Today I received my first official cycling lesson. Since I’m considering training for a Half Iron Man or Olympic Triathlon in June 09 (a 56 mile bike or a 26 mile bike), I kind of thought I should get some help. I’ve been cycling around for a few years on my own, having no clue what I was doing, avoiding big hills and patting myself on the back when I didn’t have to get off the bike and walk. There are real cyclists with impressive gear and expensive bikes, and then there’s me, just slightly faster than the senior citizens on their huge beach cruisers.
This all changed today. Don’t get too excited. My speed is the same and I still hate hills but I KNOW some things now. My running group ( Liz, Seri, Lori) is now morphing into a triathlon group. Liz and Sheri are married to career Iron Man triathletes and have raced impressively in all kinds of tris of their own. Lori is a former sponsored cyclist who just finished at the top of her age group in a local triathlon in September. This morning, my awesome cycling friends let me play in their sandbox. They taught me how to draft, how to shift and what 12, 13, 14, and 20 mph feels like.
Since our lesson, I’ve been thinking about drafting. Drafting is when one cyclist rides very closely behind another. The lead rider breaks the wind (not a reference to flatulence) and exerts maximum effort. The rider behind enjoys the benefit of having to exert 35% less effort while traveling at the same speed. When the leader tires of pulling the pack, she moves to the back to let someone else break wind. I was terrified of this concept when we started. Liz kept shouting, “Closer, Jodie, closer!” To draft correctly, your front wheel has to almost be touching the back wheel of the leader. I kept imagining a collision where I ate asphalt, picked pebbles out of forehead, and was banned from riding with my friends for life. If the person in front of you messes up or brakes suddenly, the whole pack goes down. Clear communication and signaling are essential components of safe drafting.
When I finally got close enough to the ominous, spinning wheel in front of me, Liz said, “Can you feel it? Are you on?” And, boom. I could. It was like I entered a vacuum stream. The lactic acid in my legs started to burn less and I could feel Lori pulling me.
To me, drafting illustrates the importance of friendship, community, and in my life, the church. As we journey together, one strong friend leads the pack and takes all the wind and debris in her face. The others follow closely, trusting her to warn them of potholes or danger. When the leader needs a break, she moves to the back of the pack, allowing her friends to do the hardest work for her. We constantly switch positions, all the while trusting that what we cannot do alone, we can accomplish together.
Friendship and community are not easy. Riding alone is less complicated. But, you can’t go as far.
And, it’s not as fun.