A Good Ride Partner (Leader)

18 Aug

It’s been way too long since I’ve written an entry here. Readers will forgive me as I’ve transitioned from bike racer to enthusiast with coaching and counseling credentials. Life has a way of carrying us along its river in no particular fashion. Sometimes the waters are muddied, sometimes the current is swift, rumbling and tumbling us over boulders and fallen trees, jerking us from one peculiar station to the next along life’s intended path. Through it all, the bulk of this audience maintains the best of intentions to ride their bikes as much as possible and as fast as their time commitments will allow. Some seasons, that means riding at the front of the fast group and jamming up hills or attacking the cross winds just because we can. Other seasons, that means digging deep into Paul Sherwen’s ‘suitcase of courage’ just to maintain contact with the peloton.

My journey has taken me from the former to the latter where I now dig into my suitcase of, ‘do I really want this or do I want that cold beer after the ride?’ I’ve been humbled by the commitment and tenacity among many of you who battle constant deadlines, family commitments, volunteer commitments, networking socials, shuttling children to and from this practice or that event, and all other manner of responsibility that cuts into the simple pleasure of riding one’s bike. For to feel the wind in our hair or over our bald pates as the case may be, is to be free of all life’s worries and contemplate nothing more than the warm sun, the heavy and sometimes ragged breath of our cycling brethren, or merely to take in the heavenly scent of lilac or pink rose bushes as we cruise aimlessly for the sheer relief it affords us.

Many of us show up to group rides with personal agendas and most often, those personal agendas are tolerated and accepted among all who attend. However, as we age, our bodies become less forgiving and our minds less tolerant. No one wants to suffer the slings and arrows of carbon splinters spewn by overlapping wheels or the ravages of Father Time’s graying and slowing advances. Instead, we crave more connection, more meaning, and less competition. ‘Tis true, one of the foremost creeds of Team Treachery & Deceit is to do whatever it takes to beat your buddy, but this creed is spoken not only with reverence, but also with tongue firmly planted in cheek. We seek to leave no one behind, be they Peter Sagan or Pee Wee Herrman. (This would be a great place to insert Anthony Barr in his white platform shoes, riding his bicycle, in your mind’s eye).

Over the years it has been a blend of science and art to mesh the individual agendas with the group goal of leaving no one behind. Sometimes vastly differing fitness levels can make this as challenging as Captain Ahab’s quest. (No, they do not call me Ishmael). Thanks to such a cooperative audience, we’ve managed to form a group of like minded, supportive and embracing cyclists. As such, I wanted to elaborate on an email from last March.

Seems the weather remains bitter into April during these days of global warming. On this particularly cold and blustery Sunday I found myself in the company of Jim Stevens. Jim is a PhD research scientist with Lilly, applying a very analytical and detailed approach to his career such that his success is unparalleled. Through the years, Jim has applied the same analytical and detailed approach to his cycling. And it should be noted, Jim comes from quite an athletic background, having swam collegiately, no small task.

Jim and I had met at Fishback to ride over to the SRE Sunday afternoon ride. The SRE group typically ride back over toward Fishback for some hill sprints, but on this day, the group decided to ride north and then come back south. Jim and I had both ridden a hard ride the previous day, so neither of us were keen to ride the extra miles and THEN ride back to Fishback. As we headed north into a cross wind and the pace steadily increased I felt the burn in my own legs begin to intensify and I noticed Jim begin to fall a little further and then still further back in the pack. After crossing SR 32, I mentioned to Jim that after the previous day’s riding, it might be wise to cut this ride short and head on back to Fishback. Jim readily agreed.

Our ride back to Fishback was cold, windy, and damned unpleasant except for the fact that we had each other’s company. Spring hadn’t sprung yet, leaving us with gray clouds and gray, barren landscapes. You might imagine one of those dreary paintings of an unpainted, wooden barn sagging in the wind with snow on the ground and thin, leafless trees affording no break from said howling wind.

We discussed many topics from training to economy to physics to retirement and even favorite beers (the pace quickened here). Our conversation made the miles more palatable and soon enough, we found our way back to our respective destinations. Later in the day I received an email of thanks from Jim. The Subject Line read, ‘A Good Ride Partner.’ Jim did not have to send that email, but I think it speaks to not only his, but to our entire community’s appreciation for one another. Jim praised my strength as a rider that day as I did much of the towing (and I was happy to do so), but he also thanked me for being the good ride partner, admitting that it would have been a tough ride home without the conversation and company.

My days of being one of the strongest are dwindling and I hope that someday one of you will be the good ride partner, shepherding me back to the salvation of a warm bowl of chili and a cold brew. More importantly however, as the winds of change usher in new leaders, I hope that they will remember to maintain an awareness for all riders, keeping in mind that the small gestures of encouragement or a hand on the hip go a long way in getting riders through the rough patches; be mindful that some folks, particularly the women, have the fitness to keep up but often lack the confidence. Encourage and guide them to the front when necessary and within a ride or two, they often are mid to front of the pack. A ride leader is not just the strongest rider; he or she is also strong enough of mind to know he or she does not have to prove one’s self every single ride. He or she can take a back seat and encourage the development of others for the good of the group. In this way, everyone still gets the workout they were looking for and everyone enjoys that spot of beer just around the next bend of Life’s, sometimes rocky and sometimes calm, river ride.

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