Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
The other day, Ryan and I were riding up to Redstone on our road bikes and I was getting really frustrated with how slowly I was riding.
I tried pushing a bigger gear to get more momentum but that didn’t work. I dropped to a lower gear and tried to “spin” in a lower gear but all that happened was I seemed to slow down to an even more unbearable pace.
Being slow, often the slowest, is an all-too-familiar scenario for me. I often feel like a penguin among gazelles. My short limbs and thick body do not make for efficient energy output. I’m great at staying warm in cold climates. I’m pretty strong, I guess, and have always been more adept at sprints than long distances, or with sports that focus more on balance and strength (snowboarding, surfing, rock climbing) than speed.
What little experience I have with races of any kind is limited, and the experiences I had were just not good.
I raced mountain bikes one summer in college and came in second to last in every single race in the series. Luckily, there was one lady who was slower than me, but thats because she was like 100 years old and probably drunk or delirious.
She actually did beat me once, but that was because I got lost and went off course and then crashed into a rose bush which, unbeknownst to me, tore the rear of my shorts wide open.
Whenever I passed crowds of people, they would cheer wildly, and I definitely sensed they were mocking me.
But it was not until I got to the finish line and saw that my whole ass was hanging out that the joke was indeed on me. So you could say I pretty much hate racing.
When Ryan realized I dropped behind, he pulled off the side of the road to wait for me.
“God! This is so hard!” I said. “I feel like I’m not even moving.”
He goes, “Well, you’re going ten miles an hour.”
I felt my face flush red. “Well, I’m just slow! Get used to it! That’s just how I am!”
“I’m not dissing you, I’m just saying,” he said, trying his best to be patient.
“Why can’t you just say, ‘It’s just the headwind,’ or something, instead of criticizing me?”
“I’m not criticizing you! God!” he said. And with that, he jumped back on his bike and began pedaling again.
He pulled way ahead and I tried to stay positive, focusing instead on the epic views and the energy of the gushing river and the deep, electric blue sky that is that extraordinary color you only see in Colorado.
Just when I thought the ride would never end, it did. We pulled off 133 and onto Redstone’s main drag, immediately feeling the relief and amnesia that comes with having reached your destination.
We poked around town and settled in to a little riverside cafe for coffee and muffins. The glory of this beautiful place on this beautiful day washed away the memory of the struggle it took to get there.
When we got back on our bikes and began pedaling home I was shocked by the speed and pitch of the downhill.
“We were riding uphill that whole time?” I asked Ryan.
“Well, yeah, hello. What did you think we were doing?”
“I thought it was flat! That’s why I was so frustrated!”
I squealed and giggled the whole way down, relieved that maybe I wasn’t the worst road biker in the world. The descent took us less than half the time it too to get up, and soon we were back in Carbondale at the Ajax Bike and Sport parking lot.
We went inside and talked to Eric, the shop’s bike fitter, to see if I could adjust my bike to feel a little better. I was having issues with numb hands and feet and a sore neck and shoulders. I’d always been told you have to get used to the positioning on a road bike, but this seemed excessive.
He took some measurements and then said, “Unfortunately, this bike is too big for you.”
I wanted to hug him I was so relieved. All this time I thought maybe it was just me.
The next thing I know I’m in Steamboat with my crazy father who is an avid biker and apparently hell-bent on getting us all into his favorite sport. So much so that he’s willing to invest in our equipment. Before I know it, I’m pedaling out of Orange Peel Bikes on a XXS Scott Contessa, with a virtual top tube length of 48 centimeters. This thing is carbon fiber and it fits like a dream so I can actually relax my elbows. It’s light as air and literally feels like I have nothing beneath me. It was as if I’d traded in my car for a plane.
We set out on a ride straight from the shop. I was so excited it was easy to tap into my energy and strength. I pulled up on my dad’s rear tire, and for the first time experienced what it means to be drafting, to let him block the wind and pull me along as if we were connected.
For the first time ever in my life, I could keep up. I could even keep up with my Dad.
After the first ten miles or so, I dropped back. But it was enough to create an ever-so-important shift in my conscience.
Like, maybe I can do this.
It made me think of something my good friend Jennifer said after completing her second swim across the Atlantic. “You don’t have to be the best at something to do it,” she said.
I’ve thought about that a lot. Like her, I’m not in the race to win. Hell, I’m not even in the race. The important thing is I’m back in the saddle again.
Email your love to Alison@berkleymedia.com.
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Columnist Paul Andersen continues to hope that the moral arc of the universe trends toward justice.