Saturday, April 22, 2006

Herd mentality

Date: April 21
Mileage: 31
April mileage: 301
Temperature upon departure: 38

During the past week, I have come to learn that there actually are other recreational road riders in Homer besides myself. They seem to be enthusiasts - meaning they're sporting no visible cotton on their bodies and riding bicycles that most likely weren't manufactured in China. However, like me, they always seem to be traveling solo. Scattered. Alone.

It's still too early in the season to know for sure, but it seems that there's no bicycle organization in my town. No bike club. There wasn't even a bike shop until very recently. Today I was thinking about organizing all of the lonely pedalers I've encountered into some sort of cohesive group - if nothing else, to find occasional reprieve from the near-constant wind on the Spit.

But as soon as I thought of it, logistics and doubt began to creep in. For one, I live in a terrible place to start a road bike club because I live in a terrible place to road bike. There's a 17-mile loop of bike paths and light-traffic roads that can be enjoyable, but that's about it. We have the Sterling Highway going north (the only artery in and out of town.) We have East End Road going east (narrow, winding ridge road used mostly by crazy Russians with large trucks and a tendency to drive 60 mph.) We have short stretches of neighborhood pavement with potholes that could swallow a Subaru. And the rest is gravel. Lots and lots of gravel. It's dismal, really.

And then I have my whole herd complex. I am exactly the wrong person to organize group rides, if only because I am terrified of riding in groups. I have clusterphobia. Those who occasionally scroll down through this blog probably saw my gaping knee road rash a few weeks back (still healing.) I sustained that in a crash with the one person I was riding with. Put me in the middle of a peloton amping up to 30 mph, and I am likely to cause a pileup of catastrophic proportions.

Cast that aside, and I still have the whole politics of a bike club to deal with. I still remember a "friendly" road ride I showed up for a few years back, a 30-mile jaunt down a board-flat stretch of the I-80 frontage road near Salt Lake City. I arrived on my Trek 6500, knobby tires running at about 30 psi, and I was wearing - tsk tsk - a T-shirt. The pack dropped me before I even had a chance to learn anyone's name. I was stuck in the back with an older gentleman who rode beside me as I puffed along and lectured me on the values of good gear and regular training. I know he meant well, but about 12 miles into the ride, I had had quite enough. As we approached a muddy four-wheeler trail heading off toward the Salt Lake, I said "I think I'll check this out," and bounced away from Mr. Bike Snob and the distant peloton. After that, I always saw group riders as the "Cool Kids Club" that I was definitely not a part of.

Who knows, though. The sheer lack of pavement in my town means I am probably going to pass my fellow riders more than occasionally. Maybe the group thing will just happen naturally, like rogue ducks joining a V-line. I just probably won't be the rider out front. Probably best if I'm not in the middle, either, for the safety of others. Put me in the back, and I'll probably end up where I started - alone, but happy.