Last Sunday was our local Bike Club Century(100 miles in one day), I did a few extra miles on my ride into town and finished with enough extra on the way home to complete a Double Metric Century(200 Kilometers or 124.3 Miles). It was my longest ride this year due to a bit of surgery in June and a huge backlog of chores and projects that accumulated during the time I wasn't supposed to lift anything over 10 pounds(you really can't get anything useful accomplished with a 9.9 pound maximum payload, Hell, my conscience alone weighs 13). 200km has become something of a personal test for me over the last few years, long enough to give me an idea of how much momentum I'm building on the "Downhill" side of 50, but not so long that it requires dropping everything and "training" like some of the bigger, more epic distances that sometimes sound like fun. And summer is slipping away fast so it seemed like time to go do it, I also wanted to see if I was back in shape or becoming "enfeebled" as my Daughters claim. I got it done, not as fast as last year but I got to ride with some people I really like and one of my regular riding partners finished her first 100 and I was glad to be a part of that.
A 124.3 mile ride is also an opportunity to get lost in your thoughts for 10 or 11 hours. I always have a lot to think about and this time came away with some new thoughts and ideas about a couple of things. If you promise not to make fun of me or point out my inconsistencies and hypocrisy I'll share some of it with you. Promise? OK, read on...
I spent a good part of the first few hours trying to figure out how big a jerk I really am, it was on my mind because recently I commented on someone Else's bike blog that I had, on several occasions, intentionally, and gleefully, bumped 2 different riders who habitually do stuff that cause them to drift backwards into the rider behind them in a paceline or tight pack. It was the typical offhand comment of someone who feels justified in their actions and assumes everyone reading it will raise a glass in their honor with a hearty "Hear! Hear!" But everyone didn't raise a toast to me and proclaim me to be a grand fellow. In fact, the consensus seemed to be that I'd been an Ass. That was sort of a surprise and my first response was to try to explain the whole situation so everyone(all my close personal internet friends at least) would see that far from being an Ass, I was acting Bravely, in the interests of cyclists everywhere and might even be a HERO!(blahblahblah...). But the more I tried to explain it, the more I became convinced that, with certain caveats, I really had been a Jerk(I was also reminded that the internet is a dangerous place if you're a bit insecure, prone to talking too much or too loudly and blush easily, sort of like the Cool Kids Table in Jr. High).
I'll just run through those caveats here before we go any farther and then I'll try to explain where I actually ended up on the subject of my being an Ass...
Caveat A) It wasn't a violent shove or anything like that, it was simply not getting on the brakes when he came back at me (caused by him sitting up in the draft, tapping the brakes after moving over in front of me or any number of things the rest of the riders around him sincerely wish he would stop doing), and lining my tire up with his so they "barked" and he would feel the sudden contact. Worse stuff than that happens on every other ride, sometimes because of the squirrel tactics he himself employs. Dang-it, we don't have to take it! When I say it like that it's easier to convince myself it's no big deal and people should calm down... But it's still mean.
Caveat 2) I never wrecked anyone. True, but that's not quite the same as saying if I keep doing it I won't eventually wreck someone.
Caveat D) That's how I was taught how to ride safely in a fast group(this is where I think I really got off track). Sure, this was how I was taught to ride fast in a group. When I was 18 and 19, by a bunch of older Racers who dis-invited you pretty quickly if you were sloppy or erratic. It was definitely a different setting from a casual Club Ride but it made sense, Racing is pretty serious business as pointless amateur athletics go, and as the risks increase with speed and urgency, so does the need for everyone to be skilled and focused. It's one of the ways you honor your Mates and The Sport, you take it seriously. One ends up taking pride in that skill and focus. It's one of the things I really like about Racing and it's easy to decide that everyone who rides around me should ride to the same high standard that I do. But the fact is I'm not sure what riding to that "standard" really means. And who am I to assign that task to everyone anyway? It's not like anyone's coming on these rides to learn my fabulous technique. And do I really ride so fabulously anyway? It's nice to think so but I don't Race anymore, I wasn't good at it when I did, and I wouldn't want to ride with the punks I learned with now anyway, even if I could(actually I really could, they're all even older and fatter than me now and half of them probably can't remember where they left their bikes, so those guys I can handle). It's all stuff I should understand better than I do but it's only now starting to sink in in a new way.
