Group Ride

I love going on big group road rides. And last Saturday I was supposed to get in a five-hour ride — as mandated by Coach Lofgran — so a group road ride seemed like just the ticket.

With one slight difference, that is: I didn’t go with a group.

And you know what? It turns out that a group ride of one can be exactly the right number sometimes.

Start Time and Place
The original reason I had for not calling anyone or going to the bike shop for the weekly organized ride was that I had no idea what time I’d actually be available to ride on Saturday.

Amazingly, however, the start time for my solo group ride was at exactly the same moment I got the go-ahead to go out. 9:47, I believe. Equally wonderful was the way that every single one of us were ready to go at the same time. No dawdlers finishing a last-moment tuneup. No impatient Type-A’s jumping down my throat for not being ready to roll right when he was.

Better yet, everyone was accommodating enough to start the ride from my house. Nice! 

The Course
With most group rides, choosing the is usually a difficult and complex series of negotiations. Is it long enough to challenge the hardcore riders, but with bailout points for those who need to get home earlier? Is there enough climbing? Or is half the group’s idea of the right amount of climbing a little too much for the other half of the group?

My group was considerably more relaxed about the course we’d be riding. I suggested, “Hey, let’s see how high we can go up on the Alpine Loop before we hit snow, come back down, and then decide what we want to do from there.”

You’ll find this hard to believe, but everyone I was riding with thought that was a fantastic idea.

The Pace
I’ve got a fairly major family crisis simmering right now, and one of the things I wanted to do on this group ride was push this problem out of my head for a while. As I started the climb up American Fork Canyon, it occurred to me that a really good way to do this might be to shift into a high gear, stand up, and crank away as hard as I could until my head was filled with nothing but the sound of my legs yelling at me to cut it out.

The group obliged and joined me, which was really great of them, considering that they all knew we were only twenty minutes into a five hour ride.

Of course, within twenty minutes I was totally blown, but everyone else in the group was, too. We all thought it was now a good idea to shift into our granny gears and just survive the rest of the climb.

A Perfect Place
Once we got past the gate that stops cars from going on the Alpine Loop road in the Winter, there started being a lot of scree — along with some good-sized boulders in the middle of the road. These were easy to thread around, though I realized that the traditional group race down this part of the mountain was out of the question with all this junk in the road.

Once we turned around and got back onto the part of the road that’s maintained during the Winter, though, I had an epiphany: The section of road between the Tibble Fork turnoff and the mouth of American Fork Canyon is perfect for road biking.

Here’s why:

  • Grade: The road is just steep enough that you can — and should — get into your biggest gear and pedal as hard as you can. It is not so steep, however, that you will spin out in your biggest gear.
  • Twists and Turns: The road is constantly twisting gently — just enough to keep you leaning slightly through the banks, but not enough that you ever need to touch your brakes.
  • The View: American Fork Canyon is beautiful. Always. And while you don’t have time to look at the details as you descend (you had plenty of time for that during the climb), you still get this impression of a green and granite blur out of your peripheral vision.

I was thinking about how much I love this descent and how much it felt like flying and what a joy it was to be on a bike when I briefly saw Dug, riding up the mountain in the other direction. For a second, I felt a little bit bad for him — unlike me, he wasn’t riding with a group — and thought about turning around and riding up with him. By the time I completed that thought, though, I was another half mile down the road and would never have caught him if I had turned around.

Note: Later that day, Dug sent me this text message: “I saw you coming down AF canyon. You had a goofy grin on. Were you telling yourself jokes?”

I betcha anything, though, that Dug had an identical goofy grin when it was his turn to fly down the canyon.

Coming out of American Fork Canyon, my group now had to decide where it wanted to take the ride. I suggested that we head up and over Suncrest, then ride along Wasatch Blvd. That’s a ride with lots of rolling and climbing, and has been a personal favorite lately.

Now — for the first time since the ride began — however, there was dissent in the group. “You go over Suncrest several times per week,” I said. “Let’s go South for a change.”

“How about something simple, like a ride out to Cedar Fort and back?” I suggested. I had to admit, the idea had merit. It was a nice, direct ride on a road with a wide shoulder and a consistent-but-moderate climb.

And just like that, we agreed.

Decision and Reversal
When riding with a group, I usually don’t bring an iPod. For this ride, though, I did. The nice thing about riding with an iPod is that you can listen to it when you feel like rocking out, and turn it off when you feel like thinking.

It’s almost like you have choice in the matter.

As far as I know, the road out to Cedar Fort goes on forever. However, I have always turned around at one of two points: at the Cedar Fort gas station (the only store at Cedar Fort) or at Camp Lloyd, where the road loses its nice wide shoulder.

The group argued about which we should turn around at today. Finally, we decided on the gas station.

Then, however, a strange thing happened. I got to the gas station, turned around, and then changed my mind. I felt like continuing on for a few more minutes. So I turned around and continued on to where the road loses its shoulder. And you know what? Not a single person in the group complained about the way I overrode the plan like that.

Although, to be honest, I think I might have heard someone grumble about how stupid we looked riding in a circle on the highway.

By now I had been out 3:15. I knew that my ride back should take about 1:15, which would give me a nice 4:30 ride.

Except I didn’t account for the headwind. Or for the fact that I was pretty well cooked. So by the time I pulled into my garage, I had been out for about 4:50.

I would have got home sooner, but none of those bastards I was riding with would take a turn pulling.

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