I’m going to let you in on a personal little secret. One I’ll bet you wouldn’t have guessed about me: I am not good at mixing and mingling with strangers. If I’m at a social gathering where I don’t know many people, I will hang out exactly long enough to make sure that the person / company that for some reason expects me to be there has noticed that I am in fact there, and then I’m gone.
You see, I’m lousy at small talk.
I know, that seems like a bizarre thing for a guy who, for about 2.5 years now, engages in what amounts to electronic small talk on a pretty much daily basis.
But that’s because we’re talking about bikes. I can talk about bikes all day, day after day, with anyone who’s also interested in bikes. Doesn’t matter if they’re interested in road bikes, mountain bikes, track bikes, BMX, downhill, endurance, cross-country, cyclocross, building bikes, restoring bikes, racing bikes, touring with bikes, or some other thing about bikes. If you’re interested in bikes, I’m genuinely interested in your story, and maybe have a story you’ll enjoy, too.
So, armed with that knowledge, I always look forward to meeting other cyclists when I’m riding. Almost certainly, we’ve got stuff to talk about, and we’re going to get along great.
There are, however, exceptions.
A few days ago, I was riding my bike to work — I had my Banjo Brothers Commuter Backpack on, loaded up with my computer, lunch, and a change of clothes. This pack’s comfortable and holds everything I need, but loaded up this way, it’s certainly not light.
As many of you know, I’ve got a good-sized climb as part of my 20 mile commute to work: the South side of Suncrest — a four mile ascent with 1300 feet of altitude gained. I had planned on just kind of churning my way up in my granny — no special need to set a PR today.
And then I saw the guy up ahead.
You probably play the same game I play: “Close the Gap.” You know, make a note of a point the person ahead of you passes and note the time, then see how long it takes for you to reach that point. When you do, note another point the person passes and see how long it takes for you to reach that point.
The point of the game being, of course, to reduce the amount of time between each measurement.
The first time check showed he was 1:40 ahead of me. The next one, I brought it down to 1:35. Not much of a change.
So I started pushing myself a bit.
By the next time check, I had brought the gap down to 1:20. Then 1:00, then 0:45.
By the time I got to within half a minute, I decided I no longer needed to measure gaps and should just concentrate on catching him.
And, in the middle of the penultimate pitch, I got close enough that I knew I would catch him.
I slowed down for a few seconds, taking time to note that he had shaved legs and an extremely expensive — and clean — bike. Which is to say, this was a person who takes his riding seriously.
I, for one, hate it when people pass me and say, “Hey, how’s it going?” It just sounds so condescending. When you say, “Hey, how’s it going?” you clearly actually mean, “Hey, look at me! I’m faster than you!”
OK, If I’m going to be honest with myself I guess I have to admit that when you pass another rider, no matter what you say, you actually mean, “Hey, look at me! I’m faster than you!”
Don’t try to tell me otherwise. We both know better.
So I pulled alongside him and said, “Man, killer hill, isn’t it?”
“Oh, this is side is nothing,” he said, in a condescending voice. “I’ve actually already climbed the other side this morning — it’s a much harder climb.”
It’s remarkable, really, how much you can learn from a simple exchange like this. Here’s what I learned from his response:
- He was mortified that he had just been caught.
- He was even more mortified that he had just been caught by a guy with a large, full backpack.
- He needed me to know that the only reason I had caught him was because this was his second big climb of the day. If he had been fresh, I would never have gotten close.
- I would not ever willingly ride with this person. If you can’t give props to someone who, while wearing a pack, just caught you on a hard climb, you’re a dork. Seriously.
He then continued, saying, “Not many people are as crazy as me, getting up this early and doing this kind of a ride!” Which made me wonder:
- Had he not noticed the 40 or so other people on bicycles I had noticed as we each climbed the same road this morning?
- It was 75 degrees and brightly lit outside — maybe 7:30 in the morning. My guess is that 80% of the people in Utah who planned to ride that day were currently on their bikes. This dude was definitely not an outlier or showing any wacky amount of dedication by being on his bike right then.
- Climbing both sides of Suncrest is hard, but not crazily hard. It takes just over an hour. Climbing to the top of the Alpine Loop is harder.
- Apart from any number of sarcastic remarks I could think of related to the three observations above, what kind of response could he possibly have expected from me? Abject admiration, perhaps?
So, following the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all . . . but blog about it later” rule, I just grunted — an aknowledgment that he could take however he liked.
Now we were at the beginning of the final pitch to the top of Suncrest. He stood up and took off, sprinting.
When you’ve got a twelve pound pack on your back, a standing climbing sprint just isn’t in the cards. So he gapped me, beating me to the top by about ten seconds.
Except he knows, deep in his heart of hearts, that some guy closed a nearly two minute gap on him in a twenty minute uphill, while wearing a big ol’ pack.
And I have a sneaking suspicion that this knowledge keeps him awake at nights.