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Friday, October 01, 2010

She Swore It'd Be Different This Time...

I've confessed to being a profligate lover of group rides. Even when I obviously don't belong, can't keep up, and find myself alienating the few riders who would talk to me in the first place, I keep coming back.

But there's one ride I did once and never called. Think of it as a one night stand, but I rode the Brookside no-drop ride last year right before Bike MS and I didn't entirely dig it.

The leader of my new favorite ride of the week told me I should give it another chance, it's different now. I was down a headlight, only having a wimpy helmet light as far as white front lights go, so my original plan was to go to the downtown airport and ride laps. If the road was dark, at least I wouldn't get hit by a car or something.

My desk at work was buried in an avalanche of work that has me thinking maybe the recession really is over, and I could have easily stayed late into the evening without running out of urgent things to do. On the other hand, the weather was obscenely beautiful, my bike was on the rack and my riding clothes and Camelbak were with me.

I decided to do the Brookside route because it's closer than downtown, so I could come back to work after without losing as much time driving. Plus, I'd heard such encouraging things from someone who knows how to put on a good group ride.

Last year, there was no preamble, the group just started riding at 6:30. This year, I was asked to sign a waiver, not sure why (no other ride seems to require it, I doubt if it does much good against a good personal injury lawyer), and the PV officer who spoke to the Blue Moose ride a couple of weeks ago was there to address us. Out of his jurisdiction though he might have been. Good guy, a motorcycle rider, meaning he has an inkling of what it's like to be out on a bicycle with cars and laws that are designed for cars.

The long and short of it, us cyclists have bitched about enough close calls and been in enough accidents (an MFer was hit last week, there were at least two other accidents in PV) to make the cops take a closer look at whether the cars are sharing the road or trying to kill us all. And if the cops are going to take a closer look to bust the cars who are running us over, obviously that means they are going to be there to see when a few dozen of us roll through stop sign without even a token tap of the brakes, four abreast and hammering hell bent for leather.

Not that any of us would ever do such a thing.

One of the things that has changed since last year is the group has schismed into two groups, one of which is unapologetically fast, the other of which is open to anyone with a bicycle who will sign the waiver.

This is good, because part of the problem last time I rode this ride was it was too big. Deciding which sub-genre I belonged in was tricky: I'm too old to rock & roll and too young to die. I can't keep up with the fast group, they might as well be on the Blue Moose; I'm probably not patient enough for the slow group, many of whom are exactly where I was fifteen months ago. This is nothing against Freds and Wilmas, they're doing more than most Americans — they're out exercising instead of watching TV on a Thursday evening.

The ideal group for me is one like the Mission Farms MFer ride, where I can just barely keep up. As opposed to a group like the Blue Moose where, once they're warmed up, they drop the hammer and they're just gone like a train.

There are about fifty stop signs and/or stop lights at the beginning of this route, and with everyone trying to race to catch the ones they just lost sight of, before I crossed the state line, I was with four riders, none of whom knew the route. I only knew it in a vague way, having ridden it over a year ago once.

One of the four defected and decided to call it a night, the other three followed me, reluctantly, after racing down a dead end when I thought it was obvious we stayed to the right. Well, maybe the next left was the answer, and I led us on a leg up to Lawn Chair Larry's shortcut of the Blue Moose, 90% sure it was the route I remembered us taking when I last tried the Brookside ride.

I do remember regrouping at a church, and I think it might even have been Village Pres, but when our little detour got there we were on the wrong side of the intersection and there were no cyclists at all in the parking lot across the street.

I guess the other experienced rider in our little mini-group had his faith shattered by this because when I said we could still head over to Lamar and probably catch part of the group he said, 'That ain't happening, we're heading back.'

Which is fine if he's done, but I came to ride. Granted, if I wanted to ride in the dark by myself, I could have gone to the Blue Moose, but I wasn't ready to throw it in. We end up on 63rd Street, which has way too much traffic for a road so skinny. Wilma went yabba-dabba-racing on ahead and I shouted, 'Turn right!' as she approached a corner.

She didn't, and neither did the other two. I did. I actually thought we'd agreed to at least cut south to 73rd, which is an easier crossing of State Line and Wornall, but finding myself flying solo, I went over to Lamar and then down and around to Somerset. In for a penny...

I ended up at 19.8 miles, bringing my September total to 459.4. That'll be a tough record to break, but I'm sure I'll try.

I got mad for a minute: this is a no drop ride? Me riding side streets to avoid traffic, alone in the dark with less than my usual lights? I guess if I'd had more lemming in my blood, I could have continued on with the riders who wanted to risk their necks on 63rd, but what kind of option is that?

With all those stop signs at the beginning, there isn't any getting around the group spreading out.

I got mad again a couple times when I had close calls coming back. A guy pulling out of a parking lot, assuming the way was clear. He was so apparently going ahead I'd already veered to steer clear of him, and he shouted, 'Sorry!' as he hit the brakes. Then two other cars who saw me just in time, I'm pretty sure. I can't blame anyone but myself I was still out alone, past eight in the dark with only three lights on my bike and person.

Instead of getting mad, I think I should get helpful. What this ride needs is someone who will print maps or turn lists and hand them out to new arrivals, give a stack to the leader. Which would me me since I'm not just a group ride slut, I'm a group ride slut who works in a print shop.

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