There’s something about riding 130 miles in a day, 4 days in a row, that makes a group of 20 people with absolutely nothing in common, aside from a deep-seeded love of bikes, suddenly become the best of friends. Additionally, there’s something about it that makes that new group of best buddies decide that a bathrobe party at two in the morning is not only a good idea, it has to happen.
That’s what Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington was about (I don’t mean bathrobes!): Bringing unlikely people together to talk about what really matters in bike advocacy. For some of us, that means finding safe routes to school so kids can ride bikes. For others, it means more bike paths in inner city areas. For still others among us, it’s about promoting cycling for women and improving the lives of women racers. Whatever the cause, the overarching goal is to make people more aware of bikes. That’s why Tim and Bikes Belong host the ride, and that’s why the 20 of us put up with each other for 538 miles, from Boston to Washington, DC. Because we all believe that bikes are important for so, so many reasons. Chances are if you’re reading this, you think that too, whether you’re a racer or a commuter or simply a bike advocate.
The ride opened my eyes to a lot of things. For one, I learned that I am capable of holding 400 watts on a downhill, then sprinting up the next climb. I also learned that after 500 miles in 4 days, my heart rate refuses to hit anything over 150, no matter how hard I try. I learned just how important chamois cream really is. I learned that there is no modestly among cyclists, especially when it comes to public urination. Maybe that part wasn’t a highlight of the trip for me, but it definitely showcased how cycling is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO, a bike mechanic, young, old, male, female: when you gotta go, and there are only fields around, guess what? You’re peeing in the field next to whoever happens to be with you. The only weird part about that was how not weird it was.
My capabilities as a cyclist were put to the test each day, when we had miles to go before we slept, and even when we did get to sleep, it was rarely for more than 4 hours at a time. Of course, this isn’t to say it was a hardship. Between nice hotel rooms every night, a neutral support car during the ride, celebrity chefs (well, celebrities to us athletes, anyway) and authors of The Feed Zone Cookbook cooking for us and providing in-ride nutrition in the form of rice cakes and their drink mix, Skratch, I’ve become incredibly spoiled. In fact, when I go out on a ride later today, I’m pretty sure if I do flat, I’ll wait around assuming that the SRAM follow car will be pulling up any minute.
But when you’re one of three women on the trip, and you’re also the only non-pro woman, surrounded by amazing athletes like six-time National Champion Tim Johnson, guess what? It’s hard, no matter how much support there is. Especially when time is of the essence and no one wants to be the first to admit that the pace is getting to them.
The first day, a mere 113 miles in the rain from Boston to Hartford, my heartrate soared as I pumped my SRAM Red-equipped bike up the hills. Maybe switching to a compact crank would have been a good move, because some hills, I was literally standing on the pedals, giving new meaning to the phrase “smashing” hills. It hurt. And it was exhausting.
At breakfast the next morning, I overheard two of the stronger guys talking, complaining that the first day had been entirely too easy. “My heartrate never went above 155,” the one said. I thought I was going to cry, since my heartrate the day before had been averaging around 160 the entire time, redlining for a good chunk of the climbing. It made me nervous. With four days of riding to go, was I going to be tough enough to hack it?
Turns out, you’re exactly as tough as you think you are. A few miles into the Hartford to NYC stretch, I suddenly decided that my attitude sucked. I was worried about staying on a wheel, stressing myself out, bringing my heartrate higher than it needed to be. “You got this,” I reminded myself. “You’re kind of a badass.”
The crazy thing about riding so much in such a short time is that your brain pretty much goes through the stages of grief. There’s denial: “My legs don’t hurt. This saddle isn’t killing me. I’m not hungry.” There’s bargaining: “Legs, just let me get up this hill and I swear I’ll eat a whole sleeve of Shot Bloks.” There’s anger: “Goddammit, when is this hill going to end?” There’s depression: “I’m never going to make it to the end of this ride.” And then, there’s acceptance: “I got this.” And then you hang on to that wheel in front of you for dear life, you watch the miles tick away, you see the city line in the distance, and you know that you made it.
It’s an awesome feeling.
I know for some people on the ride, doing 538 miles in 5 days wasn’t that big of a deal. And I’ve done endurance, I’ve done 30 hour training weeks before. But to do so much in so short a time, to prove such an important point and send such a cool message… now that’s just awesome. I’ve never ridden with so many committed, talented people, and I sincerely hope to do so again in the future. It reminded me that the bike community is unlike any other, where as long as you love the ride, you can be friends.
We are the lucky ones. When I think about how few people could take time out of their lives and do that ride, and how few people could actually handle finishing that ride, I realize just how lucky I am.
To donate to Bikes Belong, a truly awesome organization that is making a huge difference in our community, check out their website