People watching, conversation and some cycling
4th annual Sweatin’ Burnt Orange Bike Tour, Blanco, TX – Benefits the Univ. of Texas cycling team
Bicycle races have elevated my people-watching to an entirely new level. With 20 minutes to kill before the start of yesterday’s ride, I hung out in the trunk of my little, red hatchback, swinging my feet and watching cars and bicycles roll into the parking lot. I noticed that skill level and leg-awesomeness didn’t seem to correlate directly with bicycle fanciness. I saw bikes older than me ridden by cyclists built for speed as much as I saw fellow turtle riders (slow and steady) spinning fast, mean-looking wheels. (I would pass a woman riding a Pinarello on a climb. Woo!)
With minutes to spare, a tan minivan squeezed into the improbably small spot to my left, and four men in late middle age tumbled out. They all looked at me with sheepish grins, tugging at their matching jerseys to keep them down over rounded stomachs. Their little, muscled chicken legs stuck out from their torsos in a cartoonish manner, and with them they warmed up in the parking lot on old but quality bicycles.
Cycling is incredibly social. I was one of the only riders on the course pedaling solo, but I found no lack of support and conversation. On the first big climb, I found myself surrounded by women. Halfway up, the grunting and panting started, but so did the encouragement. Strangers started cheering for each other, and when we all reached the top, many burst into laughter. There would be other hills, and I think the combined enthusiasm and shared struggle of the others was what got me to the top and to the 40 mph rush down the other side.
Around mile 25, I was joined by a man from Buffalo, NY who had flown down for the weekend to visit a friend (and, apparently, ditch him in the race). As it happened, he, too, had cycled across the country in his twenties. Every detail of sleeping under the stars and mailing his gear over the mountains so he didn’t have to carry it were fresh in his mind, and we swapped stories for ten miles before I slowed down too much.
Dismounting at my car after the 45-mile race, I was startled by four, boisterous men racing up behind me: The middle age minivan riders had caught up. “It’s the girl who had the quiet smile on climbs while the rest of us bitched!” one of them said to me. They looked a bit haggard, but were laughing. “That’s why we do intervals,” one of them said sarcastically, glaring at the other three.
They began telling me a story, tripping over each other to interject their comments. Apparently, they found their rhythm with a pace group that included a man in a sleeveless jersey who had armpit hair “longer than head hair.” It was the nastiest thing any of them had seen on a course.
“How do you tell a person to do something about a thing like that?”
“Maybe he should have braided them, with beads.”
Perhaps it was just that rider’s fantastically perfect way of keeping others from drafting him.