It is Saturday, a week after the ride, and we are hanging speakers on my buddy Erick’s back porch. I’m conspicuously wearing my Bo Bikes Bama t-shirt, a fancy Nike synthetic blend that feels comfy in the perfect Spring afternoon. We’ve just come from a City of Opelika event with our kids and I wanted to trumpet my civic pride and, maybe, get to high five other Bo Bikers we run into at the park. I only saw one other person and she was far away, but still. Way to bike so much, fam.
We finally get the speakers working and, after testing them with some upbeat tunes, I go for it and play Erick a new song I’d just written and recorded the day before. It is about being sad when you’re dating someone and they lose interest in you out of nowhere.
“It sounds really good, man.” Erick is into it. We’ve played together for years. We keep planning to write and record more.
“That hook is catchy as hell. What are you saying there?”
“I’m saying: The end of the world has got nothing to hide.”
Saturday, Bike Day. Baby Mama and I pull up to the parking lot where all the other cyclists have gathered and I can’t help but laugh. We are old bruisers with miles of drunken idiocy in our wake. I imagine telling us twelve years ago that someday we would be doing an athletic event on a Saturday morning, and that we would be arriving an hour early. The Us that was dating twelve years ago would have chucked a bottle at you and told you to shut up, get out, not so loud, we’re trying to sleep it off in here, man.
I’m all jangly and giddy because I’m a Polyanna, and I love seeing The Community out and about, all together for this nice thing. I like seeing this many bikers on one place, after weeks of training that has been mostly solitary. Baby Mama is not having it. She’s grouchy, she hates crowds, everybody is annoying her, something’s wrong with her bike, this was a dumb idea. I barely got her out of the house, to be honest.
“Do you hear this squeak?” she asks, in a tone I’ve come to know and dismiss over the past decade. She’s a worrywort and a hypochondriac. Every other day she asks me to feel her forehead. The computer is always out to get her. It’s usually nothing, but sometimes it’s something, and so this back and forth continues forever.
“I don’t hear anything, but let’s ask the guy to take a look at it.” The local bike shop is a sponsor and has maintenance booths set up at the starting line and throughout the course. The guy rides around on it, reports he hears nothing, and fills the tires.
We line up with everybody else. I’m a bundle of nerves, never having done anything like this before. I don’t know what it’s gonna be like riding with this many people, or what to expect from the parts of the course I never got a chance to explore.
“I think I have the crappiest bike here, by far.” I’m developing a complex about it.
“No you don’t. Look, there’s…(periscoping around) hmph, no, you’re right. You have the shittiest bike.”
Bo Jackson is there and he is thanking us and everybody gets all giddy and WE ARE OFF.
It’s slow, of course, with this many riders all packed in together. It doesn’t take long for everybody to start to splinter off, though. I go about the pattern we’d established the few times we got to ride together in training: I’d stick with her until we got to hills, and then I’d go ahead at speed until I reached the top of the hill and wait for her. Baby Mama didn’t have much of a chance to train, due to her crazy schedule, but she was pretty comfortable the last time we rode and wasn’t concerned at all about jumping from 13 miles to the full 20.
Today is slow. She’s clearly distressed. It’s the bike, it’s the heat, she’s just not happy. She doesn’t want to go fast on the downhills because she thinks the bike is too wobbly, and she can’t go fast on the uphills because the bike is making that noise. We drift toward the end of the pack.
I’m pedaling slow, about half the speed I’d be going if I were alone. Many people pass me and, in my mind, they’re all looking at my shitty bike and my cheap, non-bike-specific clothes and gear. I want to race past all of them, prove my might, but I want to stay near Baby Mama and, who am I kidding – nobody has noticed or cares about me or my bike. I think that’s the weirdest think to admit to yourself when you’re paranoid and have various complexes: no, they’re not staring at you, nobody is staring at you, nobody even gives a shit that you’re here.
