The invitation came over my Facebook feed, through a local group of hammerheads.

I didn't think it through all that well.

I paid for it.

I knew good and well it was a 15 mile ride to the meeting place, as I'd ridden there quite a few times before. I left with plenty of time, early in the morning with a pleasant rain cooling me off as I rode. I stopped at a local convenience store to top off the calorie reserves with beef jerky and orange juice. Given the alternatives I was presented, these were the best I could find.

The group met up at the agreed-upon time, and like clockwork the sun came out and started baking us. Perhaps that should have been my first clue. Some guys were riding tri bikes, while others were on road bikes. I wasn't crazy about the mix on the open road, but I was a guest and hoped for the best. It turned out it wasn't their first rodeo, and nobody died. They stayed off their aerobars when not on the front, or at least allowed for a little extra room while in the line.

50 miles? Sure, why not. 

They picked the route, and off we went. Like with all rides down here, the pace dropped on hills far more than I thought it should, making pacing a little interesting for me.  However, every time I got to the front and was required to put out any extended power, my sinuses would fill up and I would have trouble breathing. After a couple feeble attempts at pulls, I wheel-sucked shamelessly. As it was, I was barely hanging in the draft on the long flat sections. For the first time in my life, hills were a relief, allowing me to recover as the pace slackened. Unfortunately, there aren't that many hills, and the triathletes would drill the downhills tucked into the aerobars.

Mile after mile ticked away, with the sun beating down and the air heavy. The strong beat on the weak. I contemplated drifting off the back more than once, to fade into the distance where they couldn't see me cry. I could find my way home. Stupid pride kept me on the wheel in front of me. I skipped a few more pulls.

Near the end, a young and strong-for-his-age rider threw an attack, which was joined by another rider. The pack sped up a little, and soon they were caught. The young rider went to the back and recovered, only to throw another attack. I marveled at his ability to hit us twice in such a short period of time, and debated on following. Having wheel-sucked for the vast, vast majority of the ride, I sat up and watched him go. Some riders chased, some riders figured enough was enough. We trickled back to the start, one or two at a time, within a few minutes of each other. Everyone else drove there. I still had 15 miles to ride.

As I rode up, one of the strongest riders was tearing into the kid about attacking after skipping a couple pulls. The kid was almost as cooked as I was at the time, and just couldn't do it. He got his second wind, and decided to experiment with his ability to attack and stay away. As far as I'm concerned, group rides are a great place to learn your limits and play around with tactics, and he didn't do anything wrong. The guy who does the most work in a race doesn't always win. The guy who crosses the line first always wins. It may not be fair, but that's pretty much reality. The strong rider took exception with the kid's attack, feeling he shouldn't have gone for the "win". Nobody laid out any rules in advance, so as far as I'm concerned, the kid was free to tear it up.

There's a right way and a wrong way to point out an "error" in a group ride setting. The strong rider chose the wrong way. The rider who filled me in on my own error a few days before chose the right way. A lot of chemicals float around in a rider's body after a long, hard effort, and not everyone is 100% themselves. I'll chalk it up to that and hope this isn't the strong rider's normal personality. If it is, I'll find other people to ride with or ride alone. I'd rather avoid conflict. The heat and humidity is bad enough without that sort of drama floating around.

I started my ride back. I reloaded my water bottles at the convenience store. As I rode, it became obvious that the wind thought I was heading in the wrong direction. The sun and liquid air decided I needed to lose a little water weight. My legs, which were already shot, didn't spin as quickly as they once did. I was cooked, literally and figuratively. Five miles from home I stopped at a Walmart soda machine. The ice-cold Coke under the awning was a life-saver, as were the blasts of air conditioned goodness that hit me every time the doors slid open. I'd be lying if I said I didn't trigger a few myself.

Eventually I pushed off again. My legs worked marginally better, and at long last I returned to my starting point. I showered with my kit on, and the long, cold soak finally shut down my sweat glands and removed the slimy feeling that accompanies most Mississippi physical efforts. I crawled into bed and slept. A gnawing hunger awoke me, and I sought out the biggest pile of roast beef Arby's meat-crafting artists could stack up. Even after stuffing myself silly and having a few post-ride Blue Moons, I still wasn't close to narrowing the caloric deficit I found myself in.

80 miles, most at race-pace. Seems like a fairly decent way to lose weight.

I'll probably think twice and do the math next time.


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