Back in The Saddle Again
Tonight I went to my first group ride in one and a half years. It was wonderfully motivating and wonderfully discouraging, all at once.
I've been looking for information about group rides, races, etc. since before even coming to Sweden. But all my internet searches seemed rather fruitless and it had quite the demotivating effect on my desire to start training again postpartum. If there were no races and no group rides, then what was the urgency of getting fast again?
Then last night, miraculously I finally uncovered the secret website with information on a nearby group ride for tonight. Suddenly I wished I'd been training all winter. But I figured "oh, well." Nothing will motivate me like a good old fashioned lashing and getting spit out the back. So I decided to show up anyway.
I started by dusting off my old race bike. Literally, I dusted it off. It has not been ridden outdoors since the early-pregnancy-era. (I had to ride my CX bike since the aggressive position of my road bike was impossible while preggo.) After riding only my cross bike on low tire pressure for so long, I could hardly believe how fast and responsive my old race bike felt under my body. Ahh, Spanky 2.0. So nice to reunite with an old friend.
I then choose my riding gear as thoughtfully as if I was going out on a first date. Knowing I would show up as A. the new one, B. the girl, and C. the foreigner who speaks crappy Swedish, I didn't want to add "D. the one without style" to that list.
Cyclists are a peculiar little bunch with all sorts of funny little codes that take years of riding to crack, and style is a Big Deal. Unfortunately, I am not a very stylish person so it took some learning and then a lot of hard work to make up for some of my lack of style by being fast. I am not fast anymore, ergo I need more style. I think that part of cyclists hang up with style is that if you have the right style, the coordinating kit, good bike, etc., then people assume you are experienced and know what you are doing. Which is a really, really important thing when you draft and ride a breath away from each other and a dumb maneuver by a rookie could bring you crashing down.
Even so much as the wrong pair of socks could mean that people will be anxious to ride too close to you and you will be decidedly less welcome as a newbie to a group ride.
So I was a little hung up on the fact that at the end of my last season I had two crashes that cracked two of my fancy, stylish, coordinating helmets, and all I was left with was a lame blue helmet. It didn't coordinate with my choice of kit or my bike or shoes or anything. Tonight I cared deeply. It's hard enough finding your place as a new mom in a foreign country. I feel like, SHOOT, I'm slow and don't know anyone. Can't I at least show up looking good?
So, the ride time comes and I rolled on up to the group of about 30 guys waiting at the round-about. I am the only female. I am new. I feel like all eyes are on me as I park myself among them. Not much chatter going on. Swedes are not a gregarious population. No one says anything to me but I can feel myself being sized up, eyes darting my direction. My real feeling is one of awkwardness, but my brain tells me to hold my head up, act confident, and make the first move. I find someone who looks stylish. (I soon realize that my radar sent me correctly to the leader of the group ride. See. Style matters.) I decide to introduce myself to him, but my general awkwardness is compounded to the 10th degree multiplied by a gazillion when I try to speak in Swedish. I started what I meant to be a much longer statement/conversation with "I am new". Here's how it went.
Me: Jag är ny...(pausing to think about how to say my next thought)...
Stylish guy: (looking a bit confused) Hey, Jagärny (holds out his hand). I'm Fredrik.
I was so flustered that I choose not to explain that my name is not Jagärny, mostly because that would require more talking on my part. And maybe it was better that he thought I had a horrendously strange name than that I sounded so bad he couldn't tell what I actually meant to say. After another awkward pause as I contemplated how to proceed (keep on with the crappy Swedish or revert to English already?), I asked in more broken Swedish what to expect from the ride. The dumb thing is that like most Swedes, he speaks pretty much perfect English. I'm not sure what exactly I am accomplishing by my efforts. Anyway, the upside is that he talked for quite some time in Swedish and I understood it all without having to say much more. Small victory.
Next dilemma: I am new, I am the only female, I am slow, I have an unstylish, non-coordinating helmet. Do I alleviate their fears about riding next to me by slipping in that I used to race pro back in the States? But then I am one of those people. Ugh. If I was still pro, I would not have to mention a thing. You are fast and that speaks for itself.
I took the lame route. I slipped it in. I felt stupid enough already. Even if I was new and female and stupid-sounding and slow, I at least wanted them to know that I knew how to pace-line and I wouldn't crash them out. But mentioning that meant a need for including the I-just-had-a-baby excuse for why I am slow now. Great. "I used-to-be" and "here's-my-lame-excuse" both spewed out like vomit within 5 minutes of joining the group. Is this what I have become? Ugh.
We rode. We pace-lined. I took a few pulls. I got tired fast. I lasted 25 minutes. Wow.
It is what it is. But I hate HATE HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE it when I can't join the boys and show them that I am every bit as good or better.
Because I know what they were thinking about the random girl with the special-ed helmet and I want with all my heart for them to be wrong.
But I knew they would be right this time.
Do I show up again next week?