My very first road bike ride was with my mother. I was riding an old Norco with the shifting leavers on the downtube – remember those? It was either Canada Day or Regatta Day in St. John’s, and there wasn’t much traffic. I remember wobbling down the street at first – unsure of the narrow tires, the curvy handlebars – and feeling much like a baby giraffe trying to take its first steps. I was 15.
(My mother, as you may remember, is a super duper athlete.)
I loved cycling for the simple fact that I could go 10, 40, or 80 kilometers without ever having to touch the ground. Sure my two tires were rolling, but no part of my body would have to touch the solid earth. What other sport lets you travel such distances under your own power?
I won my very first mountain bike race on Signal Hill. There were only a handful of girls racing, but one happened to be from a rival high school, so I was damn well going to do everything in my power to keep her from first place. Lesson learned: a little friendly competition goes a long way.
I don’t think I ever won a road bike race, but I did take a 50-km time trial when the top woman crossed the center line and tacoed a wheel on an unmarked pothole. It wasn’t a closed course (we were riding with cars) so because she had crossed the center line she had technically gone off course. The pothole was her own damn fault, and not negligence on the part of race organizers. (Lesson learned: always keep an eye out for potholes and other obstacles).
Bike. Helmet. Shoes. Everything else is a luxury. (Lesson learned from team coach Terri and team manager Dave when Terri forgot her cycling shoes en route to an event. Most racers wear special shoes that clip in to your pedals, so you can both push and pull on each revolution. There’s a knack to it, but once you get it it is very very difficult to unlearn. Which is why you’ll often see my feet flailing off the pedals when I’m going hard, because – hey! Wait a minute! My feet are supposed to be attached! These days it’s more like bike, helmet, Chariot, Sylvia’s helmet, sunscreen, snacks, everything else is a luxury.)
On that note, wear your goddamn helmet. Lesson learned when I got hit by a car, and every time since that a car has come too close for comfort.
While I lived in France, I met Marion Clignet, a Franco-American cyclist who rode for France after Team USA rejected her. She has an impressive record of accomplishments (Olympic medals, anyone?) but she was retired when I met her, and I had no idea about her epilepsy until I just googled her while writing this paragraph. I don’t remember the details on how we were introduced, but I remember I had her cell phone number scribbled on a post-it note for a few weeks before I had the nerve to call her. She told me about a big group ride on the weekend and invited me along. Laurent Jalabert was among the 60 or so riders who took part. We struck out from a cycling shop on the outskirts of Toulouse. Marion stuck with me, guiding me through the peloton. During a slow downhill grade, she told me to stick with her as she picked up the pace. We popped out ahead of the group, and soon I was one of four cyclists in a paceline ahead of the pack. As she dropped back beside me, Marion sang out, “Now you’re ahead of Jalabert!”
I glanced back to see the professional rider only a few bike lengths back.
It was amazing.
It lasted all of ten seconds.
Neither one of them would have a clue who I am, or even remember that particular ride at all, but it was a defining moment for me. Lesson learned: Cycling is a great equalizing sport.
My racing bikes are in storage and I will get them out again someday when we have a permanent home.
Until then, the bike I am riding in Drayton Valley is worth a mention. Travis and I bought two bikes for $25 each from the thrift store. The tires needed a bit of air and the gears needed a bit of grease. I adjusted the brakes and I plan to spend some time on the derailleurs but for now they do their job well – get us from Point A to Point B without ever having to put a foot on the ground.