My first flat tire came on my first ride on my first bike-shop-quality road bike. It was an initiation in the classic sense. I don’t believe that the universe sends messages, but if it did, that flat was exactly the sort of message a new rider deserves.
If you want to be a cyclist, you’ll have to deal with these.
Of course, I got pushed in the proverbial deep end. A framing nail went in the tread, into the the tube, out the side and out the sidewall of the tire. I had to replace both the tube and the tire. Damn.
My first bonk hit me on an airless stretch of road that ran between Memphis and the world’s largest inland naval base. The summer heat robbed the air of oxygen itself. It was after getting to the point of turnaround on that out-and-back that I realized something had gone wrong. I just had no idea what. I sucked my water bottle dry and fantasized about Mexican food.
Once I entered the city limit, I found a 7-Eleven and pulled in. I picked up some snack and the largest bottle they had of fruit punch Gatorade. I remember the Gatorade tasted soda sweet; that’s how dehydrated I was.
Not content find disaster by burning all my body’s glycogen, I’d gotten a flat while on the parkway and my rear tire was so badly cut it needed a boot. I called my father and asked him to pick me up. After waiting what probably wasn’t enough time for him to get where I was, but thinking he couldn’t find me, not to mention being concerned about a thunderstorm that had rolled in from the horizon, I got back on my bike, risking yet another flat with that exposed tube, and rode back to my dormitory.
My knees buckled in the shower.
My first crash unfolded in the first race I ever entered. It was a criterium in a ritzy shopping center in an expensive suburb. I was racing my touring bike with cantilever brakes and triple crank, but with a nice set of sew-ups I’d built for Christmas, just a few months before. Having never glued on tubulars before, I failed to use enough glue. The course had two sections with lazy lefthand bends, and two left turns. We started just after turn two. I got through the first turn just fine, still accelerating to race speed. But I picked up a fair amount of speed on the downhill sweeper into turn two and leaned the bike over hard in the turn, feeling pride in my competence, feeling like a badass … and then feeling my hip surf along the asphalt. I managed to shred a pair of shorts as well as a pair of tights.
I didn’t put enough ice on my hip afterward and developed a bruise that encompassed the entirety of the back of my left leg, from the bottom of my glute all the way to my knee. My leg was a grotesque purple, not the sort of color you’d paint a car.
Months would pass before I’d be able to bring my left leg over the top of a pedal stroke.
The first time I was dropped by a group I’d ducked a pull, knowing that I didn’t have the gas to follow the wheel in front of me. I pulled to the left, instead of the right, swinging into the wind and hoping the rider in front of me would slot into my position.
A voice behind me barked, “Take your pull!”
It had the effect of an electric cattle prod. I veered back to the right, closed the gap and rolled into the hill. The rise was neither long nor steep, but it was a rise and my tank was empty well past the point of the idiot light. Somehow, I managed to follow the wheel to the front and when he pulled off, I gave a year of my life to dig deep enough to maintain speed so that he began to drop back. I waited until I was certain that I wouldn’t take out his front wheel before pulling off. The torture I experienced until the rider following me gave me shelter made me wonder how I’d get through the entire ride. Before I reached the back, lactic acid surged through my legs, my arms, down my back and even in my ears. I pulled left, out of the paceline and stopped pedaling before reaching the top of the hill.
In that moment, I realized, I had no idea what cycling was.