Saturday was the Harpeth Bike Club's Harpeth River Ride. As you probably know, it's a massive local event. Usually, at least a thousand people show up to ride. For a while, the Bike Club was getting celebrity guest riders to show up and ride, and during those years-the ride was HUGE. Thousands and thousands of riders showed up in the hopes of riding next to Lance or Chris Horner or Levi Leipheimer.
The first time I did the HRR was in 2003(or maybe it was 2004. Either way, it was a long time ago). I had never ridden 100 miles on a bike, and I was pretty sure I didn't want to try-especially in June when it was a billion degrees. But I had a buddy that was kind of a mentor on the bike at the time, and he encouraged me to go out and try. He was persistent enough that I relented and signed up. After all of his cajoling, I expectedhim to give me enough advice/coaching to get me through. Here's what I got:
"The Gran Fondo race team will be there, and they'll be at the front going fast. Hang with that group as long as you can, and then settle in."
Settle in. I remember thinking, 'What the hell does settle in mean? You don't settle in on a bike-you settle in on a couch. Or nice cool movie theater. Or a nice warm cabin in the middle of winter.'
But I had committed, so I went. As it turns out, I had a long time to figure out the settling in. The Gran Fondo team was definitely there, and definitely fast. I think I may have lasted ten miles in that front group. After that, there was an, ahem, gravity event, and I was on my own. The front group crested the hill and cruised out of sight. I was on my own with 90 miles to ride. If I had had the slightest idea where I was, I'd have just gone directly home. Or to my car. Or to a friend's house. Or friend's car. Anything. But I didn't, so I just kept going, fueled by the idea of seeing my buddy who had gotten me into this and punching him in the mouth.
Five or six miles later, groups started to pass me(If I had been a bit more experienced, I'd have sat up to wait for them as soon as I got dropped from the front). The first few were still too quick, but after a while I caught on to a group of five guys that were moving well, but at a pace that was sustainable for me. I stuck with them and pulled through and did my share. After a while I started to enjoy myself. And I realized a few things about long rides. One-that the group is important. When we'd hit a hill, we'd slow down to wait for the guy that had been a freight train in the flat sections. The guys that led us up the hills took shorter turns on the flats. We'd wait for each other at the aid stations, because we knew that we were not only faster together, but that the group was our best chance of covering the distance at all. Two-if you're in a bad spot, just wait a bit. Over 100 miles, there are sections like chapters in a book. That day, we started cool, had several sections of baking hot, and got rained on. We rode up short steep hills, over long flat sections and slow rollers. It took a while for this to sink in, but once it did I started to try to savor the pleasant sections and just get through the tougher ones in the hopes that the next would be better.
As the miles went on, we lost a couple of guys and added one. A very long time later, we finished as a group of five. I was overjoyed and in need of a nap and a pizza. I shook hands with the guys I had ridden with and thanked them. Looking back, it's a bit embarrassing-it was definitely a bigger deal for me than it was for them. To me, it felt like some sort of small graduation ceremony-we had been through this difficult thing together, and then it was time to go and get on with our lives. To them, it was the thing they did that one Saturday before they went home and mowed the yard.
I still see guys from that group around on the bike from time to time. One of them became a friend and teammate a few years later.
I still have no idea what 'settling in' means. Maybe I'll do the Harpeth next year and try to figure it out.