Read my host of entries on why I ride in the AIDS/LifeCycle: the people, community, fighting homophobia and HIV/AIDS fears, and the joy of cycling. Here’s a bit of a primer on the joys of cycling for those who cannot fathom spending a day on a bike.
Waking up for a ride can be hard. Its 6 am. Or its 5 am. Or 4; or even 3 am. Riding a long distance is time consuming. The days grow longer, the weather fairer, and the miles and climbing increase. But with all these increases comes greater strength, more camaraderie as we help each other achieve our goals, and a renewed sense of commitment to cycling and to the charities which will bring about an end to AIDS in our lifetimes.
Preparing for the ride can also feel like a lonesome burden. Grumbling, your pets and husband(s) still slumbering peacefully, you have to don a thin layer of spandex which seems a bit insufficient to hide your shame, down as much coffee as possible, and hope you’ve consumed enough carbs for the day’s journey. But you do it anyway because you remember the last time when you reached your goals or you didn’t quite make it up that hill, or you saw a new rider full of pride because she finally got out of the house and made it to the top of a great climb.
Then there’s the unfortunate drive to the meet up point. I try to ride to the meet up point whenever possible. But usually, especially when I’m riding far away or when the miles increase, driving is the only option. But even driving can become a joy when you get to commute with your friends. The secret here is planning and communication. Make sure you’re connected to your mates on Facebook, Twitter, or by text. Asking will doubtless get you a ride. And that’s always more fun.
Finally at the meet up point. It seems too cold to be wearing so little. Everything is a blur because there wasn’t time for enough coffee. But everyone else — though complaining about aches and pains and lack of sleep — is smiling broadly and looks happy to see you. When the Training Ride Leader comes around and asks how you’re training is going, you’ll find you have a lot to talk about and an interested ear. When you start to stretch, you realize that all those days of early mornings are paying off. The pains seem as phantom as the twilight which is rapidly giving way to blue skies (unless your ride starts out in San Francisco, in which case you’ll have to wait an hour or so for the blue to emerge from the grey).
The ride begins and you feel like a little kid again. Can you feel the giddy anticipation? The TRL warned you about the climbing, the warm weather, the bumpy roads, the cow manure, or the wind. But instead of feeling trepidatious, all you can muster is a thrill of anticipation like a kid on Christmas. The knowledge that you will be with your friends, being encouraged, doing something you used to watch others do from your speeding car window. This is the thing about cycling.
Challenges arise, but you face them. The hill was twice as steep as you were warned. The wind made the whole ride feel like a climb. The sun beat down with a furor. But you did it. You watched your Garmin register increasing cumulative miles: 12, 23, 37, 52, 63.4. Somehow, using your muscle power alone. somehow you became the athlete you always knew you could be. No, the ride wasn’t easy. The challenges were difficult. And some of them you might not quite have achieved. But in the end, you rode those miles. Pride swells inside. Something its nearly impossible to make others understand.
Back at the starting point, you start to think about home. All life’s cares were erased for that one instant. From the other side, it seemed like the ride would take forever. But now, the ride seemed all too short. You remember that tomorrow’s Monday, that you have dinner plans with your wife, and that your dog misses you with a passion. You hug your riding mates and promise to see them the following week for the even-harder ride (could it be a century?).
And you know, however hard it is to get up that day, you’re going to do it. Riding has entered your blood. You are the rider.