TCI Friday

I had been in Seattle for 3 or 4 days, running around from bike shop to bike shop, down to Portland and back up. I hosted an event at the Rapha space. I took some people out to dinner up in Bellingham. I was working. But after those 3 or 4 days, and feeling pretty exhausted, Terry said, “Hey, we should ride bikes.”

I mean, yes.

Terry is one of those guys. He deals in brutal honesty and hard work, and some folks he rubs the wrong way. I like him. He’s the kind of guy who would do anything for you, and when he offers a kindness he means it. He picked me up, toting a ragged bag of travel kit, and shuttled me to his house, where we loaded up some bikes. He had a hardtail for me that just about fit, and he locked a full-suspension rig onto the rack for himself.

Off we went to Issaquah. I did not know what this meant, at the time.

Terry is, baldly stated, a better bike rider than I am. He’s got skills and a big engine. We pedaled off onto sections of the Tiger Mountain Loop and soon we were grinding up technical climbs and rocketing down twisty descents. I was mostly off the back, with him waiting for me at turns. The riding was all the adjectives: demanding, gnarly, tech, sublime, rad, loamy, rocky, and perfect. Big, pre-historic ferns burst out of the soil everywhere. The whole place seemed more green than green, the greenest, lushest place I’d been in a long time.

And I was crushed. Doing everything I could to stay close. A lot of days that would have seemed miserable, but it was transcendent that day. It was an ass-kicking I was deeply, deeply grateful for.

Not all ass-kickings are made this way. In my life as a rep I came to understand a popular game for shop employees. Crush the rep. Universally, people are proud of their local riding, and they want to show it to you. They know the way. They know the terrain, and part of their pride also comes from demonstrating how much better at it they are than you. It’s ok. It’s a game I came to love/hate, because it allowed me to ride in a lot of places I never would have seen on my own, and with locals as guides I always saw the best of it.

California, Washington, Colorado, etc., etc.

There is also the added benefit of ego-deflation. If I ever thought I was good at bikes, my life on the road quickly disabused me of that notion. It’s possible that I’ve only ever been in over my head in this bike business. That’s ok. It’s not the worst place to be.

This week’s TCI Friday asks, when have you been in over your head, and how did you cope?

Join the conversation
  1. Brent says

    I bought a Ritchey Everest mountain bike in early 1981, when I lived in the Bay Area. When I picked it up, Tom Ritchey offered to take me on a ride in Woodside so I could learn some of the basics, since these mountain bike contraptions were quite new, and very few people, even in the Bay Area, had them. I knew Ritchey was fast (he was a nationally ranked road racer as a junior), so I wasn’t expecting to be able to pass him. But he said, “let’s wait a couple more minutes, because a buddy of mine is going to show up.”

    When the friend showed up, he introduced himself simply as Eric. I asked why he looked familiar, and he explained that he was on TV a lot in the prior year at the winter Olympics. Yep, I was going to go on a ride with Eric F@)(#$ Heiden, who not long after would be the first American to ride the Tour de France.

    To say I got dropped would imply that I had even a brief hope of catching up with those two guys. I was done at the first revolution of the cranks. They were very nice, but I never once tried to ride above my general skill level in the 40 years since.

    1. Jeff vdD says

      I didn’t know that EH was the first American to ride in the TdF … that’s a GREAT fun fact and a fantastic trivia question!

    2. Dan Murphy says

      That would have been downright intimidating.

    3. Padraig says

      Jonathan Boyer was the first American to ride le Tour. George Mount the first American at the Giro and Mike Neel first Yank at the Vuelta. Boyer’s debut was especially impressive as he finished 10th.

  2. Jeff vdD says

    In over my head: Mount Evans Hill Climb, 2008. I was basically a year into my serious cycling “career.” A dear friend baited-and-switched me … the planned small group ride became this event that I didn’t really know anything about on the part of a rider that didn’t really know anything about how to find out.

    It was 28.4 miles. (Not 28 miles.) The average grade wasn’t bad … maybe 3-4%. The race starts in Idaho Springs at about 7,500′. At about the halfway point, the grade increases, right around where the already scant oxygen makes itself even more scarce.

    I had one ace up my sleeve: the granny gear on my rented Serotta. I saved that gear, savoring the relief that it would bring. The elevation ticked off, but I stayed resolute–that gear was for when things REALLY got tough. Eventually, they did. So I shifted. Damn … I was already in that gear. That may have been the most down moment in my life.

    Finally, my bike computer shows 27.5 miles. 27.7. 27.9. Then 28.0 and I was done. Or, at least, that had been the lie I’d been telling myself … the ride was 28 miles, right? Well, no, it was 28.4.

    At 14,000′, that is not a thing one wants to learn. Well before those last 0.4 miles, I was in well over my head. But I kept going because I wasn’t smart enough to figure out anything else to do.

  3. Dan Murphy says

    Couple of things….

    I’ll take brutal honesty any day. I’ve had a few friends over the years that fit that description, and people that didn’t really know them thought they real dicks. But, as you said, they’re great people and great friends. They might tell you something you don’t like, but that’s a whole lot better than a “friend” lying to you.

    We need to get taken out of our comfort zone. We all need someone to kick our ass every once in awhile. In my case, doesn’t take much. When I started mt biking in the late 80’s, people that had been riding for awhile took me to nasty places, places that I would have avoided on my own. But, after seeing them go down that rock, or clean that nasty section, I knew it could be done and gave it a shot. And kept trying. Especially when we’re young, we can think we’re hot shit sometimes, and we need to get put into our place. It’s humbling, but educational, and we probably learn something. Hopefully.

    Over my head? Many times skiing.
    My junior year in high school was messed up and my parents suggested that maybe a year at prep school might help. I went to a school in NH that had a ski racing team and I figured I’d be a ski racer. Heck, I’ve skied a lot, no problem. I even did a race once. I knew nothing about the ski racing world – and found out very quickly. Myself and a few other guys we battling for being the worst skiers on the team. These guys were good. Like, very good. Like best in the country good. Many ended up at good ski teams at college and a fair amount raced in the Olympics. Tyler Hamilton went there, as well as Tyler and Terry Palmer. Way, way, way, way over my head. I learned a lot, though.

  4. alanm9 says

    Mt. Washington hill climb. 7.6 miles of hell. Tom Danielson has the record of 29 minutes so I figured my stretch goal would be 60 and my safe goal 90. Just to be sure, I went to the Blue Ridge and did a 5 mile climb, then turned around and did it again, all in 58 minutes on a 30×28. So, I was ready, right? Nope. I was in desperate trouble in the first mile. My only bottle was empty by mile 3 in the broiling 90F sun (the day before it had been 40F and sleeting). My lower back muscles gave out at mile 5. After that I stopped to stretch every half mile. I finally finished 2 minutes under my new goal of 2 hours. Yes, I could have walked it faster. Tom D was there that day and missed his record by 8 seconds. He was very cool, hanging around us and posing for pics.

  5. jlaudolff says

    Whenever I’ve ridden on Tiger Mtn, that’s when I’ve been over my head. I have a barely-healed separated shoulder as a reminder.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      @J – I’m glad to know it’s not just me. I had a really good time there. It was beautiful and the trail was challenging in just the right ways. Perhaps at my own speed, though…

  6. TominAlbany says

    Over my head? Constantly.
    I used to ride with friends that would take me all over Colorado or Utah or Tahoe or Bend. These guys waited for me constantly and never seemed to mind.

    I broke a helmet once and tacoed the front wheel. Literally over my head that time!!

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