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July 20, 2002: What I learned today

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1. When you are supposed to be in Healdsburg to check in for a ride by 8 am, it is a really good idea to double-check the MapQuest directions. This may require that you actually purchase a California state map and look at it. Doing this will prevent you from taking the extra-long route that ends up winding all over San Francisco and over the Golden Gate bridge in the fog. Doing this may also mean that you don’t have to get up at 4:30 in the morning and be on the road by 5, which is earlier than Starbucks opens and thus means you must wait a full hour for breakfast and life-giving coffee.

2. Get cash for the toll booth before you leave town. In fact, get cash the night before, when you are somewhere where you can be reasonably assured of finding an ATM. This means that you do not have to spend the entire drive (the long drive, I might add – the one that goes through San Francisco) looking for someplace that might possibly have a bank. The fact that you finally find one, three miles before the toll bridge (that you would never have had to cross if you'd just paid attention to lesson #1) and conveniently located next to an open Starbucks, is merely luck and should not be considered as a justification for your slackerness.

3. When you arrive at the registration site and discover that you and your husband are the only two people in the surrounding mob of hundreds of cyclists who are not decked out in cleats and neon biking gear, you should remember that you are also wearing spandex, even if it’s only black and cleverly hidden beneath an extra-large t-shirt so as to conceal those extra thirty pounds you still haven’t managed to get rid of. And thus, by virtue of wearing spandex – no matter that it is only on your lower half – you are just as cool as the rest of them. No, really. I’m not kidding. Shut up.

4. Never, ever believe a route description for any organized ride that claims the route is flat. These descriptions were not written by people like you who are still somewhat new to this whole “biking long distances” game. They were written by someone who hasn’t used their lowest set of gears ever because they don’t need to. They were written by someone who laughs off century rides and who considers 37 miles a little early morning jaunt. They were written by someone who has no comprehension what “flat” really means.

5. When you reach the first rest stop and it happens to be an elementary school, you really ought to remember that you brought your digital camera with you so you can take a picture of the girl’s bathroom (the one with only two working stalls, I should point out here) where all the mirrors positioned so as to be exactly at boob height (even for short people like yourself), so that you can forever capture the illogicalness that is unicorns painted onto the industrial green walls underneath the words “Welcome to Fantasy Land” because this just brings to mind all sorts of twisted things about bathrooms that you are reasonably sure the elementary school never had in mind.

6. When you are riding on the aforementioned route that was touted as flat but was not, do not look more than ten feet in front of your bike at any time. This way you can pretend that there really isn’t a hill directly in front of you. You can pretend that the hill you have been climbing for the last twenty minutes really does end around the corner instead of continuing upwards. You can pretend that the subtle and painful upgrade is actually quite flat, and that you are merely having difficulty pedaling because you are tired and out of shape and not that you are currently stuck on the Hill from Hell that never, ever, ever, ever ends. And you can convince yourself that you really don’t have to get off the bike and walk because it will get better, flatter, easier, really soon. You’re just that sure of it!

7. When you hit the 30th mile of the “no way is this flat no matter what they claim” 37 mile route and all the rest of the cyclists are passing you by laughing and talking while you are wheezing and gasping for breath and trying to ignore all the parts of your body that are going on a slow and cumulative revolt, try to remain civil when the other cyclists cheerfully call out a “on your left!” or “how’s it going?” They really don’t care that your knees have begun to yell at you and use all sorts of language that you are sure they didn’t learn from you, and that your thighs are beginning to join in the clamor, and that you are really wishing that those stupid bike-eating thorns really were still stuck in your tires because then you would have a legitimate excuse for creeping along so slowly. They were born wearing cleats (and I am sure their mothers appreciated those as they came out too) and helmets and they have no idea that not everyone thinks hills are fun, fun, I say, fun, dammit. Fun.

8. When you finally reach the finish line and remove your helmet and peel off your sweaty stinky gloves and hobble over to the nearest shady spot to collapse, take a look at the other people around you. Because if you look past all the neon spandex and nylon and fancy bikes and laughter and smiles, you just might see skinned knees and sweat and exhaustion and you just might realize that maybe you weren’t the only ones who were having a hard time, and maybe you aren’t in quite as bad shape as you thought, and maybe you really ought to be practicing on those hills more often because Ireland (your loving husband cheerfully points out), Ireland (that place you’re supposed to go biking around in less than a year!) is chock full of little hills like the ones you just spent three hours riding up and down in Healdsburg. And so what if you had to use your absolute lowest gear to make it to the top of those hills; the point is that you made it, on your bike and not walking, and maybe that isn’t such a huge accomplishment to the majority of the people sitting all around you, but once upon a time it was for them and once upon a time in the future you’ll be just like them and someone else will be muttering unkind things about *you* under her breath as you call out cheerfully, passing her by while riding up a hill (using any gear other than the lowest ones) “On your left!”

Final note: Because of the aforementioned extra-long route through San Francisco (luckily we wised up and took the shorter route through Vallejo on the way home) we got there too late to meet up with any of the other Boob’s - Bitter Hag and SecraTerri took part in the ride as well. Perhaps next time!

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