|I actually attended a small group ride very early in the riding season|
*Photo credit - Pati W./St. Vrain Chain Gang
About mid-summer, I considered putting out an ad for cycling buddies who just wanted to ride and weren't fixated on how fast they would get there, but ultimately decided that it seemed a little desperate and goodness only knows who I would've encountered. Besides that, I've found that when I word things in such a way, I tend to experience the extreme opposite (which isn't what I'm after either). I do like to ride more leisurely at times as well, but when I'm out for a long road ride, I want to enjoy it, be somewhat challenged, but not feel as though I'm going to pass out in the first 20 minutes of riding. There has to be a happy middle ground somewhere, right?
Near the end of summer, I was riding down a local highway with a wide shoulder and there were two gentlemen in front of me. At first, I figured I wouldn't pass because I assumed they would be taking off at any moment (as is usually the case) so it seemed foolish to attempt to go around them. As I pedaled along behind them, I couldn't help but over-hear their conversation. I felt a bit guilty eavesdropping because they weren't aware of my presence until much later, but truth be told, I was happy to have a conversation to listen in on, even if I had no idea who the people were or what exactly they were discussing. During their conversation, I learned that one of the riders was just starting to cycle again after a long hiatus (which explained instantly why they hadn't taken off at warp speed) and was looking to increase his endurance before the "bad weather" set in to our area.
Not too long after this portion of their conversation ended, the men stopped abruptly, catching me completely off guard as I was lost in the bliss of having others around to entertain me. I tried to maintain my composure, but veered off into traffic for a brief moment. Of course, I startled them as well because they hadn't realized I'd been right behind them for the last ten-ish miles, hanging on their every word. I apologized for not saying something (especially because I was right on their tails the entire time), and they offered a gracious nod and smile as I continued down the highway. I'm sure they had quite a conversation when they started up again about the "crazy lady" who nearly scared them to death.
Yes, I think I've painted a fairly decent (though very much condensed) picture of my desire to ride with others who cycle at similar speeds, and while I am not generally so needy, this summer's riding, accomplished as it was for me and my goals, carried with it a kind of pathetic sadness. It's not as though I started out every ride feeling doomed to wander alone, but every so often I was reminded that it kind of sucks to always ride by oneself. I do truly enjoy my alone time, but no one wants to do every activity by him/herself.
You can see how I ended up coming back to the group I'd started with in the spring months. I tease them each summer saying that they'll always get at least one ride out of me (which has held true), but this season I decided to bookend my rides. When I arrived for the group ride, there were very few cyclists riding that afternoon... six (not counting myself) to be more exact. I had been told that since there were only a few cyclists riding, they weren't going to split into what would normally be three separate groups (the A Group, aka the "I have wings, and I'm not afraid to use them" group; the B group, aka the "I'm like lightening most of the time, but my wings have just sprouted" group; and the C group, aka the "My bike weighs more than I do so I'm riding the pace I ride" group - totally fictitious names, by the way, but I do think the groups should be renamed thusly... post haste). Of course, it only makes sense to ride as a single group if those who are pedaling at faster speeds decide to slow down to us mere mortals at the back of the back. Within a mile, the group was gone and I was left behind with one cyclist who took pity on me and rode at a slower pace.
True, I was ill... sniffling and coughing through the short ride, and I probably shouldn't have left the house at all. But the strangest feeling was that I had actually forgot what it was like to ride with someone else, so it was a bit odd to have another cyclist pedaling next to me, chatting about the happenings of late. I actually enjoyed it (though I can't speak for the poor soul stuck with me), and I realized in that moment that it really isn't as much fun to ride alone, particularly on long rides, as it is to have a partner. I do enjoy my alone time and I honestly don't mind riding by myself on the whole, but it's easy to forget that cycling can be a social activity when one is used to riding solitary so frequently.
I don't exactly know where I am going with this thought, other than coming to the realization that there are times when I do want to ride with someone else, but also understanding that most people who ride for "sport" are more interested in constantly improved speeds than chatting about the happenings in their life outside of cycling. There are exceptions to this as with anything, but I keep trying to determine where it is that I am supposed to find riding buddies who not only have similar desires for a road ride, but who also ride at similar rates of speed. Part of the beauty of cycling is that it can be accomplished alone, but it's sometimes challenging to feel as though it has to always be done on ones own. As many parts of the U.S. are beginning to gear up for snow and the colder months ahead, it seems like a good time to reflect on the past and ponder where the next season will take me. Perhaps there are others out there just waiting to be found, or maybe I just need to suck it up and get through the more difficult rides with groups, knowing that they will make me a stronger cyclist - even if I don't necessarily have the opportunity to talk as much as I'd prefer during a ride... you know, as I gasp for air while trying to keep up.