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July 18, 2005

Saturday I joined Cameron (pictured) and Cynthia for the Ride Across Indiana, the RAIN Ride. This photo was taken in Richmond, Ind., 161.3 miles and seven and a half riding hours after leaving Terre Haute.

Last year's RAIN ride marked the first time I'd ever ridden in a group. Even though I didn't know what I was doing or how to work with others, it was transforming. The next morning I watched the Tour with Mikal in Indianapolis, and it was then that I started to put two and two together: Cycling + racing = what I need to be doing with my life. And so it has been. Rare are the moments where one's life shifts this decisively.

I intended to ride this year's RAIN at a moderate pace and stick with Cynthia, a good friend who has done more to advance my cycling than any other person, but, to borrow Robert Pirsig's language, ego got the best of Quality. A recreational ride turned into a personal race. More than anything I wanted to beat last year's gross time of 9:30, just to prove to myself how far I've come. I latched onto fast riders when I could, and I pushed the tempo when it was my turn to pull. As a result, I came in at 9:20, despite hours of rain that washed every last drop of lube from my chain.

Also as a result, I missed out on the social aspect of the ride that helped make last year such a life-changing experience, and I lost contact with Cynthia about 50 miles from the finish.

And then I got home and realized last year's time was in fact 10:30, not 9:30. I'd beaten it by more than an hour.

Another good intention gone awry: Today was supposed to be a rest day. But as of last night my legs weren't feeling as heavy as I thought they would, so at 5 this morning I headed back to Wisconsin for another Superweek road race, 45 miles near Hartford, Wis. I knew this was folly and that the limited recovery would slow me down, but I expect that six months from now, when I'm sipping glogg in my pajamas and looking forlornly out on a snowed-in patio, my regret will be only that I raced too little this year, not that I raced too slow.

One great thing about being so new to cycling is that each race presents a new and fascinating excuse for getting dropped. "I'd have held on if it weren't for the climbing! ... or the descending! ...or the crashing! ... or my cheap-o wheelset!"

Today it was the wind that did me in. I hung with the main pack for a little more than one of the race's five laps. Then we turned into a fierce wind and I wasn't able to cover the gap that had formed between me and the rider in front of me. The wind was a bully's palm on my forehead. The pack, which by that point had been whittled to about half of its original size, drifted away.

This was my sixth road race and the sixth road race in which I've been dropped less than halfway in. But two things have yet to happen following a drop: I've not yet quit, and I've not yet been passed.

Tomorrow's another race, this one on the Milwaukee lakefront, and I'm not expecting to fare much better. It's a technical course with many hairpin turns, and bike handling is a weakness, but this will be my last chance to race for several weeks. Better to have raced and gotten shelled than to have never raced at all.

A final cycling lesson learned today: Never enter a men's room in bare feet after a race. Let's just say there are some Cat 5 racers out there who have trouble holding their lines as long as they're still in their bibs.

Photo taken: July 16, 2005