Holy blessed Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Buddha, Lord Satan, and the Decepticons, I needed this mid-ride coffee. It’s a caffeinated beverage and strictly speaking not the wisest choice for someone in my physical state and with a cardio-vascular challenge still before me, but please understand that there is more going on here than the stimulating of my adrenal gland, the constriction of crucial arteries, and an increased likelihood that I’ll need to pee inside the next 20 minutes. It’s all strategic.
This mid-ride coffee isn’t a beverage, it’s an island oasis in a stream of hot, flowing lava and a shelter from certain and imminent destruction.
I should tell you that I have not been on the front of our riding group for the last 90 minutes. In fact, I have only barely been on the back of the group, connected by the finest of filaments, an ego in deep crisis, the memory of adequate fitness, and not the best idea how to get home from wherever we are.
Actually, where I am is sitting behind this amazing coffee. On another day, more in control of my destiny, I would not order such a large coffee. This one is big. It is filled with ice. The ice makes it cold, and I am overheated, and so no one will question my choice, except possibly that I have requested the largest size this establishment is allowed to serve by decree of the local health board. This isn’t a drink so much as an hour glass, and I’m hoping I can get a full hour out of it.
Look, I know that a lot of group rides start more spiritedly than any one of their participants intends. Something about having fresh legs and not wanting to look weak spurs everyone to greater speed than they have any right to, but normally that problem straightens itself out in the first half hour or forty-five minutes.
Not this one though.
This crew has been doing some variety of prison workout for the last three months apparently. They’ve all got those perfectly shaven, diamond calves you see on riders as they pedal effortlessly past you, members of some racing category higher than four. Fucking aliens, in other words.
To say I don’t belong with these people only confirms what you might surmise in a first glance. The tall, tan guy in matching kit. Tall people are the worst. Is this his girlfriend with the too-tight ponytail and clean, white shoes? I smiled at her when I rode up to the meet, and she might have growled. Or that was my stomach. Hard to say.
The rest of the crew are variations on this theme. They’re really into Strava, still, based on the paceline conversations. I have, as you might have guessed, been too winded to add much by way of personal commentary.
The ice in this coffee might never melt. The cup is large enough that the beverage may have become its own micro-climate. Everyone else seems to have quaffed a strong espresso and busied themselves with refilling water bottles.
What does it mean that, when they removed their helmets at the cafe’s front entrance, their hair still looked good. I look like a puddle, the human version of a puddle.
My coffee is delicious, or at least the first two sips were. Cold. Bitter. With notes of cocoa, walnut and mordant disappointment. It’s all I ever want to drink again, as long as I live, which I imagine, at this point, will be about twenty minutes.
“You planning to finish that today?” says my chief female tormentor. She, apparently, has places to be, and I hope, other asses to kick.
By now the mystery is clarifying. Scooby Doo and the kids have removed the curiously life-like rubber mask from Robot the Wheelsucker and figured out that he is not finishing this ride with the rest. No one has yet accused him of fingering his cell phone in an attempt to obtain a rescue lift from his wife, but they’re all thinking it, and they’re glad. They know what I’m only just confessing to you, that this isn’t really a mid-ride coffee.
Condensation beads and runs down the outside of my beautiful beverage as my betters clip crisply back into helmet straps and pedals, most not even bothering to say goodbye. This drink has saved me, and as the cafe empties out I take another long pull from the straw, not in the least troubled by my failure to make today’s grade.
It’s time to consider the merits of what, if I’m honest, will be a post-ride sandwich.