The long and lonely ride


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Jack Crowe

As cyclists, we talk a lot about the group ride. The adrenalin pumping, hang on for dear life, group ride. We talk about who got dropped, who looked strong, and who shimmied in the line and nearly caused a crash.

But I want to mediate on the long solo ride. The hundred miles of solitude ride. The six-plus hours in the saddle alone ride.

Unless you are driven by demons (and some cyclists are), the pace of this ride is more moderate and steady.

The long solo ride has a lot to do with the mind, particularly if you find yourself in the North Woods on semi-abandoned roads where you can count the cars on fingers and toes.

The long solo ride (like the dark night of the soul?) comes in segments: beginning, middle and end.

At first, the mind is chatty. Have I brought enough hydration? Did I remember that extra tube in case of multiple flats? Did my knee just feel funny? Is something wrong with my knee? Oh my God, what will I do if ...

And my heart rate always starts out too slow. On early hills, I breathe heavily but I see only a pedestrian 124 beats per minute on my heart rate monitor.

After the next hill and the one after that, I forget about the knee and the heart rate. Instead, I try to remember to drink early. On one long hot organized ride, cheerful volunteers at the aid stations called out, "hydrate or die." So I hydrate.

I take a swig and then I think how long it will be till my next gulp. Am I drinking a bottle per hour? Somewhere around mile 40, the middle stage begins. I get into some kind of rhythm. I hear a tune running through my mind. I can never predict what song it will be. But once it starts, it's there for the whole ride.

I once did an entire Ironman triathlon with nothing but "One Singular Sensation" from A Chorus Line playing in an endless loop in my head. Another time it was selections from the New World Symphony by Dvorak. It can be anything from Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" to Sinatra singing "New York, New York." But it will not stop until I get off the bike.

At mile 65, I enter the final stage. I tend to feel stronger as the ride progresses, probably because I do not push myself hard enough at the beginning.

I stop thinking. The body feels uncomfortable. A hand feels numb. A shoulder needs rubbing. The rear end aches so I stand for a few rotations.

But all I see is the immediate hill that needs climbing or the descent that needs descending. I sweat and pedal. That is all.

When I make the corner on the last 10 miles in the North Woods that means the biggest climbs are still ahead. Like the nag who senses the barn, I press on. Those hills seem to flatten at the prospect of a cold Corona awaiting me.

And then I am home.

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