Monday, September 7, 2015

Confessions of a Hill Avoider

Give me some credit – as a self-avowed hill avoider, it took some nerve to show up on a Sunday morning for DC Bicycle Space’s “Hills of Rock Creek Park” ride. I ordinarily teach yoga on Sunday mornings but the studio was closed for Labor Day weekend. And, the first weekend of the month is advertised as a “beginners” ride: slower pace (10-12 mph compared to 14-15) and not quite as many hills. Add to the mix a wonderfully cool morning and I knew it was then or never for me to tackle the Rock Creek ride.

Toward the end of the ride

A group of about 15 cyclists gathered at 8:00 a.m. at Bicycle Space’s new location on 18th Street in Adams Morgan – and about 4 or 5 of us were first time group riders so I didn’t feel too awkward and alone. I lived in Adams Morgan from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s and used to cycle in Rock Creek Park. Now that I live in Northern Virginia I never do any more – in part because the paths aren’t in the greatest repair, but mostly – I’ve just gotten out of the habit. So it was nice to get back into the park with its shade and with the help of a group leader who had planned out a rigorous hill ride for our “pleasure.”

I have a notoriously poor sense of direction, so it was nice to be able to just follow along without the tinge of getting-lost-anxiety I often have when riding solo (with good reason…readers of this blog may recall my mishaps a few years ago in the Twin Cities). So over hill and dale we rode. It quickly became apparent that I was destined to always be the last one up the hills. Our sensitive and adept group leader – Chris - asked one of the other riders to take the rear – ensuring I didn’t get left behind.

Eric was a good companion for me. He had done the Rock Creek ride the past three weekends. Plus, he commutes through the park from Takoma Park to Arlington every day. So he knew the park well and, I guess, didn’t feel any compulsion to prove himself by riding fast. He teaches astronomy and physics at Marymount University, so we had stimulating conversation between my huffs and puffs chugging up the hills.

At designated spots the group waited for us to catch up. I never once felt shamed for my slower pace and none of the riders acted the slightest bit impatient. From the beginning my front brake was making a funny sound. At our first bathroom stop one of the other riders pulled out a handy-dandy bike fixer gizmo and adjusted my misaligned brake in no time. Talk about full service! During the rest of the ride many of the other riders checked in with me to see how my brakes were doing. I enjoyed the friendliness of the group.

Getting my brakes adjusted

I would be at pains to tell you exactly where we went, but the far point of our ride was the Mormon Temple, which many locals refer to as “Oz.” Having just seen The Book of Mormon on Broadway this summer, it took great reserve for me not to not break out in the song “I Believe,” although I quoted one of its best lines (I believe that in 1978 God changed His mind about Black people) to one of my fellow riders. Hey – he brought up the topic of the show, so it seemed appropriate.

See why we call it Oz?

The entire ride came to 24 miles and I felt proud of myself for finishing without the humiliation of walking up a hill. Despite the supportiveness of the group, it was hard for me not to feel a little defensive about my slower pace. But I looked around and am pretty sure that I was the only rider older than 50 – much less over 60. So I felt deserved in my self-congratulations.

While I can rarely do a group ride on a Sunday morning, Bicycle Space leads a Hills of Anacostia ride on Saturday mornings. So – I’m a little sorry that the first weekend of October and November already are booked. No – I’m not ready for the non-beginner ride. But I’m marking my calendar for the first Saturday of December. Who knows – maybe one day I’ll actually go out of my way to find hills!

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