Cyclocross is over and there is snow in the mountains. Winter, as I define it, is in full swing. The rituals of the season though familiar are for a moment, fresh. The audible click when my boots locked into my Nordic bindings was a sweet sound I had forgotten until I heard it again. When I heard it I smiled. Assembling and donning the proper layers of clothing to cope with cycling in the cold and/or chilly rain brings a satisfaction when it all works out. I go to work in the dark and I come home in the dark. It isn’t good or bad; it just is. When I need to work on bikes in the garage it is cold down there.
This past Saturday El Chefe’ and I started at sunrise and spent the first four hours of grey daylight riding and talking. We wanted to be sure and finish before the day got dry and comfortable. We achieved that goal. When we finished we had more than a hundred kms which was the longest either of us had ridden in a while, yet we both felt pretty good. El Chefe’ was still in race shape but was kind enough not to drop me.
We bumped into McWoodie on the I-90 bridge. You can always spot the brown kits from an amazing distance. We finished with a loop of the island. It was good to catch up with El Chefe’ and I was reminded that he is an exceptional human.
It felt really good to go long. After a season of intervals four hours seemed like forever. The slower pace necessitated by the distance and road conditions was welcome. Saturday afternoon my legs were tired. Not sore, not tight, not achy, just tired. It was a great feeling. The voluminous mound of post-ride laundry reflects the season as much as anything.
The Sunday morning rendezvous for Coffee and Lies was surprisingly populous with a peloton that peaked at eleven riders sporting the brown. For perhaps the first time all year we had our entire executive committee riding. I was wondering if we might get a State of the Team Address from el Jefe. That didn’t happen; we just rode. That was enough.
Our team rides in deep winter are a treat. Although conditions are typically bleak the pace is slower and during the ride I get some unhurried time to spend chatting with each rider. This is the season of base miles.
Before it was the Coffee and Lies ride it was known as the “Hank Ride.” Ironically Hank hasn’t been on his namesake ride for about three years. Hank’s passion has gone to the dark side and he now competes in rowing events and uses cycling as a supplement to his rowing training. How misguided…
A similar story with a very different ending comes from another neighborhood ride. That ride goes four days a week and on Sunday it departs before the Coffee and Lies ride. Those riders are known as (fake name to protect the innocent) The Flanders Boys Ride named after the group’s leader Tim Flanders.
For the majority of this year the Hank ride and the Flanders Boys rides had no Hank or Flanders.
Mr. Flanders spent last year battling cancer. In my “denial is the key to success” way, I acted the coward and kept up on Tim’s illness from afar. In the spring months things looked grim. Time to talk about time grim. By summer things were looking better and by fall, Tim had begun riding again. His outlook isn’t ideal; kind of along the lines of something is better than nothing. Compared to nothing, something is infinitely better. Sometimes something is enough.
On our ride our group met up with the Flanders Boys including the man himself. During the conversation Tim mentioned how painful it had been when he returned to riding a few months ago. I asked him if he enjoyed that pain. He met my gaze and matter-of-factly confessed that he had enjoyed that suffering. His expression told me he knew what I was asking.
As our group gets older our priorities are shifting away from the podium. We still relish being known as “The nicest bunch of guys that will kick your ass.” Don’t get me wrong; we aren’t ready to trade our carbon and titanium bikes for wheelchairs. I am just noting that as much fun as it is to kick people’s asses we are finding great joy in just riding and sharing those experiences with each other. We have finally figured out the quality of a ride can be expressed without using speed as the primary measurement.
It was enjoyable to catch up with my band of brown brothers. It reminded me what a special group we have. I hope they don’t do any retroactive background checks and boot me out.