What Do You Have for Pre-Beginners?

Shortly after I’d gotten my bike and done a few neighborhood rides, I decided to try a group ride.  Because I worked in a small town outside of Austin, I felt like I didn’t have many non-work friends in town.  During the school year, I didn’t have a lot of spare energy to go out and socialize, but it was summer and I had plenty of time.

Of course, the problem with an Austin summer is that it’s too hot to want to do anything.  In an ideal world, school vacation would be from October to Christmas when it’s actually nice enough to do things, but instead, I soldiered out at 6:30 when the weather was still in the 90s for my first beginner group ride.  We introduced ourselves and told everyone the length of the longest ride we’d done so far.  People were throwing out surprising numbers: 22 miles, 35 miles, 17 miles, 40 miles.

When it was my turn, I felt embarrassed to say “Eight.  My longest ride was eight miles.” But not only was I embarrassed, I was pissed.  Why were all of these intermediates in my beginner ride!  They didn’t belong here!

At least if I’d only done eight miles, I’d done eight miles a couple of times.  So, I felt good for that amount of road, but somewhere between mile eight and mile nine, I started to fall apart.  Starting and stopping (two key elements of riding) were the hardest part for me, and my foot started to slip starting off, causing my pedal to spin and bite me on the back of the calf.  A few times, I slid dangerously far into intersections before fully being able to stop.  I was a disaster.  I was dangerous.  I was very far from the finish line where my car was parked, and while I didn’t know it at the time, I had about seven more miles to go.  My shoulders hurt. My butt hurt.  Other sensitive areas hurt.

The people in charge of the ride were fantastic cheerleaders, but this only kind of made me hate them more.  It was a no drop ride, so someone stayed with me, but I felt guilty that I was holding them up.  Eventually the rest of the group left and two of the people in charge stayed with me.  Turns out, I was too slow for beginners, which made me…what?  What are you before you are a beginner? Were there rides for pre-beginners filled with kids in training wheels and other clumsy adults like me?

The two riders that stayed with me gave me some energy gels and a lot of kind words and pep talks.  I just wanted them to leave me on the side of the road.  I’d figure something out, but I kept subtly hinting that when a person was unprepared for a beginner ride as I was, it might be okay to abandon me so that I could just weep and call someone to come pick me up in peace.

When I kept complaining that the seat hurt my butt, one of them gently asked: “Is it your butt or your crotch?”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay. My crotch,” I admitted.  Not only was that part of my anatomy burning, so was my face and I was glad that everyone else had left us.

It turns out, cotton pants, which I was wearing instead of bike shorts, were a bad call.  In my defense, I grew up in the 80s when bike shorts were this weird pointless fad where I wore skin tight, banana yellow shorts with a black racing stripe because we’d all convinced ourselves that was a good look.  It was not a good look.  As an adult, I was not going to spend money on that fashion mistake again.  I didn’t know that they are padded and breathable and could serve an actual function.  I just thought they were kind of obnoxious, especially for someone who’d only ridden a measly eight miles at a time.  I thought it was pretentious to pretend I was about to compete in the Tour de France after owning a bike for two months (Although, now whenever I do even the tiniest cool new trick, like standing up on the bike or not braking all the way down a hill, I claim I am basically weeks away from competing in that legendary race).

I managed to limp into the parking lot of the bike shop that was the finish line and, mercifully, where I was parked.  Plenty of people had already finished and left, but I was just recovering from a panic attack that came from crossing a major intersection.  I felt like a huge burden, and frankly, I was.  I didn’t know that I was unprepared for a group ride until I was in the middle of one.

The ride organizers were still very encouraging.  I’d made it!  Good job!  It will get easier! “Don’t give up.  Come back and ride with us again,” they told me.

“I will,” I lied.  I hated the thought of giving up, but I also hated the thought of doing this to all of us again.

“Seriously, you should.  Promise?” One of them asked.

“Absolutely!” We all knew the truth.

This last weekend, Eric and I went on a 20 mile ride that started at our apartment complex.  As we pulled up at a stop sign, I recognized it from the group ride.  We went further than I did on that day two years ago, and I was surprised at how much stronger I’d gotten.  My boyfriend is always good at looking back and celebrating how far he’s come.  I usually am more focused on looking ahead and seeing how much more there is to do.  But passing that familiar intersection, I couldn’t help but realize how much better and more confident I’d gotten on the bike.  I’m finally ready for another group ride.

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