When I post an upcoming ride, someone invariably posts the following:
- How much elevation?
- How far?
I usually try to be honest:
- You’ll be tired at the end.
- It won’t be flat.
- Bring your passport.
What is it with people who want to know everything before they start? Look, it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be long. There will be climbing. Will you get dropped? Hell, yes. Will you be miserable? Hell, yes. Will you rue the day you were born? Hell, yes.
But that’s not all. You’ll get stronger, we’ll almost certainly wait for you, you’ll feel like you accomplished something, and most importantly, you’ll be home before noon.
Back in the day you never asked that kind of stuff. First, no one even had an odometer, much less a way to measure elevation. Rides were either hilly or flat. Long (100), medium (70), or short (30). Fast or slow. And crucially, the ride was typically decided at the start.
We didn’t have the ‘Bag, the ‘Gram, or the Stravver, and it was too complicated to pick up the phone and call a dozen people, so we had predetermined start times on days of the week, and as we rolled out of town we chose the day’s route.
I say “we” but it was never “we.” The chooser was Fields, and he rarely told you where you were going. He made turns and you deduced from the turns where the route most likely was. Guadalupe towards the river? Probably San Marcos. MLK eastbound? Manor and parts northeast, or maybe Webberville and parts east. Bee Cave/Loop 360? Volente or Marble Falls. One thing’s for sure. You never, ever asked, “Where are we going today?”
Because it was a sign of weakness. WTF did you care where we were going if you had good legs? Because you had to be home at a certain time? Then you didn’t belong on the ride anyway. Because you had some specific plan you were following? Then you didn’t belong on the ride anyway. Because you were scared? Oh, okay. That will be used against you later.
In short, if you were talking you were losing. Every word was parsed and fed into the calculus of “Who’s going well and who’s going to get dropped and who’s going to tear my legs off?” Riding was mental as much as physical; there were no ersatz measuring sticks like TSS or FTP or IDGAF. The ride was the yardstick, and where you came unstitched was how well you did, and the focal point for all the harassing you had to put up with the rest of the week, and the nucleus around which you could build out your pathetic excuses.
Scott Dickson was a master mathematician of this sort of ride calculus and would vary the ride en route depending on how bad or good you felt. If you felt good he’d make it longer and harder, whereas if you felt bad he’d make it longer and harder. “Let’s turn here and add a couple of miles,” meant “Let’s turn here and add twenty miles where there is no place to get water because your bottle is empty and it’s 100 degrees.”
Nowadays people just quiver behind their keyboards, and it doesn’t help them ride better. It deters them from riding, or sends them scurrying to some pre-fab ride where there is no surprise of any kind. You’re doing the “team ride” and like every team ride you will never get any better, never go any faster, never do anything this week that you didn’t do the one before. But the payoff is that there are no surprises.
Kind of sad because life is one big surprise, by which I mean obstacle.
From the moment you awake to the moment you die, you are faced with obstacles to surmount, find a way around, have someone help you climb over, or push out of the way. And you don’t get better at navigating obstacles by following the crowd, although there’s apparently security in knowing that when you dash madly over the cliff at least you’ll have lots of company.
Life, as with cycling, is filled with people who think that the easy way is the easy way, never grasping that it’s the hardest way of all.
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