I awoke yesterday feeling groggy, having slept in an hour. I had planned to take a morning ride, but was not in any hurry about it, I already missed the "Go" window for the Team Alameda group ride, so I had a leisurely morning. As I sipped my blend of French and Mocha Java drip, I looked out the front window at the swirling wind. It was drying out nicely, but now it was blustery. Not easy to get up for that, but eventually I did get out of the house and on the bike at around 11am. It felt like an accomplishment just doing that. I had no goal other than to get in some miles.
On autopilot, I found myself on route to Montclair, via 14th and Park Blvd. As I climbed the 16th Ave overpass, which is short and steep, there was a gusty headwind further slowing my progress. I felt like my leg muscles had turned to sandbags, heavy and non-responsive. Some days are like that, and when it happens I just press on because it usually gets better for the second half of the ride. So I made Montclair Peet's my goal, to reward myself with a hot java. Sure, this is a modest goal, it's only 6.5 miles away, but this is winter, it was windy, short daylight hours increase one's melatonin, (the sleep hormone), and besides, just getting out was the point. I reminded myself that when I first took up cycling again in 2003, it was a big deal for me to get to Montclair.
I had a good ride up Park Blvd, it actually seemed easy, and when I got to Peet's I had the thought that I didn't need to stop, that I should just go on, but, nah, I was here so why not? I got my cup of joe and sat out front looking at the Miyata. I had made some changes on it since I last rode it. When I got the new wheels for the Lemond, the old Rolfs went on the Miyata. They are nice wheels, fairly light, roll smoothly, and absorb road buzz nicely. Road feedback is sweet with a Zaffiro Pro on the back and a Pro Race 3 on the front. I had also put a second wrap of bar tape over the first for extra thick padding. I was liking this extra cush. I reflected that these trickle down mods had made the bike kind of resonate, that it had not resonated before. Nice!
Making my way to Tunnel Road, I realized that standing up on this bike feels very natural but mostly I was staying seated for climbing. After Lake Temescal, I was pedaling up Upper Broadway, wishing for one lower gear, and I caught a woman on a purple Bianchi, and so I made a remark about how purple bikes ROCK!! (the Miyata is purple) and she got a good laugh. I try to be friendly to other cyclists, especially the ones I pass, I say hello or comment on the bike or their bike. About this time I looked in my mirror and noticed someone coming up the hill behind me.
I analyse people coming up behind me, I try to estimate when they will pass me, and when they do, I do a quick check of what they are wearing, then what they are riding, and I draw a conclusion. Sometimes if it is a small group, I will drop in to catch the pace for a while. Sometimes it is just obvious there is no way I am going to hang with a guy, some of them are obvious racers. If they say hello I am generally fine with that and hey, have a nice ride! Then again, sometimes I get passed and my conclusion was that the pass was dismissive. That I was summed up and found lacking, so get out of my way. Maybe it's the mirror, or the vintage bike, or my thrown together kit, or my gray hair, whatever. The dismissive pass feels insulting and I don't really like it when that happens. I should just let it go, and sometimes I do, like who gives a fuck? but sometimes I don't. That's when I play The Shadow Game. It's a chess match I play with my body as well as my brain. And, like chess, I often lose. But when I win, ahh, it's a moment to savor.
The rider behind me didn't catch me as soon as I expected, it was after climbing the short pitch after the Monument to Disaster at the foot of Tunnel that he passed me, without so much as a glance or utterance. He looked like he was around 30 of age. I looked at his kit, he looked kind of Rapha-like, a hard to describe generic upper tier kit look that seems a bit pretentious. His bike was something silvery, maybe titanium, I didn't see it clearly. He had short hair a short beard that looked obsessively trimmed. As he rode ahead of me about 20 feet, he was constantly tweaking is head to the left, as if he had a small rock in his left ear and was trying to shake it out. Strange. I mean he must have jerked his head left 20 times in a half mile. He looked a bit like a stuffed sausage in his too tightly fitting kit. All this put together really grated on my basal ganglia.
I decided to shadow him. Shadowing is quite different than dropping in on his wheel. That would be gauche, too aggressive, I used to do that in my less wise days. When I shadow I stay back about 50', close enough to observe my opponent, but far enough back to give them a sense of staying away. Shadowing someone changes their game from offensive to defensive as they become all too aware of being followed and not being able to drop the follower, and a cascading sequence of mind games ensues. Unless they just smirk, speed up and drop me and it becomes a very short game.
I was riding along comfortably as we approached the left hand turn after the house with the palm trees. As he rounded the corner he looked back to see where I was. He Looked Back....Game On! The Look Back in my book is Game On for the simple reason that a guy will not look back if he doesn't care a whit about you, but if he does then he is In The Game. I use a mirror, so I never have to twist my head to look back, another advantage of this small very useful tool. I look back All The Time. But in a passive way you see.
His pace then quickened a bit but not enough to alarm me, and I sorted out a strategy. My opponent was easily 20 lbs heavier than me, so I assumed when the road pitched up at the 2 mile mark, he would slow down. This is a strategy that has worked for me time and again, so why not this time? Around the bends we went, and we got to the steeper part. He stood up and attacked the hill and got a bit away, but I wanted to keep my heart rate at around 140-150 so I sat down for the most part, and when I rounded the steep left hand corner after the tractor, there he was not that far ahead. The plan was working. I could tell he was feeling dogged and that pleased me. My world had narrowed to my vision of the rider ahead of me, my legs pulling me up the grade, all cylinders were firing in harmony now, my world was heavy breathing and feet spinning in circles.
On we rode, and I was slowly reeling him in. I was aware I was gulping lungfuls of air, getting a max workout for sure, but I could dig deeper if I needed to, but hoped I wouldn't have to. I try not to push it that last 15% if I can avoid it. By this point we were nearing the Baker Millennium House and I was but 10 feet behind and contemplating a pass further up ahead near the top, when the unexpected happened.
He pulled off the road and feigned a bike adjustment! He "tapped out" rather than be passed. I was just beginning to accept that strange turn, when, in my mirror, I saw him mount up and start going again. This was a first in my book, and in my mind it totally justified my opinion of the guy, that he was a good rider, but also a poser that could not take getting passed by a silver haired guy on an vintage bike wearing leg warmers on the outside of his shorts and a red Fred jacket. As I summitted the hill I felt good, the other guy was no where in sight. I had started off the day feeling dead but got to the top of the hill feeling stoked and very much alive. It had all just unfolded by chance. I knew this was prime blog fodder.
I believe we men are genetically hard wired to be hunters and warriors, to be competitive for food and mates, the instinct to do battle is within each of us, no matter how cultured or civilized we appear to be or think of ourselves. This instinct usually lies dormant but can be unleashed surprisingly easy. Should I be old enough to know better? Yes, I should, but on the other hand, I prefer to live fully when I can, and tapping into my reptilian brain is a great way to get there.
Get On Your Bikes And Ride!