Growing up in Southern California, I was a distance runner, specializing in events from 1 to 3 miles. My mile time was 4:26, and my 3 mile time was 15:05. But I used to watch the Tour de France on television in the mid-1980s, and always loved it. So, in 1997, at the age of 30, I decided to take up cycling, mostly because it related to the sport that I most enjoyed watching on television. About a month after buying my first racing bike, which really wasn't much of a bike, I discovered the river ride, by accident. I was out riding in the area one Saturday morning and saw the group, and tried to tag along. I wasn't able to keep up from more than the warm-up, but I loved how large the peloton.
Being a newbie in that group was really something you never wanted to be, but everybody had to start at some point or another. Although almost no one wanted to be caught talking to a newbie, there were a few other guys at the back of the pack who seemed reasonably friendly.
So, I was hooked. Every Saturday I would show up and try to hang on to the pack as long as I could. Each week I managed to stay with a pack a little bit longer, but I never made my way beyond the back of the pack, for the most part.
I was glad to progress, if you could call it that, from a Cat 5 to a 4. Some of my best friends at the back of the back, at that time, where Kirt Mason and Andy Gomez. Actually, those guys were pretty solid riders, at least in my opinion, and they had the strength to mix it up on occasion, including with some of the more decent riders in the group.
The warm-up portion of the ride was, of course, for a rider like me, one of the more enjoyable parts of the ride. I was able to hang on, because it was only warm. I enjoyed talking to Jason about Pro cycling, even if I was sure that I wasn't following unwritten protocol by talking to a well-established rider like him.
My friends and I greatly enjoyed watching the faster riders in the group, and we tried to emulate them as much as we could, of course.
Some of the most interesting riders to watch during the rides included, of course, John Brady, Chuck, Chad, Chris Baumann, Mike Sayers, Jason Brown, Vince Gee. One of My friends knew many of those guys much better than I ever did, and often had stories to share about their amazing feats of strength and occasional misadventures on a bicycle. Whether all of the stories that were shared with me were true or not, I can't vouch for sure, but I certainly believed them. Some of the stories centered around the massive gears that Brady used, or how Chucky could solo outfront even in terrible conditions. I myself witnessed some of these events, so I know that there was at least a grain of truth to much of the legend it made its way to those of us at the back of the pack.
I liked to see the teamwork that took place on the rides. For example, during the Sierra Nevada year or years, you might see Chuck go out on a breakaway, or Chris Baumann, only see to see the Peloton catch those guys in the last half-mile, all the while towing to the front the eventual sprint winner John Brady.
I would roughly estimate that I was able to do 40 to 45 of these weekly rides each year for approximately four years. If the ride got rained out on a Saturday, it actually made me more than slightly depressed for that week.
After we passed Chevy's restaurant on the river, I sometimes liked to solo off the front, just to see if I would ever get a reaction, but I usually didn't, because, let's be honest, who really cares about a category 4 rider, because you know that they're going to come back to the pack very quickly. However, on occasion, I might have the good fortune of finding others wanting to break away at the beginning of the ride. Would always try to do at least my fair share of the polls, even if it meant that I would get dropped sooner than my quixotic breakaway companions.
One of my favorite memories of the ride was one foggy morning when Julie Young, who then rode for Saturn, had come out for the ride. I had gone to the front by myself, even though I'm sure that most people didn't notice, and those who were paying attention at the start would pretend not to notice a rider of my nominal ability. On the particular day that I remember, Julie also decided that she wanted to get the ride going early. She actually didn't seem to mind that I tried to work with her. Remember latching onto her wheel and trying to hang on, even though her totally aerodynamic tuck left me still almost fully in the wind, or so it seemed to me. She was nice enough to let me take a few turns at the front, and after awhile the peloton noticed that we were managing to stay away for perhaps a mile or two. We knew that we were being chased, but we did not want to let the pack catch us too easily, so we started trying to stay away. Anyway, despite her strong riding, which was probably just normal tempo for her, we were caught within what I'm sure was still a relatively short distance. but being in that brief break away helped me the name in the pack all the way to the County Line Sprint.
Well, it was a true privilege to be part of this group for at least a few years, and even though I got taken down by someone's dropped water bottle during a brief 2010 return to the weekly peloton, I still think about getting back out there someday. Maybe I will.