I regularly spend time admiring my legs, gazing at them through a mirror, transfixed by the twined, muscled visage. Sometimes I like to lie on the couch, put my feet up on the arm, and take turns flexing each leg: first the quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, and finally, the vastus lateralis), then I roll my legs a little to the outside to get a better view of my calf as I engage the gastrocnemius and then the soleus. Each bulging muscle reminds me of some heroic racing moment: an attack, a counter, a Porsche-like ascent up a mountain while whipping through switchbacks.
By June, a deep tan accentuates the sharp angles of my toned and rippling muscles. These are legs, I think to myself, which could be used to illustrate a training feature in any cycling magazine, or in Men’s Journal.
I like to remind myself that there’s nothing women love more than a guy with great muscle tone and a tan to accentuate said tone. Then I start to plot new ways to publicly display my legs more fully. Women have it so easy with their mini skirts, I think to myself.
Just as I’m drifting among images of myself slathered in baby oil, posing for a photographer in a fitness studio, mugging faces of fake strain for the camera while flexing each strand of raw brawn, my boxers slip a little farther north, and I’m brought back to reality by the jarring border of my mid-thigh tan line.
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about; the line where your bibs end and your tan takes over.
As a bike racer, getting a good tan is pretty much inevitable, and since I’ve always been an everything-in-its-place kind of a guy, the hem of my bibs have to go in their right places too. The result is a night-and-day, black-and-white, Florida-Alaska disparity between the tanned lower portions of my legs and the alabaster skin above the demarcation lines.
A tan line like mine is fun when you can use it as evidence of how much you ride, or to show off the level of your commitment to the sport. And since pretty much every bike racer has a similar tan line, comparing them, talking about them, and admiring them is not unusual at races, group rides, and other places where cyclists gather.
But every once in a while, bike racing gives way to a real life in which tan lines are not points of pride, and where the goal is to get rid of, not to enhance, such features.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be getting into bed with a very attractive woman – the kind of woman who could do much better than a bike racer with tree-trunk thighs but a stick-figure waist and toothpick arms – who, for reasons unknown, deemed me worthy.
She was no stranger, and she knew – at least in general terms – about my cycling habits. After years of missed connections, the timing was finally right for us, and everything seemed to be going perfectly; we’d had a great time together over a few days, I did a reasonable job convincing her friends that I was nice, funny, but not creepy, and now we were getting into bed. I took off my pants. Suddenly she was staring at my thigh with a befuddled gaze that reduced my most-most admired body part from a rippling mass of bounded muscles to a strand of limp linguini.
While I’m no Hugh Grant, I like to think that I have some charm, and that I’m usually fairly smooth in intimate situations. In this case, I had nothing.
“Is that a tan line?” she asked, clearly mystified. Apparently my tan lines are so “impressive,” even after two months of covering my legs to ward off cold, that they can still be mistaken.
I had warned her about my shaved legs before taking off my pants (women love this too, by the way, but that’s a topic for another day), but I hadn’t thought to prepare her for tan lines. Advice about sunscreen ensued.
In the end, the tan line conversation was nothing more than a momentary distraction during an otherwise wonderful evening, but boy, that stare was a rock thrown into my pond of narcissism. No, they do not want to do a tan line feature in next month’s Details Magazine, but they do carry SPF 45 at CVS, freak. Remember this, next time you’re tempted to compare tan lines at a race.