The ladder's first step

This is a departure from any post we've written before. We've generally tried to avoid very personal topics, for several reasons which I'm not certain I can articulate effectively, so I won't. And, as we've mentioned with this spate of posts recently, we're putting these up to provide some entertainment and to scratch the cycling itch a bit. If it's not your cup of tea, we're not offended. There's also a lot of DC content in here, which you're either familiar with, or you can substitute your local landmarks for and imagine it that way. 

I got my first "real" road bike as a high school graduation gift. It was a Raleigh Gran Prix with 105, and it looked an awful lot like the bike in the picture here. My friend James was wicked into cycling, raced pretty much every weekend, and worked in a shop. This was the bike he told me to get, it was awesome, and I rode the bejesus out of it (in sneakers, cycling shorts not bibs, and a t-shirt). 

Though I always had the inclination to race, because my first instinct is to compete at anything I do, and racing is the best kind of competition other than racquet sports, bike racing was real attractive. But without James nearby I had no clue how to get started, and sailboat racing took up all my time and that was that. Eventually the Raleigh just plain wore out, and it got replaced, and the replacement got replaced, and so it was when we moved to DC (actually Chevy Chase, MD) in late '04. Sailing was hanging by a string for me for a few reasons, one was that I sailed with my boss on his boat and you can do the math there, and the other is that Annapolis is a crappy place to sail. I'm sorry Annapolis, except for some weeks in the spring and fall, for sailing you suck. And you're 7 hours away from DC when you factor in traffic. But I've got this itch and it needed scratching, so I sniffed out the Rock Creek 10am Ride and showed up like any other complete noob. 

There are people who'll tell you I talk way too much, and there are people who'll tell you I'm quiet. More of the former than the latter, but it depends on context. I'm not a person who's going to go into an unfamiliar situation, with strangers, totally uncalibrated, and make my presence known. I've got to get a sense of things. So for probably the first 20 or so times I went on the ride, I didn't say a peep to anyone, just tried to learn by observation and doing. Relatively early, I figured out that if your handlebars are in front of someone else's, you control the action. That was neat to figure out and work on. Group riding had all of these things to learn, and holy shit you went fast in a group, and though it was often scary it was the right amount of the right kind of scary. I couldn't wait for the weekends to go do it again.

For a while, my goal was to make it to Piney Meetinghouse without getting dropped. Then Travilah. Then Esworthy. The first time I actually made the turn back onto River Road I was like "holy shit now we're getting somewhere!" I had absolutely no idea what I did for training then, it must have been mostly along the lines of "ride your bike." But I couldn't believe how fast some people could go, and there was this narcotic mix of "I'd never be able to do that" and "I need to be able to do that immediately" that drove me around a corner. 

Over the years, though my relationship with the 10am evolved and went through peaks and valleys, I never lost that baseline sense of "this is how I fell in love with this." The hardest one that I can remember was like this all-star game where every hitter in MABRA was there and going. It would have been right around now on the calendar, because it was just before Jeff Cup, and I think it was 2010 because that was a really good spring for me. Huge ride, probably 100 before people started getting dropped by the dozen. It was a hard ride. And we make the turn onto Esworthy off of the narrow shady downhill at the end of Glen, and I know I'm in good shape but still slightly surprised to not be seeing triple with the people who are there, and Jose Fuentes takes, the. f. off. going up Esworthy. And I go with him, with maybe 8 guys, and we launch. A friend yelled something at me about being a spring time group ride hero while he was getting dropped, and yeah sure fine whatever Greg you sound like the Doppler effect you're going backwards so quick. And even at that moment I fully remembered that me from 4 or 5 years before wouldn't have imagined that I would be in that situation. 

When I knew I was moving away from DC, I did that ride both days every weekend for like 2 months, because even though it's sort of a love/hate ride, I knew I'd miss it. And I do. 

Newport is a lovely place for a lot of reasons, and the riding here doesn't suck as bad as the sailing does in Annapolis in the summer, but it's no DC. The cycling culture here doesn't have the critical mass that conforms behavior into workable norms. There are a bunch of nice people, and my group within the group is fun and we do good rides, but there's no Chuck Hutch just launching bombs on River on the way in, daring everyone to try and hang. No "The Muscle" half wheeling you to within a hair of your life because he doesn't like you and wants to make you hurt (am I the only one - he was always such a dick to me and I never understood it). It's really a wonderful thing, that 10am. 



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I’ve been part of the scene in DC, Philly, Denver and Boulder. Without question, the 10am is the best of the bunch.


Based on my limited sample size, sounds like the group riding dynamic is universal, wherever you are. I just don’t experience that same excited and “can’t wait” feeling combined with an underlying dread of the test ahead, when I look forward to my solo social-distancing rides.


Fabulous post!

Antonio Smith

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