There are many, many things I love about road biking. I love how smooth and fast it is. I love how you can start right from your front door. I love how you are going slow enough that you can see what’s going on around you, but fast enough that you still get somewhere. I love how elegant a road bike looks. I love the way a road bike feels when you stand up and rock it in a climb. I love how a road bike feels as you lean into a sweeping downhill turn. I love how you can make decisions about your ride as the ride progresses — make it longer, shorter, climbier or flatter — whatever suits you, thanks to the fact that someone has kindly laid pavement all over the place.
And I could go on. See, I wasn’t kidding when I said “many” twice in the above paragraph.
Of all the truly wonderful things about road biking, however, one thing surpasses them all:
The convenience store.
Truly, the modern convenience store is a marvel of nature, ideally adapted for the road cyclist, and in particular for the road cyclist who’s been riding for several hours and has a $10.00 bill in his (or, to be sure, her) jersey pocket.
Convenience stores are, simply, the best thing about road cycling.
And if you don’t agree with me, try riding — as The Runner and I did about a week ago as we pre-rode the St. George Ironman road course — about seventy miles into a headwind, with another several hours of riding left to go, when you find yourself confronted by a convenience store.
At that moment, I guarantee you will find yourself in agreement with me, as you should have been all along.
The Remarkable Thing About Convenience Stores
Consider this for a moment: You have been on your bike for hours, and you are hungry. And thirsty. For some reason, you cannot get the image of a Fat Boy ice cream sandwich out of your mind. And the thought of a Mountain Dew is lodged in there pretty well, too. And so is a Churro. And Twizzlers (or Red Vines — let’s not argue).
You stop at a convenience store, and — really, this is just magical — you can convert a small piece of paper into all of these things. It boggles my mind, frankly, that someone would give me all this food, for which I would gladly trade my bike, my helmet, my shoes and my glasses, in exchange for a little piece of paper.
A piece of paper becomes a delicious ice cream sandwich. Seriously. It’s like I’m some kind of genius ice-cream-obsessed alchemist or something.
Or, if you’re all high-techy and stuff, you can swipe a card with magnetic strip in exchange for the same kind of thing. In which case you are literally getting something for nothing.
Cornucopia of Goodness
The simple fact that a negligibly light piece of paper can be converted into a vast amount of food is enough to treat convenience stores as a modern miracle. But there’s more.
Specifically, the variety is incredible. At one recent convenience store stop — in Veyo, Utah, during the aforementioned death march against a headwind — I purchased and ate a large cup full of serve-yourself soft-serve ice cream, during which I demonstrated my ability to stack ice cream very high indeed. And then I had a soft pretzel. And a hot dog.
And while I did not have a package of Fig Newtons, nor a plate of nachos, nor a monstrous Snickers bar, nor a Haagen-Dasz bar, I could have. And nearly did. And maybe would have, but people were starting to stare.
Really, the variety of ways I could satisfy my hunger — a hunger understood only by cyclists who have been running on empty for hours — was practically endless.
I am not ashamed to say that — so great was my gratitude for all these good things, neatly arranged in rows and along the self-serve counter at the wall — that I nearly climbed over the counter to hug the clerk.
But he did not look like the kind of person who wanted or needed a hug, so I stuck with profusely thanking him for letting me buy the double-armload of food. “Thank you, sir,” I said, my eyes misting over with joy, “for stocking your store so thoroughly and so well. Furthermore, thank you for being willing to part with this food. You can be confident that I will use it well and enjoy all of it.”
Since this convenience store is the first one in many miles along a very popular cycling route, I’m guessing this was not the first time this clerk has been thanked in this way.
If there were just one convenience store in the world, cyclists would travel from every continent, just to plan a ride that had that convenience store on the route.
Although, come to think of it, you’d need a different name for this hypothetical sole convenience store, since for the vast majority of the universe, it would be very inconvenient.
“Inconvenient store,” maybe? Not very catchy, I’m afraid.
My point, though, is that convenience stores are convenient. They’re all over the place. Unless you’re starting and staying on a wilderness road, you will almost certainly pass a convenience store as you ride by.
Which, I believe, is the most compelling proof there is that progress is good.
Something for Nothing
And now I come to the part where I have to shamefacedly admit something. At this particular convenience store on this particular day, I actually had no cash at all, nor a card. I was bumming off The Runner, who had thoughtfully brought $20 — enough money to let me buy a second serving of soft-serve. Which I did.
But even if The Runner had chosen not to spot me the money I needed to indulge my most remarkable superpower — the ability to eat vast quantities, all the time — the convenience store would still have been a boon.
Sure, I wouldn’t have been able to have ice cream or a churro. And that would have been very sad indeed. But convenience stores carry a number of free items that can help the cash-strapped cyclist in need of calories.
Take, for instance, water. And sugar, and a number of lemon wedges — all free, when combined into your water bottle. Shake vigorously. Congratulations, you’ve just made a nice little hobo sports drink.
Need more calories? I have two words for you: Mayonnaise packets. They’re as plentiful as they are delicious. The mayo is delicous, I mean. The packets themselves are pretty difficult to swallow. Did you know, in fact, that ounce for ounce, mayonnaise has more calories than any energy gel in existence? Plus, mayo is free. And it goes great with mustard and is delicous on just about any kind of sandwich.
And there’s more. Need sodium? Pickle relish is free. Thirsty? Water’s free.
Need to use the bathroom? Yep, free.
Which makes me want to ask: Convenience stores, why are you so generous and good?