Last week, I rode with my friend David. It was a standard Saturday morning ride in our area, but with one difference: I’ve gotten faster than him over the last year or so.
“You really should ride with the A group,” he said, referring to our Sunday morning club rides. “Challenge yourself.”
I was sure I wasn’t ready for that yet. The A group consistently leaves me in the dust after several miles into the ride. But this weekend, there was no scheduled B ride. And although I wasn’t crazy about the proposed route, I knew I could break away from the group at a convenient intersection and go my own way. That’s what I told the ride leader I would do.
It’s always fun to start off with a big group. There’s a lot of chatter, and the pace is moderate as we get our legs warmed up. Today’s route took us up a longish hill, a turn onto a street of apartments and condos, then out to Southwest Parkway — a six-lane, divided highway with a wide shoulder.
Before we got to Southwest Parkway, I was off the back. Once I turned onto the highway, the group was out of sight around a bend. When I got up to that bend, they were out of sight for good.
The route turns onto Barton Creek Blvd., a favorite of mine. It’s a wide, smooth road through an upscale residential area. It rises and falls, with lots of curves. I’ve hit my highest speed ever here, and even today I easily cranked it up to 35 right off the bat. But a ferocious wind from the southeast — at my right rear quarter — made me keep my speed in check.
The monster we call Hail Mary Hill was just ahead. I finally got to the point last year where I could pedal all the way up it. It was slow going, in my 34 x 28 gear, but I always finished. Not today. I walked the bike up the hill. When I reached the church parking lot at the top for the usual rest and recover stop, the group was already gone.
I made my way home against a 20 mph headwind.
What’s changed? Last year, I built up mileage early, because I was training for the MS 150. I wasn’t in it this year, so I haven’t been piling on the miles. I do hill work, but my neighborhood hills — as much as they have helped — haven’t prepared me for the bigger grades. I’ve only recently started riding with the club again. Most of my riding up until about mid-May was on my own, or with maybe one other person.
Finally, I turned 60 this year. I know, that’s not an excuse. In fact, there were at least two guys over 60 on today’s ride. They had no trouble keeping up with the pack.
But for me to get back to where I was last year, I’m going to have to work a lot harder. And frankly, I don’t think I want to. The riding I do is keeping me reasonably fit. When I’m out of the club milieu, I can hold my own against most other riders I come across. If I decide to continue riding with the club, it will be on B rides, with slower riders. I’ve never been able to keep up with the A’s — even last year — and I’ve concluded it’s not worth it to me to put in the effort to do it.
The British TV show “Top Gear” has a co-host named James May, who is always getting ribbed by the other co-hosts for his slow driving. They call him “Captain Slow.” If that becomes my new nickname too, well — I’m OK with that.