Ride along with us sometime and you may hear, “The back is the new front!” It’s an expression my friend, Linda, declared in response to a story of a stronger cyclist’s early days when she had regularly struggled to keep up with faster riders. It has become a celebrated mantra for us, especially among our “newbies”. It helps us remember that it doesn’t matter which position you occupy in a group ride. Simply being on your bike with the support and encouragement of friends is enough to enjoy biking and know you’re making progress.
Okay, let’s be honest. There are many of us that would rather say, “It is okay if you are at the back, but not me!” Personally speaking, I pride myself in catching up to the front of the pack. I feel strong and powerful – and if the pacesetters are men – I feel a youthful glee rising within me to a point that I can hardly contain it! I do my best to pass nonchalantly; nevertheless, “See Ya!” occasionally bursts forth, accompanied with a girly grin. I feel accomplished and proud and enjoy reaping the payoff from many miles in the saddle. But even after six years of developing my cycling skills, there are days I am confronted with the reality that I am not as strong as the rest.
Last Friday I was biking in the 2016 Cascade Triple Challenge, an annual cycling event, hosted by Bart Bowen, former U.S. pro-cyclist and owner of Bowen Sports Performance. This event of “epic road riding on the beautiful and challenging roads of Oregon” attracts both aspiring and accomplished cyclists. Relative to my fellow riders, I fell into the “aspiring” category. Here is the view I had – from the back.
Not a soul in sight. No conversational chatter of bike adventures, STRAVA stats or questions about where we meet for lunch. Just a chirping forest and the vroom! of an occasional passing car.
Joe, one of the leaders, circled back to check on me. I assured him that I was familiar with the route (I was), comfortable on my own (I was) and had a cell phone (albeit, no reception). He accepted my no help needed message and pulled ahead to catch the speedy frontrunners: four cycling racers (including Brenna Lopez-Otero a two time National Criterium Champion); Boston Marathon winner (1976), Jack Fultz; and Garth McKay, a runner-turned-cyclist who, in 1973, had the second fastest 3-mile time in the nation to Steve Prefontaine.
Pride was not the muscle I would be building this weekend.
In my early cycling days I would have easily despaired upon finding myself riding at the back, struggling to keep even one person in view. Does any of this sound familiar?
“I’m soooooo slow …”
“What am I doing here?”
“I hope the SAG wagon (support vehicle) is nearby …”
“They are going to hate waiting for me …”
Fortunately, I have had sufficient practice with this rear-position plight and chose a different mental playlist to avoid a sad spiral. It looked and sounded something like this:
Deep breath. Exhale. Relax. I slowed my pace just a bit, choosing to enjoy my ride rather than fret or exhaust myself trying to catch up. Suddenly, my senses became aware of the incredible sights, scents and sounds that surrounded me; tall pine trees gloriously rising into a cloudless blue sky. Fresh scent of a thick forest, alive with the sounds of birds and chipmunks scurrying in an out of sight. Scattered clusters of lavender-colored flowers cheering me forward with pops of color in the gray gravel along the road’s edge. I was pedaling through Crater Lake National Park, climbing up to the rim.
I found joy in letting go of my expectations to keep up with the rest. I stopped to enjoy the views and posed for photos to capture the memory. Being at the back was serving me in a wonderful way, and I could feel myself smiling inside. I continued to spin and breathe, rhythmically, steadily, and consciously conserving my energy for this day of undulating terrain.
I altered my route by circling the rim clockwise; their counter-clockwise trajectory would provide for an eventual regroup for lunch along the rim. This was our view.
I didn’t log as many miles as my friends that day, but I was pleased with the work I had done; sufficiently challenging myself while discovering once again, that the back is the new front.