So yeah, scrubbing those guys tires like that was a shabby thing to do and if I was a Mensch, I'd find an opportunity to apologize to them and not do it again(but also give them a bit more room cuz' they're still going to run somebody into a mailbox someday). I'd feel better about myself if I did so here's my chance to lower my P.J.I.(Personal Jerk Index) and feel free to eat my lunch at the Cool Kids table again.
But all this thinking about how we treat each other when we're "playing" reminded me that there are situations when we have to accept that harsh "That's the way it is in this League" sort of approach if we're going to get more out of things, but also how hard it can be to figure out what those situations are. I used to play Softball in a local league, I was "OK" I suppose, but not great. Some years I played in the "B" League and other years when our team didn't have a better Catcher I played "A" League. Same game, same rules, ostensibly the same goal of playing your best and having fun but the expectations about skill, focus and etiquette were far greater. I played so much better in "A" than I ever did in "B" and I absolutely fell in love with playing Catcher, but I remember how dumb I felt a few times when I showed up with my "B" league habits and attitudes.
Like the time the Ump called me "out" before the pitcher was even facing me because I put a foot out of the back of the box. I knew that rule, and I knew what the purpose of that rule was; to keep Batters from taking the heads off Catchers like me. In "B" we'd just remind the batter and the Ump would warn them a couple of times before finally calling them out. I was constantly having to watch out for the guys who liked to step way back for a deep pitch and make me scramble. I didn't have that habit but I was a bit sloppy about lounging around in the box waiting for the Pitcher to get ready. In a place where people came to experience a more intense and challenging version of the game I was suddenly the guy who couldn't be trusted not to do something dumb. So it was "THE BATTER IS OUT!", and go sit down. I was super frustrated at myself and annoyed at the Umpire who wouldn't give me a break.
But as the season went on that Ump was the one who taught me the most about how and when to stand my ground at the plate and not let super aggro runners drive me out of the base path when I was covering a throw to Home. I learned that I had been giving runners way more room than I needed to and that in this league I was going to be throwing games away that my team was working hard to win if I didn't learn when and how to give some guys a shoulder when they were trying to get away with something. When some runner would charge me at Home and try to knock the ball out of my glove and I could dump him on his ass and come up with the ball I felt like I was playing a completely different game than when I used to just make a show of getting shoved out of the way and assume the Ump would call the dude out for it. But when I went back to playing "B" league in later seasons I didn't go knocking runners down who didn't yield even though the rules would certainly allow for some of that. Different league, different people looking for a different experience. I don't think I was ever really tempted to bulldoze anyone at the plate but I did do a much better job of keeping everybody honest, there was also a few times I thought "That guy would probably enjoy this game so much more if his bag of tricks was deeper than just charging the Catcher".
I'm not going to risk my 50 year old shoulders and knees playing ball anymore and I don't ride quite like I did 10 years ago, but I still want to feel like I'm "On the gas", you know? That attitude of "Not taking any crap from these Guys" can sometimes take the place of really getting out there and doing something worthwhile for us "Masters" and I want to make sure I don't get trapped in that particular swamp. I do a ride with some faster, mostly much younger riders occasionally and even though it's not their "hard day", I am just hanging on. It's challenging and a chance to actually get some benefit from whatever elevated skills I might actually have and those people have been super nice and encouraging to me which has been cool. It hasn't made me start thinking about getting a license again , but it has helped me keep looking forward to the next adventure. I appreciate that. I should probably try to be a little more like that myself...