to Peachtree I would just follow the course the marathon had.

In Sandy Springs the congestion was really bad so I hopped on the sidewalk and rode there. This is where I became grateful for choosing the Beast: I hesitated when jumping the curb and on any other bike I would have been picking the pavement out of my face. I was grateful when I got stuck at the light by Caribou Coffee and a cyclist named Heather caught up with me. She had stopped to help a guy change a tire. He would prove the Ride to the Capitol's Rasmussen as he had 4 flat tires. I saw him on the side of the road several times. Anyway, Heather said there was a group ahead of us and we should try to catch them. I stuck with her and in Buckhead we became a group of 4. It was around the Roxy that we learned the route had been changed and the rest of the peloton was on Piedmont, which we had already passed. We decided we would pick up Piedmont at 14th street, forgetting that Piedmont is one way after 14th and not an option.

Following Heather, I climbed those hills out of Buckhead and into Midtown. I was reminded of struggling up them during the marathon and thought how much more manageable and enjoyable they were on a bike. I was really really loving it. People in Buckhead and Midtown came out of their offices and waved and cheered us on. It got a bit dicey by Colony Square when we had to turn left. I was so thankful Heather knew what the left hand signal was for turning because I didn't and was too scared to take one of my hands off the bike anyway to signal even if I did know it. As we navigated our way onto 14th street we saw a group of about 6 cyclists turning onto Juniper. We followed them on down to the capitol. As we rode up on the Capitol the bells of the church rung out that it was noon.

An hour and 45 minutes after starting I finished my ride to the Capitol. I menandered on shaky legs through the crowd of neon spandex, shiny metal and rubber tires and was enamored by the brightness of the day, by the euphoria surrounding me. I was brought out of my daydream by a gratingly familiar voice offering me water. It was a friend of a friend who I will not name any names since I am not terribly fond of her. She forced the water on me and I went and parked my bike and sat in the Church yard while I tried to call my mom.

She was just leaving her house to come get me. I was a little disappointed that she wasn't there since I was pretty much done with the whole biking thing and that the original, now scrapped,plan had been that we would ride to the Capitol and then go have beers. I was still hoping for the beers part, or at least lunch.

We agreed that I would ride halfway back with the crowd and enjoy the police escort that I had not had on the ride down and she would pick me up on Roswell Road. So for the hour til we left I wandered around the capitol, outside and in the church yard and half listened to the politicians rally the crowd. I found another friend and chatted and joked with her to pass the time. I was given some reading paraphanelia on cycling and encouraged to join some cycling group.

It really hurt to get back on the bike after an hour off it. But I managed okay and was quite thankful when I came to our agreed meeting place on Roswell Road. The only problem was that she was on the otherside of the road. So I called her and waited on the MARTA bench for her to come pick me up. In the 15 minutes that I sat there 4 people stopped to ask me if I needed help. Two were other cyclists. Another was a group in a van with bikes on their roof and roared with laughter when I assured them I was fine that I was just having trouble crossing the street. The last was some random guy in a pick-up truck asking what we were all riding for. I told him to raise awareness of cyclists in Georgia in hopes to have new bike paths built. He asked if I was fine and if I wanted to toss my bike in the back and ride with him. I declined and pointed across the street that my Mommy was coming to get me. He left and I was relieved as I was starting to get creeped out. Shortly after Lala did come to pick me up but not before I saw Rasmussen again. We offered him a ride, which he declined. As we drove off and left him in the parking lot I saw him pull out his cell phone and I knew he was as over it as I was-- but probably for different reasons: he was just having an off day; I was tired of being scared and my ass hurt.

So what did The Ride to the Capitol accomplish? The overall goal was to raise awareness in Atlanta for cyclists in hope that city planners will call for more bike paths and routes. Do I think that was accomplished? No, probably not. I don't know, shrug, maybe it raised a few eyebrows. It did raise MY awareness if that counts for anything. I discovered that cycling can be fun. I found that I no longer have the fear of the bike holding me back from trying a triathalon. Will cycling replace running? Never. I just don't get the same high and you can't beat running's zen simplicity. Will you see me out there on the mean streets of Atlanta? Doubt it. I still think the risk of getting hit by a car is too high but you may see me hitting the trails or zooming down the Comet.


  1. Agreed about the biking. One day we should return to Athens and ride in the Gambler again and have beers (legally) after. : ) However, I've seen too many cyclists laid out on the pavement to want to bike around the metro without an escort.

  2. Kudos to you for sticking with it. You are some kind of athlete!