I just wanted to send out a little thank you note this morning, as I choose for this to be one of those days of reflection. I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for including me as a member of the Genesee Wanderers, truly an amazing group of people who get together on a regular basis to enjoy the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle together.
My background in cycling followed a long hiatus from my younger years when my parents were cool enough to buy my brother and I each a 1981(ish) Murray Baja 10 mountain bike. That bike represented freedom to me as I rode it to friend’s houses more than a dozen miles away when my parents were too busy carting one of my other brothers and sisters around (there were five of us). I literally rode the wheels off that bike.
Jess and I picked up cheap mountain bikes from Sears early in our marriage, but we rarely rode them – I ended up giving mine to a kid new to recovery who had all of his teeth bashed out and was walking to work every day so he could get dentures… it was one of the saddest cases I’ve seen in 26 years. Anyway, I digress…
Sometime around 2001-ish [Mrs. Bgddy] would be able to tell you better the date) I got into running when I started to fatten up after quitting cigarettes. I wanted to in-line skate my way to fitness because I HATED running, or at least the idea of it, but I lived in Flint and the roads didn’t exactly allow for safe skating – not even in Mott Park. I decided to run because Jess had started running with some folks and I figured that was better than getting fat. Fast forward ten years and I was growing bored. I decided I’d buy a mountain bike and do a triathlon. That would shake things up!
I picked up a Huffy from a garage sale for $20 that probably weighed almost a quarter my own body weight at the time and I started to ride it. It was about three sizes too small, but I managed to push that sucker for four miles at about a 14-mph average for my first ride. My first week riding it down to the running club I participated in, one of the other guys remarked that the bike was entirely wrong and too small for me. He offered to sell me his backup to his backup mountain bike, a 2008 Trek 3700. My first ride on that mountain bike changed my life forever. I can still remember the feeling I got on that bike the first time I rode it… I’d never ridden anything so smooth in my life – and so light! My wife wasn’t happy about the $125 price tag because money was pretty tight back then, but she saw how much joy it brought me, so she went along with it.
I ended up doing two Olympic-distance tris on that bike, but I wanted SPEED and I was gearing out on the 21-speed. I had been into Swartz Creek a few times, having moved there from Flint, and I’d noticed the Assenmacher’s sign a few times. I had a gym teacher in middle school who went by the same last name (he was Mr. Oz for short) and there couldn’t be that many Assenmacher’s in Michigan, so I stopped in to ask if the owner was related. That was the first time I met Matt, my gym teacher turned out to be his brother. The next time I met Matt was when I wheeled in a 1990 Cannondale SR400 that I’d picked up on Craigslist for $400. I’d gone from riding 80 miles a week to 100-120 a week when I jumped from the Trek to the Cannondale, and my average pace jumped from 15-mph to almost 20 on the Cannondale. I loved road riding!
So, I rolled that Cannondale into the shop and Matt asks me, “Whose bike is that?”
“Mine.” I replied. “I picked it up on Craigslist.”
Matt pointed out that the bike was way too small for me. The bike was advertised on Craigslist as a 56cm frame, at the smaller end for a 6’0” guy, so the internet said, but Matt measured it up to find it was a 54 (the size sticker had been removed). Matt offered to sell me a Trek that he used as a loaner for the shop if I was interested. He wheeled it out and I gave it the once-over. I tried to contain my drool. A very long story, shortened, I took that Trek for a test ride late in the season down Miller road. Next to the harshness of the alloy Cannondale, it was like riding a limo compared next to a Chevette. I was cruising down the road, pushing that Trek hard, and I came upon a tall fella on a white and purple road bike – little did I know at the time, it was a Schwinn Paramount. I hollered, “On your left” and passed him. Ahem…. Little did I know, he was a Nationally Ranked triathlete – and he was only three or four years away from being National Champion for Sprint Distance… and that I’d never pass him again. He got on my wheel – I didn’t even know there was such a thing as “getting on someone’s wheel” and rode with me until I went to turn around to head back to the shop. I almost took him out because I had no clue he was there when I stopped pedaling and looked back for traffic. He scared the hell out of me! That was the first time I met [McMike]. I told Matt what had happened when I got back to the shop, and with a smile on his face, asked if I’d really caught him. Then he explained who he was.
Things were starting to look up financially and after a couple of months, I brought home that Trek on the 21st of January, 2012. Matt had asked me, shortly before I’d bought that Trek, how fast I was on the Cannondale and I was proud to be able to tell him I could hold between a 19 and 20-mph average for around 20-ish miles. I’d read on the internet that that was pretty fast. After picking up the Trek, he invited me out to Tuesday night, to ride with the club. I’d never ridden with anyone before bumping into Mike on the road – other than a few friends on back roads when I did those two triathlons with a few others from the running club (and we all rode side-by-side).
The Trek changed everything for me. I started training harder and read everything I could get my hands on about riding in a group. Proper etiquette, hand signals, things of that nature. I practiced riding the white line on the side of the road for a month, so I could hold a straight line. After Matt invited me out a fourth or fifth time, I finally showed up on Tuesday night. To say I was nervous was an understatement. What was I getting myself into? I didn’t even know where we were, let alone the route!
April 3, 2012, I lined up for the first time in Lennon. I wrote about the experience here. We started off easy enough at 18-19-mph but once we made that right turn at the fire station, it was on. The pace quickly jumped north of 20-mph… As sports go, It was the coolest thing I’d ever been a part of. I can remember the precision with which riders would come off the front and fade to the back, the whole mechanics of the pace line – it was just amazing. Then the pace went from 22 to 28-mph once we hit Shipman. I wasn’t ready for it and held on as long as I could. Matt fell off before I did so I knew when I fell off, if I just waited for him, I’d be okay. I saw another rider fall off about a quarter-mile ahead of me, though, so I chose to try to catch him rather than slow up. That rider was Phill and he helped me around the course. We’ve been riding together ever since, and I consider him one of my best friends. We did the 30-mile route at 19.6-mph and the main group (what is now the A Group) finished with a 21-mph average over the 33-mile route. How far we’ve all come, eh?! The A group is now at 25-mph and the B group is at 23 for the same routes!
Anyway, from that day on I was absolutely hooked on cycling. I went from 100% solo miles to 5% over the last six years. My wife has gotten into cycling and become a regular fixture in the B Group with me, and I’ve made so many good friends, it’s hard to keep from getting a little misty looking back. When I didn’t know any better, cycling was all about the toys. Once I became a part of the group, I found the toys were nice but toys didn’t even scratch the surface. Cycling is about friends, fun, and Tuesday evenings with 50 other like-minded people spending time together sharing the load. My friends, you have added a degree of happiness to my life I simply didn’t know was possible.
I just wanted to take a minute, or sixty, to say thank you for letting me be a part of. I appreciate it beyond words.
Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.