First, a quick update: This weekend is the official six-month anniversary of my getting my new bike. In the past six months, I have spent 78 hours in the saddle, traveled 1,225 miles, and burned 63,500 calories. I've only slashed my leg once and crashed twice (I wrote about the first time but let the other one pass unmentioned). Pretty happy about all this.
I rode all of those 1200 miles by myself. Sure, there were other cyclists on the road at the same time, but I never rode "with" anyone else. Not that there weren't opportunities to ride with others: Cycling is not an inherently solitary sport, and there are lots of cycling clubs in the area. For example, the bike shop near my apartment organizes evening rides every Tuesday for anyone who wants to come. I just never went.
At first, my keeping to myself was motivated by a sense of needing to get into shape and used to the new bike before riding with other people. Once I'd gotten into shape and used to the bike, I found I also liked the flexibility of riding whenever I wanted, as far as I wanted, and as fast as I wanted, without having to worry about anyone else. Even so, I thought it would be fun to ride with someone else now and then.
This morning I finally did it: I met up with a friend of mine from work who is also an avid cyclist for a morning ride. We rendez-voused in Georgetown and rode north into Maryland (up through Potomac, past the Great Falls, for those who know the area). It was a great ride, and I really liked having someone else there. There were a couple of times when we went slower than I might otherwise have preferred, but most of the time we went faster (probably out of a subtle sense of competition) and in general the lack of traffic allowed us to keep up a side-by-side conversation. It was a lot of fun.
Thing is, I almost didn't do it. At the last minute, two classic "me" things kicked in and would have sabotaged the plans if I hadn't realized what was happening.
First, even though the idea to go riding with Chris this weekend was initially mine (I'd sent him an email about it a week ago), when he finally called to set up a time I hesitated. I looked at all the things I wanted/needed to do today, and I thought about how much more convenient it would be not to involve anyone else. Plus, I wanted to do a long ride and Chris only wanted to do a short one. I like my independence and I resist encroachments; I fixate on my goals and I drop people who can't (or don't want to) keep up. Fortunately, instead of just canceling, I took a minute and reminded myself of a princple that I've tried (with mediocre success) to incorporate into my life: When I have the option of being social or solitary, try to be social. Okay, I thought, let's do it.
Then the anxiety hit. The things that make other people anxious (exams, say, or public speaking) generally don't phase me one bit. I might feel nervous if I haven't had enough time to prepare, or stressed if I don't have enough time to do everything done on time -- but that's different from feeling anxiety about the activity itself. The exception is sports -- or athletics more generally -- when other people are involved (you may recall how stressful my entry into the world of weigh-lifting was).
So, right on cue, as soon as I was scheduled to go riding with another person I started freaking out. The litany ran on loop through my mind: I wouldn't be good enough, I'd be embarrasing, I wouldn't have on the right clothes, I wouldn't know the rules, I'd crash, I'd get there late, I'd do something stupid, I wouldn't have the right gear, I'd reveal myself to be a fraud and a poser, I wouldn't know the right hand signals, I'd -- well, you get the point. This is the real reason why I hate gyms and team sports and prefer running and cycling by myself. I genuinely wished I hadn't agreed to ride with Chris.
But I made myself get up and go, and it all worked out just fine. As far as I know, not a single thing in my parade of horribles came to pass. I was totally fine. Riding with Chris felt easy right away and I look forward to doing it again. Maybe someday I'll even be brave enough to go out on a group ride.
Weirdly, that's not the end of the story! In a fit of cosmic positive reinforcement, I inadvertently found myself riding with a complete stranger on the way back home. I'd left Chris and was doing my normal Arlington loop when I passed another guy on a bike. Didn't think anything of it until I heard this voice from behind me shout "I'm going to call you Speedy because you're so fast!" I chuckled and kept on my way. A few minutes later I realized the guy was still right on my tail (I may have been speedy, but not speedier than him). We continued that way for quite a while (there's that subtle competition again), until eventually we slowed and he pulled alongside me. We chatted a bit. He asked about my bike, told me about a detour he likes to take so that I he can see the "babes walking their dogs". Turns out we have fairly similar riding philosophies: "I just try to pass everyone I see and make sure no one passes me back." (I was clearly sticking a wrench into that plan, but then he was doing the same to me.) Then, while we were stopped at a traffic light, he reached into his pocket and handed me an envelope in a plastic bag.
It was an invitation to brunch. Apparently he's an economics professor at Marymount University who rides the trails every morning. In the course of his rides he tries to get to know the regulars (each of them has a name -- White Helmet Guy, Skinny Intense Commuter Girl, Sean Connery Guy -- collectively, they're "Trailers"), and every year he and his wife invite everyone to a big brunch party so they can get to know each other's real names and share stories about their rides/runs/walks on the trails. I was invited!
I love this idea and would totally go. Unfortunately I'll be out of town for a wedding on the day of the event, but I'm definitely going to keep my eyes peeled for "Friendly Fast Orange Shirt Guy" from now on. Maybe I'll be invited to next year's do.