I've written in the past about my love of bicycling, and how my weight loss of recent years has brought a resurgence of my old cycling ways. Last year, I rode over 1400 miles, after riding over 1200 the previous year, and I'm on track to be around 1200 again this year, depending on the weather in November.
When I was fat and out-of-shape, but at least trying to get/stay somewhat in shape, I would ride with Molly from time to time. Which, in those out-of-shape days, could be pretty humbling. Back in my cycling heyday, Molly couldn’t remotely keep up with me, unless I was pulling the kids in a trailer, or something like that. But when I was at my fattest, I struggled to keep up with her. Which would be one thing, if she were an avid cyclist who was regularly out pounding the pedals, but she wasn’t; she’d ride with me, if it fit her schedule, but in terms of sheer miles, I was riding more than she was, and I still couldn’t really keep up with her.
But the good side of it was that, by that time, we were at a point where we really liked spending time together – all that Theology of the Body stuff, and all that. And so, we just enjoyed spending the time together, and didn’t worry about who was keeping up with whom.
Once I lost weight, and started getting back in shape, the riding situation pretty much reverted to what it had been in the beginning – if I was riding hard, she couldn’t stay with me. But we had come to enjoy riding together, and so we still looked for opportunities where it didn’t matter so much how much of a workout I got – during summer break, or over holidays, when I could get one good, hard workout ride, I’d take a second, lower-key ride with Molly, and maybe we’d stop for a picnic somewhere along the way. And whenever we ride together, usually once or twice, by mutual consent, I’ll ‘take a flyer’ - run on ahead for a few miles, and wait for her.
Last summer, we had one such ride – we didn’t have much planned, just 20 miles or so, to a neighboring town and back home. The little town we were riding to has a lovely little riverside park, but we didn’t even pack a picnic or anything – it was just a nice, low-key ride, for the two of us to spend some time together.
It started out very pleasantly. It was about 8-9 miles from our house to the town, and we were having a good time. Molly was feeling a little frisky, which made it fun for me, because she was riding a bit more aggressively than she usually does.
We got to the town, which is nestled on the banks of a small river, so there was a fairly steep descent down to the river as we entered the town, and a decent little climb away from the river, on the other side. I enjoy climbing aggressively, and so, as we came into town, I turned to Molly, said, “I’m gonna attack the hill; I’ll wait for you at the top,” and took off. There was a street corner at the top of the hill, and once I got there, I pulled my bike off the main roadway, took a drink from my water bottle, and waited for Molly to climb the hill.
A few minutes later, Molly still hadn’t arrived at the top of the hill, and it wasn’t such a big hill that she would have struggled that badly. I turned and looked back down the hill, but she was nowhere to be seen. I mean, she wasn’t on the road, anywhere. Which was really weird – where could she have gone? The little riverside park was at the bottom of the hill, and so I figured she must have stopped there; perhaps she was tired, and wanted to rest a bit before climbing the hill. So I rode back down the hill to look for her in the park. Not there. There was another park on the other side of the street, so I checked there. Not there, either.
By now, I was seriously scratching my head – where on earth could my wife have gotten to? This was a very small town – maybe five blocks from end to end. There simply weren’t that many places for her to hide. I checked the public restrooms at both parks, but no-one had seen her, and even her bike was nowhere to be seen. I rode back up the hill, noticing a mother on the sidewalk as I rode by, trying to calm her baby, who was crying very loudly. But still, Molly wasn’t at the top of the hill. There was one side street that angled off, halfway up the hill – perhaps she had taken that way, thinking to give herself a less-severe climb. But no sign of her there, either.
By this time, I was somewhere between panic (did something really bizarre happen to my wife?) and anger (did she just take off, without telling me?) and utter, stark confusion (what the heck could possibly have happened to her?). And I was wishing that she had her cell phone with her, so at least I could call her. But we’d decided that we didn’t both need our cell phones, so we’d only brought mine.
I was very reluctant to just throw my hands in the air, and ride on alone – if my wife was somewhere in that town, I sure didn’t want to just leave her there, if she was in some kind of trouble. But, after searching every corner of that town for nearly an hour, I satisfied myself that it was most unlikely that she was still there, and I took off on the road out of town.
Less than a mile out of town, my phone rang. It was Molly. “Can you pick me up?” she said. “I got a flat tire.”
“Where are you?” I asked her (probably more sharply than I should have, but I was still pretty upset by the whole experience).
“I don’t know,” she said, “just a minute.” I heard muffled voices as she asked somebody where she was. “I’m on Cottonwood Road,” she finally said. “Can you come and get me?”
“Um, sure, but it will take me a bit; I’m just leaving the town.”
“You’re not home?”
“No; I just spent an hour looking for you. Why did you leave without me?”
