“If I die on this bike, I will it to the hill that killed me.”

Yesterday was what I am going to call my first real workout with the Grunt Girls. Not that my runs with Aimee on Wednesdays haven’t been great. I have to credit her with getting me to do hill repeats, something I’ve never practiced before, and quite frankly never want to do unless she’s around. However, Saturday’s ride literally broke me.  Or perhaps I should say it broke me in. Yes, this ride was the jockey and I was the wild filly, haughtily tossing my mane and stomping my cleated hoof on the ground. Oh, how the ache of the saddle still twinges.

“What’s this course like,” I asked Stacy as we all saddled up, clipped in, and made our way to the entrance of the park.  “Is it flat, hilly…” I trailed off waiting for her response. “It’s rolling,” she said with a smile on her face that I now realize was a smirk of knowingness.  “It’s starts off with a couple of hills, but then it rolls for the rest of the way.” These words would haunt me no more than 30 minutes later.

As we rolled out of the parking lot and into the main part of the park, I passed the other girls. I crept up behind Patty who was in the lead, and as I did I thought to myself, “Pish shaw! The TREK Women’s Tri course was tough, but I made it through that just fine, and that was after a swim, and in the pouring rain. I got this!” It doesn’t take a brain-wizard to figure out that this is a foreshadowing of my impending demise.

We approached the first hill and I heard the familiar “click, kachunk, click” of shifting gears ahead of me, and saw Patty begin her ascent. I followed suit, and began to climb, and climb, and climb…

“Sweet baby Jesus, when does this hill end?” I thought to myself. In case you were wondering, it didn’t end – ever. Ten minutes into the ride and I felt the urge to cry. The other girls started to pass me, and it was probably at that moment when I realized that I had bitten off more than I could chew. And then it happened. I did something I never thought I would ever allow myself to do – I stopped and got off of my bike.  Oh, the mortification! In thirty-two years of life on this earth, this had to be one of the top 10 most embarrassing things I’ve ever done, but I knew that if I kept at it on the bike, I was going to fall over. I completely lacked the power and the speed it took to keep the bike upright. I was moving so slowly that I began to wobble. It was right at that moment I was cursing myself for not fully understanding the mechanics and operation of a bike well enough to know how to climb a hill properly and efficiently. It was clear that my lax attitude towards biking merely being a means to an end (swim to run transition in a tri) was blowing up in my face. I shake my fist of anger at you, ignorance!

After I remounted and clipped back in, I vowed I would NEVER dismount again. I couldn’t even look the girls in their faces once I got to the top of the hill (where they all stopped and waited for me to catch up). I was already out of breath, sweating and practically faint; my spirit was cracking. I glanced down at my watch and whimpered. We still had over an hour left of this ride.

Stacy promised that there were only two more hills like that one. I suppose that was meant as comfort given that she said “only,” but in my mind I thought that was two too many.  We continued on to what was a seemingly endless string of ever-climbing grades. I was both in awe of and envious at the ease in which some of the girls rode.

Roughly 30 minutes more into those “rolling” hills, we came to another monster. I’m not sure if this one was worse, but it felt as though it was since I was at this point completely exhausted. I clicked through to the lowest gear, and when I hit that last one, my heart dropped a little. What I wouldn’t have done for just one more “click.” About half way up is when I started to talk to myself. I was safe from anyone hearing my insane ramblings as they were all a couple of hundred yards ahead. “If I die on this bike, I will it to the hill that killed me,” I literally panted out loud. And then, much to my great dismay, I dismounted a second time. Curses! Not a half hour earlier I told myself I would never do it again, but I seriously thought I was going to die. No, really, life was flashing before my eyes, and the hill…it was laughing at me.

I walked a little farther this time, and I didn’t get back on the bike until close to where I could see all of the GG’s pulled off to the side. “They probably wouldn’t have stopped if it wasn’t for me,” I thought to myself, and once again I was ashamed of my weakness.  As I rolled up next to the cluster of women, they all told me how I was doing great, told me to keep it up, and asked me if I was ok. I quickly realized that despite slowing them down, it didn’t matter to them. They had all ridden this course before, and they were all strong bikers. However, they knew I was new to it, and were patient and encouraging. Rather than leaving me in the dust, they changed their plans to accommodate me. It made me feel great. I was no longer embarrassed. I was a part of this team, a team where everyone brings her own strengths to the table. Mine isn’t biking, but that didn’t matter. They all celebrated my trying my hardest, and no one chastised my walking the bike up the hills.

After a quick tutorial on shifting from Kim, the ride back ended with a kick-ass downhill jaunt that I did at full speed. Tears flew back out of the corners of my eyes as the cool wind rushed into my face, and I welcomed it. When I reached the bottom, I felt glorious. I had made it through the entire ride without calling Mark to come pick me up as I lie on the side of the road somewhere. Sure, I had unclipped and walked a bit, but I finished. I never really quit because I always got right back on that bike. The kicker of it all is that had I been by myself, I probably would’ve quit after the first hill. It was the team that got me through it. Knowing that I couldn’t let them down, and knowing they wouldn’t let me quit, I was finally broken in to biking, and gladly so.

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