What a great ride!

What constitutes a great ride for you? Nice weather, good friends, no mechanical failures or major crashes? If you compete on your bike like me, it can be much harder to have a ‘great ride’ when you know your competitors are working on their cornering, technical skills, climbing, and so on. Many times I think we feel desperate to have a great ride for a whole host of reasons but the bike riding cosmos usually fail to submit to our will. For me, a great ride always comes after a long break OFF the bike and typically, winter serves as a very welcomed break.
My last planned race of the season is the 6 hour relay race at Lock 4, Gallatin, TN. The temperatures in southern Indiana/ northern Kentucky always dip into the 40’s as October bleeds into November. But for 4 years running the second weekend of November has yielded plenty of sunshine and one last opportunity to race in short sleeves. This is the literal end, as well as the mental end to my race season. The cross-country race series (2-3) I participate in loosely run from May to August and then there are a handful of endurance races throughout September and October.
There are just a few races offered in March and April when I’m chomping at the bit to prove my metal, thus creating a ‘season’ of March- November. That’s 9 months of focused training, riding, driving, camping, stressing, bike tweaking, and pushing my limits 2-3 weekends per month.
I’m ready for a break. Actually I’m ready for a break in August but endurance races bring a different atmosphere, cooler weather, and a rejuvenation to compete simply because we race for longer. After Lock 4 in November, I send my bike in for servicing and I hardly bat an eye when they call to tell me its ready. Its cold, I’m cold, it’s dark by 430 pm, and the Facebook bike hype has long died down. It may actually meet the definition of hibernation.
But this 4th day of December surprised me. serendipity was surely at play. The sun was out and the temps were already in the 40s when I let the dogs out at 8 am. I just got my bike back from servicing AND I didn’t have to go to work until that afternoon. On my way to my local stomping grounds, I was.  In so the seeds were planted to have a ‘great ride’. The sowing of these seeds is enacted by one’s expectations.  More often than not in riding, as in life, expectations prove to be more harmful than good. But when I’ve been on a riding hiatus I have minimal expectations for my performance. My unofficial goal is to just get some easy miles in. Today I barely have to coach myself into sitting back, pedalling easy, soaking up every inch of the trail and paying more attention to the scenery than the figures on my bike computer. When the ride feels this good you swear you havent lost more than a few seconds on your last PR. The tight turns feel minute, the jaw-jarring roots seem to propel you forward, the jumps seem to appear and disappear underneath your tires like riding in on an ocean wave.  But the hills…. well they feel infinitely easier than you ever remembered them being. Truly. You find yourself wondering, “why the hell did I ever worry about this climb?” and “I can get up this WITHOUT even shifting, wth!” The best thing to do in this situation is to not question it. Chalk it up to well rested legs, or maybe you sighted a smoother line that comes only after time away from a trail you’ve ridden for the 1,001th time. Whatever it is, enjoy it. Revel in it, stick it in your memory so when March comes around and you’re feeling like a brand new baby deer (on a bike) you can look back and remember that you don’t have to drop down three gears to make it up this little climb. You can look back on your ‘great rides’ and realize you don’t have to have a PR lap to be getting faster and you don’t have to expect anything except what the trail is always willing to give you…a gentle momentum, a new lens to view life’s challenges through, and of course, the giddiness of a child just out for a bike ride. Here’s to having more ‘great rides’ in the future.

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