Against all odds and all logic, I biked 44 miles to work this month.
*Note on the math: it took 4 hours door-to-door (Strava only captures moving time). I also started recording the route from the coffee shop and not my house, so, 44 miles :).
Some of the strikes against me:
- I was riding a road bike, which is the first road bike I’ve ever owned and which I have only taken out riding a handful of times. And it’s been about four years since road any sort of bike regularly.
- I’m out of shape.
- I have never ridden that far. In fact, I think the most I have ridden is about 15 miles eight years ago.
But I have a friend at work who did it and it seemed like something to aspire to. I kept thinking that I would train and work up to it…but then it’s hard to find time to exercise and I realized I would just put it off forever if I just didn’t just take the leap. And besides her, there there is this group called SF2G of bikers who do the San Francisco to Mountain View bike commute. People will just post on the group’s page when they’re riding and other people will join in.
It’s that magical psychological thing where, your impossible becomes possible because someone has done it before.
On the first Friday of every month they have a beginner ride with a “no rider left behind” policy. Perfect, right? I read that everyone going on the ride would meet at 6:30a at the usual spot, Ritual Coffee Shop in the Mission. I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was nervous I was going to oversleep. And nervous that I would make a fool of myself, you know, in general. I can pass as a regular biker for only short amounts of time. Like, sometimes I feel so invigorated by the fact that I am efficiently powering myself through the city. Other times I feel like an utter fraud. “Ugh, left turns!? I’ll just walk my bike across when the pedestrian light comes on” or “Am I suppose to scooch up next to the car or not?” I arrived at coffee shop early and other bikers began to trickle in. They all clad in their fancy spandex suits, ultra-light helmets, windbreakers, and clip in shoes. I was an imposter in my glow-in-the-dark* track shoes, yoga pants, and floral motor-bike jacket I got in Viet Nam.
My friend glided in a few minutes after me, also in proper bike gear. She was riding just for fun and would take the shuttle back up to the city afterwards to run errands. (Ugh). It was a drop in the bucket for her. She had told me the terrain isn’t too difficult, there are just two big hills and the rest is flat. The hills both occur at the beginning of the ride in order to get out of the city. The first extremely steep hill communicated to me very clearly that I was out of shape. Historically, I like to, what they call “give up” and walk my bike up. But I couldn’t reveal I was an imposter so early in the game and make every one resent my obviously bad decision about going on a ride I was ill-prepared for. So I struggled through it like a fat slug squeezing it’s way up a salty straw.
I realized later I wasn’t even in my lowest gear when I did it! I choose to be impressed at my strength and not embarrassed at my complete ignorance of how my bike works.
About an hour later, another biker would straddle up beside me and, politely as he could, told me I was using my gears inefficiently. That I needed to be on the larger ring on the flat parts. Even now to explain this to you, I don’t know the word for that gear or gears I’m supposed to be in. Part of me wanted to explain to him that I basically ignore all of the gears on my left handle bar because they seemed more complicated (I can’t explain this illogical reasoning), but I kept this response to myself. I had to admit: if there was a time to make good use of a both sets of gears, it was probably on a 44 mile bike ride.
After the second hill, I just had to chub my way through the rest of the flat ride where my biggest challenge is enduring through the long, long, long ride. I don’t have a strong concept of length so anything over a 1 mile is hard for me to understand distance wise. I only know a mile because I know how long that takes me to walk—thanks, living in New York! Although, I think my naïveté about what distances feel like helped me actually try riding to work. At mile 26 I was like “Yeah, I wold love to stop right now. You know where would be a great place to put my office? Right here.” But I know I’m quite stubborn and was pretty sure I could make it as long as I felt even a hinge of self-created guilt.
Let’s make no mistakes about my competency: I was the very slowest person in the group of 25+ people. My goal had been to keep up with the stragglers, but I was going my max speed (think “snail with a lead shell”) and couldn’t do it. We re-group two times and I felt so guilty about having a horde of people having to wait for me and towards the generous people who offer to stay with the stragglers the whole ride (even though they were nothing but friendly and encouraging). For the first half it was a Stanford student named Scott who does the ride three times a week! Some of the other chaperones were having a conversation just as casual as you please. As if they were catching up at a coffee shop and not at all like they had been biking for two hours.
All-in-all I’m super happy that I did it and hope to be able to ride some version of “regularly.” There were some very beautiful sights along the way. I would have taken more pictures but, you know, I was barely surviving. My friend did take a picture of me while we were ride along the bay:
*But time for some #realtalk, glow-in-the-dark shoes are the coolest thing ever and I discovered this by accident.