The hills are brutal on this first part of the course and it takes its toll on the 20-mile crowd. A lot of them, just a few miles in, are already walking their bikes up the inclines or sitting on the curb and chugging water. Baby Mama, for her part, is clearly suffering – not from the biking but from the unrelenting sun. We’d sprayed her down at the car but it wasn’t enough, and her porcelain Finnish/Dutch skin is already hot pink and her speech labored.
I’ve seen her like this before, in Texas, trying to keep pace with my large Mexican family at the beach. We almost had to take her charred-lobster butt to the hospital, and the children all marveled at The Redhead We Left in the Sun for a Few Hours.
“I feel like in Texas,” she grunts out to me, and I stay close until I’m sure she’s not going to pass out. I tackle a large hill and wait for her at the top, where about ten other riders have taken off their helmets and are resting in the shade of a tree. Some tell me that this is the first time they’ve ridden their bikes and they didn’t know what to expect. I show one woman how to work her gears, and describe the rest of the course to the others who are ready to give up. I tell them how it’s flat for several miles after this next hill and they look at me like I’m the town lunatic describing a lost City of Gold.
Baby Mama pushes through, but has to walk her bike up the final stage of the hill before turning onto the flat promised land. Her eyes lose focus for a second when I tell her it’s another 4 miles to the next rest stop, and that most of that is in direct sunlight. I offer to stay with her and maybe get a paramedic to her. She refuses. She toughs it out. She’s like that. We finally get to a shaded area and, after catching her breath, she blurts out, “SERIOUSLY, you can’t hear that noise my bike is making??”
We lose each other momentarily at the rest stop, which is overflowing with riders from both the 20 and 60 mile ride. There is an air conditioned office, some random landscaping business, and they’re cool with Baby Mama resting up in there once I find her. When I do I take her bike to the maintenance tent after bringing her some ice water and oranges. Her front tube is totally flat, and the tire is so old and crumbled that the bike shop guy doesn’t want to take it off for fear that it’ll fall apart in his hands. Oh and, yes, there’s a squeak from the front brake catching on the rim. So that explains a lot.
Baby Mama’s ride is done. They pile her and her bike into a truck and I tell her I’ll see her in about 45 minutes. By this point almost no one is left on the course. The rest stop food is eaten, the water drunk.
I take off, full speed, not having even broken much of a sweat through the first ten miles. The course doubles back through a neighborhood and the crowds of people who cheered us on before are now back in their homes. I put music in one ear and just breathe and ride.
I pass many people and, I’m not even gonna lie, it feels fucking spectacular.
By the time the course loops back to the Auburn campus I’ve caught up with a group of more hard-core cyclists. We’re keeping the same pace but, from the look, they’re at the end of their 60 mile ride while I’ve only done the 20. Still. I ride across the finish line in their little pack and am excited to see Baby Mama smiling and waving, waiting for me. Her boyfriend is there as well – he beat his personal record for the 60 mile and has already changed clothes. I want to high-five him because I feel awesome, but yeahhh OK this is not that moment, alright.
We go to get our free meal but I get distracted on the way:
My Journey, officially, is over. I am 2 for 2 on Journeys.
Three days after the ride I went back out and did about 14 miles, tackling bigger hills than I’ve ever seen in my life. Tomorrow I’m planning to do another 20. First I have to drive to Columbus for a job fair. My last interview led to nothing and I’m back to square one. My next unemployment check is already spent on bills that are due this week.
Baby Mama and I try to work out our weekend plans. It’s harder without me actively dating somebody. She asks if I mind her boyfriend sleeping at our house while I’m here. I tell her I don’t really have a choice – I don’t have anywhere else to be and I can’t afford the gas money to just go hang out in Atlanta for the day or something, make myself scarce. I’ve realized that being me lately means getting used to not having a whole lot of options.
Still. It’s not the end of the world, and I am aware of that. As ever, I will keep going. Tomorrow it is a job fair, and then a long ride. The day after that, who knows? Something. I’ll write a song, I’ll take some cool pictures. I’ll do my thing.
I will carry on, and so will you, and I’ll see you on the other side because I swear to God it gets easier. It just has to. Vaya con dios.