Like a baby fawn, my legs and knees wobbled. Delicate and weak, the poor little sticks could barely support the bloated beer belly which Father Winter gifted me. A pathetic picture, to be sure, but look closer. There, past the long curly eyelashes, is a teensy little glimmer. A glimmer that holds promise for the future and the potential to rediscover lost muscle memory. A glimmer that can see past the cold, dark depression of this most terrible winter, and see into summer.
Nonetheless, the legs fumble. They try to pedal, try to remember circles. The brain tries to push them into overdrive. Just when we're about to fail, a small waft of some heavenly floral scent drifts by. A glimpse of a blooming daffodil seals the deal. We (me and my legs) are back! Or we will be back soon anyway.
The rain started Saturday morning outside of Holstein's Coffee in the Dalles, just as riders were beginning to queue up. Together, we made quite a rainbow of riders. We were fat and skinny (although everyone would claim the former), different colors - skin and kits, road bikes with 23mm wide tires, cyclocross bikes, mountain bikes, fat bikes, even bikes with full loads - ostensibly for the Dalles Mountain Mutiny.
I read a great quote in an email forum about this 8th annual Velodirt ride that very morning: "If you can't handle it on 28s, you can't handle life". The 28 is referring to tire width, of course. Our day would be filled with gravel, dirt, mud, slippery slidey roads that were only more so as the day, and the rain, wore on.
I estimate 150 of us rode out at 10am, but I've been known to overestimate. I doubt I was the only one who missed Donnie's calm, even quiet, announcement "let's head out". But, we left just the same.
Thanks to social media, or this blog, or possibly my basket, several riders recognized me and even shouted my full name. One lovely gentleman exclaimed "BASKET"! and I instantly remembered him as one of my supportive hecklers last 'cross season. More friends, more hugs, lots of self-deprecation later, we embarked up the first, and longest, gravelly climb of the day.
Unbelievably, I encountered a rider who introduced himself as William. I took a chance and asked if he was the originator of my new favorite quote about not being able to handle life if you can't handle 28s. I'm not sure who was more astonished - me or him - that yes, indeed, he was the genius who came up with that little tidbit.
Up, up, up. Passed by Mielle, who was slowly escorting another rider, and informed me I smell like strawberries. I won't deny it; it's my natural scent. An old co-worker. A couple in t-shirts. Up, up, up. Soon, I saw my pal Luke, who had given me a ride to the ride. I was almost to the top and he was coming my way.
Luke is one of those super fast and fit riders who always describe their riding as slow and their body as out of shape. I couldn't understand how I could possibly be catching up to him. He was wearing a blue coat, which matched his skin nicely. Turns out he was hypothermic and making a smart decision to turn back and get down to a lower, warmer elevation quickly.
He apologized and I pretended not to be thrilled to be turning back, and down we went. My new brake pads squeal loudly, so my shame in being a chicken ass descender was underlined nicely. We barely saw a soul on the way down, that's how far back in the pack I was.
The rain and cold continued, the descent lingered on and on, and I finally had to stop for a salty snack. I ate quickly and sloppily and my mood improved immediately. Almost to the bottom, I saw Luke again. Poor guy was freezing his bejesus off.
Back down the hill, back over the bridge, back to town and back to the brew pub. We passed a few riders who'd completed the ride, which is nothing short of amazing. Halfway into our first beers, the Texan walked in to the bar. I haven't seen him in at least a year and we had a jolly time swapping stories and dreaming about future rides. And, bonus, we now have unfinished business, out in the Dalles.