|The Road Crew: one man working, 15 others watching.|
We were going nearly 25mph at the time, and I was on the rivet in the middle of the fall-back lane of the paceline trying to snarf down a Clif Bar. Ahead lie the last relatively uninterrupted 20 or so miles of the regular Sunday racer ride, Cincinnati’s Hyde Park Ride. Even with the hammer down, it was still nearly an hour or so home and I felt like I was struggling, on the cusp of letting a gap go or missing tagging onto the rear of the rotating paceline with the fastest guys in the city. “Hold up! Joe’s got a flat! Hold up!” Wha? Wha huh? Sure enough, I looked down and my rear end was a tish mushy, slow leak.
“Igussadoo evaflat,” I mumbled out between heavy breaths with my mouth full of chocolately goodness. Well at least it wasn’t my legs this time. One of the most veteran riders in Cincinnati was on my wheel, spotted it and waived the flag. Miraculously yet thankfully, the whole ride pulled over to the shoulder. “Quick change Joe,” he said. Sweet, I thought.
Either everyone needed a break, or maybe, possibly, finally, I made “The List” as the Two John’sPodcast half jokingly calls it. That warm faint feeling of coming to a dead stop after riding at 25mph rushed through my head as I tossed the last quarter of my Clif Bar on the wooden post of the roadside barrier and dug out my tube. It wasn’t the quickest tube change in the world, but respectable. I threw my leg over before the last guy finished a natural break, so all was good.
As I thumbed the bead of the tire off the rim, I was grateful. On this same ride, nearly a year ago I got tailed off on a climb. Flat backed and head down I tried to claw back on before a stop sign but ended up dropped, a good hour and a half from home. Solo and lost, I literally had to navigate like a sailor to get home. I kept heading south to the Ohio River, then followed it west back to town. Judging from the stickieness of my tube, it’s been a long time since I flatted. Here, as I tugged to peel the old tube from the inside of my tire, were all the Hyde Park Ride veterans and their teammates chatting patiently. I tossed the spent tube to the guy next to me to roll up, stuffed the new tube in, double checked the bead and shhhhhhhtt! I hit it with CO2.
Now I’m not going so far as to say there’s a physical list taped to someone’s stem of guys who the group will wait for in case of a flat and guys that the group will leave behind to navigate their way home by the turns of the river and the setting sun. It’s not like that. This ride has been going on in Cincinnati since everyone had steel bikes, down tube shifters and oogled over fine welding. In every town, there’s a similar standing ride, hang or get dropped. Know the route and be prepared to fend for yourself. Bring teammates, make friends, or be left without a draft on the way home. It’s a necessary evil of a good weekly training ride. There can be upwards of 40 or more riders sometimes. You can’t stop every time someone has to take a leak, adjust a rubbing brake or change a flat.
So, on rides like this, it’s not so much a pecking order as it is a level of camaraderie. While I shrug off the term, an unwritten rule. When the yellow jersey takes a natural break, so does everyone else. When Spartacus calls the race neutral, it’s neutralized. When a veteran rider says, “Hold up! Joe’s got a flat.” The ride holds up. Some stop, some take a natural, some snack, some noodle at 12mph up the road. In five minutes time, the ride is back together rolling toward downtown at 27mph again.
One thing is for certain. More than anything, somewhere between mile markers over the past 8 years of doing this ride the idle chit chat that began with relative strangers in double pacelines has turned into true friendships. While of lesser importance, in skillfully avoiding mishaps, mindfully trading work and knowing which direction the paceline should rotate depending on wind direction, trust has been earned. It’s certainly not the category on my racing license. Since rap stars and gangstas have ruined the true meaning of the word, I cringe at saying respect. But, while I may not have stripes on my sleeve from competing at cyclocross Masters Nationals and Worlds, maybe I have earned something intangible and intrinsically valuable. And, I'm truly humbled by that.
Personally, I wasn’t worried about riding home alone on Hwy 52 along the Ohio River from New Richmond to Cincinnati. No doubt my 4 teammates would’ve waited for me. You’re always on someone’s list. However, maybe now I’m on a new list...The List.