If there were a problem with cycling, it would be its diversity. Everyone hates the road cyclists who laugh at the fat, slow plodders, who ride leisure bikes and hate anyone who wears cycling-specific clothing. The mountain bikers hate the roadies, the commuters hate the racers and the randonneurs pretty much hate everybody. Complaints are flung about concerning respect, passing on the right, passing three abreast… If that weren’t bad enough, and it usually is, there are motorists out there who pretty much hate all of us. Really, when you look at this little microcosm of society, the irony is awesome. It can sometimes seem that everyone just wants to be angry.
It’s not quite as fever-pitched as a battle as it can be made out to be in the media but it’s not all unicorns and rainbows either.
I used to be exceptionally level-headed when it came to motorists. I’d get a diesel pickup truck driver blow his exhaust out as he passed, I’d laugh. Someone would buzz me, I’d wave. Hey, I even had a kid chuck a full 2-liter of Coke out the window at me once. I flipped that guy off, but I thought that was fair. I’ve since grown a little more jaded. I’ve chased a couple of cars down, or at least tried to, had one SUV driver head straight for me as if he were going to run me over, before veering off at the last second, narrowly missing me (and this wasn’t an accident, he blocked the lane first and I went around him)… I’ve become an angry cyclist, to match the aggression I see too often.
A few weeks ago, heading home and in the last ten miles of a century, the driver in a car behind us honked its horn a couple of times just before it passed us. Reflexively, up went my middle finger.
One of my friends yelled at me, “Hey man, that’s somebody’s grandma! She was just letting us know she was back there.”
Dammit. I apologized to everyone in our group when we got back. I didn’t even know the honker was a lady, let alone an elder. I still wish I could find that lady and profusely apologize for my profanity, but I can’t. The damage is done.
However, that experience was not without its benefit. See, when we “Friends of Bill” quit drinking, we learn to apply a set of principles to our entire lives. To continually evaluate our impact on those around us. To promptly admit it when we’re wrong and to make amends for those errors wherever possible… Not just as it pertains to drinking, but to everything we do and everyone we encounter – and here’s why: I am an escape drinker, when you boil it down, all drunks are in some way. I drink to oblivion to escape the reality that I make crappy choices when I’m in that madness. The more I have to escape from, the harder it is to stay away from the first drink that inevitably leads to me in a jail cell, or worse. The idea behind a rigorously honest approach to self-evaluation is that, done correctly, the less I have to escape from, through being a productive member of society and an all-around decent guy, the easier it is to remember the misery of being a drunk. The easier it is to stay away from the real wreckage.
Well, I applied that principle to the unfortunate gesture I made toward that older lady.
While I can’t make direct amends, I can make them indirectly. I can change my behavior. I don’t know how, or when, my cynicism crept in but it did and it needs to go. I’ve ceased flipping the bird and am back to smiling and waving… The simple truth is, if I’m going to be the happy me, there’s no room for the angry guy. While this probably won’t change a whole lot of attitudes towards cyclists, I’m not necessarily making this change for them. While everyone will benefit from a nicer me, ultimately I’m making the change for me.
We have a funny saying in recovery’s circles: I can have all of my misery back any time I want, all I have to do is sidle up to a bar and take that first drink. Oh, one more thing… If you notice, twice I mentioned the “first drink”. If you wonder why I pay so much attention to that first one, rather than the eighth or the one that gets me happily inebriated… This is very simple to explain: When you get run over by a freight train, which car kills you, the caboose or the locomotive?
Finally, to wrap this post up, I began my little change in attitude about two weeks ago and it’s gone quite well. Every time I have a reason to be angry about a motorist or some other perceived slight, I remember that I’m not going to be that angry guy anymore… Then I think about Skipper and the Penguins of Madagascar. “Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave.” I changed the tape that played in my head. Simple as that, and it only takes about 20 years of practice to be good at it.
The Tuesday before DALMAC is always tame by normal standards. The racers stay home and we B cyclists have a field day. We keep the pace fun and lively but we rarely top 23 mph… I think last year we ended up with a 20-1/2 mph average… Respectable for sure but to give you an idea how weak the field is, I dropped everyone last year.
I very well could have stayed home too, justified a day off. I’m crushing every pseudo-goal I could have had at the beginning of the year. My 31 in 31 for August is over, I’ve ridden some 52 days in a row, my legs are like maple tree trunks, I feel spectacular, my bike is perfectly tuned and good to go… On the other hand, my friends, this is me we’re talking about here.
With the kids at grandma and grandpa’s house Mrs. Bgddy was free to fly with us. I figured with it being a quiet night it would be a great time for my wife to hang with the big group till the finish.
We did an exceptionally mild 15 mph warm-up for 8-1/2 miles. We talked about preparations for DALMAC and had a pretty jovial time with a plenty of laughs… We rolled into the parking lot and there were only a few cars, almost all B riders. Excellent.
We took a loop around the block to keep our legs loose, even if it was 91 sunny degrees. We came around the corner…
Both lots were full, the racers showed. All at once.
So much for easy.
Mike and I led the rollout at 6:03. We started at 16 letting everyone catch up and worked up to 20. That was the last time we saw 20, hell that was the last time we saw 23 unless we were stopping for traffic.
I was feeling good so I spent my share of time up front. After ten miles, on my way back after a pull, Mike looked at me and said, “I’m done”. To that my wife added, “Thank God, because I didn’t know how much more of that I could have taken”. With that, we were off the back.
We rolled at 20-21, a comfortable pace, and I looked back to see Mike off the back again. He was really done, and waved at us to continue on without him.
See, that would destroy me going into a hard four-day ride. Mentally, I mean. I have to have a strong showing before the ride or I’d let that tough ride haunt me for the next 400 miles. Even my awesomeness can’t withstand a bad ride going into something that will test every bit of my fitness and mental “want to”.
We rolled on without him and cut another six miles off our normal ride. We did well too. We picked up two guys from the shop and we split the time up front over the next 9 miles. With two miles to go, we started ramping it up. Justin finished a steady 22 mph pull and Mike (shop Mike, not my buddy Mike) took over taking it to 24. With more well over a mile left, it was my turn and I hammered everybody. Beyond 25 and by the time we hit the sprint mark I was at 26, and done. My wife, whom I spent all night protecting, rolled right by me… I had nothing left so I let her go – but Mike overtook her at the last 50 meters…
Hey, it is what it is. Sometimes I’m the sprinter. Last night I was the rollout train.
We crossed the finish line with a 21.1 mph average for the 24 miles (and change). Hard to believe that just last year my wife’s best effort topped only 17 mph. She’s come a long way in a year. We had a couple of laughs with the guys in the parking lot, packed up and headed for the diner. Dinner tasted extra good last night.