“I thought you left without me!”
“What?? I would never do that!”
“Well, my chain fell off on the downhill, so I just walked up the hill, and when I got to the top, you weren’t there, so I figured you just left without me. Where did you go?”
“I rode back down the hill looking for you! How on earth did I not see you?”
“I have no idea; I remember walking past a woman with a crying baby.”
“You were on the sidewalk?”
And suddenly the mystery stood revealed. Strange as it was, Molly had been walking up the hill, on the sidewalk, at the very time I was scanning the roadway for her, and then riding back down the hill looking for her. We both saw the same woman, struggling with the same crying baby, BUT COMPLETELY MISSED EACH OTHER!!
So Molly, thinking I had ridden on without her, put the chain back on her bike and headed off, thinking that she’d find me waiting for her at some corner on ahead, while I was frantically searching for her back in town. When she called me to pick her up, she assumed that I was already home, not miles behind her.
So I rode on to where she was, sitting by the side of the road with her flat-tired bicycle. It was still about six miles home from where she was, so I rode home alone, and came back for her with the car. And all was well that ended well.
In terms of a low-key ride together, there was precious little of it spent together, and there was WAY too much angst flying around (at least in my head; Molly has an amazing, Alfred-E-Neuman, ‘What-me-worry’ disposition) to be anything like low-key. But, when it was all said and done, it was a pretty amazing story of how we could pass within 15 feet of each other, and each think the other had somehow, inexplicably, disappeared. . .
While I'm on the topic of bike rides with family members, I can't help mentioning that the last two weekends, I've ridden with 4M. Star-athlete 4M. Four-year high-school varsity athlete 4M, who, even three scant months ago, was running on Large Urban Public High's track team, and winning the informal designation of 'The Fastest White Boy in OurTown'. . .
He has ridden with me occasionally in the past (maybe 2 or 3 times a summer), just to get some extra aerobic work in on the side. And of course, well-trained athlete that he was, and I being the 50-something weekend warrior that I was, he would mostly just kinda toy with me. Not to give a wrong impression - he got a good side workout by riding with me, but a 'side workout' is what it was for him, and even though I knew a lot more about cycling techniques and tactics than he did, his sheer athleticism just left me in the dust. Not that I ever had any illusions that it could be otherwise. . .
So, last weekend, I was preparing to go out on my regular weekly ride. My regular riding partner was otherwise occupied, so I was figuring on a solo ride, until 4M saw me getting ready, and asked if he could come with me. I told him that I had a pretty long ride planned - 45 miles - but I'd welcome the company, and also the small added challenge of having his athletic self along to push me a bit.
We started off on a fairly leisurely pace, not wanting to burn ourselves out in the first 10 miles. The route was one of my favorites, following some lightly-traveled back roads, with lots of trees and hills, and even a couple lakes. For much of the first half of the ride, 4M rode on ahead of me. At about the 30-mile mark, we stopped for a break at a party-store/bait-shop, and 4M was remarking how he hadn't really worked out much since track season ended, and how he was glad for the workout. And I, for my part, was feeling pretty good.
We got back on our bikes, to run the last third of our course on the way home. After a couple miles, we were approaching a moderate hill (actually one of the stiffer ones to be found in the neighborhood of OurTown, but honestly, our area is not very hilly), and 4M started acting frisky, and pulled ahead of me by a bit, making some suitably snotty comment directed to 'the Old Man'. Well, I wasn't about to let that pass unanswered, even as I had no illusions about his ability to respond. So I got out of the saddle and charged up the hill, letting him know as I passed him that the Old Man still had some gas left in the tank. And waiting for him to pass me back.
Except he never did. I got to the top of the hill, and was still feeling pretty good, so I shifted into my highest gear, and just let the dogs run for as long as I could keep it going. A couple times, I saw in my rear-view mirror that 4M was increasing his pace, trying to close the gap between us, and I just increased the pressure, and pulled even farther ahead. And I stayed a couple hundred yards clear for about five miles, until we pulled into a small town (the same one in which Molly and I 'lost' each other, above), and I sat up and waited for him to pull alongside.
And my star-athlete son pulled alongside me, saying, "Dang, Dad - you just ran off, and I couldn't catch up; I was pedaling as hard as I could, but every time I tried to catch you, you went even faster. I just couldn't catch you." And I smiled.
Of course, he hasn't worked out in three months, and is probably in the worst physical condition he's been in since he was in middle school, whereas I'm probably in as good a condition as I've been since I was in my 20s; if he keeps riding with me, he'll get back in shape, and my 'Window of Ego Stroking' will close. But I guarantee you I'm not by any means too proud to remind the Fastest White Boy in OurTown that his Old Man can still dust his ass when the need arises. . .