Yesterday, the sun set later. At 5:15, the sky lit up from a hazy pink to a glorious rose red flame. As if it knew that the days were a bit longer. I felt a primal feeling of excitement, as I hadn’t been out precisely at sunset for a week, since the solstice. My old patient neurons knew that we’d again rounded the curve and things would be OK. Warmth and growth on the horizon again.
So, what was my thought for today? Oh yeah…
I was out yesterday on the Hilsen, which now looks a bit dustier than it did a month back. Seems like every ride recently has diverted on to the trails at some point, and since we’ve seen precisely no rain, they are sharing a fine coating of light tan dust with each jaunt.
An errand or few on the agenda. A relative’s old laptop needed a quirky part and the local computer Chop ‘N Recycle shop said they had a few. Rather than zip directly there via the commute route, I angled away and used the Least Direct Route to enjoy myself a bit. I’d thrown on my green MUSA knickers over some knee warmers, a heavy knitted trainer but no shell and found the pace that made heat without too much sweat.
At the crest of a small climb, I heard the rhythm of lungs behind me. Sat up slightly and looked back to find a rider catching me with authority. Bright yellow wind shell made from the fabric of the America’s Cup also-rans. Stealth black framed road bike so light that he had to lean hard and forward to keep it from coming off the pavement. Stark white earbuds with the cords disappearing into his neckline. He huffed a “Hey” and pulled in front of me.
I should admit that earbuds on a bike always tweak me a bit. Here we are, two riders who have managed to sneak out on a hazy, dry, cold December afternoon and now find each other on a deserted bit of roadway. In my book, that’s always worth a “how’s it going?” at least. Particularly when the speed differential is not that great. Now, if you are riding RAAM or PBP or even a short brevet, that’s one thing - I understand having the music to keep you awake, or lift your spirits now and again. But given the rest of this rider’s setup, it didn’t seem he’d be out for too long.
Shorts. No knee warmers. Under closer inspection, the fabric of his screaming yellow shell was more translucent than I’d realized. Visibility layer rather than barrier against wind chill.
Now, I’ve seen and commented about this before. Heard the creaking and cracking of cold knees and chattering teeth. But, it still amazes me how some folks are out in cold-weather conditions dressed as though it were high summer and sunny.
Certainly, I’ve done it - cyclocross in sloppy, rainy conditions, mountain bike races in chilly spring air, windy crits in February. When the loved ones who were kind enough to tag along for moral support begged for those chemical handwarmers and another layer. At race pace, you are throwing off enough BTU’s to heat a small house. So, it is theoretically possible that a given rider out in the gnashing teeth of winter are perfectly toasty.
I blame the racers.
Most likely, folks have seen the images of the Tour. Which takes place in July. When they bought their bike, it was probably late spring or high summer. They bought a jersey and maybe two pair of shorts. And when they get up the gumption to go out onto the roadways on a dry December day, they grab their riding gear and hustle out the door. That high-summer kit fails them badly.
But, again I digress.
Though, it was what crossed my mind as this stealthy black frame pulled in front of me. And slowed. Which made me realize I’d perhaps been the carrot - some slow guy on a dirty bike wearing funky green trousers with a bag over his shoulder, meandering his pokey way up the climb ahead.
That’s when I figured it was going to kick in. The latent racer gene.
It started slowly. As we crested out, I eased into a less spinny gear and tried to give him some room before the short curvy descent. He hopped around a bit and seemed a bit stiff in the transitions, more than likely having a bit of trouble with his skinny tires on the damp and slightly broken roadway. Watched his red rear brake (red brakes? these are a thing now?) By the bottom, I was feathering brakes to keep behind him until he put his head down and started thumping out his rouleur gear. At which point, the technique born of old age and treachery kicked in from my end. I locked on his rear wheel like a bored terrier chasing the mail truck.
And I hadn’t really meant to. Had planned on meandering and moseying my way. And given that my home roads are often populated by Riders With True Speed, I’ve more often been passed and dropped by folks. Cleanly dropped. “Holy-crud-how-did-he/she-get-that-far-that-fast” kinda dropped.
Not today. I found a gear that felt good and motored along. Not really working too hard though, as my new friend plowed the air in front of me and dragged me along in his wake. I’m patient.
The breaks and bumps in the pavement were not kind to him, and I could see tremors move up through him as the hard tires and stiff wheels gave him a lesson or two in energy transmission. His pace dropped a notch, then two more and it was time to ease past. Could just be that the song ended.
Over the next miles, I rolled away notched into a brisk but sustainable, able-to-chat pace. He caught up a couple of times, goosed it to pass, then fade and fall back. He finally got a gap on another mild uphill, punched the big ring (clearly one of those racing, prime-number toothed rings) and stomped away down the longish, curved descent. Back on the flat, my not-racing-but-aware-of-the-distance effort whittled away on his lead.
And it felt good. It felt good to duke it a bit on the quiet roads. Make a little stronger effort than I’d planned. Enjoy the cushion of supple, fat tires on an uneven road. Get some distraction from the curves and minutiae of a road I probably know too well.
I caught and passed him again. In fact, I think he was shutting it down and turned off behind me. But, it didn’t matter. Ahead of me were a couple of cold looking chaps on very bright, new bikes, waiting at a stop light. If I timed it right, I could ease past them just as the light changed, while they struggled into their pedals and found that their stopping gear ratio was not the best for starting.
But, I did say, “How’s it going, guys?”